Float On opened just over a year ago in Hong Kong Island’s Mid-Levels area and is one of two such facilities in the SAR. The practice of sensory deprivation therapy in giant tanks of saltwater has been around for many decades and has a small but loyal following, yet has never taken off in a major way – perhaps because of the high cost of equipment and the negative, slightly unnerving term “sensory deprivation”. These days it’s known more pleasingly as “flotation therapy”.
LOCATION & SETUP
Float On is secreted away down a long staircase on Caine Road in Central district. A small but cosy anteroom has a sofa and beanbag seats around a coffee table where a pitcher of water sits. There’s a small washroom and a “powder room” for changing clothes after your session if you want a bit more space than the flotation rooms provide.
Ciaran the cofounder asked me to fill out a basic release waiver then use the bathroom in the corner before my session began. I was asked what I knew about flotation tanks and if I had a specific reason for coming (stress, jet lag, physical therapy, etc).
There are four rooms each containing a “Dreampod” filled with a water solution that contains 500kg of Epsom salt – the result being that you lie high on the water’s surface with no chance of sinking. The water is kept at body temperature.
Practitioners claim many benefits to flotation therapy, including:
- Mental stress relief (anxiety)
- Physical stress relief for general muscular/joint pain or specific medical rehabilitation
- Reduction of high blood pressure
- Improvement in sleep quality
- Quicker jet lag recovery
- Lowering of cortisol levels
- Magnesium absorption
- Easing of joint pain during pregnancy
- Heightening of visualisation/creative powers
The idea is that once lying on your back you are in an environment that mimics zero gravity, allowing you to relax all your muscles completely and enter a weightless state. Add to this total darkness and virtual silence, as well as no sense of touch or feeling on your skin (the water temperature matches your body’s), plus no smell (the faint salt smell is consistent and your brain stops registering it quickly).
With virtually no sensory input whatsoever, the mind is able to relax and calm down, entering a dream state of deep relaxation and either focusing on a specific thought or wandering pleasantly – the effect differs from person to person.
Like most activities or therapies, it isn’t for everyone. For some the total lack of physical reference to your surroundings is frightening – it’s therefore possible to float with the tank’s lid slightly open to give a little light, or have music piped through the water for the duration of your session.
I was led to one of the rooms, which contained the large, oval, space pod-like tank, a rainforest shower, a towel and wall hooks for your clothes, plus a freshwater spray bottle and small dry cloth for your face – in case you get the salt solution on your face during the session, which can be very itchy and ruin the float. There are also foam earplugs to keep the (harmless) solution out of your ears and add to the soundproofing of the tank and room walls (Hong Kong is a noisy city).
I was shown two large buttons on either side of the pod’s interior: one is a panic button for anxiety attacks or if you get into any trouble at all; the other turns on a sequence of muted, coloured LED lights in the pod, which is used when your session is finished to give you perspective on your surroundings.
After showering and making sure my face was dry and earplugs firmly in, I climbed into the tank, pulled the lid closed and lay down. The first few minutes of the session music is played very quietly through the pod’s sound system, just to ease you into the process of relaxing. It then stopped (as I had requested) and after a moment of stretching out to feel the parameters of the walls with my toes and fingertips (you can push off with your toes and after a few seconds – that can seem like minutes – your fingers touch the top of the pod) I settled in for my “mind trip”.
That is how I would describe a float session – I have used these devices a number of times before in Australia, though many years ago. I am very comfortable in water, and for me the lack of sensory input allows my mind to wander across a broad range of subjects and (often forgotten) memories, shooting off on tangents of thought from one place to the next – I have no control over where I go.
I can totally understand how this might be unnerving or even panic inducing for certain people, but for me it is a thrilling – though very relaxed – feeling. There’s no sense of time, and that in itself is a great feeling if you work in a busy environment with time schedule pressures.
At the end of my hour a quiet but clear voice came through the underwater speaker telling me my session was over. I sat up, turned on the LED lights, opened the lid and climbed out. Under low-level lighting I showered and shampooed thoroughly, dressed and returned to the anteroom. Here a member of staff gave me a glass of water and sat to chat with me about my experience – some people like to share their thoughts as part of the whole therapeutic process, and it can take a little time to readjust to the city noises before going outside, so you are free to stay as long as you like.
A small form also allows you to write down your thoughts, feelings or ideas – some people find their creativity boosted hugely by/after a float session.
In the anteroom I spoke to an American businessman who lives in Hong Kong but travels more than half the year to factories in China and Southeast Asia as well as the US. He has two sessions per month, and said he found it highly beneficial in combating jet lag, giving him a “reset” each time. I cannot comment personally on its efficacy in helping jet lag, but I left the float centre in a calm, very refreshed state of mind.
I personally really enjoy and benefit from flotation therapy, and would recommend anyone in a high-stress job or with a frequent long-haul travel schedule to at least try it – you’ll know pretty quickly if it’s right for you or not. Many will feel the price is high given there’s little interaction with “trained experts” such as in comparably priced activities such as pilates or yoga. However, the high-tech equipment is not cheap, and if it does work for you it’s definitely worth checking out the discounted membership deals.
Sessions last 45/60/90 minutes at HK$530/630/830 (US$68/$81/$107) respectively. Packs of five or ten floats can be bought at discounted rates, and a monthly membership of a single session or double session per month is also available at lower rates. An introductory Three-Float Pack (60 minutes) costs HK$1,350 (US$174).
89 Caine Road, Mid-Levels, Central, Hong Kong; tel +852 2548 2844; floatonhk.com