Tanked up – when the road to inner peace takes a decidedly salty turn
I’m starkers, sweating, smeared in petroleum jelly and wondering why the hell I let Jen talk me into it. Plus, I haven’t had my morning coffee(s) because this experience is, supposedly, ‘enhanced if you’re caffeine-free’; that our venue is located above a Costa seems irritatingly ironic.
So, I’m tired, twitchy and totally dreading the next two hours, especially as I’ve never really bought into all this ‘far-out’, holistic healing stuff. I’m clueless about chakras, don’t want any part of my body being cupped and incense makes me heave.
And, I’m certainly not going to shove a jade egg up my foof to ‘imbue my reproductive space with curing energies.’ WTAF is that all about? Even if I genuinely thought it would work, I’d need to ram at least ten up there ‘cause it would take a bloody miracle to heal my hysterectomy!
I did, once, embrace the alternative during three, free-spirited, ‘finding myself’ years at uni. I donned a Swedish naval jacket (don’t ask), got into herbalism, pretended to dig Hawkwind and developed a penchant for spliffs.
Mind, I kicked the hash habit pretty swiftly as the effects – frenzied cravings or crashing lethargy – meant I snored through countless student parties… when I wasn’t trekking to the 24hr Texaco for a Curly Wurly six-pack and a large bag of Wotsits.
Anyway, as it turned out, once the doors of academia were firmly shut behind me, the ‘myself’ I actually found was a rather stolid conventionalist who worked in education and thought staying up past ten on a school night was the very definition of ‘maverick’.
And that’s why this float tank malarkey is much too hippy-dippy for me; but since I’m already stripped and ready for inaction, I might as well give it a go.
So, Jen and I are in Swansea’s ‘hipster’ district… well, according to TravelSupermarket’s 2017 Top 20 Hip UK Hang-outs. With Dylan Thomas’s birthplace just around the corner, it’s an area where poets rub shoulders with poseurs and, whether you fancy craft ales, cocktails, couscous or KFC, Uplands is where it’s at.
And it does have a faintly bohemian, beatnik vibe so it seems a fitting location for The Lazy Frog Flotation Centre which, for me at least, is the stuff of New-Agey nightmares. But this is for Jen who’s going through a really tough time right now, and it’s meant to ease anxiety and tension, so if she thinks it might help. . . .
When we arrived, I was delighted to see that access to The Frog’s first floor premises is ramped. Since spinal surgery some years ago left me with what my surgeon calls a ‘grotesque gait’ – Rude! – I have trouble navigating steps, so I welcomed the gentle stroll up to reception where we were met by the delightful Zita. She was friendly, knowledgeable, radiated vitality and had the most gorgeous skin… hmm, maybe there’s something in this floating guff after all?
She took us into one of the float rooms and talked us through the process. Before you enter the water you need to prep.
First off, get naked, or if you’d prefer, into your swimsuit. Either is fine but it seems that the less ‘barriers’ to the water, the better the results.
Next, if you’ve got any cuts or grazes, apply the provided Vaseline because the ‘salt might make them sting’.
Since there’s over half a ton of Epsom salt in each tank, and I’m profoundly pain averse, I scrupulously covered the few nicks I always acquire when shaving my toes, and put a sizeable dab on each flaky elbow.
Then a quick shower so you’re squeaky-clean, before wedging in ear plugs, grabbing a facecloth and stepping into the void.
Thankfully the tank’s quite large, with a high ceiling so it feels spacious and airy which eased my incipient dread of a claustrophobic, buried-alive-in-a-coffin type panic attack. The solid handle inside makes climbing in and out really simple, even for me, and it’s also where you put your flannel – just in case you get the salty solution in your eyes. I didn’t need it though.
Thing is, this isn’t like a swim session at LC2, with swarms of splashing kids and wave machines. Once you’re comfortable, you close the tank door, sink into the darkness and lay back and think of… whatever.
And when I say darkness, I mean it was black. Absolutely black. The blackest black ever. I experimented a bit, opening and closing my eyes but there was no difference. It was utterly, totally pitch… you know what’s coming… black!
So there I was, nude and spreadeagled in just ten inches of brine, feeling rather like a tubby skipjack tuna. For the first few minutes there was ambient music, which Zita said is played to ease the transition into the sensory empty.
I think it might have been waves breaking against the shore (or maybe at the LC2?) but, as per instructions, I’d already allowed my head to loll back, so my ears were underwater and the loudest sound that I could hear was my heart.
It was racing with a pulsating roar and I was honestly concerned that a coronary was in the offing; but, within seconds, it began to slow, bottoming out at a steadily-languid tempo. I was, quite literally, listening to my body relax.
And then the faint waves faded, full sensory deprivation kicked in and, while I’m not sure I can adequately describe the experience, I’ll do my best.
First came the fear which, given my current situation, was totally understandable. We’re upstairs in a converted house that was built circa 1880. This tank, plus water, salt and me, must weigh in at around a ton and a half?
Have the floorboards ever been replaced? Reinforced? Joists strengthened?
Was that a creak? What if they collapse?
What if I plummet, buck naked, into Costa where I’ll be filmed by Frostino-sipping Gen Zeds who’d have me viral on TikTok before you could say ‘Smashed avocado on toast and a three-shot espresso please.’ omg, Omg, OMG!
Right, stop freaking out Del, get a grip and just breathe. . .
Next, came a range of, what I thought at the time, were rather fascinating questions and hypotheticals.
What’s my favourite owl?
If I had to have sex with a car, which would be the most tender lover?
Can you sin in heaven?
Which snooker ball would I most like to eat?
Would Tim (my other half) stay with me if I could still talk but had the body of a dog?
I could go on, and on, but I’m sure you get the picture. My mind was rapidly unravelling, and it was weird AF. But just as I was speculating on whether, à la The Wonder Stuff, I was indeed ‘…building up my problems to the size of a cow’, everything switched, or more precisely, switched off.
My brain just stopped, cerebration ceased, and all was silent and still.
Because the water is kept at a ‘relaxed skin temperature of around 35°C’, you should eventually reach a point where you can’t tell where your body ends and the water begins.
And I was at that point, big-time.
Now I was drifting, not in a tank, but in the zero-gravity of outer space; I don’t know if I was awake or asleep and I don’t know how long this utopian bliss lasted but I do know that it was the very first time I’d been free from chronic pain since 2014… and it was absolutely, bloody awesome!
But all good things… and I was jolted from the ecstasy by a sensation which, quite literally, took my breath away.
Something was growing, amassing, deep down in my belly.
Whatever it was began percolating through me, gathering momentum as it filled my chest, squeezed up my oesophagus, then throat, before spilling forth from my mouth as the deafening roaring of several, rutting stags.
WTF? I was powerless to stop it; I couldn’t even temper the volume and I howled on for, easily, 10+ seconds.
And for the remainder of my float, that was the pattern – profound phases of ‘theta state’ nirvana, interspersed with occasional primal bellowing.
And no, it wasn’t that I was just a bit windy.
I would have stayed in there for eternity, so when the five, end-of-session beeps cut sharply into my stupor, I could have cried. I begrudgingly clambered out, took another quick shower to swill off the salt and then headed to reception, alert and buzzing, to find that Zita had been replaced by Hywel, yet another glowing and healthy individual.
Skilled in gauging the mood of tank exiteers, he knew I needed to talk. He took me through to their chill out room, a cosy, womb-like space filled with fluffy throws, a squashy sofa and pleasurably-painful massage chairs which pummelled, mercilessly, with the force of twenty tiny fists.
As my fat juddered in time with the pounding, Hywel diagnosed my stag moments as ‘mini-purges’ – a positive sign that my body was expelling toxins, stale air and stress.
Well, he might have been right because I did feel mentally lighter, and strangely liberated, afterwards.
When Jen appeared, even I could tell that she didn’t want to talk. She was zonked, zen, sank into an oversized cushion and, for fourteen minutes, stared fixedly at a salt lamp without speaking one word.
And my post-tank energy rush was waning too, replaced by a placid peacefulness; I fought, in vain, to keep my eyes open and think I dozed off. At one point we might have mooted trying a herbal tea, but the kettle was five whole feet away and neither of us had the hwyl to attempt crossing such a gap.
An hour later, emerging from our transcendental cocoon into the afternoon sunlight, the day was too sharp for my senses. Colours were too bright, the suburb sounds were cacophonous and the niggle of a headache nagged at my temples as the world overwhelmed me.
That passed quite quickly though, after a double espresso, cortado chaser and biscotti shocked us both back into the rhythm of real-life.
So obviously, I can only speak from my experience, but as someone who lives with incessant pain, that hour of tank time was astonishing. It gave me what all my regular medication does not – sixty minutes of complete analgesic euphoria. And Jen, who’s been suffering from insomnia, swears she’s slept better since.
It was extraordinary and we’ve already booked our next session – hell, I’d go daily if I had the dough, but once a month will have to suffice until I land that big lottery win.
And I definitely had an epiphany of sorts.
Clearly I’m a float tank convert but now I’m going to be more open-minded and experimental when it comes to alternative therapies.
And who knows, there might come a day when you’ll find me barefoot in Cwmdonkin, honeysuckle in my hair, absorbing good vibrations from a Gong Bath and paying homage to all things holistic.
I’m even thinking of giving Mantra Chanting a go – but the jade eggs are, and always will be, categorically, off the table.
(And, if you wanted the answers to the trippy questions…?
My fave owl? Easy-peasy. The European Eagle Owl, amber-eyed, ‘patio chair’ sized giants of the owl world. Car Sex? Tough one this, because I love a Micra but one look at an Austin-Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite is enough to know he’s the man for the job. You just would, wouldn’t you?
Sin in Heaven? As my idea of a heavenly afterlife would require a little lust, regular pizza gluttony and daily sessions of slothful indolence, if you can’t sin up there then I’d be hot-footing it downstairs, ASAP.
Snooker Ball? 100% pink. It’s basically just a round French Fancy.
And finally, Dog body? Happily, Tim said he would keep me – but only if I was a Golden Retriever, who couldn’t talk!)
The Lazy Frog Floatation Centre is in Uplands, Swansea. It’s £40 for your first 1 hour float. Afterwards, you are encouraged to spend some time in the chill out/recovery room where you can enjoy complimentary drinks as you gradually return to earth. Visit their website for more details. www.lazyfrogfloatcentre.co.uk
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