(written April 26)
Is it Swedish wordplay on flotation, or just a Swedish word? Or is it a nod to its location in Asia?
I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time pondering this question today. Or at least, it felt like a considerable amount of time — or maybe it was none at all. I sort of lost sense of time.
My musings aside, Floatasian is the name of a sensory deprivation therapy spa n Shanghai, founde dby two Swedish brothers. The essential concept is taht you float for a bout an hour in a dark chamber filled with extremely salty water. It is meant to be relaxing, meditative, restorative, and a bunch of other physical and mental –ives.
Fair warning: I have drank the Koolaid. It is all of those things.*
*(Well, actually, they claim this thing helps with aches and pains, anxiety/stress, and a whole slew of other stress-related issues. Being the semi-employed fount of youth that I am, I can’t actually say whether this has helped my stress or pains because I don’t actually have chronic physical aches, or much stress (beyond the existential mid-twenties oh god what am I doing with my life variety, which generally tends to strike only when I’m three drinks in, and/or Facetiming my mom.))
Anyway. Allow me to share my experience.
The first thing I did when I showed up to my 9AM Floatasian appointment was beg to use the bathroom. (Pro tip: don’t eat a spicy dinner the night before.) The kind woman behind the front desk had me remove my shoes, handed me a pair of slippers, and then escorted me to the bathroom. The lid of the bidet opened as soon as I stepped in; the heat was seated. But of course.
When I emerged from the bathroom, I was lead to a couch in a small white sitting room and given a glass of bubbling Perrier water. (That’s how you know a place is classy AF.) While I sipped my water, the woman played an intro video to the Floatasian experience, which offered tips on where to place your arms, breathing exercise suggestions, and cautioned that maybe the first few moments wouldn’t be wholly comfortable. (Read: you may freak out, but it’s cool, just do these breathing exercises.)
After the video, I was lead into the flotation room, where I was given a pair of waterproof headphones.
The instructions were simple: shower, get into the tank nude, float for an hour while listening to a short audio meditation guide followed by some soothing noises, which would in turn be followed by complete silence. At the end of the hour, soft music would play to let you know your time was up. Then you get out. Shower. Redress. Enjoy your day.
(Second pro tip: don’t go in with any cuts. They provided a sort of gel to protect a cut I had on my finger, but it still stung in water with the same salt content as the Dead Sea.)
So I showered and got into the tank. I shut off the light, rested my hands behind my head, and waited for the water to settle as I listened to the audio talk to me about my breathing.
Man, but I was born for this.
It didn’t take me long to get comfortable at all: I didn’t feel weightless, per se, but it felt like my body could have been anywhere. When my eyes were open, they strained to see in the dark, so I closed them. I laid there, occasionally shifting my arms and remembering I was actually in water, and floated in completed dark and (after the meditation guide and soothing noises) in complete silence.
I meditated on Floatasian’s name. I thought about the post office, where I’d gone the other day to send stuff home, and the kind grandpa-ly man who’d done an official inspection of my things, found a family photo, and then asked if my brothers were nice to me. I thought about what the hell I was doing with my life, except without all the attendant anxiety and fears of my own inadequacies. I think I might have fallen asleep, but I honestly could not say for sure.
At one point, I shifted, lost my balance on the water, and floundered in the dark. Luckily, the tank was fairly shallow, but it gave me insight into how disconcerting it can be when you can’t feel your weight or rest it against something solid. At other points, I worried that the end-time music wouldn’t play and I’d be left in there forever (or until someone came to check on me), or wondered how much time I had left.
When the music finally did signal the end to my experience, it came in the middle of a period where I truly wasn’t thinking about anything. I was awake and alert, but focused entirely on how disconnected from my body I felt. The music was a soft instrumental piece featuring a flute. It sounded like I was being called back to myself — but to a self that was bright, fresh, and new.
I climbed out of the tank slowly, showered away the salt, and felt physically lighter. I was relaxed. By the time I had my clothes back on and returned to the sitting room, I felt mostly normal again, if more content and serene.
Then I went outside.
Shanghai is a big city; Floatasian’s location is right next to a huge intersection with a multi-lane flyover — it was loud, smelly, and a world apart from the white, quiet silence of the spa. I loved it. I heard, saw, and smelled the city like I was using my senses for the first time. The noises, generally abhorrent to me, were a fascinating drone punctuated by car horns, bike bells, and passing voices; I smelled the flowers of a nearby park with more clarity than I ever remember smelling flowers. Even less savory smells — gas, the funky smell coming from a gritty corner of a construction site I didn’t look too closely at, all of it — were more curious than annoying.
I couldn’t stop smiling.