I went to Floatopia today to see for myself what it was like. The concept is very simple: you lay in a bath that is at body temperature and saturated in Epsom salt to make you float, while being in complete darkness and silence. The idea is to free the body of gravity and reduce all sensory input as much as possible to induce complete relaxation.
I arrived slightly early for my appointment. Sasha, the guy who manages the place, is very friendly and very good at putting first timers at ease. First of all, I filled in the new customer form and read the guidelines and emergency procedure. The latter specifies that in case of emergency while you are bathing, you should put on the emergency bathrobe provided and meet outside. I crossed my fingers hoping this wouldn't happen as I didn't care being outside in the freezing cold with only a light bathrobe. Once those formalities completed, Sasha showed me the facilities and explained everything. Each float room is large enough for one adult and has its own shower room attached. Bathing lasts just under one hour. The first ten minutes, relaxing music is played. It is then total silence for 42 minutes and the music starts again for 3 minutes to wake you up in case you fell asleep and notify you your time is up. You then have 15 minutes to wash and get all the salt off you. The float room has a light switch so you completely control whether you are in the dark or not and the door to it just pushes outwards. This is all done to ensure that if you panic while inside, you can easily get out and come back to the real world.
After that quick introduction, it was time to get wet. I had a quick shower just to get my skin wet and entered the room to the sound of chill out music. The water in the float room is about 30cm (1 foot) deep. I closed the door, sat down, pressed the light switch and lay down in the water. While the light was dimming slowly, I started floating. It then became pitch black. I stretched out, letting my head sink a bit. My ears filled with water and the music became faint. Then it stopped altogether. It took a few minutes for my body to stabilise in the water. I couldn't hear anything. I could feel a dull tingling in the parts of my legs that were not completely submerged but that was going away. I couldn't smell anything. I couldn't see anything. I opened my eyes that I had shut automatically. I still couldn't see anything.
Deprived of external stimuli, my body started to concentrate on internal sensations. The only movement was breathing. My shoulders and neck started to hurt. Sasha had warned me about this: it is quite common apparently for a first float and a symptom of a stressed body trying to relax those muscles too quickly. I put my hands under my neck to relieve the tension, as he had said I should do. The tension eased immediately. After a few minutes, I moved my arms away from my body again and let my head drop back in the water.
I was lying there. Logic was telling me I was immobile. But my brain was telling me I was moving upwards, standing up slightly. Weird. Then said brain went into overdrive. It was going through ideas and things I had to do: some old, some new, others old but seen from a new angle. This was not completely unexpected as it happens to me quite often when I am in a relaxed state, especially when having a shower in the morning. I know, I am weird.
The music came up, signaling the end of the bath. It felt like I had been there 15 minutes rather than nearly 1 hour. I found the light switch, pressed it and stood up. The saline solution felt like oil on my skin rather than water. I stepped out and had a good warm shower, went to the rest room and had herbal tea. There was a small book there explaining the different sensations you can have during a float. Apparently everything I had experienced was normal. The one thing I could notice immediately was that I was feeling very relaxed and my back, shoulders and neck were feeling completely devoid of tension, which had not happened to me for a long time. This was a great sensation and it lasted for a few hours after the float, despite the attempts by the local bus service to stress me; but this is another story.
According to the documentation at Floatopia, you need 3 or 4 floats before your body learns to completely relax and you really feel the effects of it so I booked another one for the day I arrive back from the USA. After a transatlantic flight, there should be a lot of stress to get rid of.
My first experience was positive but I want to reserve final judgment until I've had a few more floats because you are supposed to feel more with each one and because it is not cheap: even if it was good, the experience of the first one doesn't really justify the full price. This is probably why Floatopia offers a 3 float introductory package at a discount price.