Have you ever tried flotation therapy? I did for the first time about five or six weeks ago. I was very apprehensive about going, I am not good at trying things new especially when I have little knowledge of what to expect.
We arrived at Hydro-Ease about half an hour early, where we were met by the proprietor who instantly put me at ease. She was so knowledgeable about flotation therapy and explained everything to us from the benefits of flotation right through to the colour changing lights in the cabins. Nothing was missed, she was very thorough and oozed passion about the whole concept of flotation therapy. We completed a couple of forms, asked which colour cabin we would like to float in – we floated in blue, and shown the way to the room.
We were led to a room, very much like a wet room with two showers in and the cabin for floating. It was a private room and we were told we could float in our birthday suits if we wanted! We were shown the flotation cabin, with the colour changing lights. Advised on how to enter the cabin safely, shown the neck floats if required, and provided with ear plugs if not floating with neck floats, then left to enjoy the experience.
Getting into the cabin was tricky for me as the floor of the cabin is a little slippy due to the Epsom salts. As soon as I was in I sat straight down as advised and moved right over to the other side so hubby could get in. Yes we floated together.
It was weird at first being able to lie flat in your back on water and not have to use any energy to keep yourself afloat. I had decided to use a neck float, I wasn’t quite sure I would be able to keep my head from sinking under the water, hubby floated with ear plugs.
We had made the decision to float in darkness. Hubby wanted to experience the feeling of not quite knowing where you were in space. So the light went out!
Pitch black. Could not see a hand in front of my face. Absolute silence, except for hearing your own breath. You may ask was it scary? No, not at all. In fact it was nice to shut out all that sensory stimuli – to stop that constant bombardment of senses that come from living in a modern world – no noise, no visual stimulus, no smell as such, and barely a sense of touch. As for the sense of taste – we weren’t planning on drinking the stuff, so this sense is irrelevant in this situation.
My mind all through my first float seemed to be on thinking I would miss the bong at the end to denote the end of the float. I disappeared somewhere a few times, don’t ask me where, however wherever it was I was in a complete and utter state of deep relaxation that I have never been able to achieve before, even before my accident.
At one point there was a noise so loud like someone using a squeegee mop right outside the cabin, clanking it against the wall. Frightened the life out of me and pulled me from the place of deep relaxation. I couldn’t find hubby either who had been floating right beside me in touching distance. I reached further across and found him up against the edge. He signaled with a grunt that he was alright and I went back to floating. I found out afterwards that hubby had rubbed his eye resulting in getting salt water in it so was using the spray bottle of clean water to rinse his face. This was the noise I had heard and was the reason for him being up against the edge. Now we have all used spray bottles at some point, have we ever really realised quite what a noise they make! I am still in shock that a spray bottle could make such a racket, but I think it is because we were in such absolute silence that any noise made was amplified, we literally would have been able to hear a pin drop.
I experienced some deep intense twitching during my float that would bring me round from deep relaxation. It was like my muscles were releasing after being held tense for such a long time. Like an earthquake where pressure builds, the land moves and the earth twitches until it settles before repeating the process again. This is what I felt was happening to my body. My muscles have been held under such intense pressure because of the constant pain I suffer, every muscle in my body is tense. Being in the floatation cabin and having a reduction in pain my muscles were finally getting the opportunity to release some of that built up pressure. I have read up on this since and found that these are natural and are a part of the process of the body and mind going into a deep relaxed state. You may even have experienced it yourself when just going over into sleep you suddenly jerk awake with a jolt. Apparently it is common for people to experience this. I think I must have had this twitching at least six or seven times. The first time frightened the life out of me as I did not know what was happening or what was causing it, so tensed up to try and stop it. However after the first couple of times I found that it would bring me round from deep relaxation, I didn’t panic so I didn’t tense up, and was able to slip straight back into relaxation without to much interruption. Hubby said he didn’t experience this, however he felt the “tidal waves” I was making – the cheek of him!
It seemed like a complete age that we had been floating there, still I was thinking about the bing bong going off. I would come round from a deep relaxed state with the thought we had slept through it! I needn’t have worried though as eventually the bing bong did go off, the lights came up, and the bing bong sounded again. Our first float was over.
After being so weightless for an hour, the initial push down into the salt water was like trying to move limbs full of lead. I think this was due to the buoyancy of the water plus my muscles being completely relaxed. I had feared that I would be as stiff as a board when I moved after lying flat on my back for an hour, how further from the truth the reality was, I felt inexplicably light and free, for want of a better word. I dreaded getting up from the floor of the cabin into a standing position as I would struggle with getting up from the floor usually, however even this was easier than I anticipated. It was not as easy as my hubby getting up, just easier than what it would have been had I been sat on the floor elsewhere.
I went into this floatation therapy session with pain around the 8 and 9 mark on the pain scale especially in my shoulders and upper body. I came out, no word of a lie, with my pain sitting around a 3 or 4. For me to get that kind of reduction in pain is a miracle. I can wake in the morning with pain at around 4 most mornings, sometimes it can be less, just depends on how well I sleep and I never get below 3, and it just ramps up from there throughout the day, ending anywhere between a 6 and 10+. If I take strong co-codamol when my pain is at an 8 or a 9, I am lucky to get a reduction to 6 or 7. Standard medicinal pain relief for me only seems to take the edge off, it flattens a mountain of pain into a high hill and never to the point of being completely flat land. In other words medicinal pain relief never relieves my pain effectively, so I tend to avoid taking tablets for this very reason. Why pump chemicals into your body when they do not work. The only ones I do take regularly are my Nortriptyline and Lyrica – without fail I take them each night otherwise I would be waking up at 6 and 7 instead of my usual 4 on the pain scale. So you can imagine my happiness of achieving such relief from pain in the middle of the day after shopping and an hour’s car journey – usually I would not come down in pain from something like this until at least the next day. I felt I had a new lease of life. I felt like my crutches were not burdensome on my arms, I felt as though I was walking taller and straighter and so much more easier.
As my followers will know I also have CRPS in my left leg. From this I have constant pain in my lower leg which sporadically spreads all the way from the tip of my big toe right up into my hip and butt cheek. When I first stepped into the flotation cabin and lay down I had intense stinging in my left leg up to my knee. Almost like the feeling you get when you step into a roasting hot bath and have to pull your foot out quickly just so you don’t burn. This is the kind of feeling I had. I knew I wasn’t burning as the water in the flotation cabin is around body temperature so that you barely feel it touching your skin. So I thought it must be the concentrated Epsom salts against my skin which is sensitive to most things on my CRPS limb. I knew it would not be doing me any harm as I take Epsom salt baths at home, never in the concentration that is in a flotation tank though, and I had got a similar reaction the first time I had bathed in Epsom salts at home. I decided to ignore it and after a while the feeling went away.
Apart from the stinging feeling at the start, by the end of my float I realised that I had not been thinking about my CRPS limb or where it was in relation to anything that could cause pain to increase like I usually do, I had allowed it to just be, exactly how I was being with the rest of my body. For the first time in over seven years my whole body was as one rather than a fragmented mess of painful pieces where every position of rest or activity has to be thought about carefully so as not to cause increased pain. To me this was fantastic as it becomes hard to imagine life without pain when you live with it constantly, it is never out of your thoughts no matter how hard you try to distract yourself from it. Always there, niggling at the edges to jump back into your main thoughts. It is almost like being in a constant battle. It is tiring and mentally draining to keep fighting a battle that is never ending and where there will never be a clear winner ever again. To get a reprieve from this battle, even if only for an hour, it does something to you physically (i.e. no pain to give your body a rest) and does something mentally. It seems to take away that sludge in your head. The sludge of pain thoughts, not the ones that you consciously think about, I am on about the sub conscious ones, the ones that you have no control over being there apart from trying to find ways to block them by doing something that gives you thoughts that are strong enough to ride right over the top of the painful ones. This sounds far easier than it actually is in practice. This is the constant battle I am on about and for a whole hour of floating this battle was stopped dead. It put an end to the war for a short time. Almost like the football match in the trenches in the First World War.
In conclusion my first float was a huge success. I experienced hardly any pain, around 1 on the pain scale, once I was in the cabin and floating. My pain on leaving the cabin was around 60% less than it was when I entered. My pain remained around 4 on the pain scale for the rest of that day, it didn’t creep up and up as it usually does. I felt relaxed physically and mentally. I slept better that night, and woke with really low pain levels around 2 or a 3 on the pain scale. Overall I felt the benefits of this first float for a good 24 to 36 hours in respect of pain levels. I continued to feel the benefits of the float with regards to being able to get myself to relax for a lot longer.
I have since been back and had a second float. What a different experience. I really did not quite believe what I had been told, that each float is different from the last, but it is. We tried the pink flotation cabin this time and colour makes a huge difference. I didn’t think it would, after all we float in the dark so don’t see the colour during our float because it is pitch black. It does though. It must be because it is the last colour you see when the lights are turned off. We had been told that blue is a calming colour and pink can be quite a creative colour. In the blue cabin my mind had switched off, I disappeared to places I could not tell you about, and my thoughts seemed quite still. In the pink cabin my thoughts were a whirlwind all the time, things kept popping in and out of my head. My mind was not still for the whole time I was in there, with that being said with all these different thoughts popping in and out my mind there was absolutely no room for those painful thoughts so all was good in that respect. I thought it was just me thinking the colour had an effect, it wasn’t though because hubby felt the same way.
I also floated without a neck float and I had ear plugs in. Within the first five minutes I was all for getting out. My neck and shoulders were in agony and I couldn’t figure out why. All I kept thinking was that I had wished I had used a neck float. I felt hubby totally relaxed beside me and I did not want to disturb his float so remained where I was and analysed why I was experiencing so much pain this time in comparison to the last. It didn’t take long for me to realise I was trying to hold my head up rather than letting my head relax back into the water. Now that is a weird one to overcome because I thought I was floating with my head relaxed back and now I had to try and relax my head back. After a short while I achieved it by focusing on what I looked like in the water. I could see in my minds eye at the start I was mainly flat with an upward curve at my neck and shoulders – this is why I experienced pain because I was holding myself tense to achieve this position. So I focused on straightening myself out to allow my neck to align with my already aligned spine and for my head to relax right back so it was in the water fully with my face above the water line. Once I had achieved this position I found that my upper body began to relax and the pain I had experienced disappeared.
Once I began to relax I got my twitches back a couple of times however I don’t think I noticed after the first. The only reason I know I did it more than once is because afterwards I said to hubby I only twitched once this time and he told me otherwise!
To me this float felt as long as the first float, except I wasn’t worrying about the bing bong. To hubby this float was over in five minutes – he had slept through most of it. Although I have not slept as such through either of my floats I have completely relaxed and have gained much benefit from the experience.
I had gone into this second float with pain around 6 on the pain scale throughout my body. I came out again at 3 or 4, so I still experienced a good reduction in my pain although it was not as dramatic as my first float, but then on my first float I went in with 8 or 9 on the pain scale and came out with 3 or 4 so that was a huge obvious reduction. Again I felt the benefits of this float for most of the weekend with regards to reduced pain and I am still feeling the benefits of relaxation now, over a week later.
I can be a bit sceptical of alternative therapies but I am not averse to giving them a try. I think when you are suffering something like chronic pain you are willing to give most things a go just to try and get some form of relief. I have tried acupuncture and using a tens machine – both of which have had some relief during the treatment but seemed to instantly disappear as soon as the needles were out or the pads removed. I have also tried relaxation therapy which I do find useful and would use a lot to manage my pain day to day. Plus I practice mindfulness. In October for our anniversary I booked us a spa weekend where I tried a specialist massage called Spiezia head in heaven – a very gentle massage focusing on the back neck and head that lasted for 90 minutes and included a facial. This sent me into a deep sense floating relaxation and I felt great afterwards.
Over the summer (2015) I suffered a set back in my pain and fatigue and started researching alternative therapies for something that would give me a bit of relief and get me back on my feet again. As it happened I naturally began to get back on my feet as the flare subsided. I didn’t think it would happen at the time but it did. In the time I was searching for alternative therapies I came across the Fibromyalgia Flotation Project and thought that floating may help me. So I searched for flotation therapy in Northern Ireland and came across Northern Ireland’s first and only flotation centre called Hydro-Ease who have only just recently opened. I felt this was a sign and was meant to be so that is why I booked my first session. What could I lose apart from the cost of the session, however I had much to gain if it worked or helped.
I am now a lover of floating and I can’t wait for my next float, which is booked for the Wednesday before Christmas. I am taking my mum along to give it a try and I will be trying out floating with colour and music – my mum wouldn’t like dark and silent. It will be interesting to see how that float goes and what a different experience it will be with having the coloured lights on in the cabin and some music. I have requested the blue cabin purely because I felt my mind was calmer and more switched off than in the pink cabin where thoughts were popping up from everywhere. Whether this will make a difference with light and sound I don’t know, only way to find out is to give it a try. I know I am looking forward to it though.
I have found out today that Hydro-Ease are taking part in the Fibromyalgia Flotation Project in the new year, they made the announcement on their Facebook page and it has been confirmed that my place is guaranteed. It means I will be able to get to float more frequently and be able to feedback into the flotation project. Thank you Hydro-Ease for the opportunity and for bringing this fabulous therapy to Northern Ireland.
This blog post is a collection of my own thoughts on flotation therapy and of my own experiences. I write about the benefits I personally have had from floating. I am not writing from a professional or medical point of view and if you were to try flotation therapy your own experience may be completely different.