Staying afloat in zero gravity is the way to beat City stress

Timothy Barber
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MY abiding image of floatation therapy has always been Absolutely Fabulous’s Edina Monsoon thrashing about ridiculously in a tank in her bedroom. I think she ended up keeping a dolphin in it. Back then, the idea of relaxing by lying in a puddle of water inside what looked like a giant plastic egg seemed just the kind of daft, New Age indulgence designed to appeal to those too stupid and too rich to resist its novelty appeal. How times change. Not only are we so much more receptive to therapies and treatments that drive out stress, but floatation itself has become an affordable, mainstream route to relaxation – and it works.

Like most people, I spend hours every day hunched over a computer getting myself into all kinds of knots, and after a series of stress-related headaches – and with the prospect of a long aeroplane flight that afternoon – I thought I’d give floatation a try. The simple concept is that by lying in a pool of supersaturated water – meaning the buoyancy level is comparable with somewhere like the Dead Sea – you release the body from the effects of gravity, allowing muscles and joints to loosen and open up as you float free. Floatation fans reckon it can ease back pain and posture problems, help tense muscles caused by sitting at a desk for long hours, and relieve mental stress and insomnia.

At Floatworks, a specialist centre concealed down a Victorian lane near London Bridge, there’s nary a joss stick in sight. Instead, you descend to a basement with a smart reception area and, after filling out a form and swapping your shoes for some plastic slippers, you’re led through to your private floatation suite for an hour’s escape from gravity, stress and reality.

According to its founder Tim Strudwick – a former foreign exchange trader in the City who chanced upon floatation when looking for something to help his chronic back problems – the credit crisis brought a sharp increase in appointments. He describes floating therapy as “a very effective antidote to 21st century living. Extreme relaxation takes you back to the person you should be, without all the hassles of paying the mortgage, meeting deadlines and Tube travelling.”

The tank, which looks like the sort of thing that brought Mork down to Earth, is filled with about a foot of water saturated with Epsom salts (or magnesium sulphate if you’re of a scientific bent). It’s maintained roughly at body temperature, as is the air in the room, which helps dispell the feeling of really floating in anything at all. After a quick shower, you climb in and allow yourself to drift. There’s a button inside the tank which, when you’re ready, you can hit to close the lid above you.

I tend to turn into a gibbering wreck rather easily in confined spaces, but the floatation tank didn’t make me feel claustrophobic at all. You can float in total darkness if you like, though I kept the dim red interior light on. It’s worth keeping your eyes closed though, as the Epsom salts can sting a bit – there’s a water face spray provided if you need it.

It takes a little getting used to, as you allow yourself to float and relax. You learn quickly where your stress is residing – while most of my body relaxed easily, the back of my neck and head felt heavy and uncomfortable, and I had to convince myself to allow my head to float. You’re encouraged to wiggle the body around a bit as the tension drains out of your limbs, and gradually, I found both my body and mind beginning to switch off. Strudwick describes it as a “cheat’s way of meditating”, and I could see what he means – I fell into a beautifully tranquil state, and thought I still had at least 20 minutes to go when some gentle music came on in the tank telling me my time was up.

There’s a shower in the suite which you certainly need to get rid of the salt, though the skin feels beautifully soft – unlike normal water, which saturates the skin and stretches it, leading to that familiar wrinkled effect after a bath, the magnesium sulphate draws out moisture and toxins. I felt I was in a blissful bubble as I sauntered back out into the sunlight and headed to the airport – the only problem being that I was so splendidly relaxed that I took my time and almost missed my flight.


Floatworks, London Bridge
1 Thrale Street, SE1 9HW
Single one hour float session, £40

The London Float Centre, Clapham
7 Clapham Common Southside, SW4 7AA.
Single one hour float session £45

Floatopia, Chiswick
97 Devonshire Road, W4 2HU
Single one hour float session £45