It's pitch black, dark. You're floating aimlessly in a tiny pod, a silent cave. There's no sound other than your breathing and the beating of your own heart, echoed in water. You're an astronaut, drifting through a sunless galaxy, lazily drifting through eternity. Time doesn't even make sense out here.
Thoughts of work and your shopping list cross your mind, but you really don't feel like holding onto them. You'd rather float, drift, dream.
It's very cool that Hobart has now got its own floatation centre, after possibly a decade without one. Owner Lillian Paplos really has created an oasis of calm in the ever-developing and growingly-colourful northern suburb of Moonah. Hobart Float Centre and Massage is a slick, elegant hub on Main Road, with a floatation room futuristic enough to rival the next JJ Abrams instalment.
Floatation tanks have been around since the 1950s, and they're also called sensory deprivation units. A man named John C Lilly began looking into what happened to the human brain when all sensory input was removed and built floatation chambers that aimed to do just that. Lilly's participants reported feeling extremely calm after their "floats" – so much so that the idea of "floating" or "sensory deprivation" became synonymous with the more ancient concept of "meditation".
Just like other forms of meditation, floating is excellent for stress relief, creativity, pain management and improvement of immune function. With a whopping 500kg of Epsom salts immersed in the float water, users also benefit from the muscle-relaxant and magnesium qualities believed to be healthful for the body.
Floatation is said to be terrific for pregnant gals.
Arriving at the centre, my guide Eikor shows me the ropes. She advises me to shower, remove my clothing, then lower myself into a rather impressive-looking space-age pod, complete with chakra-illuminating, changing coloured lights. Eikor explains that I simply need to close the lid over my head and then, when I'm comfortable, turn off the light so that I can get truly immersed in the "zone". I'm told floating is a meditation and relaxation experience par-excellence, and I don't need to worry about sinking, as the Epsom-salt heavy water will ensure I am "effortlessly floating". The water is skin temperature, which will help reduce my perception of differentiation between my body and my surrounds, enhancing the meditation experience. Eikor also explains that with a reduced level of sensory input, my mind might initially panic, but once I get into it, it will be "very peaceful".
I start with the uber-cool shower – a sexy, motion-activated thing that I feel very pampered to use – and casually move over to the pod. I lower the lid and get used to my surrounds while I listen to some relaxing, introductory music that plays for the first 10 minutes of the session. I'm brave, and I turn the lights off after about five of those minutes.
I don't freak out at all - much to my own surprise (as I tend to freak out rather easily). In fact, I experience quite the opposite. It's a pleasant floating feeling where time seems to have no real relevance. Apparently John Lennon and other celebrities have embraced floatation tanks over the years to help them relax and tap into their creativity better, so I'd be keen to do this again and see what the impacts could be on my daily life. Coming out of the float, I'm aware that my normally stiff left shoulder is feeling much better than usual, and I'm feeling unusually peaceful. As I leave, a lovely pot of herbal tea is waiting for me in the foyer, and I take a sip before "realigning" myself back with waking reality.
A diagram from the Hobart Floatation and Massage Centre summing up how it all works.