I will be the first to admit, sitting in a bathtub filled with lukewarm water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt did not sound like the most masculine thing that I would find myself doing this past Friday morning.
After hearing several professional mixed martial artists rave about the benefits of floating, and friend Kevin Kelly suggesting a nearby location that offers the services, I decided to give it a shot. I made an appointment at Metta Relaxation Company in Bethlehem, Pa., to find out what all the hype was about.
Before I can tell you about my experience, you must first understand what floating is. While the concept has been garnering a lot of attention lately, especially by athletes, the theory behind the relaxation process is not new.
According to Metta’s website, “The first flotation tank was developed in 1954 by the American neurophysiologist Professor Dr. John C. Lilly while working at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Together with his associate Dr. Jay Shirley, Dr. Lilly became intrigued by the question of the origins of conscious activity within the brain. The question was whether the brain needed external stimuli to keep its conscious state going.
Lilly and his associate set to work trying to devise a system that would restrict environmental stimulation as much as was practical and feasible. Lilly’s first tank was one in which the floater was suspended upright, entirely underwater, head completely covered by an underwater breathing apparatus and mask. Tanks of those days would be very intimidating to the average person. Over the years Lilly continued his experiments with flotation, simplifying and improving the general design of the tank. Dr. Lilly found that he could float in a more relaxing supine position, rather than suspended feet downward in fresh water, if more buoyant salt was used.”
What is floating?
Floating is often referred to as floatation-REST (restricted environmental stimulation technique) or sensory deprivation.
It is sometimes done in a chamber, however, at Metta, large tubs are used. The tub is large enough for you to stretch out completely and move about, rarely touching the sides. It is filled with 10-inches of water, 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, and maintained at a temperature of 93.5 degrees.
Gravity is not a factor. Your body will float to the water’s surface immediately. Lights are turned off and you lay in silence, letting your body completely relax.
The purpose of my visit was to find out first hand how this process could help the MMA athlete. Since I had heard so much about floating, I wanted to know, so I could provide feedback to the MMA community.
Why mixed martial artists should give floating a try:
- Accelerates the recovery from injury
- Increases energy
- Ideal space for visualization
- Boosts the immune system
- Reduces Lactic acid levels in the body
- Aids in facilitated rest, improving athletes exposure to fatigue
Epsom salts are magnesium and sulphate – a muscle relaxant and a protein builder for your joints. Not only can you truly decompress in the float tank, you absorb the minerals while you float directly into your muscles, allowing you to be noticeably less tense as soon as you get up!
My experience at Metta
I walked into Metta Relaxation Co., and was immediately greeted by Stephanie, the owner. Upon entering the facility you almost feel a sense of relaxation just by walking through the doors. Metta has an artsy feel to it, sort of like being at a gallery. It’s spacious, clean, and the decor makes you feel at ease, but what I noticed first was a scent that immediately triggered my brain to conform to a state of ease. I don’t know what it was, but it was like going from night to day.
Since I was a first time floater I was briefed about how to get the most out of my visit and was assured that it would take a good two or three times for me to really get the hang of it. When I went to the room that I would be isolated in for the next 90-minutes it felt like I had entered a sauna. The air was warm and the smell had changed to what I had expected from being in a room where a tub was filled with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, although I did not expect it smack me in the face quite like that. It only took a minute to adjust. That is when I put in the ear plugs that were provided, and showered before entering the tub.
I became buoyant immediately. Stephanie had told me that it might take some time to adjust but right away I got the hang of it. It felt natural. I turned the light out and stretched as instructed.
I had heard that it might take some time to figure out how to hang my arms or find a comfortable position. Maybe I got lucky, but it was not hard at all. From the start I was comfortable.
The only thing that took time to get used to was how sounds that I was used to hearing, now sounded different in while my ears were submerged under water and plugged. I crack my fingers and back often. I cracked my knuckles and the sound that was produced was different, like a ping, or when a submarine hits an underwater mine in the movies, sort of like a pop.
While I did try to fall asleep, I never was able to completely doze off. The water stayed relatively warm, and you could feel the salt build up on the exposed areas of your body, such as your stomach. The water had a slippery feel to it from the salts, almost like baby oil, helping to keep your skin soft.
As someone who deals with a lot of lower back pain, I wanted to find something that might help alleviate some of the pressure on the lower part of my spine. I found that by floating freely, almost in an arch position, might be a trick that I can add to my toolbox.
My intent was to write something almost immediately following my visit to Metta, but as I noticed hours after my visit that the sense of relief was still there, I decided to wait. I wanted see how long the feeling of rejuvenation would last. My visit was on Friday morning at 10 a.m. Throughout the entire day, my skin felt fresh, my head clear, and my body felt energetic, almost as if any toxins were completely removed.
I spent Saturday afternoon on my feet for several hours on end. Normally I would find myself needing to lean on something for support, or switching stances as my back would hurt. Not that day. More than 24 hours after my first floating experience my body still felt energetic and pain free.
Would I recommend floating to another person? Absolutely. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work. I personally enjoyed it, and the staff and atmosphere at Metta made it that much more enjoyable.
I would highly recommend it to a mixed martial artist or any athlete for that matter who might be on the fence about giving floating a try. If you go in with an open mind, you might find that the entire floating process is completely therapeutic and might aide in recovery.
Give floating a try
Metta Relaxation Company is located at 618 W Broad St, Bethlehem, PA 18018. You can call them at (610) 419-2044.
They also do a variety of massages and offer reflexology services as well. My next visit to Metta is going to be for a session in reflexology to reeducate, repattern, and recondition the nerves through the neural (electrical) system of the body.
Check back for more on that later.