Stress is second nature in Toronto. We hide it in our shoulders, in the nape of our neck, the temples on our foreheads, the muscles in our lower backs. Behind our smiles we perpetuate an illusion of calmness that is held together by over-the-counter medication, cottage weekends and Rosé from the Wine Rack. But it’s just not enough. We’re all craving relaxation that will remove us from the routine, unnecessary hangovers, body aches and all the other problems that can’t be fixed with Advil. That’s why I booked an appointment at Float Toronto.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Float Toronto is a place where people go to float naked in a sensory deprivation tank filled with salt water. It started in 1954 when a dude called John C. Lilly floated in an isolation tank on LSD to understand the brain and its energy sources. Over 50 years later, floating has become a trendy new way to chill out. Floating therapy is becoming a regular retreat for high-strung city dwellers in need of deep relaxation.

The Stress

To give you a full picture of my float experience, I first need to tell you about everything I was thinking about prior to floating: pick up groceries. Cancel flight to Arizona (get flying credit?). Sell WayHome ticket. Acid reflux is killing me. I drank too much coffee. Save more money. Respond to that email. Call Rogers to cancel cable. Text Sabrina back about Friday. Pop zit on chin. Buy detergent. Don’t forget. Take writing test for Humber program, maybe. Change mind. Pay taxes. Don’t be an idiot. Don’t screw up. Pay phone bill. Finish that article. Sell books for cash. Call Jess about that thing. Email Teddy about rates. Buy new socks. Feet stink. Wash hair. (When was the last time I washed my hair?) Call mom. Book appointment for next tattoo removal. Leg hurts. Mosquito bite. Ouch. Fuck it’s getting bigger. Rent. I’m sleepy.

You get the picture.

The Float

When I arrived I took off my Air Force Ones, sat down in the seating area and listened to the introductory video. A soft-spoken woman with natural highlights guided me to Room 2, asking if I had any questions about the float. “Nope, I think I’m good!” I nervously replied. Inside, I stripped off my clothes like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and jumped into a fancy shower that made me feel like I was bathing in a magical man-made waterfall. The float tank was powered by a machine that looked like a miniature space ship filled with water. On a table beside the tank was a face towel, ear buds and a Kleenex box. After my shower, I carefully dipped my toe in the water to feel the temperature. Naked, feeling like a lanky alien creature bathing for the very first time, I closed the door behind me and felt the salt water push my weight above the water. The salt felt tingly against my skin. It was pitch black, and the water temperature was alarmingly perfect.

My Brain

Left alone in the dark without sound, I tried to concentrate on things I might consider relaxing: the distant sounds of crowds clapping at a golf game, the sheer paper in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the heartbeat of my dog sleeping on my stomach. It didn’t work. My brain was being a shit disturber. I tried again. It felt impossible. I repositioned my body with my arms behind my head, thinking about my arms in the water. My thoughts went elsewhere: How long has it been? Is this what it feels like to die? Did I respond to Craig’s email? Stop thinking.

I made up silly mantras I imagined other floaters chanting: Be ONE with the water. I AM the water. The water is me. This is ridiculous: stop chanting, please. Then stress crashed the party. What if Air Canada won’t give me a refund for my flight? What if my writing never gets any better? I suck. Then there was my body, which felt like a salty alien. My arm feels weird. Does my right arm have enough circulation? Is salt water good for my hair? What if someone enters my room and I’m left to defend myself naked? Could I whip the perpetrator hard enough with a towel to escape? Jesus, my brain was on fire. My thoughts had never been this loud before.

The Deep Sleep

It took a long time to feel the relaxation. My thoughts turned into a recycling bin of jibbly-garble. Suddenly I felt the muscles in my shoulders start to relax. I stopped moving. It was nice. I closed my eyes and repeated my favourite word over and over again: Benevolent. Benevolent. Benevolent. Benevolent. Benevolent. Benevolent. I couldn’t feel the water anymore; I felt the calm before kicking into sleep mode. Conscious in a floating tank of water, I slipped into a twenty-minute period of still movement euphoria. Maybe it was fifteen minutes. Maybe two. Whatever, it’s not like I had a timer to keep track. It felt good.

The Aftermath

When the floating session was over, harpy-spa-fairy music gently played to cue my exit. I felt relaxed, in a way I wasn’t so familiar with. Like my body went on vacation and reunited with my head after an hour. The salt water still tingled, and my muscles felt like my bones had melted into a pile of caramel. I had another Pretty Woman moment in the fancy shower, put my clothes on and wandered home.

So how does Float Toronto compare to other stress relieving activities? See chart below:

Toronto Relaxation Scale

Smoking a joint while watching House Hunters = 10 to 15 minutes relaxation
Tipsy bike riding after patio sangria on sunny afternoon = 20 minutes relaxation
Sun tanning at Dundas and Bathurst pool = 30 minutes relaxation
Yoga class, just because = 45 minutes relaxation
Floating in sensory deprivation tank = 1 to 2 hours relaxation
Floating in sensory deprivation tank on LSD = 5 to 6 hours relaxation
REM sleep after eating churros in Kensington = 8 hours relaxation

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