Floating peacefully. Sensory neutrality. The sole sound is your own heartbeat. According to friends, experiencing a floatation pod is the ultimate feeling of weightlessness, Zen soothiness, a return to the womb. Thanks to a coupon and a few days in Whistler, BC, I was able to try it out.
The receptionist showed me the first option: a simple coffin-sized water-filled pod with your choice of lid-open or lid-closed, piped in music or silence. Having watched just enough sci-fi to ruin the idea of lying in a dark death-pod of water, I chose option two: a private room with a four-foot wide shallow pool, no lid.
She began her spiel. “Please shower and wash your hair. Cover any abrasions with the ‘special barrier cream.’ Use the earplugs. The water is highly salinated with 650 pounds of Epsom salts so you will float freely. From the pool, you can control the room lights, underwater pool lights, music, and emergency call button.” (An emergency in water two feet deep?) “For maximum relaxation, I suggest total darkness and silence. A bell will sound at 60 minutes signaling the end of your session. Until then, enjoy your sensory deprivation experience!” She left and closed the door with a soft finality.
Earlier that day on a hike, a blackberry bush had pricked my ankle, so after showering I applied the “special barrier cream.” (Vaseline!) I pushed in the earplugs and turned out the room lights but kept the blue underwater pool light on while I stepped in. I really was floating in two feet of water! I closed my eyes. Ahh. My friends were right.
That tiny ankle cut stung a little. Then it began to hurt like someone pouring salt on a…OW! This was not relaxing. I got out, rinsed, dried my ankle, and applied a much thicker layer of Vaseline, pressing it into the pin-prick sized cut and covering it with a Band-Aid.
Once back in the pool I enjoyed full relaxation; suspended, without treading water. I turned off the pool lights. It was cave-dark. Nothing but the sound of my heart beating. And beating. Loudly. Annoyed, I noticed I was not in sync with the rhythm of my own heartbeat. It was—off somehow, not timed at the pace of my inner peace. I wished I had listened more in meditation class. Make it stop!
The salt began stinging its way into my ankle again. I opened my eyes. No longer comforted by the blackness, I turned the underwater blue light back on. Is that the Jaws theme playing in my head? And why was someone taking a cheese grater to my ankle? The drumbeat of my heart synched perfectly with the Jaws intro. Then my hungry stomach growled, magnified through my bones like a baleen whale sounding from the pool depths.
I had to get out. The 60-minute bell must be ready to sound anyway. I showered, dressed, and went out to the bright world of reception. Only 13 minutes had passed.
“How was it?” she said. Halfway through my story, she stifled a giggle and a snort.
If you try it, go for the coffin-pods, but don’t watch Jaws the week before.
Dori Gillam speaks on aging well, aging in community, and planning for a good death. As a Seattle native, she has a bachelor’s degree in educational psychology and has worked for Sound Generations, AARP, and the Center for Creative Aging.