Flotation therapy in Dubai: 60 minutes of fear (and some peace)
I'm floating, naked in a pool of extremely salty water in pitch darkness, in a sealed egg-shaped tank. No, I’m not one of the eerie ‘Precogs’ in Minority Report, instead I’m at the Waldorf Astoria DIFC in the centre of Dubai, having voluntarily signed up to be a guinea pig to test out some of the flotation therapy that athletes like Tom Brady, Steph Curry and a myriad of wellness gurus swear by.
On a technical front, Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) is supposed to encourage an extremely deep level of relaxation, by immersing you in water with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt dissolved in. It is supposed to help heal the knots and aches in your body, like a relaxing soup…that you sit in.
The floatation pod looks tiny situated in a corner of the huge spa suite. But when you lay down inside, with your arms stretched out, you can’t touch the sides of the pod.
"As the lid of the tank comes down and I’m completely surrounded in pitch black darkness, my brain automatically goes into overdrive with worst-case scenarios"
“We recommend customers going in naked,” the technician says while giving me a tour of the large room that includes a shower, steam room and a heated massage bed. Taking her up on her recommendation I de-robe, quickly shower and step into the water, which feels kind of oily. It is what I assume a seal feels like.
The first few minutes of flotation therapy could make even a non-claustrophobic person a little panicky. Normally, I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but as the lid of the tank comes down and I’m completely surrounded in pitch black darkness, my brain automatically goes into overdrive with worst-case scenarios—has anyone ever drowned or had a heart attack in here?
The key, I am told, is to focus on your breathing and stop tensing your muscles. While your brain knows you can’t drown in that tank, your body finds it much harder to let go.
At first you try and adjust your eyesight to the darkness, which is impossible given that you’re in a sealed tube. Then you try and resist the urge to hit the button that allows a series of soothing LED lights into the little tank. Giving up, you start counting from one to a thousand to help the time pass.
Then—because of condensation—little beads of salt water start dripping on my face, which results in an extremely painful few minutes of getting used to the stinging in the eyes. That experience alone almost had me reaching for the red panic button at the side of the tank to end the session. But I will myself to keep going.
While lying there, bobbing away from one side of the tank to the other with no stimulation whatsoever, your brain tends to go a bit into overdrive. Humans generally are social beings. We’ve not been without our sense of smell, sound and sight since we’ve left the womb. Which, I imagine, is what the last 30 minutes of flotation therapy feels like. Time becomes relative and slows down and while I can’t meditate for the life of me, it was definitely nice to feel weightless and bob around for an hour.
Suddenly jarring me from my dream-like state was the sound of loud music from the underwater speakers and the startling shaft of light indicating that my hour was up. I shower again, drink some tea and head off back into the real world.
All the aches and pains from a recent weightlifting session have magically disappeared and the feeling of weightlessness lasts until the next morning. And the epsom salts had cleared up my skin, leaving it baby soft and supple.
Priced at AED470 for an hour session, it’s a unique experience that is worth a try. It’s the only way to really know whether you are able to cope with your own company, or if, like me, sensory deprivation will make you go a little nuts.
Waldorf Astoria DIFC, Dubai. Sensory Deprivation Treatement, AED470. Tel: +971 4 515 9999