Go for a Float in Thunder Bay’s New Float Centre

Afloat owners Tracey and Gavin Barrett first heard about flotation therapy in a podcast. They were so taken by the idea that they travelled to Minnesota to try it out for themselves. “I knew right away this is something I wanted to do all the time,” Gavin says. “I felt great for a solid week afterwards.”

Formerly known as sensory deprivation tanks – admittedly not the most appealing description – float pods are enjoying a comeback across North America as weekend warriors, stressed-out execs and pro athletes alike discover what it’s like to float in heavily salted water with no outside distractions. Researchers who study float tank therapy point to purported benefits including rapid deep relaxation, short- and long-term pain reduction, and improved sleep and mental concentration.  

Back home in Thunder Bay, the Barretts have opened their own centre, called Afloat, in the city’s hip Bay and Algoma neighbourhood in early 2015. Residents and travellers in Thunder Bay can now book a 90-minute session in a flotation tank.

They’ll experience a spa-like space decorated with soothing light wood, white walls and those Himalayan pink salt lights. The three private float rooms are each equipped with a $25,000 float tank: large, white, smooth, oval tubs that open up like a hardboiled egg sliced lengthwise.

A standard 90-minute intro float costs $39; after that, each 90-minute session is $69. To prepare yourself, you first don earplugs, squishy orange ones that fill the inside of your ear. They keep the salt water from trickling into your ear, and also block out any stray noise. Then you take a thorough shower so you don’t contaminate the tank water. Between uses, the water is filtered four times with a micron filter, UV, ozone and chlorine. A whopping 400 kilograms of Epsom salts are dissolved in the 25 centimetres of water in the tank, making it three times as buoyant as the Dead Sea. The float rooms are kept at a balmy 34 C, as is the water.

Then you step into the tank, pull the clamshell lid closed over you and lie back in the water. (Take a few deep breaths: this is a bit on the surreal side at first.) There are two big, white buttons on the side that control instrumental music and coloured lighting, or you can opt for no lights and no music for a dark, silent float. Some wonder about feeling claustrophobic, but the domed lid of the pod is several feet above you when it’s shut, so the enclosed space likely won’t bother you.

“We get a big range of clients – people looking for stress relief, pain relief or just a different experience,” Gavin says. “Our oldest customer is 86.” Some people who have given floating a try describe a kind of blissed-out zone similar to the kind that comes from many years of practising meditation. Others found that their float time passed in a blink of an eye. One person mentally rewrote a chapter in a novel-in-progress while others gained remarkable insights into their lives.

Your float could simply be a very relaxing hour and a half that leaves you pleasantly wiped out, the way you feel after a particularly good massage. In our noisy, busy world it’s always a smart idea to test-drive another R&R option.  

179 Algoma St. S.

Published Monday, November 2nd 2015

Header image credit: Courtesy, Afloat



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