Float away the day’s stresses

Mark Smethurst was searching for ways to ease his pain caused by a degenerative back condition when he discovered floatation therapy.

It’s a method of relaxation and recovery for the mind and body that involves lying back on warm salt water inside a sensory deprivation pod.

The treatment intrigued Mark so much that he decided to give it a go and from his first session he was hooked.

Now he runs his own therapy centre in Stafford helping other people reap the benefits of floating.

“At the time of my first float, over 20 years ago now, I’d had a degenerative back condition for 15 years, with no potential cure. I had tried many holistic treatments with varying different results.

“When I first heard about it, it sounded pretty weird but I thought I’d give it a try. I’m so very glad I did. The reduction in pain was so unexpected, but it was the first time I had been pain-free in that time period. To say I was impressed is an understatement,” says Mark, director of Time to Float in Marston Road.

There is approximately 25cms of water and 450kg of Epsom salts in each pod, which makes the water incredibly buoyant and ensures that people stay afloat.

Studies have shown that floating can have benefits such as muscle relaxation, better sleep and reduction in pain.

It can also help to reduce stress and anxiety because the peace and solitude found in the pods provides a sense of calm.

This is because it lessons the workload of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for planning and execution of behaviour, speech and logical reasoning.

Floating can also be beneficial for athletes because it helps reduce lactic acid which can build up during workouts.

Epsom salts break down lactic acid immediately which cuts recovery time, builds stronger muscles and lessens the chance of muscle damage due to over-training.

“Blocking out all of the outside world by reducing stimulation to the three main senses – sight, touch and hearing – and allowing the mind and body to truly relax, has amazing effects both physically and, more importantly at the moment, mentally.

“There are so many benefits to floating but to name but a few is great for depression, anxiety, relaxation, muscle recovery, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and pregnancy.

“We have had some amazing results for pain reduction for fibromyalgia sufferers,” Mark tells Weekend.

The therapy is still relatively uncommon in the UK despite having been around since the mid-1950s.

John Lennon credited the use of the floatation tank in helping him kick a debilitating heroin habit in 1979 while more recently footballer Wayne Rooney and actor Daniel Craig have also sworn by the therapy.

“When we started five years ago, we were only the ninth centre in the UK at the time, and the only one in the West Midlands/Shropshire area – but a few more places are popping up over the country. We have clients that travel from various locations such as Worcester, Coventry, Crewe and Telford,” Mark tells Weekend.

It’s also a treatment that is suitable for the vast majority of people to try with the only exceptions usually being those with epilepsy and anyone suffering from ear infections.

“It may seem like a specialised treatment, but we reckon over 95 per cent of the country would find benefit from floating regularly. We have people from all walks of life that come to us for one reason or another and once they have tried it and felt amazing after, so they keep coming back for more,” says Mark.

Earlier this year he teamed up with West Bromwich-based mental health and wellbeing charity The Kaleidoscope Plus Group, which added Time to Float to its list of service providers.

Kaleidoscope also receives a donation for every user who books a session through the charity.

Although it may seem daunting at first, there are steps people can take to help them reap the full benefits when they first dip their toes in water.

Avoiding caffeinated drinks for several hours beforehand can help as they can interfere with their ability to relax.

Being in the pods is said to be more like floating in outer space than being shut in a box, so people with extreme claustrophobia have floated and reported not having any problems during their time in the tank.

“People can expect a deep relaxation and some clients have a breakthrough, from a physical or mental standpoint. Everyone is always nervous when they first come they think that the pods are smaller than they are.

“Because of this it takes a proportion of that initial session for people to relax and ‘let go,’ but once they have, you can see the relaxation and joy on their faces,” Mark tells Weekend.

Witnessing the positive experiences of customers trying the therapy first time as well as those continuing to find it beneficial makes it a rewarding job for Mark.

“I enjoy seeing people’s stressed faces when they first come in and then the euphoric look when they are leaving – I feel like the luckiest person in the world to see people leave so happy,” he says.

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