Pay a visit to Iceland, and it won’t take long for you to dive into the Nordic nation’s favorite pastime: floating. A literal hotbed of geothermal activity, the country is gifted with more than its fair share of naturally heated water perfect for a steamy dip. In fact, daily public bathing is so popular that Iceland’s 120-plus public pools — located in every town, no matter how small — serve as de facto centers of community life and wellness, for everything from swimming and relaxing to socializing and even political campaigning. (Mayors enjoy a good soak, too.)
Recently, the famous Blue Lagoon — Iceland’s most iconic pool that was founded as a spa in 1992 — introduced actual float therapy to its in-water offerings. Of course, this is slightly different than the more traditional way to float, which involves lying (floating) in water inside an enclosed pod. But the idea is the same: As you lie weightlessly in lukewarm H2O, you’re meant to drift into a meditative state and reap benefits similar to regular meditation.
Since I happened to be in Iceland, I figured why not try the wellness modality at such a standout destination as the Blue Lagoon? Ahead, all the intel on the benefits of float therapy and what it was like to experience it in such a breathtaking and nutrient-dense body of water.
What Is Float Therapy?
Float therapy isn’t new, and it’s actually becoming more common. In 2011, there were 85 float centers in the United States; today, you’ll find more than 550. In traditional sessions, an individual is left to float independently in pitch-black silence, often in a chamber or a pod filled with Epsom salt water.
“The float pods provide a unique experience that includes zero sound, zero light, and zero gravity,” says Mandy Rowe, president of True REST Float Spa. “Every float therapy experience is different, but for most people, at the end of their first 60-minute session, they will experience profound relaxation, and some people often fall asleep.” If you continue doing it regularly, Rowe says the benefits increase with deeper relaxation and stress relief. And all you have to do is... lie there.
The Benefits Of Float Therapy
By cutting off outside stimulation and creating sensory deprivation, the idea is to encourage the individual to enter a deeply relaxed or even trancelike state, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression while improving sleep and optimism — a bit like intense meditation in which your hair gets wet.
As Rowe explains, this chill state gives your mind a chance to recuperate (you know, from all the things happening in your life that cause it to race). “This then impacts mental health as well as physical health,” she says. And while it might sound intense to be completely immersed in a dark pod, Rowe stresses that everyone has control over their experience. “This means that they can create the environment that is most relaxing to them,” she says. “For example, a float pod’s door can be opened or shut. They can turn the lights on or off or listen to music, guided meditation, or binaural beats to create the perfect setting for a float session.”
Risks Of The Treatment
Generally, float therapy is safe for everyone and side effects are rare. That said, anyone with an infectious disease or open wound should also steer clear of float tanks as well as those who have a severe fear of tight, enclosed spaces. Some may experience nausea after their first session, but this is not likely.
Float Therapy At The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon’s brand of float therapy takes a different approach to the trendy treatment. Rather than leaving guests to their own devices, the spa pairs individuals with a trained “floating therapist” who guides them throughout the session and performs personalized bodywork — think stretches, pulls, and gentle massage. Here, the focus is on the body as much as the mind, as the experience is meant to improve muscle recovery while reducing anxiety and stress — all in the Blue Lagoon’s mineral-rich waters. (The unique geothermal seawater in the lagoon is enriched with silica, algae, and minerals — bioactive elements that boast rejuvenating and nourishing properties.)
“Due to being weightless while floating, all muscle groups can relax simultaneously, and the joints can be relieved from all tension,” says Chad Keilen, a massage therapist who oversees quality and product development for Blue Lagoon’s wellbeing offerings. “This results in greater blood flow throughout the body and to any ill-affected areas, and allows for the release of endorphins, which can block pain signals in the body and send it into a deeper sense of relaxation.” The gorgeous views don’t hurt, either.
I, admittedly, was skeptical when I first went to the Retreat Spa at the Blue Lagoon to experience float therapy in April. (Just how soothing could it be to get cradled like a baby for 45 minutes?) After donning my specially-designed Flothetta cap and supports, which help you float effortlessly and comfortably in the lagoon, I was ready. My therapist covered my eyes with an eye mask, while the cap blocked out most noise — so although I wasn’t in a float tank, my senses were noticeably deadened. During the session, I could vaguely register what Keilen calls a “stimulation technique”— this reminded me of someone using an exfoliating glove on my legs — and a stronger swinging movement used to release spinal tension called “free spine.”
Having the assistance of a massage therapist as you float has unique perks. “Because the guest is floating face-up and on the surface of the water, the therapist has the distinct positional advantage of being able to effortlessly support the head and sacrum of the guest from under the water,” says Keilen. “The therapist is then able to free and lengthen the spine in a gentle back-and-forth wave-like motion.” In a more traditional pod, your body floats in whichever position you find yourself most comfortable.
Aside from the moments when I was gently guided through stretches, Blue Lagoon’s brand of float therapy felt incredibly slow and hypnotic — I’d consider it the ASMR of spa treatments that left me relaxed and pleasantly tingly. The only hard part? Leaving the warm geothermal water when it’s all over and exposing yourself to the frigid Icelandic air.
Feinstein, J.S. (2018). Examining the short-term anxiolytic and antidepressant effect of Floatation-REST. PLoS One. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796691/
Kjellgren, A. (2014). Beneficial effects of treatment with sensory isolation in flotation-tank as a preventive health-care intervention – a randomized controlled pilot trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4219027/
Loose, L (2021). Flotation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy for Chronic PainA Randomized Clinical Trial. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(5):e219627. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.9627