I am floating in total darkness; naked, in a formless void where I can’t see, hear, or feel anything. The darkness is completely the same whether my eyes are open or closed. I have no idea how much time has passed, no idea even if I’m awake or asleep, and I’ve lost all sense of my body. I am just an undefined blob of consciousness in an endless expanse of absolute nothingness. And it’s the happiest I’ve been in a long time.
This is part of what it’s like to use the flotation tanks at Hydra Flotation Spa, a newly opened flotation tank facility at an unassuming corner location at Rauðárstígur 1, just a few seconds’ walk from Hlemmur. The business is the brainchild of Ryan Patrekur, a man who has spent a long time working in the tourism industry but wanted to try something completely new.
“I really wanted to create a real experience, an authentic experience, that’s guaranteed no matter what the day or the weather,” he tells me. “Something that couldn’t be found anywhere else in Iceland, but is authentic; not a plastic prop or a video screen. Something real.”
Basically for everyone
There really isn’t one ideal customer for these flotation tanks. They are very large — roughly exceeding the size of a king-sized bed — and half-filled with Icelandic water that has been heavily saturated with epsom salt. This provides not only the necessary density to float comfortably; it is also rich in magnesium, a mineral absorbed by the skin and in which people are deficient. The water is skin temperature, rather than body temperature, which is also important — it not only helps create that feeling of being weightless rather than floating on the surface of something, it’s also not so warm that you become uncomfortable.
“I’ve thought about therapeutic flotation tanks a lot over the past few years,” Ryan says. “It just kept clicking. For creative types, jet-lagged businessmen, all of my Reykjavík neighbours who have the soul of an Icelander and can’t get out of the city but need a break from the phones, the screens, but don’t necessarily go to a yoga salon or a crossfit studio.”
Ryan makes no medical claims about flotation tanks, but he does recount some customers who, having experienced back pain or other joint ailments for a long time, finally experienced some relief during their sessions.
The psychological appeal
For my part, I have no such physical ailments, but I do often find it difficult to relax, concentrate, and really sort my thoughts. After the lid on the tank was closed and the lights went off, it took a few minutes for my mind to adjust to the almost total absence of sensory input. I admit, it was a little bit scary at first. But once I let go, wonderful things happened.
The brain is a really marvelous thing. In the absence of sound or light, in the absence of even most tactile input, it wasn’t boredom that descended upon me — it was fascination. Early childhood memories that I had long forgotten came to the surface. I was able to see, hear, even smell these memories again. I let a stream of consciousness course through me as I considered a serious problem I was having with a short story I’m writing. I meditated on a couple of personal issues, and found greater clarity and insight than I’d been able to get staring out the window on the bus.
It was, in short, like taking a nine-day vacation within the span of a little over an hour.
Ryan isn’t in it for the money. His motivations are more altruistic, as he genuinely wants to help people, and continues to find satisfaction in the results.
“My vision is to provide the exact amount of comfort and service, both in personality and facility, for what the area desires,” he says. “I love seeing people when they come out.”