I take a tiny lift up the floors of a weathered industrial building. An airy, light-filled space greets me when the doors open. Its wide windows reveal a view of banyan trees standing tall and majestic, just by the Kallang river.
When my turn comes, I’m guided to a room with spartan white walls. Before me lies a futuristic-looking, egg-shaped pod. Within it, a pool of water phases from purple to green, red and blue, while ethereal music wafts in the background. The effect is hypnotic.
I hold my breath and slide gently in. The warm water, thanks to the 600kg of Epsom salt dissolved in it, cradles my body. I’m suspended effortlessly as if floating in a womb-like alien cocoon. When I feel ready, I pull down the pod’s lid. The music stops, the light goes off and I’m plunged into an inky darkness.
I focus on clearing my mind. I begin to notice areas of physical tension in my body, such as my neck, stiff from hours spent hunched over a laptop. I breathe in deeply and feel my heart rate slow. With my arms splayed out and eyes closed, I feel untethered, like a lone astronaut lost in the infinite abyss.
Flotation therapy for longer-lasting stress relief
This is all happening at Singapore’s Palm Ave Float Club, one of the early pioneers of the local wellness trend when it opened back in 2014. Founders Sarah Chan and Derrick Foo first learned about flotation therapy in 2013, while searching for ways to deal with their own stress.
First designed by an American neuroscientist, flotation tanks are thought to ease mental anxiety, muscle tension and even symptoms of depression, by cutting out all external stimulation.
Chan and Foo found that the therapy gave them a natural state of calm, be more attuned to their surroundings and created a longer-lasting result than other wellness techniques they’d tried. They wanted to give their clients the same experience.
“Think of it like savasana (the relaxation pose in yoga) on steroids,” says Chan. “We want visitors to feel a sense of freedom and inner transformation. After a float, everything seems lighter and brighter.”
Float Club is located in Kampong Bugis, next to the idyllic Kallang Riverside Park. It’s a mere five-minute drive from the busy Kampong Glam heritage district, but feels like a world away from the buzzing city centre.
Reflecting on the business’ early years, the club’s founders say that it had been an interesting experience getting to know the early adopters of this activity. They found that there was a small community of like-minded individuals.
Some of them were what Foo called “truth seekers”, people who sought a more spiritual experience, or perhaps just something that rang true to them. “Bear in mind, back in the day the term wellness wasn’t even officially coined yet,” he adds. Another group were “bio-hackers”, a term he uses to describe people who wanted to improve their health and wellbeing by making changes to their bodies, diet and lifestyle.
Today, this oasis of calm draws in many professionals who come simply to ease the aches and pains of the working day.
Singapore’s growing focus on wellness
Singapore has the unfortunate reputation of consistently ranking among the most stressed-out nations in global surveys. But that narrative has been gradually changing since the pandemic.
Locals are increasingly prioritising their wellbeing and paying more attention to self-care. A whole range of alternative wellness providers are springing up in the city-state, offering everything from forest bathing to reiki, cacao ceremonies to crystal healing. In 2022, Singapore held its inaugural Wellness Festival, a symbol of the local explosion of interest in the wellness sector.
Other mindfulness and self-care events soon followed. Recently, luxury skincare brand Aesop organised Khronos: a Skin Odyssey – a sensory art installation and series of workshops that included sound baths and mat pilates with a focus on breathwork, which celebrated the link between skin and wellbeing. The Conscious Festival at South Beach promoted health, wellness and sustainability with talks, panels and more workshops.
Diana Ng, a somatic therapist and embodiment guide who has been working in the wellness space in the past 20 years, observes a growing consciousness towards the importance of wellness, as well as a demand for more intentionally curated experiences.
“Our culture has tended to value mind over matter and pushing through. The lockdown gave people a chance to reconnect to their own needs and realise what might be misaligned in their life,” she said.
She notes that a sense of community has sprung up at emerging wellness clusters at Pearl’s Hill Terrace in Chinatown and the recently-defunct Altered States, also founded by Chan and Foo at the same Kampong Bugis location.
Yoga aside, an increasing number of practitioners are exploring other modalities such as breathwork, sound baths, movement and forest therapy.
“When people come for my sessions to relieve stress, they realise that fellow participants may also be going through something challenging. Through the guided movements, they learn to quiet their mind and reconnect with their body, alongside other people, without finding it taboo. That’s what makes such spaces so valuable.”
Restaurants serving ‘dirty clean’ healthy but tasty food
But wellness isn’t just about learning, listening or switching off. It’s about fun, too.
There’s been a growing interest in healthy eating on this island over the past few years. Healthy, accessible and tasty mini-chains, such as The Daily Cut and Bamboo Bowls offer an alternative to Singapore’s traditional, low-cost street food and its thriving fine-dining scene.
The Kallang Rivergreen building, home to the Palm Ave Float Club, also houses a new vegetable-forward rotisserie restaurant COOP COOP on its ground floor patio. Promising fun and casual vibes, this pet-friendly space is designed to encourage group get-togethers. The star dish, rotisserie chicken drizzled with garlic sauce and crisp chilli oil, invites everyone to dig in and get their hands dirty. The menu leans towards Middle Eastern flavours with a hint of Asian. Expect veggie dips, salads, sharing mezze plates and grilled items.
“A meal that’s indulgent and where you get your hands dirty but ultimately, you are eating well”
Javier Perez of Yonder Hospitality, the group behind COOP COOP, enthuses that this mix of hearty fare and fresh vegetables helps keep everything balanced. “We like to call it ‘Dirty Clean’, a meal that’s indulgent and where you get your hands dirty but ultimately, you are eating well,” he says.
Learning to linger and just do nothing
When I end my float session, I emerge from the darkness and find myself back in the lounge area, where the staff invite me to stay for as long as I like.
I wander the space, examining the therapy tool-kits and self-help books, before I finally make myself at home amongst the throw cushions. I savour a cup of hot ginger tea and a Thai coconut and chocolate ice cream. Time unspools lazily as I watch the world outside go by. In the distance, a fleet of kayakers paddle in the waters around the Singapore Sports Hub.
“Many of us have forgotten how to do nothing”
Chan and Foo have made space for idleness as an antidote for modern life. As Foo puts it, “We’ve learnt that people just want to chill and keep it real. You’d think it’s funny that people would need to learn how to be idle. But modern societies are filled with distractions, and many of us have forgotten how to do nothing.”
Flipping through the Float Club’s visitors book, I find previous floaters have left all sorts of doodles, sketches and reflections in colourful markers. Some are trippy and quirky; others are pensive, heartfelt and raw. “I became part of a large dark pond, my hands were like gentle rockets pulsing and then I had a really great nap,” wrote one guest.
In a world so over-stimulated and frantically paced, it’s heartening to know that spaces like this exist – a safe retreat that allows time for wonder and reflection in the middle of ordinary moments.
Where to find similar wellness experiences in Singapore
At Yunomori Onsen & Spa, soak your worries away in the mineral-rich, warm waters at this space that marries traditional Japanese Onsen therapies and Thai spa treatments.
Trapeze Rec. Club is a wellness club that comprises a boutique gym, a variety of health, fitness and wellness treatments and a café in the heart of Singapore’s central business district.
Indulge in a one-of-a-kind halotherapy (salt therapy) experience at Pablo Blau, Singapore’s first luxury salt spa.
From saunas, ice baths, float tanks and acupressure massage to counselling, all this and more is available at Soma House, a studio in Singapore’s beloved Eastside neighbourhood Joo Chiat.
Nestled within Bukit Timah’s lush greenery, Herd Singapore harnesses the gentle healing power of horses through Equine-Assisted Intervention therapy sessions.
Space 2B is a collective of mindfulness mentors who lead over 30 sound-healing, meditation and somatic experiences each week, using meditation and sound’s therapeutic qualities.
Gentle Walks conducts local forest walks for people to experience a slower way of life and soak in the goodness of the forest.
Glow by Supernature is an all-organic and natural retail and dining space on Dempsey, with a tempting range of freshly prepared salads, energising juices and warming soups.
Since opening in 2011, The Living Café in Bukit Timah has been at the forefront of raw and plant-based cuisine in Singapore.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines’ flights to Singapore, visit the official website.