Interview & Visit: Ubuntu Wellness Center in Cape Town, South Africa
In December 2017, I got to float in one of the two float centers on the African continent (my third continent on which I was happy to float) – the Ubuntu Wellness Center inside Cape Town’s Medi Spa. It was my first float in forever, so I was extremely excited and not disappointed. Founder Ian MacFarlene, who opened the spa 15 years ago and his co-manager Michael De Wet greeted me with lots of curios questions about my traveling/floating life (which were welcomed, of course 😉 ) and served me water.
The center has two float tanks, is clean; they provide ear plugs and a shower inside the room. If you ask, you can also get a hair dryer.
After my visit, Ian also answered my questions about his Ubuntu Wellness Center in The Mother City (Cape Town):
Where did you hear about floating first?
After completing my PPE (Politics, Economics and Philosophy) MA degree at Oxford in 1993 I was living and wondering around in London [Michael is originally from South Africa] without any clear idea either of what to do or where life might take me. So a pretty standard state of affairs for me… One day I walked past a display poster of a float tank outside the South London Natural Health Centre that suddenly magnetised my mind. Without knowing what it was, I was drawn inside and minutes later with no real introduction succumbed to and found myself floating gravity-free in a silky Epsom salt watery solution in a womb-shaped fibreglass cocoon…. Life would never be the same again.
What made you decide to open your own floating business?
It was pretty organic. Rumi says “Dive into experience!” and that’s what happened to me in the summertime of 1993 – so experience led the way. Crossing the Clapham Common main road after that first float in the beautiful float rooms that I would later get so well acquainted with was an acutely out of body experience, and it took my a couple of days to regain my ‘normal self’ (whatever that meant)… So, something significant had happened to me in that dark watery stillness and I wanted to find out what it was. I called the centre back to inquire if there was any opportunity to engage in university studies about what I know understood to be called R.E.S.T (Restricted Environment Stimulation Technique). While the answer was ‘don’t know about that,’ I was offered an interview for the post of managing the float centre itself as the manager of 10 years was about to leave that week. From the surprise experience to the interest in research to a business interview, within a fortnight I began my first job as a co-manger of a leading London wellness centre and the foundations of my interest and practice of wellness would firmly take root over the following 3 years.
I had ‘Float Credits’ as a currency that I eagerly traded with the other 30 therapists in the building and began receiving all forms of massages and sessions, starting yoga and having and then training in Reiki Natural Healing which I have continued to this day both as practitioner and teacher.
Later I brought the concept of an integrated wellness centre back to South Africa and with my families support would open the Cape Town Medi-Spa and Ubuntu Wellness Centre in 2003.
What’s the best part about floating?
There are few words that can do the process of floating justice.
People find to so many positive applications from pain management and detoxification to relaxation and creativity enhancement. Over 7 theories exist as to why it is so successful from chemical/endorphin release, brain integration and gravity effects, and most likely it’s a combination of all of these. Personally I have found the process to be both profoundly natural and spiritual, an unwinding of societal programming and a return to my inner balance, a homeo-stasis of body, mind and soul. Re-immersing in this familiar dark, salty floating memory not unlike our first 9 months in-utero’s journey. Time and again, without any effort, healing old wounds and breathing in boundlessness and recalling innate harmony with all that is, accelerating our life journeys and always revealing and insighting the many multi-dimensional layers we are and carry, gifting self a present of being present… most of all having fun shaking off dull sloth!
How known is floatation therapy in your country?
Floatation is still at an infant stage in Africa. There are currently only two centres offering closed-capsule floating in South Africa, and we are the only one in Cape Town (The Mother City). Education and access to floating’s many benefits will hopefully increase soon with more centres coming online and reflect the recent upsurge of global interest.
What is being done to make it more known – what do you do?
Our Ubuntu Wellness services are built around our 2 wonderful Floataway capsules, and we refer to them at all times for both local and foreign clients as standalone or in package combination with bodywork, healing and massage combos and packages. They are truly excellent for Jet Lag and a centre could focus their energies there and do very well I believe. The ‘Ubuntu Combo’ is our most popular ongoing special of an hour of floating followed by an hour of full body massage with organic oils. We market several options to make floating more affordable, and offer a specialised Ubuntu Overnight Float from 10 p.m. – 8 a.m. for our Float Fanatics! Marketing is fairly passive and we could do a lot more than we do, but we prefer people to find us via online web or TripAdvisor where Ubuntu Wellness Centre has enjoyed some really great reviews since we went online this year. Ideally, people find us via word of mouth referrals.
How many tanks do you have?
‘Samadhi’ and ‘Atlantis,’ are our two UK-designed Floataway tanks, and are like our children (www.floataway.com), being very much loved. Underwater sound can be activated and brings in the option of sound journeys, guided meditations, therapy sessions and more. Dolphin and whale journeys are a personal favourite….
What’s different/unique about your center?
Our Cape Town Medi-Spa is a fully fledged integrated wellness centre with about 50 therapists, doctors, psychologists, massage, healing and other healthcare professionals operating under one roof. The top floor are complementary professionals, the middle floor is filled with medical professionals and the ground floor is my Ubuntu Wellness business, where the focus is alternative and vibrational healing.
The space itself has a wonderful healing heritage legacy with an old Wild Fig Tree called ‘Unabantu Nokuphila’ (‘The Healing Mother Tree’) in the back courtyard anchoring and inspiring our healing mission and enabling our social enterprise project Ubuntu Touch where we train township ladies for free to become therapists. This Ubuntu Tree s the 7th sacred site of Cape Town.
My wife Dawn is a vegan plant-based consultant and she has veganised me gradually over the years. Ubuntu Wellness now reflects Veganism as both a health, environmental and ethical lifestyle goal, necessary to optimally heal body, mind and the planet. Nokuphila gave us the message that ‘Only when the animals and humans are together under my branches’ will the true healing begin” so everything Ubuntu Wellness is offering is a reflection of that from Spa, Social Projects and Products/Services.
What makes people come to you?
Curiosity, pain, distress, inspiration, trust in another’s recommendation… I guess mostly stress.
We are living in a time of supreme stress/stressors and our simple Ubuntu Wellness vegan-friendly healing offerings are being felt to work in so many cases… It is a great joy and privilege to be able to share our space and our expertise in transforming stress back to an original state of harmony.
What’s a No-go for a floating center?
Mind-control! …Floating was one good thing to have come out of medical naval endurance testings in the 1960’s! Let’s leave that stuff in the past! (Advertisers beware!)
But seriously for any floating centre owners, my advice would be first to experience the peace of floating back into yourself, of stepping into your own river of silence, and let that personal experience lead your business, and all will be a flowing success 🙂
Photos courtesy of the Ubuntu Wellness Centre in Cape Town
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