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If you'd told me, after suffering an unimaginable tragedy this summer, that floating in a tub would make me feel better, I'd have laughed through the tears. But after the death of someone very close to me, I went in search of something — scratch that, anything, all things — that might make me feel infinitesimally better. I'd turned back to prayer, started seeing a therapist and attending support groups, all in pursuit of one thing, really: quiet. I longed to be still, to turn everything off. Which is why, when I heard about float tank therapy, I dove right in.
Developed by neuroscientist Dr. John C. Lily in 1954, an isolation tank is a soundproof, lightless capsule or room filled with salt water heated to the same temperature as the human body. Epsom salt is used in high concentrations — in this case, 800 lbs. of it — to promote buoyancy and the feeling of weightlessness.
Users float face-up with their ears submerged (ear plugs are provided) in a relaxed position, and are encouraged to let their arms float to the side. Sensory deprivation is said to be beneficial for physical, mental, and spiritual wellness: It reduces stress, soothes inflammation and pain, lowers blood pressure, and a myriad of other ailments. Water is constantly being flushed through a filtration system to ensure proper sanitation between clients.
It's done at spas that specialize in holistic and alternative therapies. In New York, I headed to Floating Lotus, a brand new healing center that specializes not only in floatation therapy but a wide variety of treatments, from laser hair removal and facials to reiki sessions and yoga.
Founders Jackie Litton and Joel Granik gutted a penthouse in midtown Manhattan, and built out a custom space with two float tank rooms, all in pursuit of mental health and spiritual wellness. Both Jackie and Joel have years of experience learning about and practicing everything from Shiatsu massage to Eastern medicine and wanted to create an all-in-one center that not only caters to your physical appearance but wellness in all spheres. Places like Just Float in LA, and Float Matrix in San Francisco also offer similar therapies.
I over prepare for everything, so I showed up showered, with bathing suit in tow, only to jump right back into a shower way more beautiful than my own, and learn that my bathing suit would stay dry this afternoon. Jackie assured me that nakedness was key to success here. So after offering me a neck pillow and earplugs, I found myself alone with a room full of salt water.
Before the lights turned off, I noted the intercom — in case things got weird — and the washcloth — in case salt got in my eyes, which seemed likely. I took a deep breath, wondered if I was claustrophobic, and let the blissful water wash over me.
Eventually, it was pitch black in the tank, meaning it didn't really matter if my eyes were opened or closed. Because the whole thing was so disorienting, I kept them shut. My brain started running through a million things: What am I going to eat after this? Wouldn't it be funny if Drake actually won a Grammy for ‘Back to Back'? I couldn't shut my brain up, until slowly, my mind started shifting inward and my breathing slowed.
I started really listening to my body and my soothing heartbeat; I could actually feel my blood pumping through my veins. Floating has been said to be one of the only ways to experience weightlessness while still on Earth. Some even say the effects are similar to hallucinogens.
Being in the tank horrified me at first. To feel like there is nothing above or below you is maybe the strangest thing I've ever experienced. Though I knew I was only floating in 10 inches of water, the lack of gravity made me sure I was going to drown (even though yes, I know that's impossible from a physics standpoint). Floating is said to activate theta brain waves, which are present during meditation and the space between consciousness and REM sleep. As scared as I was, I almost dozed off a couple times. Terrifying, yes, but also the most relaxed I'd been in months.
One weird thing that happened: I heard my joints cracking. After moving my neck several times to make sure my I was comfortable, I realized that this is how my bones should have been aligned all along. They were simply righting themselves.
I was relieved when the lights came on, but also kind of disappointed. Some users claim that an hour floating can feel like 10 min., but I'd peg it at more like 25.
To say I was covered in salt is like saying that a Sour Patch kid has a light sprinkle of sugar on top. It felt like there were 80 lbs. of salt in my extensions alone. I used at least three different kinds of soap and one killer coffee scrub. But the salt wouldn't go away. Hours later I could still see it on my skin. Who knew I should've brought a loofah to the office?
Ecstatic, I sat with Joel and Jackie afterwards. It turns out that, like meditation, each session feels different. Joel, who makes regular floating a part of his life, said the more you do it, the easier it gets. So next time, I get to bypass the work thoughts and go straight to relaxation.
I literally felt lighter on my feet and that night, I slept deeply. My entire body felt aligned and the effects lasted for quite some time. It made me more mindful of my body and how important it is to listen to it, so needless to say, I'm hooked. I learned that it's ok to take a step back and tune out. I gained a new appreciation for being alone with my thoughts.
My experience was comped but Floating Lotus offers one float session for $130 in addition to package deals.