I have to be honest. The thought of going in a float tank used to really scare me. I’m not one of those zen, meditative people. I start to freak out if my yoga class goes one minute past the hour mark. I’m definitely one of those “let’s get stuff done” people. I tend not to take much time to relax. I do love painting, but to me, that’s “doing” something because at the end of the session, I get a product. Being in a sensory-deprivation tank, all alone, for an HOUR makes me nervous just thinking about it.
So when my friend started working at Balans Organic Spa in Boston, a beautiful new spa on Newbury Street with a float room, I was intrigued. They offered me a facial and free “float”. What a perfect opportunity to check it out.
What is floatation?
Float tanks (also known as isolation tanks) were first invented in the mid 1950’s to test the effects of sensory-deprivation. Many of the first tests also combined floating with LSD (wholly crap, can you imagine?). In neurophysiology, there had been an open question about what keeps the brain going and the origin of its energy sources. One hypothesis was that the energy sources are biological and internal and do not depend upon the outside environment. It was argued that if all stimuli are cut off to the brain then the brain would go to sleep. Neuropsychologist John Lilly decided to test this hypothesis and, with this in mind, created an environment which isolated an individual from external stimulation. From here, he studied the origin of consciousness and its relation to the brain.
Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie of the University of British Columbia began experimenting on the therapeutic benefits of isolation tanks in the late 1970s. They named their technique “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST), and users were submerged in water.
Today, there is a growing trend of float tanks, or complete rooms (like I had) where the user floats in a body-temperature solution of epsom salts. The density of the water prevents rolling over, even if asleep.
There has been a lot of research into the effects of floatation on the human body. Users sometimes report transpersonal experiences.
As Kasprow and Scotton pointed out that “transpersonal psychiatry does not promote any particular belief system, but rather acknowledges that spiritual experiences and transcendent states characterized by altruism, creativity, and profound feelings of connectedness are universal human experiences widely reported across cultures.”
So, was I going to experience a grand sense of connectedness of everything? A spiritually cosmic feeling of altruism? Or was I going to completely freak out?
I was introduced to the float room by the owner, Marie and given a quick tour. She couldn’t have been more beautiful and gracious. I noticed how perfect her skin was. Maybe it was all that floating? I liked that the float chamber wasn’t a small tank with a lid, as I’ve seen in photos. This was an entire float room/suite. It smelled amazing, like ozone (that smell of a waterfall). There was a shower, a bathrobe, slippers, and a door to the float room. I was hoping I could listen to some music, in order to reduce the feeling of isolation, but they encouraged me to do my first float in silence. Deep breath. I can do this.
I inserted the wax into my ears to protect them from the salt. Then, I rinsed off in the shower before opening the door to the float chamber. The water was body temp, and surprisingly shallow. I slid in and closed my eyed (right before I noted the time, so I knew when an hour would be up).
The first thoughts I had were, “Crap, I left the light on. I didn’t follow the directions. Why can’t I just follow the rules for once? Is it impossible for me to just follow the instructions and turn the light off? This is going to ruin my whole float experience. Maybe I should get out and turn it off. I don’t want to get out, that will ruin the experience. I should just close my eyes and try to enjoy this. Ugh!” Really, did I mention that I have a hard time relaxing? I remembered Jim Laird, a trainer friend who is an advocate of float tanks, that I should be able to meditate for 20 minutes before I consider doing a float. I thought to myself, “I should have started meditating like he said. I’m doing this wrong. I can’t even sit still for five minutes. Oh well.”
After I quieted my mind a bit, I tried to focus on the feeling of floating, and the sound of my breath. It was amazingly hard to sink. I tried. I kept adjusting my arms and found that having them stretched out to the sides created this feeling of not knowing where my body ended and the water began. Salt crystals started forming on my stomach, which was interesting. I love the feeling of salt on my skin. When I go swimming in the ocean, I like to delay showering just so I can feel my salty skin as long as possible. I only checked my watch once, about 40 minutes into the session. I was pretty proud of myself for being able to wait that long.
When I lifted my head out of the water, I noticed how heavy my hair felt from all of the salt water it was holding. I took the longest, hottest shower I’ve had in a long time. They provided some lovely smelling shampoo and lotions. I dried my hair, put my clothes back on, and slowly walked out of the float suite and into my facial.
I think I’d need a few more sessions, or maybe some LSD in order to have a transpersonal experience. I did however, experience a big sense of calm, of not knowing where I was or what time it was. It also felt really great. The next day I texted a few friends telling them they should try it. I think you should, too. The cost at Balans is $79 for one 60 minute session, and they offer discounts for multi-session package. Balans also offers other spa services and an organic line of skin care products. I highly recommend an organic facial from Tricia (people ask me all the time where to get an organic facial in the Boston, and now I’ve got a resource!) I was impressed with how clean and modern and pampered the spa felt. I’m looking forward to going back for another session, and maybe I’ll do some meditation before to work on my ability to slow down.
Have you used a float tank? What are your thoughts?