I Floated In A Tank For An Hour. It Wasn't What I Expected.
For as long as I can remember, my idea of pure bliss has been floating in the ocean.
The buoyancy of the sea, the gentle lull of the waves — it's always added up to a dreamy state of relaxation that stays with me long after the last grain of sand has been shaken from my legs. I'd heard about flotation tanks before, newfangled spa-type setups that allow you to surrender the weight of your body to salty water in a womb-like pod. In the past few months several of these float spas have opened across the country, making it kind of a new thing, akin to meditation classes or barre classes or juicing, but trippier.
Intrigued and optimistic that a float at a place like this could offer me year-round access to that blissed-out headspace, I headed to Lift, a flotation spa center in Brooklyn, New York, that boasts five flotation tanks at its cozy second-floor loft location. My husband had gifted me a floating session for Christmas, a generous gesture on his part to try to give me the gift of relaxation — as a busy working mother of two young children, quiet moments of reflection are hard to come by.
I scheduled my session for a Thursday afternoon, left the kids with a babysitter and set out into the chill of a January day to let it all go in one of Lyft's flotation rooms. I had chosen to float in a larger float "room" — really just a seven-foot-high tub accessed by a side door. The other option at Lift is an Evolution Pod, an outsized clamshell that truly closes you in. Both are supplied with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts (literally — huge, 50-pound bags of salts are stacked near the entry desk to show you just how much salt is in each tank — the poor delivery guy!) to create a super-buoyant solution that makes it impossible not to float.
I was escorted to my room, given instructions to shower, shampoo (but not condition, to preserve the integrity of the water/salt solution) and use the supplied earplugs before I entered the tank, which, in person, resembles an enormous bank vault or walk-in freezer — airtight, claustrophobic spaces. The tank is beautiful, illuminated from above with a display of colored stars that gently change from blue to purple to pink to orange. You can turn the overhead lights off and float with just a single submerged light illuminating your space, or float in utter, total blackness. I wasn't sure what I'd do as I entered the tank and pulled the door closed, wondering what would happen in case of an emergency. I assured myself that the team that ran Lift had a plan in case of such events, and put my faith in them as I sat down into the water, which was not that deep — perhaps about a foot, maybe less.
My body immediately lifted, and I was floating in a tiny room staring at stars. I'd like to report that I was instantly transported to that genteel, beach vacation state of mind, but I was not. I spent the first 10 minutes or so trying very, very hard to rid my mind of the constant loop of music playing in my head: a song from Frozen, which my four-year old daughter is currently obsessed with. Not relaxing. I decided to try the blackout effect and float in the dark to truly quiet my mind, and after pushing the rubber-coated button to turn the lights out, I found myself in utter darkness, unlike anything I've ever experienced. By truly depriving my body of any external sensations, my mind quieted. Anna and Elsa stopped singing, and all I heard was the occasional splash of my foot moving in the water. But then I was bored. And my neck hurt, even though the water was truly supporting my body. I crossed my hands behind my head, creating a basket for my head, and that felt better. I had probably only been in the tank for 20 minutes, which meant that 40 more were left. I did not think I would last that long.
With the exception of the neck strain, a particular affliction that only mothers hoisting small children up and down multiple times a day know the exact torture of, my body did feel amazing floating in the water. With no sense of where my limbs ended and the water began, thanks to the water being heated to exactly body temperature, I felt utterly free of the reponsibilty of supporting myself. That was nice. But my mind, my brain, were bored, slightly anxious, and hard to quiet after that initial stretch of floating in the dark. As someone who does solitary work as a writer, I'm often alone, in the quiet. I so rarely step out during the day to escape the responsibilities of adult life — I'm either writing, caring for my kids or preparing to do one or the other; those days of carefree lunches with friends and office breaks to shoot the shit with co-workers are distant memories. How did I find myself tucked away in complete isolation seeking revelation? I should have been at a movie, or at a cafe sipping a latte watching the world go by.
I was contemplating all of this as I realized something about myself—I'm lonely a lot of the time. And while the floating was nice, the water was no match for the conversation of a dear friend or even a lively stranger. I was just about to stand up and exit the tank, all floated out, so to speak, when the relaxing, yoga-ish music came on in the tank, signaling that my one hour of bliss was over. I had made it, and while it was not the experience I expected when I walked in, it was time well spent. My body felt wonderfully liberated after an hour spent away from gravity's pull, and I had sorted out some important internal questions that I didn't even know I needed to ask.
Would I do it again? I'm not sure just yet. Floating seems to absolutely have its benefits, and I think anyone looking to still their mind should try it. I'd just rather do my floating at the beach.