By Stephanie Eckelkamp
It’s pitch black, I can’t hear a sound, and I’m naked and alone, floating on by back in an extra-large tub. In fact, I’m really floating—I couldn’t sink if I tried. That’s because the tub is filled with water that’s been mixed with about 1,000 pounds of epsom salts, making my body more buoyant than it would be in the Dead Sea.
No, this isn’t a weird form of torture (I actually paid to do this). It’s called floating therapy, and what I’m lying in is a sensory deprivation tank. It’s a service that’s becoming increasingly popular at spas in big cities, so when I heard that it was available at Metta Relaxation Co in Bethlehem, I was pretty pumped. Not only because I’ve heard floating is relaxing AF, but because some people say it mimics the effects of an acid trip….and really, what health-minded person with no intention of EVER doing acid wouldn’t find that intriguing?
The purpose of the tank (shown at right) and the room in general is to eliminate all senses: The room is sound-proof and, once you turn the lights off, light-proof; you float, thanks to the salt, so all of the pressure is taken off of your body, allowing you to fully relax; and finally, the water in the tank and the air in the room are heated to precise temperatures meant to eliminate your ability to feel where the water ends and air begins.
As someone who deals with stress and anxiety (and who's distracted after about a minute every time she tries to meditate), the idea of total and complete (and somewhat forced) relaxation sounded pretty great. But what’s it actually like? Here are 5 things I experienced...
Within seconds, I learned a hard lesson
For the love of God, don’t shave before you float! The water in the tank feels pretty damn great temperature-wise, but because there’s so much salt in there, any small cut or nick on your skin screams when it comes into contact with it. And because I generally do a bit of a hack job with my shaving routine, there was some major stinging in the first few minutes (which did eventually subside) even though I’d shaved a fully 24 hours before. Give it a couple days to be safe.
“Snap, crackle, pop” went my joints
I can’t emphasize how cool it is to float so damn effortlessly. You can fully relax your body, even your heavy noggin’, and you’re fully supported. The owners of the spa recommended doing some stretches in the tank, so I did, and was pleasantly weirded out to hear a ripple of back cracks and minor popping in my neck, shoulders, and hips. All totally normal, as my body was in a completely weightless state and adjusting to a pressure-free setting for the first time.
I thought a lot about death
Thankfully the session was 90 minutes, because I could not stop my mind from racing for the first 30. I was concentrating too much on what I “should” be feeling, which is anything but relaxing, and I was also thinking a lot about death, for a couple of reasons. For one, my grandfather had died very recently, and two, I kept thinking “this is what death must feel like.” I mean, really, when else are you going to lose all of your senses except when you’re dead? Once I got that thought process out of my system, I started to relax.
Things got a little trippy
One crazy thing about being in a completely light-proof room is that there’s absolutely no difference between what you see when your eyes are open versus when they’re closed. This fascinated me at first, so I kept blinking. I also started to see some neon purple outlines of moving shapes. The more I concentrated on them, the more active they seemed to get. So, while it was kind of cool, I eventually had to tune them out and focus on something else, like my breathing, so I could calm down.
I FINALLY relaxed
I’d say I got about 20 solid minutes of being completely and utterly relaxed in a meditative state like I’ve never experienced. I felt warm, comforted, and completely pain free, so I focused on those good sensations and eventually my mind was pretty damn blank (in a good way) despite the fact that I was awake. As with regular meditation, I can see how the more you float, the better you get at reaping the mental benefits from it. So, I’d definitely be up for trying it again.