It’s a cool, drizzly Thursday evening in Boulder, Colorado. As the light of the sky fades the stars stay hidden; the night creeps in slow like a dark pool of oil. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, trying to mentally prepare. I might be nervous, I might not. It’s ironic – that being alone with your mind for 90 minutes can be so intimidating. But to be fair, there’s been a lot going on in there recently.
5:30 hits. I only have an hour until my appointment, and I need some photos for the blog. I need to talk to my friend about what to expect. I need to talk to him about the past and the future. I need to think about what I want out of this. I need too many things.
Here it is. A couple weeks ago I reached out to my friend Josh – former room mate; former coworker; current friend. I wanted to float.
The hell do you mean, float? Let me preface a little more. Josh works at Isolate Flotation Center (IFC). It’s one of two businesses in Boulder that offers clients the opportunity to float naked on the surface of salt water within an enclosed sensory deprivation tank. To put it simply.
How IFC works
If you’re a fan of the spa, I would suggest you stop reading and go float as soon as you can. IFC is a truly lovely, aesthetic experience from start to finish. The center currently operates two flotation tanks. Each tank sits in its own private room, and each room features a private bathroom and shower. Everything is kept spotless and pristine.
The tanks are filled with ten inches of jampacked salt water, with 900 pounds of Epsom salt dissolved into each. Yes, that’s right, 900 pounds of salt! You can feel the weight of the water as soon as you step one foot down. You have no chance of submerging here. Just lie down. You will come to understand the life of a buoy.
Most people float for either 60 or 90 minutes. Two-hour and three-hour session are also available, as are different monthly membership packages. If you’re considering floating for the first time, I would recommend a 90 minute session. You’ll get the full experience, which you won’t regret.
Floating is a relative newcomer in the therapy realm, offering a surprisingly diverse range of benefits to the body and the mind. I love bullet points, so here are a few showcasing said benefits:
- Floating eases most daily aches, pains, and stresses that build up. You know that upper back pain that pops up after hours of staring at a laptop? Float, and it disappears.
- Floating alleviates mental stress by subtracting all external stimuli from your sensory experience. As modern individuals, we’re accustomed to an insane amount of distractions. How many likes did I get on my Instagram? Who emailed me? How much do I owe the damn mechanic? When you float, you may find that the underlying stress these things cause just...goes away.
- Floating greatly intensifies your mental experience. Combine deep relaxation, calm, and a lack of normal sensory input, and you can feel your mind become your dominant sense. Use this opportunity to get to know yourself better. Analyze your mental shortcomings; seek ways to solve your daily problems; create new ideas and strategies to act upon them; meditate your mind into nothingness; etc.
Before you float for the first time, remember that it’s not easy. Floating motionless on water doesn’t sound difficult – but you may be surprised. It’s easy to get distracted, to keep moving your arms or legs, to think about the absurdity of your present situation. I’m floating in a coffin! What was I thinking?!
You have to make a conscious decision to relax. Do your best to find a completely comfortable position and let your body go. After a while you may notice the stress exiting your muscles while your mind calms and focuses. You may come across revelations from within that you never considered. You may work through a burning question that’s nagged you for weeks. You may lose your sense of time. You may even hear aliens conversing, or see herds of centaurs galloping through a purple meadow. Who knows.
My floating experience
I walk into IFC’s office at 5:30 pm. Josh – contributor to IFC’s Blog and his own website, Tankism – is sitting there in the small room. We embrace. We talk at length about the respective courses our individual lives have taken over the past couple years. We talk about consciousness, psychedelics, the future. We talk about the uncertainties of life; the only things worth discussing. After an hour, I feel ready to bob atop some salt water like a seal pup.
I take a quick pre-float shower. IFC provides buoyant foam pieces for neck support, but I opt out at first. I want to experience the tank completely free. I step inside the contraption, which to me resembles a cryogenic sleep chamber used for interstellar travel. The floor of the tank is slick with salt. I shut the hatch, encasing myself in a darkness made blue by the single light at the back of the tank. Silence.
I’ve floated once before, two years ago. In that experience I found a deep sense of timeless relaxation that I had never experienced before. The stressful tension in my body dissipated, my muscles loosened, my energy level dipped to a dull buzz and stayed there. But my mind never really shut off. Thoughts bounced around and collided off each other like a cloud of moths.
This time, my second experience, isn’t even coming close to the first. I don’t think I’m going to reach the same level of relaxation – my neck tension wouldn’t go away, causing me to remain focused on it. My mind races around itself like a cat to its tail. The chaos of my current life, though now only a deep crimson on the horizon, is still palpable, still screaming from afar. I can’t seem to let it go.
I have to use the bathroom, so I exit the tank. As soon as I get back in I itch my head, dripping salt water into my eyes in the process. A white flash of burning pain explodes behind my eyelids – I get out of the tank again, groaning, a blind man. 60 of my 90 available minutes have passed, and all I’ve achieved is a mild physical relaxation and bloodshot eyes. This is not how I’d expected the evening to go.
But wait. What did I expect? In one of his blogs on the IFC site, Josh writes about the importance of intention before entering the tank. What mental constraint do you want to work through? What do you want to hopefully achieve? What about your inner self can you resolve? I realize that I don’t know the answers. I don’t know what I want out of the float.
And that is my answer: I want nothing. I want to feel nothing.
I look at one of the floaty neck-support objects and pick it up. My neck is sore, and I need a way to fully relax. I then recede into my small, dark cave of surreality. As soon as I begin floating again, this time with the added support under my neck, I enter an entirely new realm of calm. I no longer think about the tension in my spine. I no longer think about losing someone close to me. I no longer think about anything.
The next 30 minutes pass in what feels like 5. There is no body, there is no time, there are no senses. But there are sounds and images.
Later, I would realize that I had entered a hypnagogic dream state. Also known as “liminal dreaming,” this is essentially a state of consciousness that exists between wakefulness and sleep. You’re probably familiar with it – are you ever bombarded with auditory and visual hallucinations just before you fall asleep? It’s just like that. The only difference is that I am conscious of it happening, and am nowhere near sleep. I hear monotonous flashes of sound – drone-like buzzes, low notes played on a synthesizer. I see strange images – dream characters morph and grow and melt; stars form and burn for ten billion years, then shrink and collapse into themselves; splashes of liquid color consume the darkness of the tank ceiling, cycling through my vision like waves across a sea.
And just like that my float is over. The brief interlude of ambient music plays, indicating my time is up. My eyes are already open, but I feel like I’m opening them again. I’m not ready to leave. But there’s something else behind the desire to stay, something that makes the end of my float acceptable.
What I received
I believe that an experience like floating is not something from which you take. It is an experience that gives. Before I floated I tried to conceptualize what I would take from it, instead of accepting the fact that I would receive something different.
What did I receive? Physical healing. Inner calm; a sense of peace. A relief from anxiety. Most importantly of all, I received hope.
There are so many metaphors for the journey of life, all of which are overused and cliche. I’ll skip them all and shoot straight: 2016 has not been easy. It has not been simple. Events of this year have made me question myself, my choices, the path I’m on. I believe that, for the most part, hope is a choice you make. You have to create it for yourself. But this is not always the case.
I received hope from the flotation experience. It wasn’t something I had to tell myself over and over; no, it was simply placed in front of me, a small gift. A fresh cup of coffee to smell. A panoramic photo from a Colorado summit. A friendly dog to pet. Everything that gives me hope, compacted into one feeling. Suddenly the future didn’t seem so vast and unattainable. Suddenly the path I chose – a dedication to the art of writing – became dislodged from my egocentric notions of right and wrong, and instead became a matter of inevitability. Suddenly everything was fine.
If you’re interested in floating, I highly recommend acting upon your curiosity. And, if you live in the vicinity of Boulder, Colorado, check out Isolate Flotation Center. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience there. I couldn’t have hoped for one.