Floating to Serenity

You too can escape the stress of
senses working overtime.

By Patrick Dougherty

June 2007

 New York City’s chaos and cacophony are the epitome of sensory overload. Big diesel trucks rumble and clank down crowded avenues, sirens and honking horns echo off concrete canyons, and delectable scents waft away from sidewalk cafés. People are everywhere; hustling to unknown destinations, frantically hailing cabs, chatting on cell phones and laughing with friends.

Nestled amidst this hyper-stimulation in New York’s Chelsea district is Blue Light Floatation (www.bluelightfloatation.com), where those seeking relief from overworked senses can escape in the peaceful sanctuary of a floatation tank. Designed to provide a “sensory reduced” environment, the floatation tank offers complete darkness, utter silence and otherworldly weightlessness—an experience that translates to sublime stress relief.

During an initial consultation, floatation facilitator Sam Zeiger, who has been operating Blue Light Floatation since 1985, led me to the self-contained float room to show me the tank. At seven feet high, eight feet long and four feet wide, Zeiger’s tank is taller than traditional models,
custom-designed for more spaciousness and less humidity. The oversized floatation tub inside the enclosure was filled with 12 inches of ultra-purified water containing 1,000 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts, creating buoyancy that enables effortless floatation.

 The soundproof, lightproof tank environment is carefully controlled to minimize physical sensation: “Both the water and air temperature is one continuum: body temperature,” Zeiger explained. “As you lie very still in the water, body heat surrounds you...you don’t feel any delineation of you and everything else. It’s quite wonderful.”

Regular floatation imparts far-reaching health benefits; studies have proven its ability to produce enhanced “theta” brain wave activity associated with deep relaxation. Through its stress-reducing effects, floatation helps bolster the immune system, lower blood pressure and accelerate healing. Immersion in the Epsom salt solution also detoxifies the body while alleviating the pain of sore muscles, injured body parts and arthritic conditions.

More elusive but equally tangible are floatation’s psychological and spiritual benefits. As floatation stimulates endorphin production, transcendent peace replaces everyday mental clutter. Many floaters report greater creativity, self-confidence, concentration, focus, memory, energy and overall happiness.

Floating Away
    Following a pre-float shower, I disrobed, stepped into the tank and closed the door behind me. I slowly lowered myself into the satiny, luxurious water—its temperature perfectly matched that of my body—while being careful not to disturb the surface. Any trepidation transformed to excitement as I giddily enjoyed the sensation of bobbing like a cork on top of the ultra-buoyant solution. After taking a moment to situate myself in motionless floatation, I took a deep breath, reached out for the light switch and pressed it. Suddenly I was surrounded by absolute silence and darkness.

Senses minimized, I began noticing the sounds of my body: the whooshing of my breath, assorted creaks of joints and connective tissue, an occasional stomach gurgle and my steady, rhythmic heartbeat. I actually heard my facial muscles shift as a grin spread over my face. I realized that I was living a dream born of a childhood spent devouring scores of science fiction novels: I was floating in space. Images of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey bombarded me, as I fancied myself as an astronaut drifting in infinity among the stars, or as a massive space station slowly rotating in orbit around a mysterious planet.

These images gave way to an acute awareness of my physical self as tension began, through no effort of my own, vacating my body. One by one, I felt all the knots in my shoulders, back and neck spontaneously loosen and release. I went with the flow, relishing the zero-gravity relaxation effect. My joints were the next to unwind; nagging pains in my fingers and wrists vanished as connective tissue released its tension and audibly clicked into place. My body grew heavier. I succumbed to silence and sank deeper into the warm, silky saltwater. With a tranquil body, my consciousness drifted away. I entered a state of deep, wandering inner contemplation.

I mused on the comforting sensation of weightlessness and darkness, noting its similarity to the warm safety of the womb. This is where I was before birth shocked my senses with bright lights and delivery room noises. Feeling compelled to move, I began slightly weaving my head back and forth. Suddenly I was a sperm cell, driven by a singular mission. Regressing further still, I became an atom—a tiny, insignificant mote, content to simply exist within the grand vastness of the universe.

 From out of the timeless void ambient music faded in, signaling the end of my hour-long session. I woozily emerged from the tank’s warm embrace, stepping into the shower to rinse off. Zeiger greeted me with chilled herbal tea. He advised mindfulness, hinting that floatation’s benefits would carry over into the outside world. “Floating gives you a sense of clarity and relaxed well-being that’s closer to our natural state, how we should be,” he explained. “Floating brings things back to balance, naturally and organically.”

Exiting onto the bustling street, I noticed that what was previously an irritating bedlam was now a lush sensory symphony. I eagerly drank in colors, marveling at the how the declining sun filled the streets with an orange glow. I heard kebabs sizzling on a street vendor’s grill, inhaled their aroma and vividly imagined their taste. Most significantly, I sensed people around me. I searched their faces, wondering about their lives and destinations. Senses enhanced, I felt revived and euphoric.

Does the tank, as Zeiger suggested, connect us to our natural state? On the train ride home, by no coincidence I observed a young woman who gave me my answer: With headphones in her ears, she tinkered with an iPod in one hand as she hurriedly typed on a BlackBerry in the other. Through stark contrast, this image of scattered mental disconnect perfectly illustrated floatation’s sublime beauty: In the tank, the external world and all of its superficial absurdity is stripped away. What’s left is a fascinating journey inward, where we ultimately come face-to-face with the most important, yet often most neglected, player in our health and well-being: our true selves.

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