I’ve been hearing about floatation tanks for at least 3 years now. “Floating” involves lying weightlessly in a spaceship-like “tank” of water filled with hundreds of pounds of magnesium salt, designed to let you be completely buoyant and at ease for 60 to 90 minutes. It’s considered a type of “sensory deprivation,” because there is a deliberate lack of stimulus in the dark, quiet environment of the float.
Joe Rogan *raves* about them here and here and here and here and here. (Seriously, check out one of those videos.)
I listened to those podcasts and watched a number of other videos on the subject with fascination. I read articles (see some resources at the bottom of this post) about the health benefits and what people say the experience is like. I was mesmerized at the idea of floating weightlessly – no light, no sound, no distractions, for an hour or more. Devotees say a floatation tank is an altered state – literally an “out of body” experience, because your body starts to disappear. You’re floating in 800 lbs of magnesium salt that’s the same temperature as your body – and at some point, you don’t know where you end and the water begins. Your body – and all the distractions of it, including any soreness you have, sensations or discomfort – just melts away. Your thoughts, your breathing, and that amazing weightless feeling – that’s all you have.
I had to do it!!
Annnnd somehow, months turned into years, and I “never got around to it” – until today.
I’ve been getting over a mild head cold after my last trip to Europe, and I decided – after a stuffy and uncomfortable Thursday filled with lazy rest – that my Friday would be the best day ever, simply because I said so.
It was early afternoon Friday, I was feeling noticeably better – I popped an OTC decongestant, and decided it was a great day to treat myself to some extra self-care. I called the nearest floating center, ready to give my body a huge dose of the miracle of magnesium.
“Hey, I’ve wanted to try a floatation tank for years, and I’m feeling spontaneous today, I finally want to do it. Could I book a session today?”
They had space. A couple appointment times were open in fact. “I can come by right now!? Really! Cool okay see you soon!”
I was so excited – and I hopped a train from the Upper West Side to Midtown.
I entered Floating Lotus (39 West 56th Street), after a short walk from Columbus Circle station. (See the video above for a virtual tour of the place!)
I discovered the most incredible penthouse spa space – hidden away on the fifth floor of a commercial building was an OASIS of calm, natural everything. I immediately began taking photos. (My brain: “Oh, here we go, this is gonna be a blog post!”) You see, the design inside is so lovely, I needed to document the decor ideas I was getting for my own home.
Plus there are so many cute things to look at! Palo Santo sticks, herbal cigarettes (smoking is a reliable delivery system for herbs, after all), handmade artwork with beautiful phrases and quotes (“A candle loses none of its light, by lighting another” -Rumi), salt lamps, herbal tea blends for sale, cute furniture and lovely colors.
The welcoming staff escorted me to the back and gave me a quick primer on what to do. Your first session will cost about $90. You’ll sign a waiver (including agreeing to a massive $2,000 cleaning fee if you fuck up and poop or pee in the tank, LOL – don’t eat or drink a lot before you go!) – and then you’ll have the room to yourself.
The Process (60 minutes of floating, 90 minutes total)
You have 7 to 10 minutes to shower, undress and get into the tank – which looks like a spaceship situation, by the way. You’ll float for one hour, and then you’ll have 20 minutes to shower and get back out into the real world. Hint: They have lots of products on the counter in the main area of the room for you, but if you have products you usually use post-shower for “getting ready” each day – like your favorite hair gel, makeup, etc., – you’ll want to have that with you. They also already have shower gel, exfoliant, shampoo and conditioner in the shower – and you’ll definitely need that stuff to get all the salt all out of your hair and off your skin.
I entered the magical private room, took a quick shower, and began my float.
OUCH! The salt hit my big toe, which had a cut / raw injury, off came the bandaid, and I felt a major sting. If you don’t want to be distracted by any stinging or pain, don’t do your first session if you have a blister on your heel for example – ideally, make sure you have no cuts or “boo boos” of any kind.
I took a deep breath… relax, it’ll pass. Chill out, zen. Come on. Ommmmm. Inhale, exhale. Throughout the session I would come back to *not* focusing on the stinging of my toe. That was a bit annoying – but I was able to get past it.
They had an inflated pillow in the tank in case you want to use it – I tried floating with it and without, and decided to float without the pillow, because it interrupted the sensation of total weightlessness for me.
I tried to focus on my breathing. I have some experience with meditation and yoga, and I still think it is REMARKABLE how difficult it is to just turn. off. your brain in a new environment – especially if you’re feeling any kind of pressure like that’s what you “should do.”
(Hint: I definitely felt a little bit like I was in the “Eat, Pray Love” meditation scene.)
My advice is to remember that there is no right or wrong way to float. If you’re not particularly great at doing “nothing,” they do have a great paper in the room that has tips for relaxing in the tank. Focusing on your breathing, and maybe one or two peaceful words like “relax,” “let go,” or “peace” can be very useful.
The tanks at Floating Lotus have two buttons – there is a button that turns on the mellow green tank light, and a button for the intercom – in case you need something (or if you start feeling overwhelmed or panicky, which I imagine can happen to some people). Ideally you just float the entire time, but you may also come in and out of the experience – especially your first time.
I noticed myself popping out of “the zone” for various reasons. First, one of my ear plugs came out (me: “no I want them in both ears, where did it go? Damnit, where did it go? *go fishing for the single ear plug, then cave and turn on the light* LOL). Later on during the session, I felt like the water was cooling, and I clicked to the intercom to say “hey I think the water temperature is dropping in my room.” They reassured me it was fine.
Anytime I popped up, I also grabbed the little spray bottle of plain water that they keep in the tank – because you’ll want to rinse any highly concentrated saltwater out of your nose and eyes. If you move around a lot, and you end up with this SUPER SALTY water in your throat, nose, and/or eyes – you’ll be plenty irritated at the stinging, trust me. They give you a spray bottle of plain water, but I recommend you take the little washcloth they give you and keep it within reach (and dry! Out of the water, of course), in case you need to wipe water away from your lashes/eyes or nose.
Note: The buttons in my room didn’t seem to work too well – I had to hit the light button multiple times to get it to work, although maybe I didn’t press it hard enough, and then the intercom could send my voice to the front desk but I couldn’t hear them reply, I just heard it click on as if they were attempting to talk back. So the lovely woman working there walked to my (locked) room and gently tapped on the door to ask if I needed anything. Either way, I think it’s highly convenient that they have them, and you may need those buttons for light or assistance during your float.
Altered State or Nah?
This was my first time, so I wouldn’t say I entered “deeply trippy” space, as Graham Hancock says in this clip, but I entered these stages where I was *completely* weightless, still, and relaxed. My breathing slowed down, I felt overwhelming calm and ease, and my muscles felt more and more relaxed as time passed. Maybe 10 minutes in or so, I noticed that I was still “inching” my head up a bit, not fully trusting that the weight of the saltwater would support me – then I let my head fully relax, and indeed, my eyes and nose were comfortably above the water line. You won’t be fully immersed – but you will, in fact, experience “zero gravity” and float.
You stay in the middle of the tank (to avoid bumping into the sides), and move when you want to. But there are these spaces of stillness, where you feel the very real sensation of floating, with zero effort to hold yourself up. It’s amazing.
My concerns melted away. I wasn’t present to living or being in NYC, or any city for that matter. It was darkness, quiet, and stillness, and when I wanted to move a little I enjoyed the zero gravity sensation. (I may or may not have been pretending to be an astronaut.) The level of CHILL was intense. In other words, things outside of me just sort of floated away, too.
Maybe the unique, tank environment takes us back to some primordial soup or amniotic, pre-birth womb state. It’s such a calming and effortless sensation, there’s little I can compare it to. And honestly, it feels a lot like flying.
The Mind on Floating
Interestingly, another normal reaction is to feel concern about how much time is passing. My suggestion is to NOT worry about this. When I clicked the intercom to pipe up about the water temperature, and the attendant came by my door to reassure me everything was fine, I deliberately *resisted* the urge to say “okay, thanks, how much time do I have left?” – because knowing that would a) make zero difference and b) has nothing to do with the present moment. In a world where being present is not always easy, and where we’re used to counting down the minutes left on things, I decided to let go of that concern. And it was a challenge, because my experience of the tank was that time passed VERY, VERY SLOWLY.
They told me that a white light would come on at the end of the session – I found myself waiting with anticipation for the angelic light of completion, wondering what it would feel like – would it be sudden, too bright, gentle, calming? I was assessing before it even arrived, wondering how the ending would feel. And at moments my brain was trying to estimate the time and thinking a variety of thoughts.
Your first time, your “monkey mind” will probably start going: “How long have I been in here? Surely it’s been an hour by now. I wonder if they forgot about me? Did they forget I’m in here? What if they did do that, I wonder what would happen? Haha that would be funny. Hm, I bet I have about 10 to 15 minutes left.” And on and on… LOL.
I’m a human being – in the tank, I was sooo present to my automatic, “internal dialogue.” It was fascinating to watch it ebb and flow when it was so “loud,” in a room of relative “sensory deprivation.” I have some experience with meditation, so I practiced watching my thoughts and letting them pass. I’d like to develop some facility in the future with calming my mind more quickly in the tank. I hear it gets easier as you repeat the experience.
Joe Rogan has also said that the tank is an incredibly helpful mental tool – it’s a great space to go for figuring out problems, and discovering new perspectives. Seems logical right? When the mind is calm and in an altered state of presence, the body calm and super relaxed – you may notice or think of things you didn’t before. I waited for the ideas, and they came too!
For example, I figured out two songs I *must* have in my next set. Funny enough, one of them is called “Above Water” by Melissa Polinar. Obviously, because I noticed I was keeping my head “above water” during my float. (If you’re wondering, the other one is “Blue Light” by Prince, because I recalled that the other floatation center I know of in NYC is Blue Light Floatation in Chelsea. Word association for the win.)
I also made deliberate efforts to focus on my breath – and I saw how that quieted my mind and enabled me to fully relax in the weightlessness of the tank.
Again, there’s no right or wrong way to do it the first time – don’t get frustrated if you can’t relax right away or if you’re not operating like a total monk yet. But do make an effort to quiet your mind and relax – it’s why you’re there.
When you exit the tank, you’ll take a shower right away. The shower is just outside the door. Set up a towel outside the shower for when you step down, to prevent slipping. At Floating Lotus the showers have shampoo and conditioner, shower gel and exfoliant. You need to *really* get in there with the shampoo, especially at the back of your head – trust me the salt residue won’t just rinse away. Also make sure to use plenty of conditioner to re-moisturize your hair. (Added bonus tho: The salt can lighten hair and it will definitely brighten highlights! My highlights are looked as renewed and rejuvenated as I feel post-float. Ha! #Winning!)
Outside the shower, there were also complimentary items like hair gel and spray, Shea Moisture curl cream and spray (I like this brand!), contact solution (so helpful if you got any salt water in or around your eyes!), and shea butter lotion. I re-moisturized and prepared myself to go back into the busy city.
On your way out, you can grab another item or two – I decided to purchase the “jetlag” herbal tea blend from AB Herbals for only $1 as an extra treat. I’m sipping it now too – it’s immune-boosting and yummy.
YES, YES, YES, I highly recommend a floatation tank experience, and Floating Lotus is a fantastic location to try it for the first time. After your first session there, you’ll also have a variety of “first timer deals” to choose from (valid only if you buy them that day), including a visit to the salt cave – SERIOUSLY THERE’S A ROOM MADE OF HIMALAYAN SALT BRICKS! – or a month of unlimited yoga for only $29 (usually $150). The yoga schedule is a bit limited, but make sure you walk upstairs and peek at the studio! if you love the space as much as I did, you may be enticed to dive in.
One day I’d love to do a float followed by a deep massage on those already-relaxed, always dancing muscles. That would be quite the experience.
Either way, I definitely think I will go back. I have felt the zero gravity vibes, and seen the “light” (and the total darkness, of course) – and my body experienced the incredible relaxation that magnesium immersion triggers.
My muscles feel amazing, and I have been feeling LASER focused for hours after floating. This blog post is rolling out effortlessly in almost one edit, in fact. If you need help turning on your brain to focus and work on important projects or ideas, floating can have a serious impact there. I’ve gotten so much done since I left! My ability to focus my mental energy after floating is REMARKABLE, and that alone would have me go back.
Overall, this was a full mind-body experience that I feel was worth the time, money and effort.
+ a Gratitude Boost
I’m also feeling incredibly grateful that NYC has like *everything.* Floatation centers and tanks are not everywhere – but major cities are starting to have them now, as the idea gains more mainstream press and popularity. Floating Lotus is in a central location and the decor and design of the place makes it feel luxurious and special.
Frankly, it’s rare for me to budget many “luxe” experiences – but as a dancer, my body needs nurturing, love and attention. My goal is to continue budgeting for and investing in the kinds of experiences and treatments (massage, floatation tanks, etc.) that I know facilitate health and wellbeing, because I see how positive they can be. And I’m grateful I got to finally, FINALLY experience a real float today. <3
1. Even Harper’s Bazaar has listed 5 reasons to try floating: http://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/health/a13474/what-its-like-to-float-in-a-sensory-deprivation-tank/
2. Discover Magazine has dug into the science: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2014/04/04/floating-away-the-science-of-sensory-deprivation-therapy/#.Waothq6rRmA
3. And Wellness Mama blog has gone on about the benefits (click here if you’re curious): https://wellnessmama.com/55831/floating-sensory-deprivation-benefits/ (among them: stress relief, pain relief, improved circulation, muscle recovery, relaxation, and more).
Have you ever been to a floatation tank? What was your experience? Let me know with a comment below!