Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

A First Float Through Time
Taking a dip in the sensory deprivation tank

By Katie Grant

June 9, 2019

Katie Grant

I’d be lying if I said the idea of an hour-long solo session in a sensory-deprivation tank wasn’t daunting. But alas, if I’m going to take this role of The Seeker seriously, I can’t let mild trepidation stop me from what could be a good experience. So with float therapy gaining popularity in the wellness world, I decided I would take the plunge. Literally.

It wasn’t all reluctance; the reported benefits to floating sounded like the practice would be like hitting the reset buttons on a few different devices at once. Who doesn’t need that?

The tanks at First Float in Huntersville, where my saline-filled adventure began, are filled with Epsom salts, long-touted for their therapeutic benefits to skin, hair and nail health. Epsom salts also aid in preventing inflammation in joints and muscles. As someone who takes Epsom salt baths regularly at home, I’ve certainly never experienced one to this degree. It couldn’t be that much different, right?

Approximately 1,000 pounds of salt in 180 gallons of water creates a 30% salt solution in the sensory-deprivation tanks, enabling a person to float effortlessly. I can’t stress the term “effortlessly” enough. I’ve never experienced such a feeling of weightlessness and ease in my adult life. I could even feel my hamstrings releasing, which is a pretty big deal when you have muscles as tight as mine.

The idea behind a sensory-deprivation tank session is to experience zero gravity with no distractions, lauded as a miracle worker for reducing cortisol in the body, the body’s main stress hormone. Our adrenal glands make cortisol, best known for activating our body’s “fight-or-flight” mode. If you’re anything like me, living in a constant state of overstimulation, you’ve probably experienced a sense of mental and physical drain.

Fortunately, I maintain a mediocre-at-best meditation practice, which was my greatest asset stepping into the tank for the first time. Viewing my introduction into the world of float therapy as a meditation space made it less intimidating.

The scientific term for floating is REST: Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy. When external sources of distraction are removed, the brain is able to enter the theta brain-wave state, which is associated with deep sleep and dreaming.

Because I wasn’t in a lab with electrodes connected to my scalp, I have no idea if I actually entered a theta state. What I do know is if I ever devolve into a speck of cosmic dust floating in outer space, I’ll already know what it feels like.

That may sound inviting, but there’s more to the float therapy experience that you should know before diving in — the first being that the water is only a foot deep or so, so it’s really more like stepping in.

Interestingly, you’re required to take two showers. The first shower removes any oils from your skin. Magnesium sulfate, the scientific word for Epsom salts, is known to exfoliate the skin and clear your pores, but you have to get that oily film off first. The second shower removes the highly-concentrated salt water that will embed itself in your hair and body during the float session.

After your pre-float rinse, it’s time to step into the sci-fi cryogenic pod (Yes, that’s what it looks like). After sealing myself in by gently closing the door behind me, the attendant warned I would hear a tone signifying my session had begun. The tone was actually an excerpt from a song by The Album Leaf, which I secretly didn’t want to end (mostly out of fear).

After the song clip, lights out. At first it felt like I was spinning in all directions, which I later read was normal due to the lack of external cues. Once the spinning subsided, I floated quietly with my thoughts for the next 60 minutes, which slipped by surprisingly quick. I let my mind wander wherever it pleased, visualizing bizarre scenarios. At one point I felt as if I were gently cocooned within a womb, and wondered if my exit would signify a rebirth. Spoiler alert: It didn’t.

An hour later, my descent into darkness came to an end, bookended again by The Album Leaf. I showered and dressed slowly, noticing the subtle difference in how I felt physically and emotionally after my submersion.

According to First Float, the primary principle of flotation is to “unplug, unwind, then unleash your greatest self.” While it may take more than one float to officially unleash my greatest self, whatever that may be, the experience as a whole certainly provided a new outlook on what total body relaxation can look like.

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