Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Whatever Floats Your Boat: A Session at "Floatation Location's" Sensory Deprivation Tank

Yesterday, I headed to Venice’s Floatation Location to redeem my gift certificate my friend Melissa gave me for a complimentary ‘float session.’

Although sensory deprivation water tanks are purported to be an ultimate relaxation inducer—their website lists benefits including alleviated stress, diminished depression and anxiety, released muscle tension, deep meditation and even freedom from habits, phobias and addictions—the Floatation Location is not for the pampered Burke Williams Spa attendee. Tucked away in a non-descript mini-mall along Venice’s beachfront walk, the bare-bones space has more of a vibe of a home office/reception area...but with two doors leading to a set of super duper bathrooms equipped with a shower and enclosed metal bathtub contraption.

Don’t let the grungy setting sketch you out; the tank is filtered, drained and cleaned after every float session, and the near ton worth of Epsom salts kills off any lingering bacteria from the previous floatee.

Owner Chris Rymarz greeted me and gave me the low-down; “you take off your clothes, shower off any lotions and soaps on your skin then go float in the tank.” He handed me a set of ear-plugs (to protect against salt-crystals in your ears after the water evaporates) and explicit instructions to keep my face dry (so the salty water won’t run into and sting my eyes or nose) and left me to it.

I had no idea what to expect (a coffin-like capsule? A giant dunk tank like at a fair?) but the float tank is like a regular bathtub enclosed in a 5ft-high metal contraption with a refrigerator door opening. I opened the door to find a dark but shallow bath.

I sat down in the 14” deep tub and close the door. Complete darkness.

Being inside a pitch black box is surprisingly not claustophobic at all, the darkness makes the space around you feel more vast and outer space-like than tight and enclosing. The warm water is only about a foot deep, but with 800 lbs of Epsom salts dissolved into the oxygenated water, I had the buoyancy of a cork; as a laid down, my limbs and torso automatically floated to the top. Lined with a black interior, it’s too dark to see anything and there’s no difference if my eyes are open or closed. With my ears half submerged underwater with earplugs, all I can hear is the sound of my own breathing (which automatically shifts to a slow, deep inhale, exhale) and my heartbeat.

Laying on top of water is really comfortable, but I’m a fidgeter so I rotated between the various poses Chris recommended; arms out to the side in a yoga Savasanah pose, arms bent by my head in a ‘hands up or I’ll shoot’ position and entwined behind my neck in a ‘reclining in a deck chair’ pose. Relaxing my mind took a bit longer, but I slowly embraced the nothingness and entered a calm, dreamy state.

Thoughts drift in and out of my head then soon, I feel ready to get out. I have no sense of time and worry it hasn’t been long enough (I want to get my gift certificate’s worth) but when I check the clock, I’ve been floating in oblivion for 70 minutes. I can still feel my achy, knot-filled shoulders and I'm pretty sure the float hasn't cured me of my bad habits, but I feel both super relaxed and refreshed.

It’s hard to explain the experience but the closest description is as if you were sleeping, but also awake so you can consciously enjoy the feeling of snoozing. Floating might not for everyone, but it's an interesting-enough experience to try if you want to block out the world for an hour or so.

Floatation Location
Hours Vary, call for an appt: 310 255-1905
$50 per session


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your excellent review. I'm a big fan of floating ever since 2001 when it completely eliminated severe sciatic pain that had me nearly paralyzed for a week.

Your well-written description in the last paragraph can be summed up in 2 words - theta brainwaves. I'm not sure why, but floating causes your brainwaves to shift from beta (wide awake and alert) to theta, the dreamlike state you described. Please refer to The Book Of Floating by Michael Hutchison for a more detailed explanation of this phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Ways to Use Epsom Salt To Relieve Stress and Anxiety:

1. Add two cups of Epsom Salt to warm water in a standard-sized bathtub. Double the Epsom Salt for an oversized garden tub. Bathe three times weekly, soaking for at least 12 minutes. For an extra treat, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil for a refreshing scent. Breathe deeply and relax.

2. Mix 2 cups of Epsom Salt with 1/4 cup of petroleum jelly and a few drops of lavender essential oil to create an exfoliant. Use the mixture to gently scrub away dry skin patches. This works great on elbows and feet.

3. Add one cup of Epsom Salt to a tub of warm water to relieve aching feet. It instantly reduces swelling.

4. After showering, massage handfuls of Epsom Salt over wet skin to exfoliate the body. It's the same treatment many upscale spas use, without the upscale price!