We Tried It: Flotation Therapy at Float Boston
The latest trend in relaxation involves lukewarm water, confined spaces, and complete darkness. What could possibly go wrong?
As I stood, clad only in silicone earplugs, one thought coursed through my brain: Why am I willingly climbing into a waterlogged coffin?
I swallowed my anxiety and tugged at the door. I stepped inside. I confirmed, thrice, that I could open the door from inside. Then I readied myself for transcendence.
This is flotation therapy, also known as sensory-deprivation therapy. It involves enclosing yourself in a small tank (see also: waterlogged coffin) and lying in a shallow pool of tepid water saturated with almost half a ton of Epsom salts. These days, people float to experience total relaxation; vibrant, creative thought; and, sometimes, hallucinations. More-extreme sensory deprivation has also been used as a torture technique. Fun!
Somerville’s Float Boston, one of several places in the area offering the service, has two types of tanks. There’s the “Summer Sky” model, roughly 7 by 7 feet and equipped with fiber-optic lights. Then there’s the pitch-dark “Escape Pod,” which, at about 7 by 4 feet, resembles a convenience-store ice chest.
Guess which one I ended up with.
Standing in my private room, I was pessimistic. For one thing, I’m not good at mental relaxation. (During yoga, I often spend savasana planning dinner.) For another, I’m mildly claustrophobic. I pictured floating like an hourlong panic attack in a very salty bathtub. With this expectation in mind, I flopped into my watery prison. Immediately, my body rose to the surface without an ounce of exertion. I waited for my senses to fade away, my thoughts to quiet, hallucinations to grip my mind.
But mainly I was just…floating. And pretty bored. I began drafting this story and worrying that my earplugs would block the music that signals time’s up. You’re doing this wrong, I scolded myself.
Finally, after about 30 minutes, it happened: I relaxed. For maybe a minute, I saw colorful plumes of smoke behind my eyelids, curling outward before beginning again. Then I started to overanalyze. Was I seeing things only because I expected to? Unsurprisingly, the “smoke” dissipated quickly upon examination. Soon, it was replaced by a sense of utter calm. My muscles released. Images I hadn’t recalled in years flitted in and out of my mind: pasta I ate in Paris, the site of my brother’s high school cross-country meets, a bar where I danced in Greece.
Then it all stopped. Resting with my hands on my stomach and my legs outstretched, I slipped into a half-conscious, sleeplike state. Here I stayed until the soothing music—not blocked by my earplugs after all—trickled into the pod.
I emerged feeling as though I’d woken from a wonderful nap. The sensation stayed with me as I rinsed off, got dressed, and sipped a cup of tea in Float’s lounge. I drifted out the door on a wave of tranquility—before being slapped back to reality by my Uber driver blasting heavy metal with abandon.
All good things, I guess, must come to an end.
$60 per hour (monthly memberships available); Float Boston, 515 Medford St., Somerville, 888-443-5628, floatboston.com.