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?

flotation therapy boston

Illustration by Eric Palma

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.