Healthy Outlook: Float tanks are like nothing you’ve experienced

They're also like experiencing nothing

The pod float tank at Ad Astra Wellness, 1410 Kasold Drive, is shown on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. The pod is about the size of a twin mattress. It contains 200 gallons of water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt.

I never learned to swim, much to my New Jersey-born father’s chagrin, but I always enjoyed floating in the pool as a kid. I remember thinking if I could just lie on the surface of the water all day with no one around to bug me or splash me, how delightful that would be.

Now, as a cynical adult with a low tolerance for chlorine and skin that burns faster than that side dish I said I’d bring to the holiday party, I’ve found a better way.

Float tanks are also called sensory deprivation tanks, and they do just that. They are intended to provide mental and physical therapy. You simply float in about 10 inches of water that contains so much Epsom salt that anyone and anything will float in it, and that is heated to the temperature of your skin, so you experience neither sensations of warm nor cold.

Barry Bornstein, owner of Ad Astra Wellness at 1410 Kasold Drive, Suite A1, said the “pod” in which I floated, about the size of a twin mattress, contains 200 gallons of water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts. This creates a solution that is 40 percent salt. The Dead Sea, for reference, is roughly 30-33 percent.

Ad Astra has two larger tanks, as well — the cabin, equivalent to a queen mattress, and the deluxe, the size of a king mattress, in which two people can float at once. Each of the three rooms containing a tank is private with a lock on the door (and an intercom button, just in case).

Barry Bornstein, owner of Ad Astra Wellness at 1410 Kasold Drive, is shown on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.

There are large showers directly in front of the entrances to the tanks. Patrons are asked to shampoo and soap directly before and after a float. I was afraid showering three times in a day would wreak havoc on my hair and skin, but the Aromaland products Bornstein provides, scented with rosemary essential oils, are actually quite friendly.

“I wanted to keep things organic, natural and high-end,” he said.

After showering, you enter the tank with gentle, color-changing lights and music on. They can be controlled from inside the tank. I was hesitant to turn them off at first, but I wanted to get the full experience, and I’m glad I did.

Inside that dark, silent tank, you are truly alone and without distracting stimuli. This is why float practitioners often say they experience peaks in creativity, self-reflection, problem-solving and insights. Bornstein said some clients have also had deep religious experiences while floating.

Bornstein tells clients that floating is for people who can meditate and for people who can’t. I am of the latter group and I definitely struggled to silence my mind chatter, although I know I drifted out of full consciousness and into a different mental state at least a couple of times during my 60-minute float — though, of course, it’s impossible to know just how long you spend in any given state inside the tank. There’s no distraction of a clock.

As a side note here, I truly wish I’d turned my cellphone off instead of setting it to vibrate. I could still hear it buzz away in my purse — even through earplugs and the closed tank — and it jolted me out of my calm a few times.

As with so many other health and wellness practices, floating takes multiple sessions to get the full effect. Personally, I think it would take me some time and practice to fully grasp the mental benefits; however, my body definitely reaped the rewards of the float.

Physically, floating alleviates all pressure from your joints and muscles. This is why Bornstein said it’s great therapy for those who suffer arthritis and fibromyalgia, and why pro athletes such as the Golden State Warriors’ 3-point king Steph Curry swear by it. Although we may not necessarily realize it, even when we’re lying in bed we’re putting some sort of pressure on various parts of our body; floating eliminates that, though perhaps not without a conscious effort.

Ad Astra Wellness is one of several businesses in Lawrence that now offer float tank services. You can find answers to several frequently asked questions about float tanks at Ad Astra’s website, adastrawellness.com.

I didn’t realize until I was getting comfortable in the tank just how much stress I constantly put on my neck, jaw and right shoulder, in particular. It took me some time to find a position in which I was fully letting go of that tension, but it was definitely worth it.

Floating — once you fully let go of your rigidity — gives you a feeling of weightlessness, and it doesn’t end when you step out of the tank. I still felt as though I was resisting gravity in my post-float shower Wednesday, and my whole body still felt lighter and more relaxed through the rest of the week. My skin felt softer and smoother, as well.

Despite my struggles to let go mentally, I also feel much less stressed and more at peace than I did prior to the $50 float. I think with more practice at relaxing — as counterintuitive as that may sound — I could get good at it.