Your body floats, virtually weightless, in a tank filled with 1,000 gallons of Epsom-infused saltwater. There is no light, no sound and no stimulation, whatsoever. This is floating—one of the wellness industry’s latest trends, and a phenomenon that has brought 10 float businesses to Denver and surrounding areas in just the past few years. If floating sounds a little too woo-woo for your taste, consider this: The practice of sensory deprivation was first incepted in the 1950s by neuroscientist John C. Lilly, and has proven health benefits, including stress release, the ease of emotional pain, mental clarity, athletic rehabilitation and other soothing effects, thanks to the meditative state it invites.
“I was a massive skeptic until I tried it, and slept better that night than I had slept in more than a year,” says Bryan Messmer, the owner of Easy Float on South Pearl Street. Messmer, like many, felt the practice was validated through its use by professional athletes and celebrities like NBA star Steph Curry, comedian Joe Rogan and author Tim Ferris.
Currently, floating studies are being conducted by the Laureate Institute for Brain Research Float Clinic & Research Center in Tulsa, which uses float therapy to condition participants to disconnect from the outside world in an effort to reconnect to the signals inside of their bodies, referred to as “interoceptive awareness.” By tuning out the distractions of their external worlds, floaters can tap into their internal worlds. In addition, the Navy SEAL training facility, the Mind Gym, employs float tanks and sensory deprivation as a tool for both recovery and deeper learning, which has aided in the reduction of foreign language education from six months to six weeks. More information on the impact of float tanks on Navy SEAL training is outlined in the book “Stealing Fire,” which explores how today’s scientists are revolutionizing how we live and work.
If you’re interested in floating, but a little timid, we’ve put together some pointers for you. First thing’s first—be prepared to be in there a while. The modern-day standard float session is 90 minutes long. The length is intentional, because it allows the body to achieve the R.E.S.T. (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique)—the scientific term for float deprivation therapy—your mind, body and spirit truly need.
What to Expect
Although there are several float deprivation centers anchored around Denver, first-time floaters might prefer an environment like Easy Float. For starters, it is subterranean, which allows for optimum noise cancellation. Beachy, calming scents waft and welcome you as you enter the underground lair of relaxation. Upon checking in, you will receive a tour of the facility, which features four float suites. The suite-style essentially provides more breathing room if you are easily prone to claustrophobia in the float tank counterpart. (Think of a spacious bathtub, versus a restricted pod.) However, you will still gain all the benefits of a float tank inside of your private suite.
You can choose to float day or night, depending on your preference and your purpose. “Some like to wrap the day with a float, and others like to fire off into the creative and productive side of a post-float routine, it just depends on the person,” says Messmer, who recommends floating at least once or twice per month. “The benefits can be exponential at just one float per month,” he shares.
How to Prepare
There are a few things you should and should not do leading up to your first float. For starters, do not consume caffeine prior to your float. And, while a small meal or a snack is okay from 60 to 90 minutes prior, you should avoid a large meal, so you can feel as comfortable as possible. On your drive over to the float center, take some time to set an intention. You can also do this once you arrive, if outside stressors are too distracting.
Once you’ve prepared, a trip into your personal float suite reveals a shower with cleansing amenities and all the supplies you need (ear plugs to keep saltwater out, a vinegar solution to flush any saltwater that gets in and petroleum jelly to slather on any cuts that might get upset). After you disrobe and shower off the outside world and any lingering oils on your skin and in your hair (make it fairly cold to offset the warmth of the float), you will be ready to step inside your oasis.
As you enter your suite, grab the simple foam pillow resting on the wall. Once you are settled, motion sensors will detect you are inside, and the lights will turn off. Lay back and slowly sway in the water, and get comfortable with the slick texture of the salt. Find a calming center, both physically and mentally, and allow your mind to quiet. Set an intention or two if you haven’t already. You may also notice mantras whizzing through your head, which will also help you set your intention(s). If you’re a regular meditator, you may find that you quickly fall into a Zen-like state. If not, this is a great way to get into the habit, thanks to the lack of distraction. Once relaxation sets in, a mellow will soon follow, though you may feel your body jolt, or awaken if you reach that deep of a state. If and when this happens, return to your intention or mentally chant or whisper your mantras until you glide back to your still space. Bathe in the nothingness that surrounds you, and let your worries float away – until the queue of a soft, musical alarm awakens you.
Treat yourself to a warm, cleansing shower, and take your time. Take a moment to regroup, and find gratitude for your appointment with self-care. Steep some warm tea in the lounge and hold on to the positive manifestations you’ve procured. Messmer says you can treat yourself to beer, ice cream, or even tacos, but to really just make sure you rehydrate and take note of how you feel over the next few days. “Always float at least one more time, even if it is not at Easy Float,” he says. “The second float is often said to be 90 percent better than the first.”