The pandemic lockdown—and overall year of self-isolation—made many of us hardened, short-tempered grouches. To help relax our bodies and minds into the joys of everyday life, we locked 5280 staffers in a room all over again.
For the uninitiated, float tanks are spaces filled with enough saltwater to make the Dead Sea jealous. Lay on your back and the density facilitates a sensory deprivation experience to help melt away anxieties. Here are a few locations, as well as five tips for newbies, where you can sit back and, like En Vogue says, “Free your mind.”
Samana Float Center
1307 26th St
The night before my 90-minute float at RiNo’s Samana Float Center, I texted my friend group chat with a prophecy: “I think I’ll either: a) fall asleep or b) have a panic attack.”
Though I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as claustrophobic (crowded elevators aren’t my thing), lying naked in an enclosed, pitch-black tub of saltwater seemed like it had the potential to be super unsettling. After arriving a couple minutes late for my appointment (thanks, RiNo parking), I was greeted by a warm smile from Luke, who walked me to a private room with a shower and float “cabin.”
First there were some ground rules. Do: Turn off the lights and music for the full sensory-deprived experience. Don’t: Touch your eyes with saltwater-covered hands. No problem.
After getting my bearings in the water, I closed my eyes and let my mind wander from lunch that day to the billionaire space race to whether Gwyneth Paltrow has her very own float tank at home. I cycled through meditative breathing patterns learned via the Headspace app and repeatedly fell into a dreamlike state, only to snap out of it and laugh at how weird this whole thing was.
Before I knew it, the lights rose gradually and an instrumental version of “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies started playing to signal the end of my float. For the rest of the day, my body felt weightless and tension-free, my mind felt at ease, and I slept like a rock that night.—Michelle Johnson
Good for: Spacious claustrophobia–easing float cabins and a blissed-out body high
5290 Arapahoe Ave, Unit D
I walk into Radi8 Float’s strip mall studio slightly nervous, mostly excited—I love being alone in small closets and airplane bathrooms, so sensory deprivation seems genuinely appealing.
After showering, I ogle the tank’s exterior: smooth white fiberglass, like a mix between a sci-fi spaceship, ostrich egg, and MRI machine. The color of the tank’s interior light is stuck on pink, which is deliciously campy, but I turn it off before entering. Darkness beckons. I lower myself into the tank, hit a button, and watch as the lid shuts. Suddenly I’m giggling—this is all so strange! To regain composure, I focus on breathing. Soon I’ve figured out the most comfortable position: skydiver-esque, with arms bent, palms up, legs out, and ears submerged.
I start to feel unusually embodied and find myself repeating, first in my head and then out loud: “This is my body. This is my body.” As someone who often refuses to acknowledge myself in a mirror, this is special. I wonder how long it’s been—40 minutes? Just then, jungle sounds echo through the tank, and I realize it’s actually been 80 minutes.
Re-showered, I linger in the comfy back room, flipping through a journal with notes from fellow floaters. I may not have “become one with the tank,” as one client recently did, but I’m especially focused in the climbing gym that evening … and for two days afterward, I continued to pick out salt crystals from my ears. I’d definitely go back.—Jordan Cutler-Tietjen
Good for: A stimulating disorientation of time and space and a sense of buoyancy, literal and figurative
1855 S Pearl St, Unit B1
I’d always viewed sensory deprivation tanks as something A-listers did—not plebeians like myself. (My vision? Paul Rudd sealing himself into a tank hooked to the Fountain of Youth.) And while walking down cafe bulb-lined stairs into Easy Float’s basement facility felt a bit like descending into a secret grotto, the receptionist’s friendly greeting and step-by-step description of the floating process resolved any nerves.
My private room had a shower, bathing supplies, and an entrance into my own open cabin pool hybrid, a small room filled with 10-inches of heavily salted water. A sign on the wall instructed how to prepare: Put in the provided earplugs, shower to remove excess oil (it dirties the water faster), spread petroleum jelly (also provided) over cuts to prevent stinging, and step in.
The motion-detecting lights quickly flicked off once I entered the tank, plunging me into darkness.
At first, I rested my head on a ring of black foam, but soon ditched it to fully float on my own. Bobbing in the darkness vacillated between being weird and cool, but the lack of stimuli made it easy to let my mind wander, go blank—something I’m bad at doing on my own. I did feel more relaxed and less grumpy after my float, but I’m pretty sure it’s because I dozed off for a bit. Oops.
Music nudged me back into consciousness, followed by the gentle glow of pool lights. Overall, I enjoyed the chance to unwind and be physically separated from distractions—looking at you, smartphone—and appreciated that the employees and signage at Easy Float made the process so, well, easy.—Angela Ufheil
Good for: First-timers needing a bit of figurative hand-holding
Vive Float Studio
250 Steele St
It’s ironic that as someone with anxiety, the thought of visiting Vive Float Studio for a relaxing experience was nerve-inducing. I walked into Vive, eager but a little shaky for my first 75-minute float experience. I carefully steeped in the waters of the private float room—my first few minutes reminiscent of a whale thrashing around in shallow water.
Then I gave in to the 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt and started floating.
Vive recommends turning the light and music off, creating what is called a “pure float,” a sensory-free experience. I tried this, and my first thought was: What if there’s a shark in these 10 inches of water? and then scrambled to flick the lights back on.
After my time was up, I visited the studio’s quiet room to recharge. There, I had a cup of hot tea and read a copy of 5280’s July issue (Vive obviously has impeccable taste in magazines). Overall, it was a delightful experience—once I got past the beginner’s shock. I emerged from the studio with wet hair, a salty phone, and a calm heart rate.—Barbara Urzua
Good for: Nervous Gen-Zers wanting to try new things/needing a break from work-related thoughts
5 Tips for Your First Time
New to the float tank scene? Here are a handful of things you should know to make it an enjoyable, truly relaxing experience.—Jessica LaRusso
- Don’t shave anything the day of your float. Trust us: Your five o’clock shadow or hairy legs will be much less distracting than a million itchy pinpricks. And unless you want to find out why “rubbing salt in the wound” is a saying, be sure to cover any nicks or cuts with liquid bandage or petroleum jelly (which most facilities will have on hand).
- Leave your swimsuit at home. Tanks are generally located in rooms that are completely private, and showers are required before and after, so going au naturel is fine—and, really, preferable. The sensation of fabric against your skin, or loose in the water, might take you out of the moment.
- Be strategic about your pre-float consumption. You’ll see lots of warnings about avoiding excessive amounts of caffeine, but we’d argue that a greasy fast-food burger—or an empty, growling stomach—might make you even more uncomfortable. Water is trickier; we’d recommend trying to stop drinking water an hour or so beforehand and bringing a bottle for the ride home.
- Wear the provided earplugs. Even if you’ve not been prone to water-related ear issues in the past, it’s better to be safe; plus, softening any outside noises just adds to the effect of escaping the sensory overload of your daily life.
- Make your float yours. Feel less anxious leaving the door/lid open? Do it, even if the staff tells you it might get chilly. Lights out freak you out? No one’s bestowing medals for enduring a panic attack in the dark. Want to stream your own playlist instead of floating in silence or listening to whatever ambient sounds the facility offers? Jam away. Twitchy? Feel free to stretch, twist, and splash—just try not to get saltwater in your eyes. Bottom line: If you reach a transcendent meditative state, that’s great, but it’s also completely fine if you’re better served by a buoyant nap.