We live in a society of near constant stimulation. Even when you come in for a massage, there’s music playing, occasional light sounds of traffic, and voices of other people in the building, along with the sensation of the massage itself.
Now, just imagine just turning it all off…
I first heard about float (sensory deprivation) tanks a few years ago, and was curious about them, but didn’t have one close enough to home to be able to check it out. Therefore, I was excited when I saw the notice last summer that there would soon be a floatation center opening a few minutes away from me in Hermon, Maine – Float 207.
What is a Float 207?
Float tanks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from pods to full on float cabins. Approximately 10 inches of warm water fill the soundproofed tanks. The addition of a high concentration of Epsom salt makes you extremely buoyant. While there are options for light and sound, the basic concept of floatation is sensory deprivation, which means turning off the lights and music. The goal is that mythical beast, “turning it all off.”
Gabe Kingsbury and Roscoe Witham first experienced floating at a center in Portland before deciding to open their own center. Gabe discovered it a couple of years ago when he and his girlfriend were looking for something unique to do the morning after a concert, and immediately fell in love with it. Roscoe learned about it through his involvement in wellness and alternative medicine.
The pair began to discuss opening their own center, and through research and conversation, found that Greater Bangor could support its own center. They decided to take the plunge and started planning in February 2018. Float 207 opened eight months later, on October 19, 2018, becoming the Bangor area’s first floatation center.
What Are the Float Rooms Like?
While researching floating/sensory deprivation online, I saw that a lot of floatation centers used something like a pod, or an “oversized coffin” as one site described it. This worried me a little. Therefore, I was pleased to find that Float 207’s floatation tanks were actually a little more like small rooms, or large, roomy bathtubs.
The standard tanks at Float 207 are roughly 8’x5’, and you can move around in them quite a bit. They hold about 10 inches of water and have over 1200 pounds of Epsom salt dissolved inside. The water temperature is about 93.5°F. This is “skin receptor neutral.” After reading some rather wordy scientific explanations, I am guessing is ‘feels neither too hot nor too cold’, like Goldilocks’ porridge. Whatever the meaning, once you settle into floating, you cannot distinguish between the air and the water temperature.
The tanks are in their own private rooms and the doors to the tanks close, but do not latch. You can choose a color for the tank lighting and have the option to turn the lights off for true sensory deprivation. You can also pick music to play or bring your own music. Again, if you’re going for full sensory deprivation, you can opt for no music at all.
What are some of the benefits of floating?
Floatation allows you the opportunity to relax and disconnect from all that constant stimulation/sensory input and give your body and brain a chance to rest and reset. The benefits of floatation have been studied since the 1950s, and you can find information about many of these studies at the website Clinical Floatation. Some examples of the benefits of floatation include:
Decreased muscle aches
Improved sleep quality
Increased optimism and mindfulness
What is a float session like?
I met Gabe on my first visit, and he gave me a tour of the facility and explained the float process. I picked out the color of the lighting I wanted (purple), and he recommended music I might like. For my first float, I chose the “Deluxe Tank” which is larger, since I was still feeling a little apprehensive about closing myself in a small room. The deluxe room also has starry lights in the ceiling. Definitely worth the extra cost!
The tanks are in quiet private rooms. They have a sort of coziness about them while still feeling sanitary and tidy. There’s a soft, squishy rug and a bench for your clothes. There are equally soft and squishy towels provided. Along with the towels, Float 207 provides wash cloths, ear plugs, and ointment to cover any cuts or scratches (think salt water in cuts… ouch).
You need to shower thoroughly before your float to prevent gumming up the works with lotions, etc, and they provide natural, unscented shampoo and body wash, as well as conditioner you can use afterwards. You can bring your own products to use after the float. The shower is right outside the tank, making is so that you don’t have far to go between the two.
I unscenty scrubbed up, put in ear plugs, and hopped into the tank. And by “hopped”, I mean I climbed ungracefully over a kind of high edge and lowered down into the water. I closed the door and a friendly female voice recording said something about enjoying my float. It was roomy and I didn’t feel closed in. In the tank, I played with the buttons that turn the lights on and off and control the music volume before getting myself floating.
Learning to Float?
The first thing I discovered once I started floating is that I was expecting to float similar to how you do in pool or lake water. However, all that salt makes you more buoyant, and you float “higher” in the water than you do in non-salty pool water. I was having a bit of trouble finding a way to let go and relax that didn’t feel awkward. So, I opted to try the foam neck pillow provided. This helped my neck muscles stop feeling like they needed to hold my head up. I think it probably took 20 minutes for my brain and my body to work out an agreement about how to lay/float.
In between all that, there’s a certain amount of fidgeting and exploration. Like, bouncing off walls and spinning in circles because you apparently drift a lot easier when extra buoyant. I also didn’t feel as warm as I thought I would. Here’s a hint… stop fidgeting. When I stopped bouncing around I realized that the air was warm and the warmer water rose to the surface and — voila! I was warm!
Once most of that (and random playing with lights and sound) settled down, then there was the inevitable squirrel brain. Thinking about the things I should be doing instead. Pondering business stuff. Remembering I need to order this and that. Trying to meditate. Getting distracted. Deciding to turn off the purple lights and see what happens. Eventually, my brain must have given up and I zoned out/napped, because the next thing I knew, the music stopped and friendly recording lady told me she hoped I enjoyed my float.
There was a short window of re-familiarizing myself with gravity in order to stand up and step out of the tank. Then I did a lot of scrubbing and rinsing to get all the salt off. I love the big rainfall style shower head and had nearly as hard a time leaving the shower as I did the float tank. Did I mention the towels? They are fabulous!
They provide a lounge to relax in after your float, have tea, gather yourself. There’s a room with a large mirror, sink, counter space, and hair dryer to help put yourself back together. Not being a “girly girl” I didn’t even really think to bring a hairbrush, let alone makeup or anything! So, I just shrugged and went with the tousled look.
I spoke with Gabe for a few minutes on my way out. He reassured me that I would not be the first person with squirrel brain in a float tank. He says it takes on average 2-3 floats for you (and your brain) to learn what to expect and be able to fully sink into the experience.
Since then, I have gone in for a second float. I definitely stopped fidgeting much sooner and got more out of the experience. It will be interesting to see how I feel after a couple more floats, but I really think it is an excellent complement to massage therapy. I highly recommend you try out Float 207 or a float tank near you.
*Note: I have not received any compensation in exchange for this post, it’s just a product of my experience and opinions!