I made mention late last week on Facebook, I was going to Shadyside to experience my first “float” at Pittsburgh Float.
For some of you, who might be curious, I thought I would share some insights and feelings about the experience.
Floating, as it is popularly called today, is spending some time in a sensory deprivation or isolation tank.
Some of you who are as old as me may remember a movie starring William Hurt called Altered States that came out in the 80’s. It was a very loose and fictional account of the inventor of the float tank, John Lilly. My experience wasn’t nearly as crazy or intense as the movie, but I still hold out hope for the future (lol).
The tank looks like kind of a mini submarine. It is about ten feet long by five feet wide. It has a hatch or door on one end that is higher than the opposing end. You open the door and step inside and then rotate around until you’re sitting, facing the door, then you close the door and lay back into the water.
The tank is filled with about 500 gallons of water and to it is added seven hundred pounds of Epsom salt. The water, which is about 18 inches deep, is heated to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, approximating a human’s skin temperature. The resulting mix of salt and temperature leaves the water incredibly buoyant and temperature neutral; it is neither warm nor cool.
Additionally, when you are in the tank with the door closed it is completely light and sound proof. Pitch black. Eyes open or eyes closed, it is all the same, no visual stimuli. Other than the initial sloshing around of the water, you can hear your heart beat if you try.
Also you are buck naked. There are no clothes between your skin and the water. Nothing to feel, other than feeling naked which is a good feeling to begin with.
You lay on your back, arms at your side, but not touching your body just like floating in a swimming pool. Only it is not like floating in a swimming pool because despite your initial inclinations to try and float, you don’t have to try at all. At first, you’re tensing your body in a certain way and breathing a certain way through habit, but eventually instinct goes away.
Initially, your feet feel as if they’re going to touch bottom or are lower than your head and torso. It is kind of a distraction. Maybe they are but I never touched bottom and this feeling goes away too.
You also have the distinct feeling you are slightly rotating back and forth. If you try and compensate you end up touching a side. If you do touch a side, I figured out if you don’t do anything you will slowly drift away naturally. If you are inclined to slightly push away, sure enough, you will touch the opposite side, ping ponging back and forth.
What is the point of it all?
Slowly your body, of its own volition, comes to recognize the buoyancy of the water. Your tension goes away. Every muscle relaxes and you just sort of sink into the support of this salt water. Eventually your skin temperature and the water temperature come together and there is no separation of the two. You are weightless in space, just floating around. You can’t hear or see anything. You are in the womb again.
Other than your breathing and your heart beat you have no sensory input. You are alone with your mind. You are in your own head. Once there you can pay attention to your thoughts and throttle back the monkey mind and it make it your servant, instead of you it’s captive.
The whole experience seemed to me to be a short cut to where you go after practicing mediation for a disciplined, intense period of time. It is hack. Getting out of your body is a really awesome feeling.
Is it for everyone? No. If your claustrophobic I suspect you might have issues. Overcoming your natural inclination to believe you are sinking is kind of difficult at first. It took some willpower to simply let go and relax. It’s kind of hot in there.
If it sounds like something you would like to try, give it a go. It’s $70.00 for an hour, but if you freak out you can open the door, test over. Its worth a gamble at that rate to see how you like it.
I am going for 90 minutes the next time and I feel certain it won’t take me as long to get to bliss as it did the first time, so I will have more time to enjoy the trip.
Sanitation? You shower before you get in. The water contains 700lbs of pharmaceutical grade Epsom Salts and microorganisms cannot survive the high salinity. After each float, the water is filtered through an ozonator. They also add 35% hydrogen peroxide in place of chlorine to ensure the water is extremely hygienic.
As soon as you get out you take another shower to get the salt off your body and water out of your ears. It can’t be anymore gross than floating on a lazy river at a water park filled with babies, toddler and preteens. But it is so much more fun!
Who is up for a float trip?
Here is the URL for Pittsburgh Float: http://www.pittsburghfloat.com/