Recently, while staying at an Air B&B house in Carpinteria, I was having dinner on the patio with the hostess who so graciously (& deliciously!) prepared it. We were sitting, chatting over lemon chicken and fresh garden vegetables, and her friend, Phillip of Grover Beach, started talking about “floating.”
I immediately remembered reading an article on this in one of those throw-away magazines about six months ago. It talked about the therapeutic benefits of sensory deprivation tanks at a place in Oakland Hills. Somehow, after reading it, I had the feeling there was only one place that did this and I had to go to Oakland Hills to do it. Some day, I thought.
Phillip went on about how he just loved this thing he called floating. He’d go for multiple sessions at a time. He described the atmosphere as I remembered from the article. Here’s how that conversation went with regards to his specific floating hangout in Santa Barbara called Alchemy Arts Center and Spa. (Haley and Chapala, close to State St.)
You walk into a room that is about the size of a bedroom and has a door that locks. To your left is a table with a glass water jug, lotion, and wash cloths. Straight in front of you is the floating “pod.” It looks like a giant egg. The hood is propped up like in this picture. Inside the pod, is a light feature (like the kind you’d find in a hot tub) that changes color. Also, inside the pod are speakers, an emergency button, and a spray bottle with spring water/wash cloth combo in case you get salt water in your eyes. (Thoughtful touch.)
In the room, at least at this place, is ambient lighting which you control and a personal shower. You are instructed to shower before and after entering the pod which seems obvious, but I suppose some people may need to be told or they wouldn’t do it. Spoiler alert: You are also warned if you have cuts, scrapes or any type of open wounds, to pick another day because the saltwater will send you flying out of your pod in a jif.
While showering, music ala India is filling the sacred space, transporting you somewhere mystical. When you get in your pod, you have five minutes to get organized before the music stops leaving you in complete silence. (It starts again 5 mins. before your time is up to signal you your time is wrapping up.) The pod is filled eleven inches high with heavily infused Epsom salt. Between soaks, a loud jet filtration system makes sure water stays hygienic between guests. The water is exactly body temperature, making it hard to distinguish where the body starts and where the water ends. You get in and pull the lid closed. You have complete control over the lights. As my whole goal was silence and darkness after a weekend dream conference of Jungian proportions, I killed the lights.
At first, my eyes were closed. I feel things deeply, so I often cut off that visual sense when things start coming too fast. It took about 10 minutes for me to realize, “Hey, I can open my eyes. I can’t even see my hand profile when I hold it up.”
That was very liberating somehow. After my initial “fascinated with the dark” phase, I sunk into the moment. I could feel my heart slow, feel the blood moving through my arteries. I followed my breath in and out which seemed extra loud in the silence (and because I had ear plugs in so I wouldn’t get Epsom ears.)
I wondered if this is what it had been like in the womb…for me…for my babies…for the beginning of time.
And eventually, I just floated.
When I posted a picture on my Facebook, I had a quick response. Three people I knew were booking sessions. Others said this sounded horrible. Creepy. Awesome. Fascinating. Weird. Reactions were as interesting as the floating itself.
Back to Phillip. He talked about how recently he’d noticed while standing in San Francisco that the city had a hum he hadn’t been aware of in years past. It was getting louder. (Phillip is from Manhattan so it’s not like he’s not used to noise!) I thought how this is true of the world in general. The skies are full of satellites, many of which we can only see when sleeping on top of a houseboat in the middle of Lake Shasta’s darkness. Technology moves so fast, it’s hard to track the portals. When I drive in the city (even in Santa Barbara) everybody is in such a hurry sometimes I just have to pull over and wave. (I’ve turned into my mother.) Our lists are longer than ever. It all hums louder and louder.
This fact makes slipping into a quiet, dark place all that much more meaningful. And I’m going to guess, the health benefits from stress reduction and relaxation are phenomenal. If this speaks to you, Google your city and “sensory deprivation floating,” and treat yourself to an experience out of this world. I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.