The latest trend in relaxation: Floating in sensory deprivation tanks

What do you think about the idea of floating and resting your brain in a way you haven’t done since the womb?

Saumil Mehta, co-founder of tech startup LocBox Labs Inc., felt stressed last November. So he paid $75 to lock himself up in a tank for an hour, where he floated naked in the dark. At first the experience was discomfiting, says Mr. Mehta. Still, he says he ended up feeling more relaxed later that night, so he went back again.

“I had the kinds of insights I hadn’t had before” about work and decision-making, says Mr. Mehta, a 30-year-old San Francisco resident. After he left, he adds, “I was incredibly calm and collected, which quite frankly is not normal for me.”

“Floating” is on the rise in the Bay Area, with about 10 “floatation centers” popping up in the region in the past decade, according to several owners.  The new facilities typically have fiberglass isolation tanks that are 8 or 9 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall. Inside the tanks, clients float on a solution that is usually 75% water and 25% Epsom salt and set at about 93.5 degrees. The salt, in addition to having a sanitizing effect, is supposed to relax the floater’s muscles. Many floaters wear ear plugs to block out noise.

Kane Mantyla opened Float Matrix in San Francisco in 2006. “I wanted people around me to be relaxed so they could really enjoy life,” he says.

About 20% of his customers are tech start up founders or employees, and the percentage has been rising, he says.With nothing other than the water to stimulate the body’s senses, the logic goes, the mind is free to wander to new places or to focus on things that matter most to the floater, or that are the most troubling. Many floaters say it allows them to experience intense introspection. Floating was developed by American brain researcher John Lilly in the 1950s. The practice is now more popular in Europe than in the U.S. according to isolation-tank makers.

Lee Perry, who runs Samadhi Tank Co. in Nevada City, says in recent months she has gotten inquiries and orders to make tanks for new floatation centers in states such as Mississippi, Arkansas and South Dakota for the first time, along with orders for dozens of tanks elsewhere. Prices for her tanks start at around $9,000. Ms. Perry says her own daughter is planning to tap into the new demand by opening up several centers in the San Francisco area this year.Many tanks today have robust sanitation and filtration systems that use ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide, and the centers test the solution regularly. The volume of clients determines how often the fluid is changed. Floaters are required to shower before entering the tanks, and have the option of wearing a bathing suit, though the centers recommend not wearing anything at all.

“You’re literally resting your brain in a way you haven’t done since the womb, and people have epiphanies in the tank,” says Allison Walton, who seven years ago opened Oakland-based FLOAT. 

Source: The Wall Street Journal