In search of a float

FloatingTanks may be rolling into a town near you sooner than you think. Neima Jahromi‘s feature article, “In The Tank”, contextualizes the burgeoning floatation therapy movement (9/24/13, The Nation). I expected more reporting on the culture surrounding the practice, but I was happy to consider Jahromi’s ideas about floaters’ motives in a chaotic, digitally-native decade.

Floatation therapy, also called sensory deprivation therapy, is a practice where people float in warm, salty water in a dark, silent chamber that could be a repurposed refrigerator. It’s supposed to be very relaxing, like meditation, or sudoku (so I’m told).

After reporting on the growth of floatation businesses in Portland, Ore., Jahromi draws connections between floaters and 19th Century Transcendentalists, like Henry David Thoreau, and newer writers seeking sanctuary from sensory overload, like Sherry Turkle and Bill Powers. Powers’ book Hamlet’s Blackberry (2010, HarperCollins) is referenced frequently in the article. Jahromi also employs his method of drawing similarities between the desires of older thinkers’ with people today. He writes:

Just as Thoreau had retreated to Walden Pond for a sabbatical from newspapers and letters, so too do many floaters descend into their sensory deprivation tanks to find relief from cellphones and the Internet. The desire to float alone in a dark and silent box may not, on the surface, resemble the impulse that sent a small-town intellectual to his bucolic home by the water, but Thoreau had not, in his experiment, sought the sensuality of nature; he had gone in search of minimalism.

I first heard about sensory deprivation tanks from Frasier re-runs. Last May, the Vice video series Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia featured an investigation of the growing popularity floatation tanks and ardent floaters. My curiosity about the subculture was driving me nuts. Where the heck do I find one?

On our way to and from Burning Man this August, Nick and I were eager to find a tank in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, even as far east as Oklahoma. In the spotty cell phone service of the great American West, I searched Internet listings to find a tank in the next city we were headed to. Many of the phone numbers I called were out of service. We never made it to one, mostly because of the time constraints of traveling.

It turns out we didn’t need to drive to the Vegas strip to find a tank. Hope Floats is a floatation center in Bethesda, Md. It was recently mentioned by Justin Moyer in his Washington Post article about the growing floatation spa business in the D.C. Metro Area. About his predictably spacey experience floating, Moyer writes:

For me, the experience was like Zen meditation: boring at first, then over in what seemed like seconds. Suspended in about two feet of 94-degree water filled with Epsom salt, I didn’t just feel relaxed, I felt like the giant baby at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

For what is still considered a new age remedy by many, Hope Floats looks like it has a fairly reasonable business model, even a social media presence with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The spa charges $70 for 60 min. session, and $90 for a 90 min. one. Can floating lead us on a path to inner depths of our consciousness, or is it just the next Brazilian blowout?


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