Imagine doing nothing, feeling nothing, seeing nothing and being nowhere. Floating as if in space, alone with your thoughts. Sensory deprivation tanks are at the heart of a wellness trend that provides just that. And although people have been floating in larger cities for years, 417-land has only recently seen its first tank-based business, 417 Float Spa. There, you’ll drift around in a pitch black, soundproof tank that’s filled with about 10 inches of water saturated with roughly one ton of Epsom salt. The goal is relaxation—but some people experience much more.
When 417 Float Spa opened for business, I jumped at the chance to try it. I spent three days’ worth of lunch breaks reading about other people’s float tank experiences before Editorial and Art Assistant Vivian Wheeler and I tried it for ourselves. The reviews ranged from “Meh, I guess that was relaxing” to “OMG is this what it feels like to try acid?” Many of the reviewers shared one common experience: Their minds darted around frantically before they landed on one focused thought and entered a sort of serene mental vacuum.
As someone who’s prone to anxiety and overthinks dozens of things all at once, I was afraid of where my mind would wander. I had anxiety thinking about the anxiety my anxiety might cause. I actually thought my experience could be traumatizing.
The float tank only holds 10 inches of water
Yet when Vivian and I arrived at 417 Float Spa, I wasn’t nervous anymore. Owner Jesse Cordova explained the entire process: We’d pop in ear plugs, take a quick shower then hop into the sound- and light-proof tank where we’d do absolutely nothing for a full hour. I have a 2-year-old son at home. I haven’t voluntarily done nothing for an hour since before he was born.
Once in the tank with the door shut behind me, I was a little shocked by how buoyant I was in the super-salty water. I had barely started to recline before my legs popped up to the top of the water. The water stays at the same temperature as your skin, which means once you stop drifting around you can no longer feel the water; it’s like you’re floating on nothing. I couldn’t hear anything other than my beating heart, and I couldn’t see anything other than those bright electrical mandalas of light that you can see when you close your eyes. It was not trippy or spooky or even weird. It was just serene.
As for my thoughts, they were fragmented and all over the place. I tried in earnest to shut my mind down, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t troubling, though. I just drifted around inside my head and thought about whatever I thought about. Eventually, I think I fell asleep for a moment. I suddenly felt the sensation of my body drifting up into a vertical position. The feeling only lasted a few seconds, then I jerked my mind back and woke up. I kept floating, all the while waiting for my transcendental moment to arrive.
It didn’t, but I’m not disappointed. In fact, I felt supremely relaxed when the quiet music started in the tank to tell me that my time was up. I went home feeling peaceful and stress-free, totally willing to give it another shot, if only for that precious hour of quiet.