I was struggling and wanted out.
But how could I quit on this? If I couldn’t handle floating by myself in 11 inches of Epson salt-saturated water for 90 minutes, what else couldn’t I handle?
I was overwhelmed with the notion that I was a quitter.
Everything I ever quit, big and small since childhood came rushing back to me in the dark: Cub Scouts, Little League — twice.
And much more important stuff than that, I was thinking.
I did not like this guy; I was so antsy to escape that pool. I had no clue how much longer I’d be stuck there. What if the attendants had forgotten about me altogether?
The struggle continued.
I needed to bust that door open or I was going to explode.
I was later told that I broke a cardinal rule of floating: I drank coffee beforehand.
I had been drinking coffee all morning, actually.
“Since caffeine is a stimulant it keeps the body from being able to relax,” the founder and co-owner of The Float Place, Tom Wunk, later told me. “It keeps the mind racing, too.”
SLOWING THE MIND
That’s what we all do, we race.
We race to work. We race home. We race to our phones or our vices. We race to text back before the light changes green. These are manifestations of the racing we do in our minds.
Floating does different things for different people. For me, it slows my mind to a trickle, a trance-like state that can last minutes on end.
There are even blissful moments to be had, which I’ll get into later.
“It gives people exactly what they need,” one of the attendants, herself a floater, told me after my first float.
She and I had chatted briefly as she readied me a cup of tea in The Float Place’s sun-splashed Post Float Room. There you’ll find hot tea, couches, books for writing or sketching, even an assortment of color therapy glasses to choose from.
“You don’t want to go from sensory deprivation to sensory overload,” Wunk says, describing the importance of the post float experience.
That’s also why phones always remain off inside The Float Place.
You’re not just meditating here; you’re disconnecting — from a lot of things.
WHAT IS FLOATING?
Wunk and co-owner Hardy Patel opened their second Float Place location — the first one is in Deer Park — in Patchogue in 2016.
They each credit floating with changing their lives drastically.
They’re believers. And they want to help heal our communities while growing a business, which really should be the new American Dream.
But Patel has a requirement for anyone he’s working with: they float.
So into the pool I went. (Patel suggested at least four times.)
To the uninitiated — which is most people, which is why I’m writing this — floating is a sensory deprivation experience that allows a relaxation that floaters feel is unachievable through other means.
“Or, at least, it’s like a cheat code to help people reach that place,” says Wunk.
The salt allows the participant to float effortlessly in water that’s heated to the temperature of the outside skin. The float rooms are insulated against light and sound.
“For the first time ever, all stimuli are removed from your brain and your body isn’t fighting gravity,” reads The Float Place website. “Without this constant rush of feedback, your body has a ton of extra resources at its disposal. As a result, positive hormones, such as dopamine, are pumped out while stress-related hormones, such as cortisol, are greatly reduced.
“All of the joints, muscles and ligaments in your body are finally able to fully stretch and de-stress due to the lack of gravity and huge dose of magnesium from the epsom salt.”
The only thing you’ll feel is a rim of water around your face.
My first float was marvelous, to use a word I’ve never used in my life. But it’s a word that’s accurate.
I was nervous beforehand because I’m introspective and I knew this could be intense. I’ve also suffered from claustrophobia in the past.
I didn’t want a unique, first-time experience to be ruined. So, admittedly, I took a doctor-prescribed Xanax about 30 minute ahead of time.
Everything went smoothly. The nice, private showers before and after the floats help the relaxation process along, too.
If you’ve ever experienced guided mediation, the narrator is constantly bringing your thoughts back to center as they might otherwise branch off like a tree.
For me and other floaters, there’s no need for that in the water; it just happens.
And when the mind shuts off those thoughts — fantasies, really — what’s left is just you, your core or whatever you want to call it, at rest and at peace in that moment.
That’s how all but one float has gone for me so far.
But back to that second float — the hard float. It was a grind, which it isn’t supposed to be, but it was also the most interesting and memorable.
I didn’t quit and escape the pool that day in the float room, though I came very close. Sure, I’ve quit things. But I’ve also stuck a lot of things out, too, it dawned on me. And I’m not the same person I was even yesterday.
I was going to muscle through this, despite the caffeine, lack of Xanax, and claustrophobia issues.
One thing I know about myself is that I’m a hard worker. And as long as I was stuck in that bath, I was going to work. That’s where I found my confidence in the moment.
So, I exercised my mind. I tried to remember every grade in school from kindergarten through college. I thought of faces. My old teachers’ faces, as well as classmates.
This is like counting sheep, mind you, so I fell into a trance that’s not unlike sleeping. When I came to, the anxiety started again, and I nearly jumped out. Then I thought about myself, actively.
I was working hard.
First, and by design, I thought about everything I hate about myself, those haunting, life-long negative thoughts that bring us down. Then, I thought about everything I love about myself, which is infinitely harder for a human being to do for some reason.
During that process I felt a rush. Not love, per se, but what I perceived to be a balance of love and hate — and it was sensory. It was bliss, something we’re told we feel as infants before the intrusion of the ego. It lasted for several seconds.
My friend James recently said he experienced this, too, while floating.
He called it pure joy.
Call it what you want, selflessness, bliss, joy, the infinite balance of yin and yang that’s present in all moments. Whatever it was, it was priceless. And we can all tap into it.
We find time for a lot of things: our kids, work, school, video games, sports. We find money for cool clothes, eating out, drinks at the bar, a better car or a bigger house.
But what about you?
You at your core.
You without your phone or computer or TV — or company.
Maybe it’s a you that you’ve lost touch with, a “you” closer to who you were as a child, back when your future you was all about potential and infinite possibilities.
I keep thinking about what that one girl told me after that first float, and how accurate it must be:
“It gives people exactly what they need.”
What’s cool is you won’t know what that is until it’s revealed to you in the water.
Whether you experience bliss, or it’s a life-changing experience or not, I think we could all benefit from slowing down a bit, unplugging, and enjoying a little weightlessness in a weighty world.
Just don’t drink any coffee first