Have you ever dreamed of floating in space on a pillow of nothingness, letting your mind go to places of calm and serenity, with no gravity holding you back or anchoring you to life’s worries and stress, your aches and pains relieved by the lightness of just being? On a journey to ease the stress and trauma life has thrown at me and its negative impact on my mind and body, I tried flotation therapy. Now I crave it.
Flotation therapy was something I’d been wanting to try, and so on a recent trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, when I turned a corner walking through Ketchum and stumbled upon 5B Flotation, it was meant to be.
Sliding into the dark cocoon of the flotation tank, trusting and giving in to the soft buoyancy of the warm water, and releasing and letting go my mind and body has had a surreal, defining, and positive impact on my life and psyche.
The History of Flotation Therapy
Considered a 20th-century scientific pioneer of the inner and outer limits of human experience, John C. Lilly is the father of flotation therapy. In 1954, while on a quest to explore the inner workings of the human brain, Lilly developed the idea of floating on water without submerging, in an atmosphere allowing for ultimate isolation. He developed an isolation tank and discovered a sensation and experience for complete relaxation that nurtured the mind to reach a meditative state.
In his enclosed tank half filled with fresh water, in the pitch black, Lilly achieved complete isolation of the mind. But his body wasn’t fully relaxed because he had to hold his nose and kick his feet to stay afloat. After experimenting with ocean water, it wasn’t until almost 20 years later, in 1973, that Lilly and an associate mixed fresh water with 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts, a mix that allowed a body to float without effort. The flotation tank — completely dark, as long as a body, and as wide as an arm span — was born.
The Healing Power of Flotation Therapy
Exuding calmness and ease of being, 5B Float owner Parker Morris is a walking testament to the effect floating can have on our health, wellness, and state of mind. Just 23, Morris discovered flotation therapy in 2013, while at college in San Diego. Seeking rejuvenation from the physical pain of working three jobs as well as severe depression, he was intrigued when a friend recommended he try flotation instead of seeing a chiropractor. He found “a guy with a flotation tank in his guest room” who suggested that the body is a sacred temple to nourish and nurture.
“I went home, cleared out all the crap food I was eating, donated it to a food bank, and immediately starting eating organic, natural foods. I floated whenever I could, and after just a month or so I had no back pain, my acne was completely gone, in the tank I was able to think with clarity on a higher meditative plain from outside my body, and my depression was gone,” Morris says.
Flotation is believed to have powerful effects on physical health and mental wellness because it allows your mind to pinpoint and concentrate fully on painful areas in your body that you otherwise wouldn’t notice.
Morris says he was so into floating that he and his roommate bought a tank and turned their garage into a Zen den. They charged fellow students $40 an hour to float, more than Morris was making at three jobs. A year later, after finishing his associate’s degree, Morris decided to take his flotation business to his hometown of Sun Valley and opened 5B Float.
Today, regular clients include accident victims, a bookkeeper who thought he was cuckoo (then got hooked and now floats daily), celebrities and business moguls with homes in Sun Valley, and professional athletes — all converts to the positive physical and mental health power of flotation.
Flotation therapy is believed to have such powerful effects on physical health and mental wellness because it allows your mind to pinpoint and concentrate fully on painful areas in your body that you otherwise wouldn’t notice in day-to-day life — and to accelerate recovery through the absence of gravitational pull and pressure. Floating has also been shown to strengthen the immune system and reduce high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, scoliosis, migraines, anxiety, and depression.
I was there to find out how it could help me.
My Experience With Floating
Walking to 5B, I started to get a little nervous. I’m an Aquarius, the water sign — a born swimmer who loves the ocean and jumps in a pool every chance I get. I’m not claustrophobic, but it was the notion of being in an enclosed tank in complete darkness that started to weigh on me. Morris says this is why people often back out at the last minute or take months to get up the nerve. “It’s not like going for a massage or regular spa treatment. This is a deeper experience that when you allow yourself to give into it is pretty profound and special.”
I’m a prime candidate. After losing my 21-year-old son, raising his autistic brother, and recovering from a serious horse accident, I was intent on tending to my anxiety, depression, grieving, and pain. And the Aquarius in me was really looking forward to it.
Morris showed me into the candlelit flotation spa room and walked me through the procedure: Rinse in the shower without soap, shampoo, or conditioner. Put in the earplugs provided to help with noise cancellation and keep water out. Enter the tank nude — a swimsuit is OK, too, though I chose to skinny dip — and close the door. (Morris provides a foam wedge to keep the tank door ajar and let in light if you don’t like being fully enclosed.)
Focusing on the fading music, I was soon floating weightless in silence, my mind freed of its constant chatter, feeling a luxurious nothingness.
I undressed to soothing spa music, rinsed, slipped into the dark water and blackness of the tank, and closed the door.
It took me a few minutes to let my head fall back, relax my neck, let my arms and legs go limp, trust the 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts in the water to fully support my body — and stop my curious mind from analyzing it all. Focusing on the fading music, I was soon floating weightless in silence, my mind freed of its constant chatter, feeling a luxurious nothingness.
The experience was heavenly and hard to describe, but I’ll try. For a while, my mouth relaxed in a smile, I just was — the silence hugging me. Time slowed. At one point I dozed, no sense of time passing, a common occurrence in a float tank, says Morris. Then energy, unconsciously conscious of seeing vibrant colored streaks of light cross inside my closed eyes. (Or were they open? The darkest of dark in the tank makes it almost impossible to tell.) Story ideas rushed through my head. I wrote the opening to an article I was stuck on. Such lucid focus was new to me. I felt relaxed, uplifted, and enlightened.
An hour in the tank felt satisfyingly like a lifetime. When the gentle music slowly started to rise from the silence, I sighed, smiled, stretched, and, fully aware now, enjoyed a few more minutes on the water before slowly opening the door, seeing my life through a new lens.
And it stayed with me. In my post-float glow, walking back to my hotel, my aches and pains were gone, and I felt positive — something I’d struggled to feel for a long time.