Isolation or flotation tanks, where you float in magnesium salt-saturated water in a dark and quiet capsule, are making a revival locally.
“In Europe they are used as treatment. Some centers have 100,000 visits a year,” says Dr. Sunil Pai, who recently installed a sleek, 21st-century Restricted Environmental Stimulus Therapy (REST) Pod at Sanjevani Integrative Medicine Health and Lifestyle Center near Wyoming and Paseo del Norte NE.
“We followed the clinical evidence on the use of the pod,” Pai explains.
Studies published recently in the American Academy of Pain Management’s “The Pain Practitioner” demonstrate that regular floats improve anxiety and depression, sports and back injury, chronic pain, muscle soreness, arthritis, insomnia, attention deficit disorder, Asperger’s and autism spectrum disorders and fatigue and stress.
|Where to float
Sanjevani Health & Lifestyle Center, 9001 Holly NE, Suite B. Appointment required. Single float $79, discounts for multiple float packages. sanjevani.netEnlighten Others, 127 Bryn Mawr SE. Appointment required. Single float, $45, discounts for multiple float or combination packages. enlightenothers.com
While those documented benefits are impressive, a trial float about a year ago convinced Pai.
“The last time I had quality sleep like that was before medical school,” he says. “You forget what deep sleep feels like. The float tank resets everything. One hour in the tank is equal to six hours of deep sleep.”
Three nights of restful, deep sleep followed his first hour float, Pai says. Now he regularly floats about once a week.
Pai says the benefit is cumulative with most people realizing the most improvement after three hourlong sessions, spaced within a week or two. The more people float, the more quickly the brain and the body switch to a more relaxed state, where healing occurs, he says: “It’s the automatic induction of relaxation without taking a pill.”
The pod works its magic several ways. The super saturation of 1,200 pounds of magnesium salts allows the body to float in 12 inches of water, while the body also absorbs the magnesium, an essential mineral for muscle relaxation.
Sensation recedes in the dark and soundproof pod while the body temperature of the water allows the sense of touch to recede: “You can float spread eagle in the pod without touching the edges,” says Pai, adding that many stress-related issues dissolve away.
The water is cleaned and filtered after each client floats, he says, plus the salt is antimicrobial, leaving the tank much cleaner than a hot tub or a swimming pool. Clients shower before and after floating.
Across town, off Central on Bryn Mawr SE, Kenneth Pintor, owner of Enlighten Others, says his flotation tank is popular and often booked in combination with other services like a massage or hot yoga.
“I’m fully booked these days,” he says.
Everyone who comes to float is introduced to the tank and offered some time to unwind and increase the relaxation potential with his inversion table, foam rollers or basic yoga poses. Enlighten Others’ flotation tank has been available for about five years, first in the North Valley and now in Nob Hill. Pintor also has a stringent system of cleaning the tank, with ultraviolet light, filtration and hydrogen peroxide, he says.
“In the tank, you can feel where you are storing stress and tension and release it. Stress and distractions are very similar; they take you outside of yourself. When you are inside the sensory deprivation tank there is nowhere to go, but inside. The closer you are to yourself, the happier you can be.”
Client Phil Safier, 68, says he’s been floating in isolation tanks since the 1980s and uses the time to decompress and meditate.
Safier had a tank in his home for a while, but he now goes to Enlighten Others once a week for an hour or more.
“In the tank you can deal with a lot,” he explains. “Your brain waves slow down and that translates to a different relationship with time when you aren’t floating. I’m just not as reactive when dealing with any number of issues. I find this state on a fairly persistent basis. I have more options. I’m just not as mentally or physiologically stressed. It’s a valuable state.”
He says he would recommend floating for anyone: “As a society we need rest. Even when people are sleeping they aren’t getting good rest. We’re always in motion; our brains are always churning. However a person can spend time when all that stops is beneficial. We have to let our systems reboot and heal. All that mental, emotional and physical stuff just goes away, because the system has been allowed to reboot.”
And while the dark, quiet enclosure of the flotation tank is a welcome respite for Safier, Dawn Gillreath, a massage therapist, didn’t think her claustrophobia would allow her to float.
Pintor had encouraged her to float so she could explain the process to clients, but she resisted the idea.
When she was a little girl playing with her sister, she found herself locked in a closet. Since then enclosed spaces trigger panic, Gillreath says.
“I am extremely claustrophobic. It was debilitating. I even had trouble riding in a car. So thinking about floating in a tank was freaking me out,” she says.
She reluctantly agreed to float, knowing she could open and close the door or get out completely if she wanted.
“I took it as an opportunity to explore where this (claustrophobia) is coming from. I got out of the tank, but then I got back in. I wanted to know why. When I got out of the tank, I was fine. I was feeling great,” she says. She says since then, about 18 months ago, her fear of small, enclosed spaces is gone. She floats regularly now.
“I don’t know where it went, but it’s gone,” she says. “It was like meeting myself for the first time without distractions. There are so many layers you explore. You unlock so many things about yourself that are so beautiful.”