I stepped into the recently renovated basement beneath Abbadabbas, in Little Five Points, with some long-lingering back pain and an open mind. FLO2S has been open for less than a month, and the space is still being touched up. But the low-lit, low-ceilinged, flowing, funky space already has exactly the sort of ethereal vibe I'd expected of a place in which I'd shortly take off my clothes and float in the dark.
I'd been encouraged to sweat and enjoy a rub-down first, to prepare for the float. So it was that after an excellent hot stone massage and half an hour of "infrared sauna therapy"— a sweat lodge powered by ultraviolet rays, while calming music plays, resonating throughout the body—I stepped into "the cave," one of two flotation tanks on the premises. FLO2S (tagline: "Outerspace. On Earth.") claims to be the largest flotation center in the southeast—these two tanks are the only public ones available in Atlanta—but that doesn't mean it's large.
The owners, one of whom recently ran a successful local massage practice, offer a few facts to persuade skeptics of the benefits of lying for ninety minutes in a foot-deep tub of water that, thanks to the addition of Epsom salts, is seven times denser and more buoyant than seawater:
-Flotation therapy is very effective at lowering the stress hormone cortisol, which causes anxiety and contributes to weight gain.
-A session in a float tank causes your brain to release endorphins, replacing stress with a state of well-being approaching euphoria.
-The high concentration of magnesium sulfate in a flotation chamber dissolves lactic acid and mineralizes the body. This eases or eliminates muscle soreness and tension.
I'd first heard about flotation tanks through a YouTube video sent to me by my very open-minded younger brother. In it, the comedian/actor/writer/UFC commentator Joe Rogan talks about his home tank, where he regularly relaxes "and a whole lot more." From the grainy basement video: "[The first time I tried it was] the most bizarre physical experience I've ever had in my life. I got in there, really high. I was in there for 5 or 10 minutes. It's like a seminar on life is going on...."
Although flotation tanks may be attractive to Rogan types, who want a safe and stimulating place to enjoy psychedelic drugs, they are starting to appeal to a more sober majority, too. Last week there was a float conference in Portland, Oregon—motto: "Looking Forward to a Whole Lot More Nothing"—where leading experts on float tanks from all over the world gathered to discuss the science and business of floating in darkness and silence, which people have been doing since at least 1954.
The tank I entered wasn't anything like the coffin-sized enclosure in the video I watched. It was rectangular, tiled, equipped with nightlights for the frightened (obviously, this is not for everyone), and closer to the size of a typical sauna. One of the owners, a calm and fit man named Edward, gave me earplugs, a towel in case salt water got in my eyes, and this instruction: "The experience is entirely up to your brain." He closed the door behind the changing area. I disrobed, turned off the nightlights, and lay down.
For the first thirty minutes or so, my mind gradually slowed from a sprint to a jog to a walk as much of the day's clutter and detritus filtered out. During that time, I tried to get comfortable in this new suspended state—the water is body temperature, and the salt doesn't sting unless it gets in your eyes, mouth, or any tiny cuts you didn't know about—which takes some getting used to. I tried resting my arms at my side, then behind my head. I pushed my tall body back and forth in the eight-foot-long space, like an astronaut bouncing around a spaceship. My neck, especially, didn't want to completely release. But I remembered what Edward had said—your eyes, mouth, and nose will never go below the surface—and finally let go. For the rest of my session I entered a sort of dream-like state: Images from my childhood appeared unbidden, as did lines to stories I had yet to write. I didn't hallucinate or discover my spirit animal or anything like that. But I emerged in an extremely pleasant daze that did have a sort of opiate-induced quality to it. For the rest of the day, which would have otherwise been stressful, I was utterly unflappable. I wasn't compelled to fight the world, like I normally am. I just wanted to sing along to Sam Cooke.
It costs $75 for the ninety-minute session in the tank, which sounds like a lot. But I'd argue that it's cheap for a trip to space, or even just twenty-four hours of utter calm.