Closing myself in a float-therapy pod, a pitch-black capsule of water, sounds like a plot point in Final Destination 5: Mom’s Panic Attack. I’m not entirely claustrophobic, but you’ll never catch me spelunking, and I can get through an MRI only by feverishly imagining that the machine has a moonroof.
But when I heard about Float Atlanta’s open sensory-deprivation tanks—rectangular pools, each accompanied by a shower in a private and soundproofed room—I felt confident I could make it through a one-hour session ($79) without splashing and thrashing for help.
Here’s how it works: You take a shower and climb into the pool, which is skin-temperature and contains about 1,500 pounds of ache-relieving Epsom salt, making the water as buoyant as the Dead Sea. Lie back and your body will float to the surface and stay there; no effort required. The music from the speakers starts to lower and so do the lights, and then you are in total darkness and silence.
The first tank was designed in 1954 by American neuroscientist John C. Lilly, who was researching consciousness and the impact of isolating the brain from external stimuli. (He’d go on to do this assisted by LSD and ketamine, but that’s a story for another day.) Today, floating is an increasingly popular mode of self-care.
Whenever I am in savasana at the end of a yoga class, I try to imagine my body melting into the earth. Here, in the pool, I felt that convincingly; gravity ceased to exist, and I relaxed so hard that—after watching a gentle fireworks show on the insides of my eyelids and having lyrics from Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack” pop into my head—I fell asleep (and did not end up underwater).
I was gently awoken by music, followed by slowly brightening lights, and felt a deep sense of restfulness akin to what I imagine an amazing night’s sleep, followed by a two-hour massage, might feel like. Flotation has been said to decrease stress, depression, anxiety, and pain while improving optimism and mindfulness, according to a 2014 study.
As I emerged into daylight, I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and eager to float again. But no closed tanks, please—I’m not eager to star in that scary movie.
This article appears in our September 2021 issue.