It took less than two minutes of floating in complete darkness in the tank for me to panic. I was drifting face-up in 210 gallons of water and 800 pounds of epsom salt inside a tank, inside of First Float wellness center in Huntersville. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t hear anything except my pounding heart and my exaggerated breaths. (I was trying to focus on Ujjayi breathing — inhale through the nose, exhale back out through the nose.)
I was struggling to relax — come on yoga practice, kick in! — breathing deeper, deeper. Then a flood of irrational thoughts crashed down on me: I don’t know which way is up! I’m trapped in here! I’m going to drown! I’m dying.
I started thrashing around in the water and reached my arm up to find the little door — then knocked frantically. My rational mind reminded me that my co-worker Sean, who had tagged along to catch some video clips of this wellness center — should be sitting in that nice little white chair in the room that holds this tank.
No response from Sean.
I slapped my hand around on the door and flung it open, gasping: “I’m going to use this floaty thingie, actually.” And I wedged the skinny blue floatation disc I’d been holding between the door and the suctioning point of the tank.
I sank back onto the saltwater, defeated. But I could see a sliver of light above me if I just cracked open my eyes.
“This was the closest I’ve ever gotten to complete meditation”
CharlotteFive editor Katie Toussaint experiences complete silence and darkness inside First Float’s sensory deprivation float therapy pod.
Tyler Johnson, 28, opened First Float on Feb. 1, 2018, to offer holistic wellness experiences including floatation therapy ($75 for an hour), massage therapy ($79 for an hour) and halo therapy (also known as salt therapy; $35 for an adult session).
He and his massage therapist wife moved down here about 8 months ago from Indianapolis to open the business, with a team that includes a research scientist and clinically trained therapists. Their business offers a variety of pricing and membership options for services.
Johnson used to be about 100 pounds heavier before he began his wellness journey — during which he found floatation therapy. He was skeptical, but when he stepped outside of the facility after his first float, he said, “I just had this huge overwhelm of refresh. All the colors outside were crazy vivid. The air just felt so much fresher.”
Before you float, you step into a shower to rinse the oils from your skin, stick some earplugs in your ears and then you climb into the tank. Johnson recommends an hour to get the full effect of sensory deprivation. I opted for 20 minutes because it was a work day and I just wanted to “sample” the experience.
One of the biggest benefits of that hour, he said, is that your brain enters a state similar to REM sleep, allowing a recovery time equivalent to about four to five hours of sleeping.
Johnson likes to float in the mornings, three to four times a week. Generally, he recommends twice a month minimum, but best benefits will come for those floating once a week, he said.
According to the First Float website, benefits include lower stress levels, increased focus, rapid recovery and inner peace.
During my first float, I started to feel that lowering-of-the-stress-levels benefit — after my first panic.
Johnson said floating puts the body in homeostasis, so a person with high anxiety or ADHD should return to calm, whereas a lethargic or depressed person would return to a normalized state of energy.
With some deep breathing and the comfort of that sliver of light above me, my anxiety dwindled. I thought briefly about how I needed to get an oil change.
Then I drifted.
I ended up experiencing the deepest state of meditation I have ever achieved — my mind was thoughtless and all sense of time and place dissolved. I was present, peaceful.
I was actually disappointed when soft music started to crescendo in the room and Sean wrenched open the tank door. I climbed out (to find out that Sean had left me in there for 30 minutes, instead of the agreed-upon 20 minutes), took a shower to wash off the salt and went back to my office for the work day.
What I recommend if you try floatation therapy
I recommend trying this at least once — just like I would a massage. The practice offers a menu of possible benefits and it’s worth trying it out to see if you experience any of them. I did — I found that deep sense of calm and relief of stress.
I also recommend:
– Trying it after work. While Johnson said floating is the launching pad to everything else (first float, then perform; first float, then create; first float then “kick ass”; etc.), all I wanted to do afterward was drive straight home and go back to bed. Massage therapy has that same drowsiness effect on me.
– Bring a friend the first time if you feel any sense of unease. It’s kind of weird to drive out to Huntersville, strip (it’s recommended that you do this sans clothing, though I wore shorts and a tank top) and climb into a sealed tank in a building full of people you don’t know. Even though Sean semi-abandoned me during my time of need, it was comforting to know he was down the hall.
– Bring a little floatation device into the tank with you if one is available. You definitely don’t need it to float, but it was such a relief to wedge the door open a little bit with it. It gave me permission to relax.
I would absolutely try floating again. As Johnson pointed out, “There’s some kind of wonderful magic to being able to disconnect from absolutely everything for at least an hour.”
First Float: 16501 Northcross Dr B, Huntersville