The Escape Pod: Lincolnites venture into sensory deprivation tank business

On a typical workday, Jeremy Warner might find himself on the phone nonstop. Warner owns Red Dog Carpet Cleaning and serves as a dispatcher of sorts for the Lincoln branch, taking calls from customers and letting the cleaners know where their next gigs are.

Like plenty of jobs, his is filled with calls and texts and emails and stress. But Warner found -- and built -- a unique way to disconnect from it.

A few times a week, Warner will open a panel to a deep blue-colored steel box that looks like an industrial-sized version of the washing machine stationed across from it in his basement laundry room, and he’ll step inside.

His foot is met with a pool of warm, buoyant salt water inside of it. The solution of Epsom Salt and water in the tank, Warner said, is seven times as dense as the Dead Sea. It's perfect for a float in the pitch black chamber that can last hours.

It’s also where he came up for the name of Lincoln’s contribution to the burgeoning industry of sensory deprivation float tanks -- the Escape Pod.

The tank is an environment designed to stimulate thought by shutting off all else, Warner said. And unless you can score an invite to Jeremy and Karlin Warners’ home float tank -- in an effort to spread the experience of floating, they’ve hosted a few first-time and veteran floaters from Lincoln, Omaha and Iowa who’ve found them online -- it might be some time before you see an Escape Pod in Lincoln.

Warner said he would love to open a float center here, but doesn’t have time, since float centers and private individuals across the country keep ordering Escape Pods from him.

Nashville, Miami and Boulder, Colo., are a few cities where people can get away from it all in a Lincoln-made float tank. On Tuesday, Warner and his business partner, Rich Vest, are planning to drive a trailer filled with materials for four Pods to the Pacific Northwest, the epicenter of float tank culture in the states.

Made with sheets of steel fabricated at TMCO in Lincoln (“I think we are TMCO’s smallest customer by far,” Warner said), plastic panels made from recycled milk jugs at Sandhill Plastics in Kearney, insulation, high-powered water pumps and roughly 400 washers and 200 bolts apiece, the tanks they’re installing in Washington and Oregon next week will bring the total number of Escape Pods that they’ve sold to 10, and Warner said interest continues to grow.

“We got a shipping quote to Abu Dhabi,” he said, mentioning a potential customer for the $6,000 tank. “It wasn’t that bad! Seven hundred bucks.”

The concept of the tank is not new. Warner said many neuroscientists initially hypothesized that, if someone were floating in a sensory deprivation tank, the person’s brain would shut down.

“The opposite is true,” Warner said. “The brain is infinitely complicated.”

What the float tank instead provides is an opportunity to escape distraction and delve into deep thought. The credit for designing the first isolation tank in 1954 goes to neuroscientist John C. Lilly, whose research fueled continued interest in sensory deprivation and who also eventually experimented with LSD and communication with dolphins inside of one.

Warner’s tank experiences are significantly less out there than Lilly’s dolphin-talking or the “Primitive Man” state that William Hurt achieved in the 1980 isolation tank sci-fi classic, “Altered States.”

Inside the tank, adrift in thought, Warner has found a place where he can meditate or connect dots to solve business problems or simply cut off outside contact and float.

“It’s just nice to have a place where you can go and not have a cell phone,” Warner, 37, said. “It’s so nice to go in and nothing’s going to disturb (you).”

The sensation is difficult to describe, several floaters said, but they tried:

* “You feel really at peace, calm,” Warner said. “Your body disappears.”

* “It's just pure thought, the mind completely untethered from the body,” comedian Joe Rogan, who frequently extolls the virtues of floating, said on his podcast.

* “You just let go,” said Elizabeth Ashby, an Omaha native who tried Warner’s Escape Pod. “That’s totally the bottom line.”

* “Every float is a little different,” said Mark Chesshir, co-owner of Nashville Float and Massage, which opened last month. “Sometimes you’re in, you’re out (of consciousness). Sometimes … I got to see colors one time. It’s such an incredible thing.”

The name of a Las Vegas float center might sum it up best -- Lazy Yoga.

"You can meditate effortlessly without consciously trying," Ashby said.

Floaters say you've just got to try it, and more centers are opening around the country to offer customers the chance.

In Nashville, the lone two-tank float center stays open, and occupied, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. throughout the week, Chesshir said. On the weekends, they stay open until 3 a.m. Customers seem to enjoy the Escape Pod they bought from Warner and Vest for $6,000 -- a low-end price when compared with other tank manufacturers in the country.

“One, they love the color,” Chesshir said. “They also love to float in it. It’s a very, very comfortable tank.”

The Midwest, for the most part, remains bereft of float centers. lists three in Illinois and one in Kansas City, and there aren't many more around here.

“I’m hoping there’s going to be something of a moment where it enters the public’s imagination,” Warner said.

Author: Cory Mattson

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Tags: recent, FirstFloat, float tank, escapepod