Go with the flow in float tank

By Kevin Pang

Tribune staff reporter

August 25, 2005

This story contains corrected material, published Aug. 26, 2005.


Salt water, darkness send outside pressures packing

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Aguasal Flotation Center sits along a quiet row of boutiques and condos in Arlington Heights. The reception area is in a ground-level loft, with a sheepskin rug on the ground, candles, comfy couches and the trickling of a decorative water fountain. The clerk, in a soft-spoken, almost reassuring voice, greets me with a warm hello.

In minutes, I'll be experiencing flotation therapy, a process in which I will enter a pitch-dark tank and float in skin-temperature salt water. Those who have experienced flotation therapy tell me the one-hour session feels like eight hours of good sleep.

ZONING IN: After filling out some forms, the clerk shows me one of four private rooms. It's a scene out of Mystery Science Theater 3000: white fluorescent lighting, a beam-me-up-Scotty-like shower stall, and in the middle, an 8-by-4 1/2-by-4-foot tank, looking like something from the distant future.

Before I get in, the clerk gives a short talk about how my brain waves will go into a sleep-like state, and how endorphins will be released halfway through my one-hour session, making me happy. He notes the therapeutic properties of Epsom salt and how floating eliminates pressure on the entire body, especially beneficial for those suffering from chronic pain.

I take a shower, scrub down and climb inside the tank in my swim trunks. Whoa, slippery. The salt makes the perpetually 94-degree water slick and ensures I will not sink. The smell reminds me of the sea, only steamier. I sit down and close the door.

I float in a foot of warm salt water, like a human cork, in complete darkness and silence.

I lie back and experiment with different positions. Hands to my side like a soldier? Hands by my head, like I was being held up? But the smell, the stuffy air and the slick water--it wraps me in a warm cocoon. I am a human pickled egg.

I eventually get used to the surroundings and that's when I relax. Floating means zero resistance to my body, 10 times more relaxing than lying on a mattress. I feel my muscles untangle from the mass of knots--and 30 minutes into the session, I feel the rush of endorphins through my body.

But the best part is after the session, when I step outside into the warm evening sun. That moment is the epitome of tranquility and relaxation. My mind is clear.

AT YOUR SERVICE: Because the salt water can cause irritation, there is a tube of petroleum gel for applying to nicks and open wounds. Earplugs and a floatable neck pillow are available, as are thick white towels. Before and after the float session, I'm greeted with a cool glass of water outside my private room.

BUZZKILL: At the end of my session, some Kenny G-type smooth jazz music comes on the loudspeaker in the chamber, shaking me back into reality. And when I struggle to open the chamber door, some salty water gets in my eye. It does not feel good.

SOOTHING EXTRAS: From one-hour sessions ($60) up to a monthly pass for unlimited floats ($240). Also available is the "limp noodle special," a two-hour floatation and massage treatment ($120).

PRICE: $60

Aguasal Flotation Center


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Tags: research, hypnosis, eeg, brainwaves, WSU