Over a thousand pounds of Epsom salt, ten inches of water, complete darkness, and absolute silence: this unlikely atmosphere combination is what makes up the sensory deprivation (floatation) tanks at Levity in Squirrel Hill.
Sensory deprivation therapy is a practice that dates back to the early 1950’s for neurological studies but now, often referred to as isolation or floats, it is used mainly for alternative medicine and meditation.
As a psychology minor, I had heard about the therapy in passing. Prior to my first float, I couldn’t help but think about Altered States, a science fiction/ horror flick made in 1980, which played on repeat in my head in the week leading up to my first brush with sensory deprivation.
Floating is “…disconnecting for an hour and giving your mind sixty minutes to exhale for the first time”. David Rapach
Levity owner David Rapach is a firm believer in the practice, floating himself at least twice a week. David opened Levity last year and has since enjoyed the variety of clientele it has gained. From professional sports players to stay-at-home mothers, he says there are benefits for everyone. After first hearing about floating on The Joe Rogan Experience, David decided to try it out for the first time in Washington D.C. As far as turning it into a business, David said he “recognized the necessity of disconnecting for an hour and giving your mind sixty minutes to exhale for the first time”. I had the opportunity to do just that.
Tucked away behind a modest storefront lies a calming waiting area where David explained the fairly simple process: go into your private room, take a shower, open the tank, get in, shut it, and float. David explained that for the first twelve minutes of your float soft music plays to help you get used to your surroundings. After a few minutes, I became acclimated to the warm water, the darkness, and the music. Once the music shut off I began to panic a bit. I can’t recall any moment in time, besides sleep, that I have been as physically and mentally shut off from the world.
Throughout the float process, I was able to self-reflect and clear my mind of excess “noise”. During our conversation, David constantly used the word “disconnect” to describe the feeling of floating. For my sixty minutes in the tank, I was able to do just that. The constant buzzing of a cellphone, social media notifications, network updates, emails – the media connection that is never-ending; this was my chance to break free. At work, I feel like an hour drags on forever, but an hour in the tank slowed everything down and gave me a new appreciation for a quiet sixty minutes.
When I sat up at the end of my session, my hair felt extremely heavy. For one whole hour, I had forgotten what it felt like to be weighed down – literally and figuratively. My body had become accustomed to the idea of not bearing weight. Immediately stepping out of the tank into a hot shower, my eyes were adjusting to the light, I could feel every single drop of water in a more aware state than ever before. I felt like a newborn baby seeing the world for the first time. I was experiencing and appreciating everything in a new way.
Immediately, I was more energized than I had recalled ever being. I have heard people try to compare the feeling to meditation, yoga, Adderall, and even marijuana. None of those even come close. There was no “crash” or come-down waiting for me, only a day full of extreme focus and a peaceful night of sleep. Work came easier, my mind was able to hold on to one thought for more than a moment, and I was able to fall asleep faster than ever before.
For David, the benefits are a little different. He says, “It helps me maintain a nice work-life balance so I can focus and maintain being a better husband, friend, businessman, father… All of these things I can focus on”. While the emotional and mental benefits vary from person to person, the physical benefits include minor pain relief, easier recovery, joint ease, better sleep patterns, and muscle eased tension. There are benefits for virtually everyone and, essentially, negative side effects for none.
With the slew of prescription drugs, holistic medicines, and meditation practices readily available, floating has made me feel the most grounded. Like David, I was once a skeptic. Once I allowed myself to be open to the deeper inner connection between my body and mind, I was proven wrong. If you are trying to discover yourself, discover floating first.