Blocked out: Float therapy puts you in a pod away from worries of the world

  • The float tank at Serendipity Day Spa in Pembroke. Leah Willingham—Monitor staff

  • The float tank at Serendipity Day Spa in Pembroke. Leah Willingham—Monitor staff

  • The float tank pod at Serendipity Day Spa in Pembroke. Leah Willingham / Monitor staff

  • A woman sits in the float pod. Courtesy of Serendipity Day Spa

Monitor staff
Sunday, February 18, 2018

It’s so dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I don’t know which way is up or down, where my body ends and the water begins.

​​​All I can hear is the sound of my own heartbeat: Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.

Sound scary? It wasn’t. Actually, I’ve never been more relaxed in my life.

What I’m describing ​​​​​is my first experience in a sensory deprivation tank. I was floating in a pod filled with 12 inches of body-temperature water and 1,100 pounds of pharmaceutical grade Epsom salt.

For more than an hour, I laid alone in the 8-foot-tall container, cut off from the world.

I can understand if the idea of sensory deprivation might make some people nervous. The thought of being in a closed-off container for an extended period of time made me feel claustrophobic at first.

I feared that what was meant to be a relaxing and centering activity would actually have the opposite effect – that I wouldn’t be able to shut my mind down like I was supposed to, and that it would keep running, focusing on work, or the laundry list of tasks I had to accomplish in the week, and that I would feel trapped.

But in reality, it ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Sensory deprivation, or “float therapy” was invented by neurologists in the 1950s. The practice has seen an upsurge in recent years as a way to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, alleviate depression and PTSD, among many other things.

NASA employs flotation to stimulate weightlessness. Members of professional sports teams have touted its healing qualities for athletic injuries – the Patriots have two tanks at their Gillette Stadium facilities.

Now, in New Hampshire, Serendipity Day Spa in Pembroke is one of the first locations in the state to offer it.

Owner Holly Rodrigues said float therapy is “meditation on training wheels” for a lot of customers.

“We’re so busy being busy that you forget about yourself and taking time to unwind,” she said. “Floating forces you to stop.”

Rodrigues said sometimes it takes a physical isolation from everything – your family, your phone, your job, your responsibilities – to be able to actually make that escape and take a breather.

She said knew as soon as she floated for the first time in Canada, that she had to figure out how get a float machine for her spa.

“Anything spa-like that you can imagine, I can tell you I’ve tried,” Rodrigues said. “This was just so different.”

She went to work trying to find a way to incorporate floating into Serendipity – which is built into an old colonial house on Sheep Davis Road. The spa has been open for 15 years, and the business offers everything from hand treatments, facials and stone massages in the rooms of the home.

The room Rodrigues chose for floating was sound-proofed, for maximum privacy, and lengthened to be able to house the pod. She also built in a shower so that guests could wash themselves before and after floating.

The pod Serendpity purchased is the same one Tom Brady has at his house, Rodrigues said. With that pod, you have the choice of whether to have a light on in the pod – a blue, futuristic glow – or if you want to float in darkness. You also can decide if you want to float in silence, or with music either provided by Serendipity, or brought by the customer.

Part of what makes the experience of floating so freeing – and not claustrophobic, like I feared – is the amount of choice that goes into it.

You get to choose whether you want light or darkness, and you also get to choose if you want to float with earplugs – Serendipity provides an array that you can choose from in the float room – or if you want to use a floatation device in the tank.

Floaters get the choice of either a swimming noodle or a “halo,” as Rodrigues calls it, that fits behind a guest’s head for neck support and comfort.

A major part of a first floating experience is working through different combinations of music, darkness and floatation devices to find the most comfortable position to float in. Once you get through that first float, Rodrigues said, you know what works for you and it gets easier to get into your most relaxed state.

The actual pod itself did not make me feel trapped or claustrophobic at all. For one, the tank is very roomy and the ceilings are high. Secondly, guests can open up the floatation machine at any time during your float if need be. The cover is not locked down in any way, and will automatically lift up if you pull on the handle.

I had to do this three or four times during my 75-minute session. Because I was playing with my positioning to in the tank see what would be most comfortable, I accidentally got salt in my eyes and mouth on a few occasions. But that wasn’t a problem, because Serendipity provides a wash cloth and water in a table beside the pod to help you if that happens.

The whole floatation experience was incredible. I wasn’t thinking about any stressors in my life – I felt totally removed from them. Never in my life have I been able to disconnect so much from my surroundings and feel so much at peace.

And as great as the actual experience of floating was, the after effect was even better. My body felt more relaxed than I have ever felt. Any tensions I was holding in my back and shoulders disappeared. I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt like I was walking on clouds.

And the way I slept in the days after – Rodrigues said that one hour in the float tank is equal to four hours of REM sleep – was the best week of sleep I’ve had in a very long time.

I’m already booking my next float.