We Tried It!

Keep Calm and Float On

Food expert Jess Bender took a break from taste-testing to experience the meditative powers of sensory deprivation at Lift/Next Level Floats.

Photo courtesy of Lift/Next Level Floats

Floating in water is a lot harder than it appears. I tried to teach my boyfriend, a tried-and-true New Yorker who never learned how to swim, the proper technique in a pool during a family vacation. Despite nailing the majority of steps—keep the back straight, arms out, knees slightly bent, and focus on the sky (but never stare at the sun)—he couldn’t relax his neck and mind enough to float without my hands supporting him from underneath.

Stepping inside Lift/Next Level Floats’s second-floor location in Carroll Gardens, I thought my natural gifts in the water would make me a pro at the sensory deprivation therapy it provides. The meditative technique, also known as restrictive environmental stimulation therapy, aims to isolate the brain from certain perceptions. In its promotional materials, Lift touts that “the nothingness of that experience is everything and more.” Flotation therapy is frequently used to treat hypertension, addiction, stress-related ailments, weight gain, and chronic tension headaches. Others enjoy “floating” simply for its relaxing effects. (Be warned, though: Sensory deprivation has been shown to trigger hallucinations, akin to those caused by LSD.)

Seeking midday hallucinations doesn’t seem like the best way to utilize a Friday afternoon (especially one right before the long Labor Day weekend), but curing a weeks-long bout of writer’s block certainly did. Reading reviews on the subway ride mentally prepared me for a variety of feelings—or lack thereof. One Vogue writer found that she “rediscovered [her] mind” during her 60-minute session; another Gothamist reporter noted that she couldn’t feel her limbs at some point during her float; and somebody from Slate even attempted to sleep the night away in a water tank. (Hmm…there was that one boisterous night when I passed out in my apartment bathtub and woke up feeling the most refreshed I’ve felt in years. Surely I could replicate something close to that, at least.)

Lift has five float tanks: three state-of-the-art Float Pods shaped like SUV-size eggs (the New England Patriots have one of these in their training room) and two Ocean Float Rooms with seven-foot-high ceilings and star lights you can control with the push of a giant button submerged inside the pool. Since I was a first-timer, it was recommended that I reserve a spot in one of the rooms.

All of your necessities are waiting inside your private suite: two fluffy towels for your face and body, an alcohol-free makeup remover, petroleum jelly to protect any lingering cuts from saltwater stings (I learned I had a few the hard way), a pair of bright orange earplugs to prevent salt water from swimming down your ear canal, a waterfall shower that belongs in a J. Lo music video, and a lemony shampoo–conditioner–body wash you wish you had in your apartment bathroom. I stripped down (unlike The Simpsons, Lift encourages you to go au naturel), rinsed off, plugged up my ears, and stepped inside the wet chamber for my hour-long session.

Step inside your private Ocean Float Room.

Since each pool is filled with more than 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, the waters naturally cradled my body when I first dipped in and helped me stay afloat (while also acting as a natural skin exfoliant). It took me a few moments to find the position most suitable for my comfort, though. I settled for bending my legs in a diamond shape and placed my arms next to my head like a football goal post. Despite exhorting my boyfriend to rest his neck during his floating lesson, I couldn’t rest my own. Thankfully, the Float Room came equipped with a neck pillow for extra support.

Once I was settled, the scary part—being alone with my thoughts in the silence—began. There’s rarely a moment in my life when I’m surrounded by silence; I even fall asleep with HGTV doubling as white noise most nights of the week. Having an hour to myself simply listening to my heart, my breathing, and the faint sounds of my limbs sloshing in waters the same temperature as my body spooked me a bit, especially when I switched off the color-changing twinkle lights above.

Floating in complete darkness with your beating heart sounds like a Darren Aronofsky movie come to life, right? In reality, though, it was surprisingly calming. Having nothing to distract me, my muscles naturally released weeks of built-up tension and my mind freed itself of the usual mundanity. My eyelids also relaxed, and I ended up taking an afternoon nap, which I haven’t done in quite a few years. I don’t know how long I was out cold, but soft chimes and the pool’s filtration system told me that I needed to make my departure. A little bit groggy and a lot more relaxed, I freshened up and headed to the zen lounge out front.

Waiting for me there were cozy couches and a semi-private seating nook, several handmade kaleidoscopes, a curated collection of self-help books, and two other floaters who recently came out of their meditative slumber. Armed with a complimentary mug of green tea, I started flipping through a pile of Lift journals filled with thoughtful notes from past floaters. People gushed about out-of-body experiences, reawakened spirits and minds, and relief from everyday and lifelong stressors. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t have such a dramatic experience—my life was not changed in any regard—but I did emerge from Lift/Next Level Floats with much more focus (and the mean crick in my lower back slackened!). The clear head certainly helped with my writer’s block, that’s for sure; I eventually outlined the first draft of this article while relaxing in the lounge, green tea in hand.

Clear your mind for a meditative afternoon of flotation therapy at Lift/Next Level Floats; let us reserve you a pod