Though I’ve tried it a number of times (ok, like five), I’ve never been very good at meditating. I have a lot — A LOT — of thoughts and feelings that whoosh around my head at all times and I have absolutely no idea how to turn any of them off. While I enjoy living in that hectic head space, I do envy those who are able to close their eyes and see only a blue ball of energy, like Elizabeth Gilbert does in “Eat Pray Love.”
So when I heard about the latest trend in wellness — sensory deprivation — I was intrigued. The treatment involves floating for an hour in a salt tank that is pitch black. You wear ear plugs and the idea is that if you can’t hear, see or do anything, you maybe, just maybe, are able to relax. And that’s basically all meditating is, right?
I booked an appointment at Floating Lotus, a new spa in midtown, which offers flotation therapy and promises that in the tank, “there is no gravity. You are no where and there is no where to be. Just to be with yourself here and now.”
Remembering the searing pain I felt when I dipped my newly-shaved legs in the very salty Dead Sea in Israel, I showed up to the spa hairy and ready to roll. I signed the necessary paperwork, in which I agreed to pay a cleaning fee of $2,000 “should I voluntarily or involuntarily have a bowel movement, urinate or discharge any other fluid in the Flotation Room,” and then I was guided to the room itself. It was bigger than I expected, and there was space for me to change, take a quick shower and slide into the pool. A timer gives you five minutes to settle in to the tank, then the lights go out and — poof. Nothing.
Joel Granick, the co-founder of Floating Lotus whom I spoke to after my session, told me that “first timers often have a tough time getting into it” and that was an underestimate for me. I loved floating in the salt and kept splashing around, spinning in the water and striking random poses. After a few minutes of this, I realized I should probably act like an adult and attempt to mediate. Maybe, if I was really lucky, I could fall asleep!
Once I stopped splashing around, I started to get a bit cold. Granick told me that because the water has to be still, it cannot run through a heater. While the water is by no means frigid, I usually take super hot showers that fog up the mirrors, so I was slightly uncomfortable.
Ignoring my chill, I lay in the pool trying to concentrate on the great dark nothingness. I breathed the salt in deeply and continually cracked my knuckles and joints. In addition to being great for meditating, flotation tanks are wonderful for aching joints and muscles, because the zero impact allows them to relax in ways they are normally not able to. Since my head was no where near the meditative state I had hoped for, I decided to focus my session on this other benefit of the tank, stretching and doing yoga poses. Before I knew it, the hour was up.
Did I find enlightenment? No, not even close. But Granick told me not to feel discouraged about that. “You don’t need it to be a deep, meditative experience,” he told me when I pouted. Just being in the salt is good for me, he said, and if I came to the tanks often enough, I would eventually start to get it.
“Meditation is about becoming aware of different things that you weren’t aware of before. And once you tune into them then you just sort of naturally can go into different states that are really peaceful, really happy and healing,” he said.
And for now? “You’re going to sleep awesome tonight,” he promised, crediting the salt air and the magnesium in the salt.
I did indeed, and in my dreams — if not in reality — I was able, finally, to relax.