Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Lu Ann Gordon finds bliss in a Samadhi flotation tank. Normally, patrons would float sans clothing and light, although they have access to a control panel that allows them to turn on a soft blue light if desired. A TV monitor mounted on the roof of the tank and underwater speakers allow those in need of sights and sounds to watch videos.

Float away

Forget about stress by spending
some time in a sensory deprivation tank

By Nancy Arcayna

Holidays are meant to bring cheer and celebrations, but along with all of the hustle and bustle comes the stress of being overextended. The meaning of the season is lost when there's no time to enjoy it.

In the never-ending search for ways to relax, Lu Ann Gordon, owner of the Floating Space, offers the latest solution: a sensory deprivation flotation tank that allows anyone to literally shut out the world.

Bathing suits can be worn during a float, but it is birthday suits that are recommended, so into the tank I went. Floating naked atop 800 pounds of Epsom salt, sure enough, is an experience. The buoyant salt solution provides a weightless, womblike experience.

For the first 20 minutes, I fretted, popping open the door, turning on the light and trying to sink myself, which was absolutely impossible.

"The water is so dense, it's like floating in the Dead Sea," Gordon told me beforehand.

Immersed into a world of darkness and no sound, all I could hear was my own breathing and heartbeat. My mind rebelled, searching for any sort of noise beyond the silence.

The 10 inches of skin-temperature (93.5-degree) water felt just right, neither hot or cold. Putty is used in the ears for protection since they are underwater the entire time. Buttons on a panel inside the tank control an underwater light and generate heat if one starts to feel chilly.

By the time I started to relax, the music came back on, and it was time to get out. I reluctantly climbed out of the chamber, wishing I had a little more time.

"It's a very subtle thing -- you just feel this calm and focus," said Gordon. "I do it every day, and I notice that I'm super-grounded. I don't let things bother me, or worry."

JOHN CUNNINGHAM LILLY, of the National Institute for Mental Health, created the floatation tank in the 1950s. His goal was to learn how solitude affected the mind. The flotation tank is designed to eliminate all the external senses, and the tank was central to the movie "Altered States" in 1980.

Lu Ann Gordon, owner of The Floating Space, is calm and relaxed after completing a flotation session.

It's only now that stress has become a way of life that the tank has found a more trendy reason for being, catching on as a stress-busting phenomenon in New York and the bigger cities, Gordon said. She started her floatation business in June.

Not that people have given up multitasking. Some use their time inside the tank to listen to recorded test notes; others watch surf or dance videos on a screen built into the top of the tank in hopes of improving their skills. Gordon warns, "The sound may be muffled since the ears are under the water, so it may be a distraction."

Relaxation or pain relief are still the goals of most floaters, who get to choose how "deprived" they want their senses to be. Some choose silence while others opt for relaxing music. According to Gordon, some floaters may start to hallucinate.

During a float, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and oxygen consumption are reduced to healthy levels, she said, while floating in the salt solution reduces the stress of gravity on bones and joints.

Gordon remembers one man whose face was temporarily paralyzed by dental work. He could barely open his mouth, but by the time he got out of the tank, he could open his mouth two inches. "It just relaxes everything," Gordon said.

Another businessman rushed to his appointment with a cell phone glued to his ear. "He was a walking time bomb," Gordon said. "When he came out, after being in the tank, he was smiling from ear to ear."

ALTHOUGH many believe salt dries the skin, those emerging from the tank will find it leaves a soft, silky feeling.

People who are claustrophobic or apprehensive on their first session in the tank can opt to leave the door open. "Some people leave the door open the whole time," said Gordon, who also points out individuals can get out of the tank at any time. "The door is very light and can be pushed open easily. If you can close the door, it's a much greater experience."

Just as following a massage, individuals must drink plenty of water following a session, to further flush toxins from the body, completing the work that the salt water started.

Floating costs $40 for a half-hour and $65 for an hour. Special packages are available. Call Lu Ann Gordon at 377-5597 or 216-2216.

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