Nobody has to sell lake dwellers on the joys of a leisurely float. But take it from someone who has enjoyed floating in the lake since shortly after it was dammed—you haven’t truly enjoyed floating until you’ve tried it naked and weightless in silence and total darkness at Buoyance Spa in Huntersville. Just the idea conjures up specters of secret underground testing facilities for many people. Or worse, the 1980 film Altered States in which William Hurt deteriorated into a primeval predator after a bit too much “me” time floating in a sensory deprivation tank. After my experience, I can’t swear it’s mind altering, but it can certainly be life altering. Because both the mind and the body are off duty for the duration, it’s the ultimate in relaxation.Research into “floatation therapy” was pioneered by brain researcher John Lilly at the Naval Institute and, later, the National Institute of Mental Health in the 1950s.Floating in zero gravity allows joints and muscles to completely relax. With no light, sound, or other sensory input to process, the brain gradually ceases producing cortisol, the stress hormone, and is flooded with endorphins, powerful natural pain relievers, and mood enhancers.Studies have shown that floatation therapy can be used to successfully treat autonomic nervous system problems such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, high blood pressure, motion disorders, and sleep apnea. It has also been shown to improve perceptual and motor skills in athletes and creativity in artists.Buoyance owners Cecil Roebuck and his wife, Lydia Breighner, have several local ministers among their clientele who drop in for a float when stumped for sermon inspiration. Surgeon friends recharge with a float between 12-hour surgery sessions and 6 a.m. rounds. “It’s not any kind of mind control; it’s mind release,” Roebuck explains. “It’s the equivalent of four hours of perfect sleep. I worry that if the government realized these things are still around, they’d try to tax ‘em. Or make ‘em illegal.”I was skeptical that I’d reach the Zen state others have claimed, but just the idea of floating weightless for an hour in peaceful solitude was appealing enough to convince me to give it a try. The fiberglass tank, which measures roughly 10 feet by 4 1/2 feet, holds 450 gallons of water and 1,100 pounds of high-grade, purified magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts). The water is roughly skin temperature, about 93.5 degrees, and only 10 inches deep. The high salinity sanitizes the tank and provides sufficient buoyancy for virtually any body, regardless of size. The water is passed through a sophisticated, three-stage filtration system after each use and the tank is regularly drained and cleaned. After a quick shower to remove any oils, perspiration, or lotions, I inserted the ear plugs provided, climbed into the tank, and closed the door. The first thing I noticed is that ordinary breathing is really loud. As I floated, suspended like a grape in a Jell-O mold, I realized the experience is akin to returning to the womb, albeit with more awareness and a lot more elbow room. “Your system begins to slow down,” says Roebuck. “Your heart rate drops 10 to 40 beats per minute, blood pressure drops 10 to 15 points. Once all the muscles release, they send a message to your brain asking ‘What do we do now?’ Fortunately, the brain has an application built in that says, ‘Let’s go somewhere else, do something else.’ You just have to let go and allow it to happen.”It did take a while for my brain to get with the program. Thoughts ping ponged in my head. It smells funny in here. I’ve gotta pick up a birthday card. What’s my lead for the article? Eventually, with nothing much to do, my mind got bored and wandered off. I’m not sure I completely reached theta state—the lucid dreaming stage right before you fall asleep and just before you awaken to total consciousness, which is the ideal goal—but I was darned close. Before I knew it, 60 minutes had passed. I emerged from the tank encrusted in salt like a baked potato. I rinsed off in the shower, and emerged more physically relaxed than I can ever recall. All trace of chronic tension in my neck, shoulders, and upper back was gone. Yet I felt alert, refreshed, and energized. My mind was sharp and clear, full of ideas. I was a convert. Okay, disciple might be more accurate. I couldn’t wait for my next float. Fortunately, Buoyance offers frequent floater discounts along with a host of other spa services, so that every client can find his or her personal Nirvana. Say hello if you see me. I’ll be the wrinkled prune with the beatific smile.
Buoyance Floatation Center & Spa10224 Hickorywood Hill Ave., Huntersvillewww.floatbuoyance.com704-464-6525