There are so few places we can go in our modern lives to totally disconnect and reset. The practice of floating is designed to block everything out, bathe you in relaxation, and restore to you the sense of peace you’ve been missing since the first time your iPhone was charged.
Though floating has been around since the 1960s, and has gone by many names, it’s experienced a resurgence of popularity recently. Elite athletes use the practice for both the restorative physiological effects as well as the impact upon concentration, focus, and visualization. High performing business executives use floating for that same creative focus as well as its quality of deep relaxation.
“Who knew we needed a gym to teach us how to relax,” says Tait R. Medina, Ph.D, a founder and owner at Oto Float in Wilmette. “It has a lot of benefits, it helps both the mind and body.”
Medina first discovered floating during her time as a professional ballet dancer before she got her Ph.D. in sociology and became a biostatistician at the University of Illinois Institute for Health Research and Policy.
“I had a back injury and my physical therapist recommended it,” she says. “I knew of other dancers doing it regularly. I gave it a try, and it had such a tremendous impact on my physical body. I have a couple of Bears players that float weekly on their off days. They’re reporting feeling so much less muscle soreness. That was my experience as well.”
At the center of the experience is a float pod. A futuristic looking pod filled with 10 inches of water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. As soon as you lay back, the density of the water holds you aloft. Both the water and the air in the float room are kept at skin temperature neutral. With the lid closed and earplugs in, you start to feel as if you’re suspended in mid-air. The feeling of weightlessness and the lack of external stimuli feel unusual at first but soon become very relaxing.
The physical effects are a result of a couple of factors. Floating takes a lot of pressure off of the joints, increasing circulation and lowering the heart rate and blood pressure. The magnesium sulfate of the Epsom salt works to normalize magnesium levels reducing muscle soreness and muscle fatigue.
The supreme relaxation comes as a result of the lack of external stimuli, allowing the brain to stop making task lists long enough to trigger a mental reset. The traditional float is done in complete darkness with no sound for about an hour, however, since we’re so completely bombarded by external stimuli in our day-to-day lives, some clients are hesitant to jump from one extreme right to the other. Oto Float has devised a series of techniques to ease people into the experience, customizing it based on their own personal comfort level.
Entering Oto Float’s pristine space, one is immediately hit with a spa vibe. The crisp white and slate walls, pops of cool neon color from recessed lighting, a gentle essential oils aroma, and warm ambient tones drifting from the sound system, everything is perfectly designed to guide you to a more relaxed state.
After a brief orientation, where you customize the light levels and soundscape for your experience, you’re taken to a private changing room where you put in your earplugs and change out of your clothes. The float room has a shower to rinse any products out of your hair before getting into the pod. At this point, the customized float options come into play. The first option is whether you want the pod lid closed or left open. The client also determines the light level and the color of the light inside the pod. The coolest part, though, aside from the feeling of weightlessness, is that the pod is lined with transducers, essentially making the water a speaker. The soundtrack is up to the client. It can begin with the ambient tones of the spa soundtrack, gently fading away to silence, or it can stay on the whole time. They also have a library of audio experiences including guided relaxation, guided paced breathing exercises, and guided mindfulness and meditation.
If you do decide to float in the dark, there’s a waterproof manual override remote inside the pod that turns the lights back on and there are motion sensors in the float room to trigger the lights to go on at any time the pod lid is opened.
“We think of ourselves as a technology company, we’re in the technology of health and wellness,” says Medina.
“We tend to be at a heightened level of sympathetic nervous system activation all the time now. We’re always too alert to the pings on our phones. Floating is restorative. Recent studies at the Laureate Institute for Bain Research using fMRI show that subjects’ brains post-floating look very similar to the brains of people taking anti-anxiety medicine. There’s a lot more research to be done, but these preliminary findings are intriguing.”
As someone who never thought I’d end up in a float pod, it’s an experience unlike any other, and it’s definitely worth trying.
Oto Float is located at 1214 Washington Avenue in Wilmette, 847-906-3299, otofloat.com
(from Sheridan Road Magazine)