I am suspended in absolute darkness—one so complete that when I raise my arm, I see absolutely nothing, not even a suggestion of an outline where my arm might be. I let my hand drop back to my side. It makes a splash, which is the only noise within the eight-by-six-foot tank I am floating in.
Completely void of external stimuli, here I am forced to rely only on what my body is telling me. Each inhale that expands my lungs sends shallow ripples in the 96-degree water. Each exhale echoes throughout the chamber. I literally feel my heart thudding inside my chest. My mind feels like it is moving in slow motion. They may call this sensory deprivation, but in the absence of outside chatter, all I experience is sensory enhancement. And it turns out this absolutely still state has unique health benefits.
Sensory-deprivation tanks—aka floatation therapy, aka REST (restricted environmental stimulus therapy)—promise relaxation, stress relief, and muscle recovery. They rose in public awareness in the late ’60s as a prime location for LSD trips and other psychedelic experiences. But the fact that these enclosed, lightless, soundproof pools of saline water are enjoying a resurgence in 2018 says less about a return to tripping and more about just chilling.
“We are a fast-moving city with very few options to truly disconnect,” says Alex Charles, manager of Chill Space in New York City.
The floatation center, which opened in 2016 with two tanks, has a steady, diverse clientele: type A Wall Streeters, serious athletes, yogis. Regulars come in as frequently as twice a week. Sessions are an hour; you know your time’s up when the lights inside the chamber gradually illuminate.
The isolation is what draws a lot of the clients.