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Letter to the editor: My first flotation tank experience

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The flotation tank and shower in one of the rooms at Iowa Recovery Room. — photo by Ron Wright

By Ron Wright

With the help of his father and some friends, Patrick Krier has renovated a space in an office building into an otherworldly experience. The Iowa Recovery Room has been open since April 17 and has seen an increasing amount of interest in their floatation tank business. Also called sensory deprivation tanks, the company which manufactures them has been in business since 1972 before the movie Altered States popularized the flotation tank craze.

It starts with removing your shoes at the front door and filling out the usual disclaimer form. I check off that I’m not sick, I’m not high on hallucinogenic drugs, I’m going into this with a clear head, I am not wearing oils that will contaminate the tank, nor do I have any open sores that will get salt in them. Then, Patrick takes me on a brief tour of the facility. In the first door after the lobby is the massage chair room, only $5 for 30 minutes and the control pad lets the customer choose from several preset massage routines, depending upon intensity level and duration. Next, he shows me the sauna room and chilled water bath, in case I want to experience heat and then plunge into the cold to invigorate my sore muscles.

Finally, the room I have been waiting for, the floatation tank room. The room is quite large, 15-by-20 feet, and the sensory deprivation tank takes up fully half the room. At the foot of the tank is the shower stall, complete with a wall dispenser containing shampoo, body wash and conditioner. There is a very nice wooden tower rack which holds lotion and earplugs if you have not brought your own. I brought my Macks silicone earplugs because they work very well to block out water as well as sound.

After I get undressed I put in my earplugs, making sure they have sealed completely. Then, stepping into the shower, I wash my entire body but do not towel off. Pulling back the shower curtain, I reach for the door handle and open it. The cavity inside is black and the 10 inches of water, which holds 750 pounds of dissolved magnesium salts, looks completely clear! I step into the dark—well, it’s not completely dark because there is a small blue light at the head of the chamber. There is a control box on my right as I am laying in the water. This allows me to shut off that eerie glow, which I do. The other button on this control box lets me turn on the air heater if I feel that it is not warm enough above the water line.

The water feels lukewarm, just as warm as the surface of your skin. This is so that you lose touch with your body’s boundaries and drift into the sensation of weightlessness, instead of feeling the warm water against your skin, constantly reminding you that you are floating in a warm tank.

“OK,” I think, “here I am, when is this going to happen?” I’m lying there, but nothing’s happening. I thought it would be like an enhanced meditation, but I cannot seem to get there mentally. It is such an unusual and novel environment for me that I am struggling with what to do, what to think. I feel myself drift. I can tell I have drifted to the foot of the chamber because my feet touch the back wall. I move up to the head of the tank and let go again, trying to drift into nothingness. Again, I wait for some cosmic insight to happen, but again I’m lying there in the lukewarm water staring into complete blackness, and it seems like nothing’s happening. Then I feel the fingers on my right hand touch my right side. My arm has drifted and now my hand is touching my body. I move it away, but a couple minutes later it has found its way back to my body. No! I don’t want to have skin on skin contact. It makes me too aware of where I am. I want to drift into that vast ocean of space, no stars twinkling above me, get lost in the cosmos, have an out-of-body experience, commune with the gods!

So, I move my hand away from my body a second time. Again, I wonder how I may jump-start this meditation. I decide to do my usual reverse daily inventory, wherein I mentally recall what I did immediately before climbing into this tank, then the activity before that, and so on until I arrive at the moment I woke up today.

I begin this mental exercise and strive to let it do its work of relaxing me. Slowly, my body is becoming used to this unusually quiet, uncomfortably weightless experience. I can tell I am letting go a little more as each minute passes. Occasionally, a muscle will twitch and interrupt my reverse inventory practice, but I take it as a sign that I’m becoming more and more untethered. I return to the practice of mentally reciting backward what I’ve done up until this point. It takes me another 10 minutes, but finally I have arrived at the beginning of my day.

That’s when it happens! I am blissed out! I do not know this at the time, because I am so thoroughly blissed out that I am dreaming. I have drifted into a dream state, but these dreams are unlike my sleep dreams. They are more ephemeral and gauze-like. There’s no emotion attached to them, unlike sleep dreams. As swiftly as one dream abruptly ends, a new one will begin. They have no relation to one another. My sleep dreams are usually more involved and often have some kind of crisis that I must attempt to resolve. Inside this floatation experience, when one dream ends, another begins. I have lost track of time and space, so I cannot tell how long I was in this dream-state, but my estimate is 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of blissful dreamy weightlessness. Then, a swirling of water near my head wakes me up. I think to myself, “I wonder if my session is done?” A second later, the water circulation pump kicks on. Yes, it is done, and I must leave this black cocoon. I push open the door and step out into the room, refreshed and feeling very relaxed. I step into the shower and wash off. I feel relaxed and refreshed. I am already booked for my next floatation tank experience, and this time I am visiting the massage chair before I enter the floatation tank.

Iowa Recovery Room owner Patrick performs a ceremonial ribbon cutting with members of the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce. — photo by Ron Wright

The newly-opened business is at 1509 Mall Drive, Suite 1 in Iowa City. Booking can be done by phone (319-499-1190) and online at www.iowarecoveryroom.com. They offer individual sessions as well as several package deals to choose from. You can also find them on Facebook.


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