Relaxing in a sensory deprivation tank is like returning to the womb (sort of)
Inside the watery pod lovingly referred to as “Flo” by her owners, I open my eyes to the type of darkness usually reserved for blacked-out basements. And tombs, my brain reminds me. Though I surveyed every inch of Flo before I climbed into her cavernous mouth and shut myself in, I shiver at the thought of creepy crawlies I cannot see. I change the channel—something I’ll do a lot in the next 90 minutes—to every humorous scenario that could interrupt me now, immersed (like the Dude in whale song) in birdsong and the God ray notes of a synthesizer. And bobbing, ever so gently, on top of 10 inches of water.
“Silence is golden,” Shanti Hudes told me as she prepared me for my float session, setting the New Age CD to run for the first 20 minutes only. “How often do we get to feel safe just listening in silence to our hearts and breathing?”
To achieve optimum buoyancy, Shanti and her husband Jai Hudes—owners of Be and Be Well, a “Wellness Activation Center” in the Santa Cruz Mountains—have saturated the water with 850 pounds of Epsom salts.
“Magnesium sulfate is needed for every transmitter, every nerve ending in the body, to the brain and back,” Shanti said. Indeed, the eighth most common element in the earth’s crust is needed for more than 300 enzymatic reactions—and according to a 2003 study published by the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, magnesium intake in North America is decreasing.
But absorbing essential minerals through my skin is only an extra bonus—I’m really here to be reborn. Or to at least visit the elusive state Jai calls “the zone”—a relaxation so complete that you “haven’t relaxed to that level since you were in your mother’s womb, just blissfully being held,” says Jai. According to Michael Hutchison, author of The Book of Floating, floating increases endorphins and may evoke subconscious memories of prenatal bliss.
I’m halfway there, but instead of the warm cocoon I had imagined, the water is set to skin temperature—94.5 degrees, effectively blurring the line between water and air, but not quite amniotic.
When the music turns off, my heart is a loud whoosh in my ears, but it will be another chunk of unmeasurable time before my imagination quiets and I confront “the void,” as Shanti calls it—a space in ourselves undistorted by the chatter of beta brain waves.
By the time the light inside the tank turns back on and birds begin to sing, my mind has slurred off into various dreams, and I’ve skirted the edge of sleep without ever falling in. I reenter the physical world just as the sun begins to set over the mountains and rose garden, thankful for the return of so much color and light, and too relaxed to drive home.
Jai and Shanti run Be and Be Well out of their home, which makes it all the more hospitable, and a stream of guests come and go from the grounds, which include several spare rooms, hammocks, an infrared sauna, meditation rooms, a waterless relaxation pod, and an organic garden fed by graywater.
“We take a lot of time with our clients,” says Shanti. “Because we really honor the fact that they want to find out more about themselves—it’s a big deal.”
The float community comes from all over the Bay Area—seeking to alleviate burnout, stress, physical pain, and depression.
Jai and Shanti float several times a week. “Sometimes I go in to just do nothing and relax, and sometimes I go in to think about my projects,” says Jai. And Jai’s projects are large and exciting: an aquaponics-yoga greenhouse (already taking form), a sweat lodge, and a new virtual reality version of his soul-searching, life tool card game, X the GAME.
For more information, visit beandbewell.com or call 408-691-7188.
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