Inner City Sanctums
Float Away Without Leaving Town
“In our culture, we have a problem shutting off and relaxing after work,” Brian Ludlam said as he showed me the sensory deprivation tank. “People can’t remember what it’s like to be young and stress-free.”
As Brian explained the spaceship-like tank to me, I thought about how serious that concern really is. (How depressing is it that we don’t know how to relax anymore?) But no matter the problem, it’s better to think about a solution---and this column happens to be all about finding solutions to city life.
Before last week I had only read about deprivation tanks in magazine articles, and while tanks are extremely popular in Europe (especially Germany) as a drug-free therapy for stress, anxiety, sleep and other disorders like phobias and addictions, they’re still gaining ground here in the states.
Zen Blend, the quiet home spa run by Brian and Kristi Ludlam, is one of the only places to float in Austin and also happens to be an ideal environment for first-timers. There is only one tank at Zen Blend, which means there is only one client at a time--with the exception of couples’ packages—so you have the entire space to yourself. There’s a great float discount every Tuesday (90-minute floats for only $50), but if you’re looking for an exceptionally ultimate mental vacation, I recommend the “Relaxation Day for Two”, where couples can enjoy alternating hot-stone massages and float sessions.
Floating inside of an enclosed, completely darkened tank filled with 200 gallons of water and a concentrated magnesium sulfate solution (with approximately 1, 000 pounds of medical grade Epsom salt) would seem to be a strange, even unnatural experience, but more and more people float for a variety of reasons, like mental and physical revitalization. Most of Zen Blend’s clientele work in high stress fields with mental demands and irregular hours, think ER surgeons and IT programmers. People also float to deepen their meditation practices.
After Brian showed me the adjacent shower (to rinse off before and after), he handed me fresh towels and earplugs programmed with calming world music, and left me alone with the tank.
It wasn’t as scary as it sounds. I did get a little anxious when I looked inside for the first time (ok, so it’s only kind of like a watery tomb…), but once inside the pitch-black darkness, I didn’t feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic at all; it felt more like I was a part of everything.
However, it took me a little while to stop rustling around in the water, adjusting my body, rearranging my arms (cactus-style by my ears worked best in the end) and turn off my streaming thoughts. I wasn’t sleeping, but I wasn’t exactly meditating either. It was more a heavy calm. I could only hear my breathing and the rippling water. The temperature (between 93.5 and 94 degrees) mimicked the temperature of my skin and my body seemed to simply dissolve or disappear; a sensation akin to the dizzying steadiness felt sometimes in seated meditations after an intense yoga practice. Maybe it was more like disappearing by becoming fully present.
Time is inestimable in the zero gravity environment, but every now and again I would come out of my stillness, stretching out in my buoyant, now-lengthened body, feeling the salty, slippery water and swaying my head and hair slowly back and forth in what now felt more like a womb than a tomb, Before I knew it, soothing music, the cue for the end of my float, started piping through the speakers in the tank.
Sessions are by appointment only, call 512-292-4936. To learn more about sensory deprivation or find a tank anywhere in the world, visit www.floatfinder.com.