I fight everyday to stay focused and I lose. The stresses of being self-employed, having a newborn at the house, and trying to find the time to do my creative work have me feeling like I’m tattered and unraveled at times. I know I’m not alone in this.
We know now more than ever that the quality of our mental state can either lift us up and keep us floating along, or drag us down below the surface where we feel like we’re gasping for air. It can be so strong that it even has a negative effect on our physical bodies. There’s a reason we now have a million different meditation apps; pills, oils, and vitamins to help control our moods; and Barnes and Noble bookshelves filled with “How to Control Your Mind and Stop Freaking Out” books. We’ve seen a hockey-stick rise in things like cold water showers, different forms of fasting, and even “microdosing” psychedelic drugs.
There are countless options for resetting the mind and body and the term “biohacking” is even a trending topic these days.
As a follower of biohacking gurus like Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan, I’d heard about the benefits of “float tank therapy” for years. If you’re not familiar, a float tank is a small pod, about the size of a Volkswagen, full of water and 1,000 pounds of epsom salt. The salt allows you to float weightlessly. You cut off the lights, and lie there for 90 minutes with nothing but your raging thoughts as company. You exit a new person. Sounds fun, right?
I was excited and nervous as I pulled up to Areté Float Tank and Personal Optimization Studio in Carrboro. It was the first sunny day we’d had in months and UNC had just lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. I was happy to be out of the house and have the chance to experience the ultimate reset.
When I walked in, I immediately noticed the back wall filled with MCT oil (a healthy fat harvested from coconuts), mushroom coffee from FourSigmatic, and “New Mood” and “Alpha Brain” supplements from Onnit. It was like seeing my life unfolded and displayed and out on a table for sale. Not only that, but the studio is located in a 100-year-old farm house in the middle of Carrboro. I felt like I was home — in a place that I’ve never been before.
The owner Jen Ellis smiled shyly when I freaked out about all this. She knew she had something special, but was happy to see that I got it. We made fast friends.
She walked me through the process:
I’d strip down to my birthday suit, shower in the float tank room, and enter into the tank. When I was ready, I’d close the lid (you can keep it open, but the experience is not the same) and after 10 minutes, the lights and music would switch off. After 90 minutes, the music and lights would gradually come back on and I’d rinse off, then go sit in the sauna for 30 minutes under light therapy. See suggested I use green light to relax.
The first 10-20 minutes were hard. The first thing I noticed was my heartbeat, which seemed to thump through that tank like a bass drum. Not only could I hear it, I could feel it through my whole body every time it pumped. But then I calmed down. I tried to do my breathing exercises and even meditate for a bit. Even though it was pitch black, I still closed my eyes.
(Note: you can’t drown, even if you fall asleep).
The water line rested about at the point of my ears (you wear earplugs to keep the water and salt out) and I was finally able to relax my neck and just float.
Then I began to think. I thought about current projects I was working on and solutions seemed to come to me. I thought about who I was and what I wanted to represent. I thought about what my mission in life was.
Then I began to feel. I felt every muscle fiber, every sinew, twist and turn with each slight move of my body. I heard the tendons and ligaments move out of the way of the muscles and bones. I felt the release of tension on my spine and noticed the external rotation in my hips more clearly than I did in my everyday life. It was obvious that this would help with the pressure on my lower back, as well.
I was connected to my body in a way I’d never been before. My heartbeat was still keeping the pace. But now, instead of it being so loud it distracted me, it was that subtle driving beat of a metronome that seemed to keep me in that deep state of connectivity.
It’s hard to explain. It was just… me. For once, there were no outside stimuli to influence my experience. There was just me — mind, body, and soul.
The music came back on and I was confused. Each minute in the tank felt like an hour, but when I was done, the hour felt like a minute. Did I meditate? Did I fall asleep? I had no idea.
I stumbled down the hall to the sauna, which was already set up and ready to go.
For 30 more minutes, I basked in the green light and 150 degree heat of that cedar sauna. I let the sweat drip down my forehead and sat there, still dumbfounded by what happened to me in that tank.
When I exited, I sat in the “Oasis” room because I was not ready to face the world. Jen had created this room for that reason specifically.
I stared at the message on the wall: “Clarity appears from stillness, the same way confusion appears from chaos.”
When I finally emerged, I tried to put my experience into words, but Jen just laughed at me as I stumbled over them. I couldn’t talk. I could barely walk. I felt a euphoria that I only thought existed in the speeches of snake oil salesmen. There was a buzz and tingling running through my body as well as my mind. I truly felt like I was on another plane. Hell, I felt like I was in another world.
When I regained the ability to form words into sentences, Jen and I talked about how significant the physical benefits are, even though we both underestimated them initially. She and I were very similar: hard core athletes that opt for the “tough it out” method. Historically with people like us, something as heady and cerebral as float tank therapy and light therapy would have been way too “woo woo” for us.
But after suffering from back pain for so long, her husband convinced her floating might help. She passed it off at first, since he was the intellectual type that might search for solutions in the subconsciousness. He told her to trust him and she did.
As a warning, he told her “Your first float is a lot like your first….. (um, can I curse here? I’ll just say ‘relationship’). You’re not really sure what to do with your hands, you’re a little awkward and uncomfortable, but then you relax and let your body take over.”
Nature does its work and it’s magical.
What she experienced was so profound that she made it her mission to bring a float tank to her hometown of Carrboro. It was not an easy mission, as North Carolina regulates these things as if they have no idea what they are (they don’t!). But after years of red tape, it’s here now for you and me.
I would say that the physical benefits match, our even outweigh, the mental and psychological ones, but that’s not entirely accurate. Floating in that tank made me realize that these are not two things that should be approached from different angles. Our minds and bodies are the same. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can figure out how to treat them.
Rain Bennett is a two time Emmy-nominated filmmaker, fitness professional, public speaker, and writer. His mission is simple: to help people realize that they too can be great, no matter where they come from or what they start with. It just takes passion, persistence, and a plan.
Bennett directed and produced his first feature length documentary in true indie fashion by traveling the world with only a backpack and a Canon DSLR camera. That film, Raise Up: The World is Our Gym won “Best of the Fest” at the Hip Hop Film Festival NYC and received global distribution through Red Bull Media House. He’s been featured in publications like Men’s Health and Sports Business Global and is a regular contributor to Breaking Muscle. When he’s not making movies or training clients at Sync Studio in Durham, he’s hosting a new webseries called The Perfect Workout Show.