Saturday, June 15, 2013

Be Free Floating

"For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception."--David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, 1739.

The Samadhi isolation tank at Be Free Floating
          Planning to open July 4th, Be Free Floating is a new wellness destination in West Baltimore. Practitioners Twig Harper and Carly Ptak offer isolation tank services in a spa-like atmosphere at $50 an hour. They answered my questions about using isolation tanks and walked me through my first "float."
          Their isolation tank is a Samadhi Classic Model. The guest is suspended in ten inches of highly saline water inside a small light- and sound-proof plastic chamber. Ozone filtration keeps the water in the tank pure. Their brand-new facility also includes a private space for one guest with a bathroom and a beautiful gothic-arched shower area fully stocked with soap and shampoo, all in the same space as the tank. Clean towels are also provided.
         Not very familiar with holistic practices or meditation, I was a little apprehensive about what would happen inside the tank. Would I be bombarded by my anxieties without all my usual distractions? Would I find myself to be boring?
        "Everyone is different, I think, about their first experience," says Harper. Experienced meditators may not find the experience to be unfamiliar at first, "but the experience is somewhat different because it's this very unique environment. You're weightless, and your physical, auditory, and visual stimuli are radically changed. You may have phenomena, you may just relax. You may feel uncomfortable. Just go with whatever happens. If you have resistance that comes up, explore that. If you have tension that comes up, find a way to release it."
The accommodations in the tank room
             Ptak offers that "everybody's experience is completely their own, so sometimes hearing
about other people's experiences is detrimental. People can start to compare, and think they're doing it wrong. The most important thing is that there is no 'right' way to float. Most people like to talk about their mental experiences but my floats have been very physical. I like to be in the tank and be weightless and move my body. I can do, and notice, and sense different things than I normally notice. It's a way of experiencing that is not conducive to words and descriptions!"
            I wondered if I could possibly fall asleep. What if I had some kind of trouble readjusting after the float?
            Harper confirms to me that "some people can fall asleep in the tank. It's fine. You won't turn over, and if you ever did turn over, you would get salt in your eyes!"
            A spray bottle of fresh water and a clean towel is available right outside the entrance to the tank in case this happens. I did get a little salt in my eyes, but it was not very painful and went away on its own pretty quickly.
            "I'm here while someone's floating all the time. My position here is to prepare people before hand and help them integrate anything afterwards," Harper says.
            However, "you are responsible for your own float in every way," Ptak tells me.
           "It's basically just you inside the tank with no stimulation," adds Harper. "What are you going to do with it?"
The entry to the tank
            What was I going to do with it? I locked the door of the tank room, rinsed off, and stepped though the simple entry portal of the tank. I am 6' 2" and weigh 235 pounds, and I did not have any trouble getting into the tank and I had plenty of room once inside. The water and the inside of the tank are heated to body temperature, so there was no shock to the system as I entered the water. I was surprised by how buoyant I was, even more than when swimming in the ocean. Although the water was shallow, no part of me was touching the bottom of the tank. I could reach out and touch the sides of the tank if I wanted to, but I could easily avoid them even with my hands tucked behind my head like a sunbather.
               At first I held my body rigidly, but I soon found I could relax all my muscles through simple breathing techniques taught to me by Harper and Ptak before I entered the tank. It was a much different experience than lying in a bed. Ptak had counseled me that my neck would be a center of tension, and she was right. Gradually, I was able to relax my neck. I could hear my neck gently cracking as it stretched back into the water. My face stayed comfortably above the surface of the water without effort. Once I got situated, I was very comfortable.
               So, now that I was somewhat acclimated to the environment in the tank, what would I do? How much time had passed? A minute, or ten? I had no idea. My anxieties weren't showing up, and I didn't go looking for them. I tried to plan the rest of my week, but it all seemed kind of unimportant. I grind my teeth in my sleep like a lot of caffeine users, but my jaw was relaxed.
              I wasn't sure, but I thought I started seeing colors. Deep purple and maroon aurora borealis, like a late Rothko painting. Sometimes little wavelets of rainbow color. Maybe it was just what the inside of my eyelids look like. I became very aware of the sound of my heart, of the sound my breath going in and out of my nose. I felt them slow down. I felt like I was skimming along the surface of a deeper state, not yet ready to really dive into it. Almost before I knew it, my hour was up.
             I left the tank feeling like I had just had a really good stretch or massage. Ptak, who floats every other day, says she has "spent entire sessions just tightening and releasing, because I can really isolate" individual muscles.
          "We plan on building a practice room," says Ptak, "for any kind of therapy. If somebody knows they are going to want a massage, they can coordinate with their massage therapist. The massage therapist can book the room right after the float. Or if no one is using the room, you can just go in there and stretch."
            I definitely would like to float again, and I would recommend the experience at Be Free Floating. According to Ptak, "if a person is motivated to go in that environment and see how it feels, if they have the motivation, then it's going to do something."
           Following his reading of the work of John C. Lilly, the inventor of the isolation tank, Harper states, "this is just a tool. I want to give people tools to experience deeper states of consciousness. That's where I'm coming from."
           Less didactic than many meditation practices, floating is also unlike other forms of consciousness altering, "where you are chemically altering you consciousness and nervous system. With a tank, you step out of the tank and it just takes a few minutes to restabilize. The beauty of it is, it's so passive, yet so effective. You're in there with your eyes closed, your eyes open, there's no difference. I'm a horrible meditator. It's not my path. It's never appealed to me, it just doesn't click. For me it's always cool to do it yourself. Nobody teaching you how to do it except yourself."

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