A few weeks ago, after spending an hour floating for the first time in a pyramid-shaped isolation tank at IsoFloat in Old Colorado City, I noticed three things.
My skin was super-soft.
My body and mind were drained.
My stomach was growling.
When I ask owner Kenna Herrmann about my experience, she's clear about one thing: "Every person is different."
Herrmann normally floats for two hours every Monday morning because, for her, the process is energizing. "It really sets the tone for my week," she says. "For me, I wouldn't float at night because then I'd be up and ready to go."
Her words about the results being particular to each person hold true to much of what I've read about floating. More than 60 years ago at the National Institute of Mental Health, neurophysiologist and psychotherapist John Lilly began researching what happens to the mind when it's removed from all external stimulation. As a result, he invented the first sensory deprivation tank and spent many hours floating in heated saltwater (and, at times, taking LSD as well — all for research).
Generally speaking, placing the body and mind in a sensory-reduced environment allows the parasympathetic nervous system — what some call the rest-and-digest system — to kick in and the sympathetic nervous system — aka fight-or-flight — to settle. Whether that will completely chill you out, as it did me, or invigorate you, as with Herrmann, or something in between, is completely individual.
While the tank has been simplified since its early days — gone, for instance, is the rather complicated head mask Lilly would wear — the basics are the same: 800 pounds of Epsom salts dissolved in water, allowing the entire body to float at the surface of about 10 inches of solution within a twin-bed-sized container.
The solution makes the body weightless, like a bobbing cork. As Herrmann explains, "Your muscles are completely relaxed. You're at zero gravity," which allows muscle tension to release and enables rapid muscle recovery. "A lot of people who do the Incline," she says, "they'll go do the Incline and then they'll come and float so hopefully they're not so sore the next day."
She's seen athletes from the Olympic Training Center use it for the same purpose, and some Air Force Academy cadets who play football as well. "They've got their military [responsibilities], the school work, their football. And they're like, 'Just shut me off for an hour.' It's just amazing what happens when you do just shut everything off for an hour."
Herrmann speaks from experience. How she came to floating, and to founding IsoFloat, is very personal. Late in 2013, her father was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer "kind of overnight," she says. As she was researching ways to ease his pain and stress, she came across floating. Unfortunately, he lived in rural Missouri, where tanks were not easily accessible. She put it aside until after he died, when she started seeing a grief counselor who told Herrmann that she had mild post-traumatic stress disorder.
"My first reaction, was, 'I'm not in the military. What are you talking about?'" she remembers. But the counselor explained how the trauma of taking care of her father, and ultimately watching him die, over a period of five months, had impacted her.
Around the same time, Herrmann came across a documentary on floating and became fascinated both by its simplicity and its stress-reducing benefits.
"I started going to Denver to float. The first time — and I think everyone's first time is like, 'What am I doing? What have I gotten myself into? It's very dark in here. What is really going on?' — I had to remind myself that I was there for me. I was there to relax. Like when you go to get a massage, you just have to let go a little bit."
When she got out of the tank, she says, her muscle tension was gone and she felt "a little bit lighter." So she went and did it again. And again. She would drop her two kids off at school and head to her "little secret" time away.
One day, amid the chaos of rush hour on I-25, she realized something had shifted for her. Until that point, the PTSD had caused her to shut down. She says she hadn't been making dinner, taking her kids to the park, or contacting friends or family. That day, she says, "For the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful. ... I just felt so light, and so optimistic, like anything was possible. Floating really just changed my life.
"That's when I was like, 'That's it. I'm floating forever.'"
Herrmann began to contact float center owners, learning as much as she could before she actually "took the plunge, so to speak." In March, she opened IsoFloat, at 2629 W. Colorado Ave.
Business, she says, has been good. By mid-July, IsoFloat will have three different types of tanks for use: the basic soft-sided model that I tested out; a Samadhi Tank with a hard exterior and MP3-player capabilities; and a Royal Spa float pod, which adds lighting and an intercom to the Samadhi's features. (It's worth noting that isolation-tank popularity is growing, not just across the country but here in the Springs: An online search indicates that at least two other float centers, NuYu Float Center and R.E.S.T. Float Solutions, are scheduled to open later this year.)
IsoFloat's clients range from the aforementioned athletes to yogis who want to meditate to those struggling, as Herrmann did, with PTSD, or depression, or anxiety. She says individuals who have autism use the tanks to relax, as do others with disorders such as lupus or fibromyalgia.
Even those who want to initiate or maintain weight loss have found the tanks helpful. Apparently, though, that's not going to work for me — my resulting hunger had me headed straight to the ice cream shop for a vanilla cone. Of course, that, I suppose, is its own sort of stress relief.