by Abe Draper
Ever spend a leisurely afternoon on a float at the beach – the warm sun and salty air clearing your head and draining the tension from every muscle – the only sounds, the calls of a few hungry gulls, trolling the beach for a quick snack? Okay, subtract the sun, subtract the inflated float, and subtract the gulls. In fact, subtract any contact of a visual, auditory, or tactile nature, add an enclosed flotation tank filled with 10-inches of 93-degree water containing 1000 pounds of pharmaceutical-grade Epsom salts and what you have is flotation therapy (sometimes called sensory deprivation therapy).
Although it is new to Mississippi, flotation therapy has been around since the 1950s, and is touted to offer wide-ranging benefits from reduction of stress, depression and insomnia, to relieving chronic pain, swelling, and headaches, and even lowering blood pressure, as well as boosting creativity and a feeling of wellbeing. The secret to floating is the percentage of Epsom salts to water, making the water in the flotation tank more dense than the Dead Sea, where a person can float on the surface effortlessly without any body manipulation. Because the temp of the water in the tank is the same as skin temperature, within a few minutes (maybe a little longer for novices) of entering the tank and lying back to float, one loses the sensation of where the body stops and the water starts. In the dark, soundproof chamber, the only sensation is the beating of your heart and the sound of your breathing – for the next 60 to 90 minutes.
To experience what “floating” is all about, Well-Being contributor and local freelance commercial photographer Abe Draper visited Jax-Zen Float, which recently opened in midtown Jackson. To our knowledge it is currently Mississippi’s only flotation therapy center. Owners Jason and Jina Daniels had been floating fans for several years after Jason, a touring musician, first tried it on a trip to Mexico. Looking for a way to deal with the physical and mental stress of touring, Jason found floating to be a great way to stay relaxed and focused despite his grueling schedule on the road. After an initial float, Jason began taking advantage of the benefits of floating whenever he was somewhere it was available.
Having moved to the Jackson area four years ago, Jason and Jina shared a dream of owning their own business and becoming involved in Jackson’s creative economy. Combining their passion with their dream, they decided to bring flotation therapy to their newfound home.
“We wanted to share what we had discovered with the people in this area,” notes Jason Daniels. “For me the effect of floating is like a mental defragmentation allowing stresses to unravel and loosen their grip. By the end of a float, I feel calm and quiet – sensations we knew others would appreciate as well.”
To describe his first experience of floating, Abe Draper recounted each step of the process.
“The first step at Jax-Zen is to sit and relax in the lounge area, allowing yourself to mellow in a quiet and peaceful environment,” explains Draper. “It’s a good idea to mentally prepare yourself and meditate on what you want from the upcoming float.”
According to Jina Daniels, “every float is completely different. Intentions and expectations for each float can and should be different,” she adds.
The second step of the process is to shower, using natural, phosphate-free soaps and shampoo to be clean before entering the tank.
“When you first enter the tank, you lie down and try to get your bearings, Draper continues. “Your immediate physical response is to tense up and try to control your head and limbs. As you get more comfortable, you begin to slowly relax and release control. Every few minutes you will notice a different part of your body relaxing a little more. Your head will slowly lower until the front of your face is the only thing above the water. It is like an incredibly slow trust fall, where you eventually realize that you are not going to sink after all.”
“I must admit that the first 15 minutes were very uncomfortable for me, as I couldn’t quit worrying about emails and the day’s busy schedule. I can’t remember the last time I sat still for that long without checking social media or news updates on my phone. I began to tell myself to quit worrying and enjoy the 90 minutes of downtime that I had very carefully fit into my day.”
“As I further relaxed I became more in tune with my body, and the specific muscles that were still contracted. One-by-one I started to consciously loosen and extend joints. My arms wound up on either side of my head and I began to truly feel weightless. It’s a pleasantly unique experience to have absolutely no part of your body feeling pressure or proximity to anything else.”
“Physically I was completely relaxed after about 30 minutes. My body felt as light as a feather and I had totally given in to trusting the water to support me. My mind, however, still had some untangling to do. I fought with the constant stress of missing phone calls or emails. I was tremendously anxious about my phone being off, but, the physical relaxation was starting to lend support to my mental dilemma. I began to meditate on the blessings of my life, allowing the negative energy to trickle away.”
“I soon found myself at a point where I had reduced my mind’s hyperactivity and entered a period of very simple, abstract thought. Not focusing on any one idea or entity, but more like streaming contentment. It was at this point that I began to doze off occasionally. I would have short dreams, then wake for a few minutes before dozing off again. I had reached total relaxation.”
“At this point I should say that I have young children at home, who rarely sleep through the night. I also work from home, which means I am basically on call 24 hours a day, and typically get a majority of my work done in the wee hours of the night. My wife is an ER nurse who works long hours overnight, as well. Healthy, restful sleep has been a rare occurance in the last few years. After an hour and a half in the sensory deprivation tank, I felt restored. My head was clear and focused. I felt generally positive and rested. But, most importantly, my lower back was pain-free for the first time in 2 weeks (at least until I tripped on a curb later that afternoon and messed it up again).”
“Before entering the tank I had high expectations of physical and mental relaxation. After 90 minutes, I am happy to say that flotation therapy delivered. I was in a state of hyper-relaxation for over an hour after I left the studio – a feeling similar to getting a really good massage combined with taking the perfect nap.”
As with any therapeutic treatment, you are ultimately responsible for the experience you have. You have to be willing to let yourself relax, which is much more difficult than you might expect. You also have to keep a positive outlook. In the absence of audible or visual stimulants, your mind can run wild. Being careful to focus on ideas and thoughts of a positive nature is of utmost importance.
“Having flotation therapy available in the Metro Jackson area brings an exciting new option for those looking to rehabilitate, rejuvenate, and restore. I look forward to my next float in the near future,” Draper concluded.