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Float tanks: Helpful, or just a fad?

Float tanks: Helpful, or just a fad?

Requiescent Float Center has two locations in region; the solitude is appealing to many
Float tanks: Helpful, or just a fad?
Requiescent Float Center owners Eric Dunkelbarger, left, and Jamie Gagne. Right: a float tank at the Ballston Spa location.
Photographer: photos provided

BALLSTON SPA/TROY -- Maybe Modest Mouse was onto something with its song “Float On.”

At least that’s what Eric Dunkelbarger and Jamie Gagne banked on when they opened the Requiescent Float Center.

Each of their locations, in Ballston Spa and Troy (which opened earlier this year), have two floating tanks filled with warm salt water where locals come to block out everything, meditate, heal and float.

“It’s a hard thing to conceptualize,” Dunkelbarger said.

People typically float for about an hour and a half, although Dunkelbarger has said some clients choose to float for several hours at a time. The practice has gained a lot of national hype in the last few years with magazines like Vogue covering floatation therapy, and stand-up comedians like Joe Rogan have been praising the practice. Even professional sports teams have been taking notice; some teams, like the Chicago Cubs, have installed a float tank in their locker rooms. 

But floating isn’t a new fad. It started in the 1950s. John C. Lilly. Lilly, a neuroscientist, physician and philosopher, among other things, studied the effects of sensory deprivation on the human brain. He built the first floatation tank (or sensory deprivation chamber) and founded the practice of “floating.” 

It’s as simple as it sounds: after a quick shower, guests get inside the tank which is filled with salt water. There is a light, but after a few minutes people typically turn it out and float in the dark. 

“I was skeptical at first,” Dunkelbarger said, “[I wondered] was it going to just be a fad?” 

But after trying it out in Rochester in 2011, he was hooked. The mix of the physical and mental benefits convinced him that it was far from a fading fad. Floating can help people with fibromyalgia and other neurological pain disorders. It can also help with muscle tension and even dry skin. Because of how buoyant the water is and the lack of visual stimuli, the brain waves slow down and floaters are better able to slip into a deeper state of meditation. 

“[It’s] a lot to do with mental rehearsal,” Dunkelbarger said. 

It’s a meditation technique where people envision their goals and imagine accomplishing them. For an athlete, that could mean going through a tough play or scoring the final goal. For an executive, it could mean thinking about how to conduct an upcoming board meeting. 

Dunkelbarger said it has really helped his clients and himself accomplish various goals. 

But more and more, people are also coming in to simply get away from everything. To stop themselves from looking at their phones or in their email or at the project they’ve been meaning to do around the house. Even at the location in Troy, where there is construction right across the street, the tanks are sound proof. 

That helps to block out extraneous sound and mundane noises. It’s one of the reasons why Capital Region residents like David Straight have started floating. 

“It’s helped with my hyperactivity,” Straight said. As a graphic designer, he’s is constantly creating and thinking of ways to help his business and others. 

But he admits that constantly working is not always good for his (or anyone else’s) health.

“In America, we’re busy for the sake of being busy. . . .[we think] it doesn’t make sense [to float] for an hour,” Straight said. 

However, taking the time away from his phone, work, and any other distraction every week has helped him to better prioritize what’s important and what he can say no to. 

“It’s one of the biggest reasons I float,” Straight said. 

After floating for a few weeks and spending time away from his smartphone, Straight got rid of it. 

He realized that he’d been using it as a crutch and after a bit of research, he realized that he didn’t like the impact it was having on his brain. 
“When we get [a notification] it releases dopamine [into the brain],” Straight said. 

Although he’s encountered people who don’t see the point of floating, Straight said it’s becoming more accepted. 

He recommends that first-timers should “Go and try to fall asleep in the tank. Don’t have any expectations. Just enjoy.”

For more information on the Requiescent Float Center, visit requiescent.com.

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