If you’ve ever used noice-canceling headphones or closed your eyes during a meditation, you’ve experienced some form of sensory deprivation. As with everything from fitness tracking to dating, the relaxation strategy has become more high tech over the years.
This trend is embodied by flotation tanks, where the stressed-out strip down and plunge into pods full of salted, body-temperature water. At once suspended and submerged, high-achievers can forget about the traffic and deadlines and to-dos awaiting them outside of the capsule and tune out.
“It’s a really interesting way for people to decompress and tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down their breathing and heart rates,” says Ashley Hudson, senior regional manager of The Spa in New York City. “It puts you in this euphoric state of deep relaxation.”
Science says so, too: A 2018 study found that a one-hour float significantly reduced anxiety, stress, muscle tension, pain, and negative mindset while increasing feelings of happiness and overall well-being.
But it can be cumbersome to undress, put on a bathing suit, get body and hair wet, dry off, and dress again. Give that process an upgrade and you have Equinox’s answer: ZeroBody dry flotation beds. (The service is currently offered at The Spa in two clubs, Highland Park in Texas and East 63rd Street).
“When you’re in a vat of water, there could be some concerns with sanitation and the risk of ear infections,” says Hudson. “Dry flotation offers the same weightless feeling of floating on water, but you can do it in the comfort of your own clothing.”
Always a skeptic of the latest wellness offerings, I decided to see for myself.
I arrived at East 63rd Street on a Saturday afternoon. My head was spinning. In the midst of training for a 50-mile trail race, looking for a new apartment in a cutthroat housing market, and planning a fall wedding, I find stillness hard to come by.
I checked in and was led into a dim room with a large table in the center. My technician pointed out the blue light emanating from the table's edges and asked which chromotherapy setting I'd like to activate, either a single color or a rainbow effect in which the lights fade from one to the next. "The cooler blues and greens stimulate relaxation,” Hudson explains. “The warmer reds, oranges, and yellows are energizing.” Feeling indecisive, I went with the rainbow effect.
Next up, I chose from six meditations—which had names like Calm, Creativity, and Relax—and picked the latter. Then it was shoes and jewelry off, noise-canceling headset on, and onto the bed I went, bidding the technician adieu.
Once I closed my eyes and laid my head back, the firm surface melted away (or rather, lowered) and warm water encased in antibacterial PVC fabric slowly engulfed me, hugging my sides and leaving only the front of my body exposed. I moved slightly with the water and imagined myself as a baby in a womb. (Later, I found out the rocking was thanks to the water jets inside the bed.)
Soothing sounds of lapping waves sprinkled with instrumental tones filled my ears. After a few mindful breaths, I entered a different mental state. I saw a kaleidoscope of colors through my eyelids as the chromotherapy set in and remained peripherally aware of the rocking sensation. A self-described “bad” meditator, I was actually able to shut off my thoughts and focus on my breathing. Half an hour later, I stirred as the track came to an end and the table rose.
What I learned from my 30-minute dry flotation session is this: Doing nothing is just as important as doing everything when it comes to reaching your goals and finding fulfillment. I walked out of The Spa with a clearer head, a relaxed body, and a mind to embrace quiet, to trust that pockets of slowness will only speed my progress towards high achievements.