Float away

FLOAT AWAY: Corey Costanzo opens the door to the float tank, where writer Nasimeh Bahrayni spent a warm, salty and thought-provoking 90 minutes. Josh Vaughn

It’s a bright and blustery morning in North Asheville, where I am about to embark on a rather unique journey. With my heart pounding and my nerves afire, I am stepping into a dark, lonely box to float in silence in a warm, epsom-saltwater solution for 90 minutes. 

I am — understandably — a bit nervous. Thankfully, I’m put somewhat at ease by Corey Costanzo, who floats regularly and is the manager of Still Point Wellness, home of Asheville’s very own float tank. Costanzo is all smiles, and he’s certain I’m going to have a fantastic experience.

“See you on the other side,” Costanzo says, closing the door to the “float suite.” Now it’s just me, the tank, a shower — and my jangling nerves.

I take a breath and step into the darkness.

Float, or sensory deprivation, tanks were developed in 1954 by physician and neuroscientist John C. Lilly. The original tanks were not very comfortable and were equipped with complicated head masks that allowed the fully submerged person to breathe. Lilly was interested in studying the effects of full withdrawal from external stimulation to the brain, not therapeutics, and his tanks reflected that. Over the decades, the tanks have been refined, but since the AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s, which caused the general public to be wary of anything that involved shared water, the floatation business remained relatively unpopular. 

In the past couple of decades, Lilly’s tanks — now called the far more approachable “floatation tanks” — have made a resurgence. Their popularity grew first in Europe, then up and down the West Coast, and now we have one right here in Asheville.

So that’s how I find myself, floating in the dark, warm pool of water. Since I'm completely naked and lying suspended in this solution, I definitely feel more than a little as if I'm in a womb. Still — or maybe because of that — it doesn’t take me long to settle into the relaxation it affords me; I am truly floating effortlessly.

Of course, that restful feeling comes with a price tag, starting at $65 per hour. “At the most basic level, the sheer relaxation you get out of it is worth every bit of time and money,” says Dustin Cogswell, a resident of Asheville and a weekly floater at Still Point.  “I’ve probably floated 30 to 40 times.  It’s a very deep sense of relaxation and escape.”

Paul Moraca, a regular at Still Point, agrees about the state of mind the tank provides. “I have a daily meditation practice, and floating enhances it. I’m able to go to that deep, calm inner spot much quicker and stay there much longer,” says Moraca.

I can see how that could be the case as I’m floating, but truth be told, my mind is racing. I’m thinking about last week, this week, next week and every little moment in between. I can’t help but wonder: Will I ever reach that point of calm?

“In our modern lives, we’ve filled ourselves up with so many distractions,” says Costanzo. “It’s like more is better — the more we can get done in a day, the better. Now research is showing that 80-90 percent of illness is caused by stress, so if we can really learn how to relax as a culture, then we’ll be a lot healthier and happier.”

Health and happiness are chief among the myriad of benefits that proponents of floating say the tanks offer. Any number of floatation services list relief from stress, pain, anxiety, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure — among many other benefits. Costanzo says this is largely due to the theta brain waves that are more easily accessed while floating. “When we’re deeply relaxed, we’re able to access parts of our brain we’re not able to use otherwise. Our brains function better, and our immune system is stronger,” says Costanzo.

Much to my surprise, as I continue floating, I find that my brain chatter doesn’t cease, exactly, but it does quiet down. And my body is relaxed to a degree so deep that it is foreign to me — a perk that many clients say helps their physical ailments as well as their mind states. 

“With chronic back pain for over six years, I’ve tried any number of things,” says Michelle Rogers, another regular at Still Point. “In the floatation chamber, there’s just no pressure from any direction. That level of effortlessness was exactly what I need. It helps hit the reset button.”

At the end of my session, there’s a gentle knock on the side of the tank, and I exit the stillness back into the warm lights of the spa. I’m impressed at how relaxed my limbs feel and how calm my mind is. As I sit and integrate myself back into the world outside the tank, Costanzo comes over to ask me what my experience was like. I tell him it was pretty profound.

Costanzo says that floating is “a way to connect with the wisdom that’s inside each of us.”

And I think he may just be right. 

Still Point Wellness is located at 81-B Central Ave. Learn more at stillpointwell.com.

— Nasimeh Bahrayni is an Asheville writer.

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