My usual method of relaxation involves a sunset, bottle of wine and a few good laughs. While this can be very effective, I think my liver is becoming interested in alternative ways to relieve stress. So I traveled to Kihei in search of a small, dark vestibule full of salt water to float in, perfectly still, on my back, for an undetermined length of time.
It’s called a sensory deprivation chamber, and they have one at Maui Body and Soul in Kihei. Now I’ve never had any real desire to deprive myself of senses. I really enjoy the sweeping ocean views on my long commutes to work, the luxurious sensation of laying my head on a feather pillow or the brief but sweet scent of fresh baked waffle cone that wafts from Front Street ice cream parlors.
But on my way south from my Wailuku office, I couldn’t help but notice the left-over road kill on the side of the highway or the group of young guys spitting in my direction from the sidewalk. My nose was bombarded with the aromatic side effects of road construction, which was causing traffic back ups and making me late. Furthermore, the guy in the big truck behind me decided two inches was a reasonable following distance. Oh, and my car kept making this persistent beeping noise that hasn’t stopped since my seatbelt broke last month.
Ok, maybe I could stand a few minutes of peace, quiet and darkness.
Kathleen Murphy, Maui Body and Soul’s owner, greeted me when I rushed in. Sensing my nervousness, she sat me down in the reception area (a small room cluttered with super cool stuff like healing crystals, aromatherapy oils, books and eclectic paintings) and explained “The Tank” to me.
A float tank is a lightproof, soundproof, chamber filled with about 10 inches of water with a very high salt content (Dead Sea salty) that usually comes from Epsom salts and is heated just barely above body temperature. Spending time in the tank is supposed to coax the brain into a “theta wave state,” an experience that occurs naturally right before falling asleep and just prior to waking.
The theta wave state induces deep relaxation, which has a huge range of physical benefits. Pain reduction is a major one, as is stress reduction. Athletes use float tanks to relieve muscle soreness and recover more quickly from injuries. Travelers use it to reset their internal clocks and recover from jetlag. Floating appeals to artists, since having a recess from the physical senses also stimulates endorphins, and enhances creativity and productivity. As an added bonus, soaking in salt water draws toxins out of the skin and stimulates healthy function of all kinds of organs.
I was ready to give it a go, so Murphy led me into the private spa area.
I’d be understating it if I said the room was beautiful. Soft lighting, flute music and a charming little rock fountain lent a very mellow atmosphere to the space. I promptly tested the massage chair in the corner and let the chill vibe sink in. I stuck a toe into the bubbling Jacuzzi, then perched on a towel and dripped eucalyptus oil onto smoldering rocks in the aromatherapy cedar sauna that was heated to a scorching 200 degrees.
I had danced around the float tank long enough; it was time to jump in. The door was heavy and ominous, and in the first few seconds of total darkness I felt disoriented. The water wasn’t hot or even warm but the air was steamy and thick. Floating was easy, but staying still was a bit of a challenge as I tried to relax my muscles.
When I finally came to a still around the center of the tank I relaxed my mind, which was racing frantically to fill the space left by all the darkness and quiet. It was really tempting to yell out loud, just to see what would happen, but I didn’t.
Instead I tried to meditate using a technique I picked up years ago in a yoga class. I imagined that my mind was a rambunctious little puppy (a white one with floppy ears—don’t ask me why) and I had to call to it to sit still. It would stop, just for a moment or two, and then run off, racing around again, until I patiently called it again.
Some time during my quality time with my imaginary puppy I dozed off. Or maybe I didn’t, I’m not really sure. I felt awake but 45 minutes passed in the blink of an eye, ending my tank time. Murphy said it was probably a theta wave state. I felt as though I’d had an eight extra hours of sleep.
I drifted back to my car and a tranquil drive home, this time noticing only the beautiful sights, scents and sounds around me. MTW