Float On Portland – The Amazing Impact of Nothing

Float On Portland

Float On Portland (photo: Aaron Cushman)

One of the great things about Portland is the abundance of wellness options available.  Portland has an incredibly high ratio of acupuncturists, massage therapists, and naturopaths per capita than almost any other city. It's in this wellness-rich enviroment that a business like Float On could not only exist, but thrive.

Float On provides flotation tanks that let you float weightlessly on a high concentration of epsom salt water (more than 3x the density of the Dead Sea) in an environment that is complete dark and silent. As you walk into the lobby of Float On, there are huge piles of epsom salt, stacked almost like sandbags at the edge of a river. Christopher Messer, one of the owners of Float On, points to a large pile and says, "It takes all this salt to fill one tank."

Flotation tanks aren't a new concept and there have been a number of them in Portland, but Float On is one of the few places that focus exclusively on these flotation tanks. Float On has been open in its SE Hawthorne location for over a year, and I had been aware of it for some time. But to be quite honest, dark, tight spaces scare the crap out of me, so even though I was curious to give it a try, I was reticent to actually take the plunge.

After perusing their site and hearing some very positive feedback from friends, I decided that it was time to set my fears of small spaces aside and go see what floating is all about. My only real exposure to flotation tanks was via the movie "Altered States" (something that almost always gets sited when talking about flotation tanks). The Float On site even makes reference to the film in their faq. I can safely say that "Altered States" is a wonderful piece of sci-fi and has absolutely nothing to do with the floating experience.

I made my float appointment online about a week in advance. Float On is so popular that they tend to be booked at least three days out, so walk-in appointments are very hard to come by. When I arrived I was met by co-owner Ashkahn Jahromi, who happily greeted me by name and welcomed me to Float On. Float On has a number of different kinds of tanks and I booked the "Ocean Tank," which is taller and more spacious than the other tanks.

After a quick tour and orientation, I showered off, stepped into the tank, and hit the little button on the wall that turned off a small blue light that illuminates the tank between floats.  The tank is situated in a private room with a shower. You're given the option of wearing ear plugs (which they provide), but there's nothing you really need to bring or do to float. When I first turned off the light switch, I was struck by the sheer darkness. We are so rarely in a space that is truly pitch black, so the experience can be slightly disorienting.

The physicality of floating is very easy: you don't really need to do anything, you just lie back and float. The water is so dense with salt that it could be better described as liquid salt than water. At first I was aware that I could hear people out in the lobby talking and other ambient noise. Then I realized that I was keeping my head up and ears above the water.  My heart was beating pretty quickly and my breathing was pretty heavy, but as I lay my head back and reminded myself that the door was inches away from my hand, I began to relax.

Once my head was fully back, water came into my ears, obliterating all the ambient noise I was hearing. All I could hear was my heart beating (and it was beating fast). It took about five minutes to really settle in and stop worrying. Once I did, my float really began.

Our day-to-day lives are so full of stimulation and thought. From our iPhones, laptops, computers, televisions, coffee shops, grocery stores, and restaurants, there are few places where we aren't immersed in some form of stimulation. Inside the flotation tank, all that stimulation is gone. It's like watching a loud action film on a big screen TV and having the power go out. There's a moment where you can feel the lingering impact of the stimulation as it begins to fade from your system. This is what happens inside the tank.

As you float, there's absolutely nothing to do. You don't need to think about anything, do anything, or say anything. There's no one there to share the experience with or "like" on Facebook. It's just you and the darkness, which honestly, after getting used it, feels pretty damned good. I had heard some anecdotal stories of other people's experience inside the tanks, but for me it wasn't some sort of grand head trip. I didn't have demons to excise or anything more than just enjoy being completely relaxed and relieved of the burden of everything in my life.

I did have a few interesting experiences in the tank. About midway through (I say that as an approximation, as there's no way to mark the time in the tank), I felt like I had floated in a direction opposite to the way the tank is. I knew intellectually it was impossible, but it still felt that way. I also had a lot of random thoughts float by. In the tank it's easy not to feel like you've got to pay attention to anything, so when a thought about a good friend who does tea popped in my head, I noted it and it moved along.

In all, the floating experience was marked by its uneventfulness, and blissfully so. The end of my time was marked by soft music piped into the tank, a gentle way to return from the nothingness. As I got out of the tank, I realized how relaxed every piece of my body had become and it took a little while for me to get stable footing and get into the shower. After showering off the salt, I dried off and got dressed. I was greeted in the lobby by Ashkahn and Christopher, both of whom asked me about my float and made sure everything was to my liking. I was invited to have some tea and chill in the lobby, munching on some fresh baked goods.

After my float I needed a short bit of time to slowly re-enter life. It was great to sit and sip tea as a buffer between the flotation tank and the outside world. As I was about to leave, Christopher remarked, "You should feel the effect of the float for a few days, so enjoy the rest of your float." He was right. The rest of the day I was more relaxed than I had been in years, and that night I slept better than I can remember. I found for a few days after I was more relaxed and less stressed about the things in my life that are stressful.

Ultimately I found that nothing is really something, and Float On delivers this nothingness better than anyone.

Float On – 4530 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard Portland, OR 97215 (503) 384-2620

Geoff Kleinman

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