“Float therapy“ comes to metro Augusta. Business Editor Damon Cline tries it out.

Want to forget about the pandemic panic and Masters Tournament trouble for a while?

Me too. That’s why this past week I decided to clear my mind for an hour by floating in a pitch-black, soundproof tank of salt water wearing nothing but a set of ear plugs.

That’s right – I immersed myself in “float therapy” for the first time. And I liked it.

I took a trip to the Augusta Float & Wellness Studio, which is run out of a nondescript home-based business on Haley Road in the Martinez section of Columbia County.

As far as I can tell, Augusta Float may be the only business in town offering sensory deprivation tanks.

Full disclosure: My float was paid for by my wife, who purchased a $100 gift card for me as a Christmas gift (she thinks I have trouble relaxing).

After forgetting about the gift voucher during the entire months of January and February, I finally got around to scheduling my session a couple weeks ago. I chose a late Tuesday afternoon appointment. This would enable me to leave work (early), do my float and head straight home for a truly stress-free evening.

Did it work? Oh yeah. But more on that later.

This is a good point to mention hat I’m not one to engage in spa-like activity. The closest I come to “treating myself” is getting a deep-tissue massage every two or three years to smooth out the muscles in my back, which are in a near constant state of strain, mild scoliosis and degenerating disks in the lumbar region. A few times a year I’ll try to practice Zen and the art of precision shooting at my local gun range, but I usually leave disappointed in my inability to get consistent groupings inside the 10-ring with iron sights. I blame it on aging eyes.

So I was a tad nervous when I pulled into the Columbia Heights neighborhood, where Augusta Float operates out of a 1950s-era ranch-style home. It’s hard to miss; it’s the only one with a door painted azure-blue.

I was cheerfully greeted on the lawn by the owner, Ana Guataipu. We went inside to engage in some pre-float small talk and go over the perfunctory paperwork.

Ana is a former dialysis technician who decided a couple of years ago to open the health-and-wellness center as a way to keep people out of dialysis centers, which are generally filled with people whose poor lifestyle choices (smoking, obesity, untreated hypertension) contribute to their chronic renal failure.

Turns out she’s from Venezuela, and she believes its former communist dictator, Hugo Chavez, helped turn the country into the poverty-stricken hell-hole it remains today. Being an unrepentant capitalist myself, we hit it off swimmingly.

After filling out a checklist to confirm I was not menstruating, claustrophobic, suffering from skin conditions or sporting recently-dyed hair, she took me to the float room and outlined the protocol: Take a shower (to clean off dirt, dead skin and oils), turn off the tank’s swirling UV filtration system (which purifies the water along with generous dose of hydrogen peroxide) and step inside the tank.

The tank’s tepee-like cover, which made it look like an upside-down diamond, was nothing like the tank in the movie “Altered States,” a 1980s sci-fi/horror film that my mother, apparently, thought was suitable for a 9-year-old.

I asked Guataipu is she had ever seen it, guessing by her age that that she probably hadn’t. She said she saw a clip of it on the internet once. She didn’t like it.

She left the room and I followed all the instructions. When I was ready, I entered the float room and closed the door (which signals that the meter is running). I firmly pushed in a pair of swimmer-style earplugs, removed my towel and stepped in the tank, pulling the cover closed behind me to spend the next hour supine in total darkness.

Then I floated.

I mean really floated.

Unlike swimming in an ocean, there was no sinking feeling. Roughly 800 pounds of dissolved magnesium sulfate (Epson salts) in the body-temperature water allowed not a single part of me to touch the tank bottom.

I felt weightless, as if floating in space or laying on a cloud. I heard nothing but the sound of my own breathing, which was erratic at first but gradually slowed into a steady rhythm in the absence of stimuli.

To be honest, the first 10 minutes – or what I perceived to be 10 minutes – was weird.

My body was relaxed, but my cerebral cortex had no signals to interpret, so a cacophony of thoughts cascaded through my head: Work. William Hurt. The number of miles left on my 11-year-old car before its front struts disintegrate. The panic attack I experienced swimming in Cenote Angelita during a vacation in Mexico.

I was all over the place.

But then mind and body became simpatico. A deep calm set in, and I lost all sense of time.

I found myself experiencing something I can only describe as a meditative state. I was not asleep (at least I don’t think I was) but I was certainly not “awake.” In a tank designed to make you feel nothing, I certainly felt something.

Neuroscientists believe there are four (possibly five) primary states of consciousness based on the brain’s electrochemical frequencies – beta, alpha, theta and delta. Beta is the highest frequency of brain waves and is what we consider being wide awake; delta, the lowest frequency, is essentially a deep, dreamless sleep.

I believe I spent the last half-hour of the float in the theta range, which is believed to be the doorway to the subconscious mind, a positive twilight state where – purportedly – you are experiencing “inner space” and disengaged from all negativity and anxiety.

Some have described theta as the pleasurable feeling you get right before drifting back into sleep on Saturday morning when you realize you don’t have to go to work.

This, I realized, was the reason people float.

Then time stopped standing still. Ana opened the float room door and told me the session was over, but that I could take as much time as needed getting up. I got out of the tank very slowly and walked back to the shower to rinse off the salt water.

After donning my work clothes again, I meandered back into the lobby/living room as calm as a Hindu cow and cool as a cucumber. Ana asked what I thought of my first float, and I described the aforementioned trance-like state, which she said meant was the sign of a good experience.

Then we kept chatting. And chatting. And chatting some more. Then her husband, Anthony, came home and we kept on shooting the breeze. He didn’t care too much for Hugo Chavez, either. They are delightful people.

I looked at the clock and realized we’d been gabbing for over an hour. Talk about losing all sense of time…

Before leaving, she recommended I look into getting the monthly float package, which is much less expensive than the $100 one-off that my incredibly thoughtful wife purchased for me.

I told Ana I’d think about it and get back to her. The idea of regular floats is certainly appealing, given the fact I’ve never been able to “meditate” before. And believe me, I’ve tried.

I suppose I’m just one of those people who can’t feel truly, deeply relaxed unless I feel nothing at all.

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