The thinking tank: New spa offers locals a chance de-stress by floating in salt water

Local ultra runner Marie-Ange Smith, 25, of Mount Pleasant, tries floating for the first time, though the practice is usually done in the dark and sans clothing. Buy this photo

In this world of text messages, smartphones and constant noise, it’s often hard to find a moment of true quiet, the kind of which is conducive to meditation and recharging your mind.

Floating 101

Though you can listen to music, ear plugs and having your ears just below the water surface gives it a surreal effect. Some opt for complete silence inside the enclosed tank.

Water temperature is warm, but just barely. At 93.5 degrees, it’s the same temperature as your skin surface. That means while you are floating, you won’t be distracted by being too hot or too cold.

Think you can’t float? Think again. More than 800 pounds of Epsom salt in the water makes its saltier than the Dead Sea. You’ll float.

Claustrophobic? While some tanks have been described as “coffin-like,” the tank at Afloat measures more than 8 feet high, 8 feet long and 4 feet wide.

Besides silence, floating usually is done in the dark and without clothes.

Showering before and after a float is key to removing oils and dirt from your skin before you get in and to remove salt from your skin afterward.

While many fall asleep while floating, drowning is virtually impossible because of the buoyancy and shallow depth (10 inches) of the water.

Source: Afloat SpaQua brochure

Now there’s a new option in Charleston in the form of a float tank.

Fee to float

The cost to float at Afloat SpaQua is $60 an hour or $100 for two hours. Discounts are available for students and members of the miltary, as well as when buying packages.

More at www.AfloatSpaQua.com.

In November, Afloat SpaQua opened inside Glow Spa on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, offering the first known float tank in South Carolina. The other operating ones are in Charlotte and Wilmington, N.C.

Typically, the soundproof, usually lightless tanks are filled with shallow salt water heated to the temperature of the skin, 93.5 degrees. And the concept of using them dates back to 1954, when John C. Lilly, a neuro-psychiatrist, used them to test the effects of sensory deprivation.

Here and now
John Mitchell and Jeremy Schram, co-owners of Liberty Tax Services in West Ashley, stumbled on the use of float tanks following the 2011 tax season. Curiosity about the stress relief of using the tanks led them to travel to Charlotte to try it out. Both had two-hour “floats,” which are common.

They couldn’t believe how relaxing it was.

“We liked it,” Schram says. “And we felt the effect afterwards was really good. I was less anxious. ... One thing led to another, and we realized this would be a really good thing to offer in Charleston.”

Mitchell adds, “It sounds weird that you have to do nothing to relax, but you have to.”

When they talked about the experience, friends from the Pacific Coast and New York were familiar with float tanks, while those from other areas were not.

They opened Afloat in November and already are hearing an array of responses from customers.

While different people have different experiences, from sleep to deep thinking, inside the tank, the primary response is one of a form of meditation.

Array of benefits
The industry claims that physical effects includes relief from stress and chronic pain and spiritual effects of self-reflection. Local anecdotal accounts tend to back up those claims.

Gregg Mauro, 43, a conference producer who lives in Mount Pleasant, started floating in 2005 when he was living in Washington, D.C., and was traveling to New York and California. Mauro has been in an array of tanks, including some that resembled coffins, and not all measure up.

Some, for example, are too cold and/or too small.

The tanks at Afloat are 8 feet, 7 inches high, 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and are filled with 10 inches of water, which contains more than 800 pounds of Epsom salt.

Mauro is so dedicated to floating that he was pondering installing a tank in his home before Mitchell and Schram opened the one at Glow. He says they built the best he’s been in because of the dimensions and water temperature.

He says he floats more for its psychological benefits than its physical ones.

“Anyone who has a lot of noise in their life, actual or background, is someone who has a hard time shutting off,” says Mauro, noting that he’ll use float time to meditate or delve deeper into a particular thought or idea.

Catch a drift
Like Mauro, first-time floater Stacie Smith says the experience placed her in an unusual, dream-like place between sleep and being wake.

“After making sure my earplugs were working and accidentally getting salt in my eyes, I settled right in and quickly got a mental state of meditation and clear-mindedness that I can’t get at home,” says Smith, a mother of a 10-year-old daughter and business owner.

Smith, 41, of Summerville, first heard about Afloat spa from Mitchell and Schram, whom she knew through operating the Liberty Tax Service in Mount Pleasant.

Smith says she experienced an elated, calmer feeling for days after her first float and is looking forward to going back.

Unlike Smith, hairstylist Ronnie Trotter, 44, isn’t so sure if or when he’ll return. He enjoyed his first float and felt like it relieved the stress of long days on his feet at Salon 101 and days off on horseback.

“My joints ache a lot, and it (floating) relieved them,” says Trotter, who at 6-2, 220 pounds initially doubted that he would float, but he did, and actually took a nap.

“I’m not sure I’m going to do it on a regular basis,” Trotter says. “If it weren’t 60 bucks (rates vary), I might do it more, but that’s a lot to take a nap.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.

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