Imagine what it would feel like to float through outer space.
Or, weirder yet, inside the womb.
Strange as the hypotheticals may be, they’re both common descriptors of floatation therapy. Sometimes known as sensory deprivation, floatation is a meditative practice based that features “baths” of around 10 inches of water containing 1000 pounds or so of Epsom salt. Once individuals enter the floatation chamber and recline into the shallow water, they begin to float effortlessly. As sensations of weightlessness take hold, bathers can relax into the water’s embrace and, in doing so, wash their tension away.
“It’s like gravity is still there, but you don’t feel it,” says Olga Schoonmaker, co-founder of Zephyr Float in Kingston. A mainstay in the city since 2016, Zephyr is the passion project of Schoonmaker and her husband, Ryan. After floating for the first time – and promptly falling in love with it – six years ago, the duo knew they needed to introduce the wonders of floating to the Hudson Valley.
Zephyr Float / Photo by Sundae Design Photography
“When water and air are about the same temperature as your skin, it decreases the sensation that you feel you’re in any sort of water,” she explains. “Personally speaking, it’s like you’re floating in outer space rather than in any space.”
Far from your run-of-the-mill spa program, floatation is praised as a way to ease stress, promote meditation, manage anxiety, and treat PTSD, to name only a few of its healing claims. A beneficial treatment for athletes and veterans alike, it offers relief for long-standing and chronic pain for which there is no easy cure.
At Zephyr Float, visitors can opt for either a 60- or a 90-minute float as suits their needs. After signing a waiver, everyone sits through a quick tutorial on how to float and what to expect. Then it’s onto one of the private rooms to take a shower and enter the floatation chamber, a small 5×8’ space filled with 10 inches of water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. Guests can leave the light on if they so choose, although Zephyr recommends turning it off to promote feelings of weightlessness and relaxation. After the allotted time period, Zephyr begins to quietly play music and, if it’s not already in use, to turn on the light. Floaters have time to collect their bearings, after which they can return to the lounge to sip on tea or kombucha or, if they want to extend their spa day, get a massage.
“It’s a little unexpected,” Schoonmaker observes of the sensation that comes from that first contact with water. “You sit down and lean back and start to float. It takes a little bit for people to let go of all their muscles.”
As advocates for the benefits of floating, Schoonmaker and her husband make every effort to ensure that the center remains an accessible resource in the community. On the first Monday of every month, they offer $35 float specials for veterans. In the past, they’ve hosted free float days for teachers and nurses as well.
“Floating has a lot more potential if done more frequently,” she enthuses. “It’s my responsibility to make it more accessible for people.”
Zephyr Float / Photo by Sundae Design Photography
That’s part of the reason why she’s quick to extoll Mountain Float Spa in New Paltz and Requiescent Float Center in Albany. Although part of the same market, the centers function like an extended community in an attempt spread the word about floating across the Hudson Valley. To this point, Schoonmaker is good friends with the owners of Mountain Float Spa, and she and her husband even hired Requiescent to construct their space in Kingston.
“They built out my float center,” she says of Requiescent, which has locations in both Albany and Troy.
One of the earliest float centers in the Hudson Valley, Requiescent was founded by a former Marine.
“I discovered floating about seven years ago when I was getting out of the Marine Corps,” says co-owner Eric Dunkelbarger. “Back then the Navy Seals were using float tanks to treat concussions and recover from operations and training exercises.”
Intrigued by the potential healing properties and out-of-body experiences caused by floating, Dunkelbarger and his business partner built their own tank, then opened their first float center in 2014. A custom design from the ground up, Requiescent leans heavily into the sensory deprivation component of floating. To completely isolate the tanks from external distractions, Dunkelbarger soundproofed the entire facility. With the absence of sound and sight from the floating chambers, the hour-long sessions promote meditation to the extreme.
Requiescent Float Center / Photos by Eric Dunkelbarger
At both of its locations, Requiescent offers floats in varying lengths, from one to two or more hours. It fills its tanks with about 1,200 pounds of Epsom salt in 10 inches of water that is warmed to skin temperature. Visitors can choose from one of two float tank styles: The Classic, a 4’x4’x8’ tank, or Voyager One, a larger 7’x5’8’ tank that’s optimal for new floaters.
“The physical sensation of floating is very cool, but we believe the real power lies in the sensory deprivation side of it,” he notes, adding that the inability to rely on overused senses leads the body to focus on healing instead. “A lot of pain that you feel in your body can be stress-related, so getting in the tank and meditating can ease both physical and mental pain.”
In Ulster County, meanwhile, Mountain Float Spa caters to the New Paltz community. It opened in 2014 by Joey and Grace La Penna, who, like Schoonmaker and her husband, wanted to share the benefits of floating with a larger audience. Utilizing cabins filled with 12 inches of water and more than 800 pounds of Epsom salt, the floats last 60 to 90 minutes with options for light and music. For longer soaks, Mountain has two- and three-hour floats as well.
“We keep it very simple, two float cabins and a massage room,” says co-owner Joey La Penna. “The moment you walk into our spa, you feel as if you have discovered an oasis and begin to feel relaxed before you begin your service.”
Like with Zephyr Float, the spa offers a 15-percent discount to veterans, firefighters, and police officers who want to unwind. In addition to floating opportunities, it offers Swedish, hot stone, deep tissue, and prenatal massages.
Have you tried floating? Let us know in the comments!