“It’s probably what it’s like to float on a cloud.”
If you’re already feeling harried for the holidays, floating might be in your future.
Multiple float centers have opened in the Tacoma area, with the newest — Urban Float in University Place — opening in the past few weeks.
What is a floatation center, exactly? Just what it sounds like: a place offering sensory-deprivation pods you climb into and float. Enthusiasts say it offers complete relaxation and time to disconnect from a constant information stream.
“This enhances what I’ve learned in my meditation techniques,” Candice Peters of Tacoma said during a recent visit to Urban Float. “It gives me a place to sit still for an hour uninterrupted without my son or my dog or my husband. It just gives me a place to really revive and relax and refresh myself.”
Jessie Puryear started Urban Float at 3633 Market Place W. after a career in the Navy.
“I was in a course for managers and we were discussing stress-reduction techniques,” Puryear told The News Tribune via email. “On the screen was the word “Floating.” I had never heard of that before and immediately Googled it. At the time there weren’t any float centers close so I traveled to Portland to check it out.”
He said he immediately saw the potential for treating stress, chronic pain, athletic recovery, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.
He’s not alone. Two other float centers have opened in Tacoma since 2013 and two more are seeking permits.
So, what’s with all the float places in town?
“I call floating a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ modality as it has physical, mental and even spiritual benefits,” said Jonathan Murray, founder of Uncharted Waters Float Center, 3837 S. 12th St.
“If you’re looking for drug-free treatment for pain/chronic pain, have stress/anxiety, or looking for the most ideal environment for meditation, any or all of these things, give floating a try,” Murray told The News Tribune via email.
The industry continues to grow.
A 2018 industry review by Float Tank Solutions received responses from 293 existing centers in the United States and 223 prospective centers, according to its website. That’s compared to 193 existing centers and 251 prospective centers in 2017, and 170 existing centers and 247 prospective centers in 2016.
The trend seemed to gain steam in 2015 after first appearing decades earlier. A 2015 article in The New York Times noted that an annual “Float Conference” in Portland, Oregon, which started in 2012, had its largest audience up to that point.
Murray credits the popularity to not only national media coverage (CBS News, for example, sent a reporter to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to experience it) but also to studies into the practice along with celebrities, athletes and TV shows featuring it.
As for himself, “My first float turned me instantly into an evangelist,” said Murray, whose business opened in 2015. “I had stumbled upon a practice that could aid my fellow humans into becoming the best versions of ourselves.”
Northwest Float Center, 3907 Sixth Ave, Tacoma, opened in 2013 and bills itself as Tacoma’s first center of its kind.
“We wanted to open a float center that would help people in the most fundamental way and experience the healing from floating that we felt,” founders Kriss Brooks and Alex Ziegler say on their website.
Here’s how it works:
Customers go into the floatation pods for a purchased amount of time, with memberships often cheaper than booking individual sessions. Most sites have booking capabilities online or via apps.
The pods are designed to keep a person afloat with minimum effort. Puryear’s tanks, for example are 185-gallon pods with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt to add buoyancy.
Customers worried about claustrophobia don’t have to be enclosed in the pod, Puryear said.
“You can do it however you want,” he said. “You can leave the lid open, the lights on. ...The customers who have reported they are claustrophobic before they go in come out and report they had no issues.”
Murray concurred. “I recommend stopping by a center for a tour to see the set up and possibly quell any intimidation.”
What’s it like afterward?
“When people come out they have what we refer to as float brain — they are extremely relaxed,” Puryear said. “Things that used to bother them just don’t seem as important anymore.”
For those worried about cleanliness, Northwest Float Center has a blog entry devoted to the topic.
“The Floatation Tank Association published a standard for float tank hygiene in the US,” the entry states. “The standards outlined involve proper filtration — including three full cycles between floaters — and cleaning requirements.”
Float tanks come under regulations just like pools and spas in the state code. The state Department of Health, in cooperation with the float tank industry, offers an 11-page guidance document for operators. The sites are inspected three times a year.
Puryear noted the mental benefits he’s gotten from floating.
“I just feel more optimistic, my outlook on life has become more positive,” he said. “The military has always been good at physical fitness, but not so much the mental fitness. I’m not talking about mental toughness, but the the mental fitness we all need to have a positive outlook.”
Tacoma’s float centers
3633 Market Place W., Suite 5, University Place.
Open seven days a week, from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Uncharted Waters Float Center
3837 S. 12th St., Tacoma.
Open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Northwest Float Center
3907 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.
Open seven days a week, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.