Allison Morse couldn’t imagine getting into an MRI machine, let alone lying down in a tank of water and closing herself inside.
So when her massage therapist suggested that she try out his float tank, she thought he was crazy.
Desperate to rid herself of the chronic pain and fatigue caused by her fibromyalgia, Morse gave it a try. During her first session, she recalled feeling nervous and worried that she would have a panic attack. She settled into the salt water and her therapist, Bellevue resident Brian Bales, eased her transition into the world of floating. Bales owns the only known float tank between Canada and San Francisco.
Seven years later, Morse, 53, still commutes from Tacoma to Bellevue every few weeks to float.
“You’re so buoyant because there’s so much salt in there that it’s not like floating in regular water,” Morse explained of the experience. “It feels like lying in Jell-O that hasn’t quite set yet.”
In just minutes, the 95-degree water and weightless feeling lulls Morse to sleep. She forgets she’s enclosed and can’t feel anything – including pain.
“It’s dark in there and I meditate, think about my breathing and just connect with my inner self. You have to go in there and really take time for yourself,” she added.
On a recent afternoon in the basement of his Bellevue home, Bales points to a hot tub blanket that covers the water in his tank where water has evaporated in spots and left a salt residue. The 12-foot-long, two person tank contains 1,500 pounds of Epsom salt.
“The salt has massive amounts of minerals in it. So when you float in it … it releases all the tension you may have had,” said Bales, who has done massage and taught yoga for more than 20 years. He also owned Yoga House of Bellevue that recently relocated to Redmond under new ownership.
Bales floated for his first time when he was a child. A float tank craze had swept the nation, including Kansas where he grew up. He and his father, Nathan, often went to a float center, set up much like a tanning salon, with several float tanks in small rooms.
That type of place you don’t see anymore, Bales said, as the floating mania has languished over time. Still, a handful of clients come to his home every week to float.
His tank looks similar to a flight simulator, with a hatch like that of an airplane. Bales climbs inside the tank he has owned for 16 years and points out the controls that clients can use to adjust the lighting and air vents.
“In the beginning, you’ll bounce around and you’ll hit the wall and it’s like this ping-pong effect,” he explains.
After the water settles, his clients usually “let go” and begin to feel the experience.
A standard float lasts for 90 minutes, though some clients go longer, Bales said. The more you float, the better it gets, he said.
He charges $65 per individual or $100 per couple for up to 90 minutes of floating.
There are two risks to floating that Bales has seen his clients experience.
People with claustrophobia may feel uncomfortable in the tank at first, “but it’s a lot bigger inside than most tanning beds, except that it’s dark,” he said.
Also, it can be an unpleasant experience if a client gets salt in their eyes. He keeps a bottle of fresh water close at hand for clients to flush out their eyes if needed.
But the benefits to floating far outweigh the risks, Bales said.
He just traveled around the world and floating has cut his jet lag recovery time in half, he said.
“It’s huge for stress – I get a lot of Microsoft people. Ninety minutes in here is equivalent to five hours of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.”
Rest in a tank is also better than rest in a bed, wherein gravity restricts blood flow, oxygen and comfort, he added.
His tank also is equipped with video capacity, which people have used to enhance learning. One of his clients is a University of Washington student who floats before he crams for a big exam to retain more knowledge. Bales has improved his downhill skiing by watching training videos in the tank.
The best part about floating is the peacefulness, he said. When he floats, he will either meditate, focus on his day, sleep or just let his mind wander.
“When you come into the tank there are no pagers, no cell phones, there’s no one who will bother you,” Bales added. “It affects you in a profound way.”
Carrie Wood can be reached at email@example.com