Into the pod
An hour inside a float chamber at Chico’s new spa
As a weightlifting coach at Oroville CrossFit and a competitive athlete for the last 25 years, Veronica Carpenter is always looking for ways to recover quickly from workouts and ease her sore muscles.
She found just the thing when her family visited a True REST Float Spa in Roseville. She had never used a float tank before, but found it extremely relaxing to block out everything and immerse herself in 10 inches of water infused with 1,000 pounds of magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt). She liked it so much, in fact, that she looked into installing a float tank in her house.
During her research, she discovered True REST is a franchise with about 20 spas across the country, including seven in California. She and her husband, George, a California Highway Patrol officer, decided Chico was an ideal location and opened True REST Float Spa-Chico on East Eighth Street in the middle of August.
The Carpenters have been getting their name out via social media and word of mouth and already have regular customers, including people seeking to treat migraines, work injuries and anxiety-related disorders.
And Carpenter personally floats about three times a week.
“I hold all my tension up here,” she said, gesturing to her neck and shoulders. “When I first floated, my arms stayed up over my head, but now that I’ve been floating more, they stay down by my sides. There’s no more tension.”
I had entered a sensory-deprivation tank once before and liked it, so I wondered how True REST would compare.
During a recent appointment, I showed up about 30 minutes early to sign a liability waiver and watch a short instructional video. The narrator of the video explained the sensory-deprivation tank—now more often called a float tank or flotation tank—was invented in the 1950s by physician John Lilly, who was researching brainwaves and altered states of consciousness.
At the time, many researchers thought of the brain as an organ that reacts to stimuli—that, once cut off from the outside world, it would cease all activity and fall into a coma-like, dreamless sleep. An alternative hypothesis posited that in isolation from stimuli, the brain would keep working and generating experiences. And that was Lilly’s basic takeaway in one of his research papers on float tanks published in the late 1950s: “The mind does not pass into unconsciousness; the brain does not shut down. Instead, it constructs experience out of stored impressions and memories. The isolated mind becomes highly active and creative.”
Lilly found that floating also was an effective tool for relaxation, pain relief and better sleep. He started referring to sensory deprivation as restricted environmental stimulation technique (REST). More recent research has revealed that floating activates theta brain waves, which are associated with meditative states of mind and deep relaxation. The video touted a long list of supposed benefits, from enhancing creativity to alleviating chronic pain and preventing sports injuries to improving circulation.
Once the video was done, Carpenter led me to the first of four rooms, where the float tank—which looks like an escape pod ready to blast off the side of a starship—emanated a soft blue light. It was oddly inviting. As she had instructed, I put in earplugs to keep out noise and saltwater. Then I took a shower and dried my face off so I wouldn’t be tempted to wipe my face.
From the lobby, Carpenter turned on the jacuzzi-like jets, at which point I made the mistake of getting in the tank while it was still circulating. I spent a couple of minutes spinning in a slow circle and feeling ridiculous before the jets stopped. Muffled ambient music filled the tank and I closed the door and turned off the light.
Floating was easy, but I chose to use an inflatable headrest to keep my eyes comfortably above the water line. Spending most of the hour with my hands over my head in the “I surrender” pose, I tried to stay as still as possible and get in the zone, but found it difficult to shut off my mind. Thoughts drifted from my weekend plans to how I was going to write this story. Remembering that sometimes it can take time to chill out, I did some breathing exercises and at some point—maybe halfway through the float—I fell into a trance.
I snapped out of it as the music and lights came back on simultaneously. It hadn’t seemed like an hour. As the video suggested, I sat up and did some stretching before I exited the pod, rinsed off and got dressed.
Carpenter met me in the Oasis Room, a zen space between the float rooms and the lobby, and she hooked me up to an oxygen bar. I’d never heard of this alternative therapy before, which is basically oxygen bubbling through colorful bottles containing aromatic solutions; I chose eucalyptus. As she helped me hook the tube up to my nostrils, Carpenter explained that the extra dose of pure oxygen helps people wake up after their float. I just thought it smelled nice.
I felt loose but alert on the drive home, and slept soundly that night.