There's a new place in Carroll Gardens where, for $99, you can experience pretty much complete sensory deprivation as well as Space Camp-level weightlessness as you float alone for an hour in total darkness in a large pod of extremely salty mineral water.
When I first found out that Lift: Next Level Floats, which claims to be the largest sensory deprivation center on the East Coast, had opened up above a bar near my apartment, I immediately recognized it as the exact opposite of the Internet and made an appointment. Here is what you'll learn if you try it—and I highly recommend it!
1. You Will Really Float (It's Impossible to Sink)
When I entered Lift, which is in a sunny, friendly, former yoga studio covered in wood and glass, I was greeted by co-owner David Leventhal, who walked me through every option and step of the floating process. Lift offers different levels of floating, ranging from a more open large tub/shower area with a light show, to its three pods, each in their own rooms, which can be used with or without colored lights, with or without music, and with or without the pod being fully closed. I wanted the full experience, so I chose one of the pod rooms, no music, full darkness, closed pod. (Sensory deprivation seems like a "go big or go home" situation if there ever was one.)
After I explained to David that I first heard of the concept of a Sensory Deprivation Tank from an episode of Frasier in which Niles Crane floats in one, I also threw in that I am a "strong swimmer." I was kind of half-joking, but David assured me that not only do you not need to know how to swim to float, it's basically impossible to submerge yourself. People even fall asleep in it all the time. I actually knew most of this, because a few years ago the brilliant Mary HK Choi wrote hilariously about "New York's Last Sensory Deprivation Tank," which was in a guy's apartment in Chelsea. When I mentioned it to David he said "Oh was this Sam's tank?" I was delighted to imagine that the floating world is a small one and everyone is friends. The cocktail party stories they must have when they get together!
2. They Really Don't Want You to Pee in the Pod
After showing me the different levels and rooms to choose from, and showing me the process by which the pods are fully cleaned after each use (the entire place was absolutely immaculate), David gestured towards a door behind the reception desk: "Now one last very important part: the restroom!"
Oh, right! Everyone has to very officially pee first. But because I live literally two minutes away from Lift, I was...all set! I mean, I really had nothing. You know when you work in an open office, and sometimes you just need to get away from people and screens but you don't actually have to use the bathroom so you go in there and just sit and maybe cry a little and then someone else comes in and you're like "Oh right, I have to make a pee noise now"? (You know, that thing everyone does?) It was like that. I survived it.
3. The Celebrities Already Know About It
"You're going to get some famous people in here," I said with an unearned insidery tone to David and his co-owner Gina Antioco. "Oh, we already have!," they told me, and listed off some names. Lift had been open for just a few weeks, but apparently they'd already had visits from a bunch of members of the cast of Orange is the New Black, and Tunde from TV On the Radio. Cool! (Also, apparently Joe Rogan is an enthusiastic fan and advocate of floating in general, which, sure. He seems like a...relaxed guy?)
4. No But Really, They Really Don't Want You to Pee in the Pod
Just before I began my floating adventure, I asked David if I could have a glass of water from the cool inviting lemon water dispenser in the lounge area. He hesitated. "We just want to make sure nobody is...overhydrated." I really wanted to just say "Listen, I'm not gonna pee in the tank, but I truly appreciate how important a pee-free tank is to everyone here, because it's important to me too." I drank a little water and spoiler alert: I did not pee or want to pee in the tank. [ED: I have never wanted to pee in a sensory deprivation tank more than I do right now.]
5. It's Better With Your Phone OFF
I actually remembered to turn the sound on my phone off, but not the vibration, so I did get a text in the middle of the pod experience. Oops! I knew it wasn't important though, so it didn't ruin anything (my texts are never important.) But I highly recommend completely turning your phone off so you at least don't have a moment of distraction.
6. You'll Get Into a Pod (Duh)
So you go into your pod room, lock the door if you're a weird paranoid person, get naked, take a quick shower (in the same room as the pod—shampoo, conditioner and body wash provided), and step into the approximately foot or so of water and pull the pod down over yourself and lay down on top of the water on your back. Then you press a button and the lights slowly go off as a cheesy female sci-fi voice welcomes you to the pod (David prepares you for the cheesy voice during his walk-through; apparently it comes with the pods and can't be turned off. It's fine, though. I kind of liked it.) You have the option of pushing a button to listen to, like, “yoga music,” but that's adding a sense and we're trying to deprive ourselves of those, aren't we?
Then it gets very dark, and you become, briefly, extremely self-aware: you are naked on the second floor of a building above a bar in the middle of a weekday, in complete darkness, floating weightlessly. If you're me, you wonder if there are protocols in place in the event of a terrorist attack (or as I tamed it down when I spoke with David and Gina later, "a blackout"). Like, will they leave me in the pod? Will they bang on the door?
Then, these thoughts will give way to the realization that the fact that this is the first thing you're thinking about in this relaxing experience is exactly why you need it.
7. Don't Forget to Set Your Intentions!
I actually forgot to set my intentions until about five minutes in, but I forgave myself and set them immediately. I wanted to: relax, not be bored, not get salt water in my eyes, understand my place in the universe, and come up with a cool mystery idea to pitch to the Mystery Show podcast.
(courtesy Lift: Next Level Floats)
8. Explore Your Surroundings
One of the things with these floating tanks is that the water is calibrated to your body temperature, so you're not supposed to able to tell which of your limbs are in the water and which are not. This was mostly the case for me, but the water—which is full of one thousand pounds of Epsom Salts and rich in magnesium, which soaks into your skin and relaxes you (Really, it's science!)—feels very silky, like you're floating in Cetaphil Cleanser, or lube. You have to exert yourself slightly to, say, push your foot to the floor of the pod. Physically, it feels very good, like a hot tub but replace the extreme heat and bubbles with the ability to literally completely relax your body. Everyone says it's womb-like, because it probably is.
I had taken the provided earplugs in with me, but I decided they were for pussies and not "the full experience," and so I held them in my hand. All I could hear was my own heartbeat, really loud (well, except for the texting incident.)
9. Go Ahead, Think All Your Dumb Thoughts. The Pod Will Wait.
After exploring my surroundings and setting my intentions and being too self-aware for a few minutes, I found myself thinking thoughts ranging from grocery lists to to-do lists to worries that I might forget to mention Niles Crane later when I wrote this up.
But as a graduate of a few episodes of a 10-minute meditation app, I knew not to judge these thoughts and to let them flow over me or whatever, and guess what? It worked! For a very long time, I had absolutely no thoughts at all. I had never reached anything close to this state on purpose, and I think the cool thing about these pods is that they sort of force you into a meditative state without you having to try or do any work, which really appeals to me. (If I were to come up with an ad slogan for floating, it would be something like "Meditation for lazy people!")
10. You Might See Stars!
During the time in which I had no thoughts, I saw stars. I tried to make out the constellations, but I've lived in New York City for fifteen years and I guess I don't remember them well enough, but I definitely "saw" some stars! This is apparently not uncommon. The entire experience wasn't psychedelic, but parts of it definitely were.
11. Don't Do This One Weird Thing I Did
Somewhere around, who knows, minute 45? I began to wonder if I was truly in complete darkness. I mean, I knew I wasn't, because I've been on those cave tours where they take you down and turn off the lights and tell you that this is probably the only time in your life that you will experience complete darkness.
But I wanted to know, so I did what any idiot would do: I lifted my hand out of the water and waved it in front of my face. I confirmed that I was in pretty almost complete darkness (it's hard to tell because your brain knows where your hand is even if you can't see it), but I DID drip water in my eyes this way. And because I'd insisted on keeping my contact lenses in (you know, in case of a terrorist attack or "blackout" situation), there was some definite stinging going on. It stung. But, like, I overcame it? Mind over matter? I just allowed my eyes to sting and trusted my tear ducts to clear the water out, and they did within about 30 seconds. (But for real do not do that!)
12. Boredom Might Happen But It Will Be Brief
I will be honest: while I loved this experience, I did get a teensy bit bored during probably the last five minutes or so. As I squeezed the waterlogged earplugs in my left hand, I started to think of them as my friends, like Wilson in Cast Away. I wondered if I might start talking to them. But this was very brief!
13. The Ending is DRAMATIC!
When the lights came on, I said "AWWWW" like in a theater when the movie suddenly shuts off due to technical difficulties. I wasn't ready to leave my pod paradise. The cheesy voice thanked me for floating in her brand of pod, and I got out, showered, put my clothes back on and walked out into the lounge area to sit on an nice couch, drink water and chat with David and Gina. I felt euphoric and happy and very soft-skinned for the rest of the day.
As I walked home slowly, enjoying the lovely day and noticing clouds more than usual, etc, I realized that one of the non-thoughts I had in the pod would be absolutely perfect for the Mystery Show podcast, and I'm sending them an email today. Intentions, achieved!
Lindsay Robertson is a freelance editor and writer who has to mention meditation apps in everything she writes.