Get a Life – January 20, 2006

By Jane Lopes

We at the U of C are good at most things. We are good at starting 10-page papers at three in the morning. We are good at calling things Machiavellian. We are good at scheduling, attending, and understanding lectures such as “Elegiac Stanzas in the Etiological Poems of Phanocles and Callimachus.” (This really happened.) But if there is one thing we’re not good at, it’s taking a break.

With this in mind, I set out to find what Chicago has to offer in the way of relaxation techniques. I could have gotten a massage, attended a yoga class, or just stayed in bed all day Monday, but instead, I ventured out to Lincoln Park to be deprived of my senses for an hour at SpaceTime Tanks Floatation Center.

I’m glad I had the address; the Center is easy to miss, wedged in the back of a shared retail building by the Apollo. Through several unmarked doors, following the smell of salt water and incense, I finally came upon the place. Inside, I was greeted by a sign saying, “What color is your aura today?” and a woman in all black wearing lots of eyeliner—heavy on what my roommate Bridget calls “New-Agey Shit.”

At this point, I became nervous for the first time. What had I gotten myself into? Was this safe? I could just imagine the headlines: “U of C Student Dies in Freak Floating Accident”; “Sink or Swim: For One Young Girl, Choice Proves Fatal.”

Not that I was unprepared—I had done my research on floatation tanks. They seemed scary, but theoretically not life-threatening, and relatively inexpensive at $30 per hour (with a valid student ID). You are in a pitch-black, enclosed tank that is eight feet by four feet by four feet. It is filled with 10 inches of water with an absurd amount of Epsom salts dissolved in it (about 800 pounds). The water and air are both heated to skin temperature—the idea being that you shouldn’t really feel anything.

Floatation is not only supposed to be an effective form of relaxation, but SpaceTime Tanks makes several other lofty claims: They say floatation promotes “super-learning,” instantaneously reduces or eradicates bad habits such as smoking, and enhances peak performance. They even say that two hours in the floatation tank is equivalent to eight hours of deep sleep.

There are many theories on why floating would have such beneficial effects. (This was explained by a bright green flyer in the waiting room taken from The Book of Floating, which is billed as “an indispensable text for the novice or experienced floater.” I have no words.) These include “The Three-Brain Explanation,” “The Antigravity Explanation,” and—my favorite—“The Neurochemical Explanation,” which contends that the floatation tanks acts as wombs and return us to “true prenatal bliss.”

Skeptical and a little weirded-out (but still excited!), I removed my shoes and walked down toward the front desk. “You must be Jane,” the woman said. “Welcome. My name is Sarah.” She extended her hand and instantaneously assuaged my apprehension and even curbed my cynicism (a little bit).

Sarah was very professional and gave me a tour of the place, finally showing me to my floating room. Inside, there was an open shower area right next to the huge, trapezoidal tank. Picture an oversized white coffin with a corner cut off. The tank and shower seemed clean and hygienic, and before she left, Sarah assured me that the water was sterilized after each use. So I stripped down—yes, you do have to be naked—rinsed off in the shower, and sat down in the tank, closing the door behind me as I went.

First: panic. I can’t see a thing. I can’t feel a thing. I am naked in a tank of salt water. 800 pounds of salt! Thank god I don’t have any paper cuts. Then: delight. This is kind of fun. Bouncing off the walls, floating around. Wow, when I push my hand down, it just pops back up. Cool. Finally: relaxation. Oh, I’m so relaxed. Zzzzzzz.

Over the hour, I drifted in and out of a light sleep, losing track of time and my body in the space (wow, their name makes so much sense now). When I emerged from the tank, I did indeed feel calm and rejuvenated. And I had no desire to smoke a cigarette—although I’m not a smoker, so I don’t know how much that means. Overall, I would recommend the experience: fun, wacky, relaxing, and blissful, in a sort of prenatal way.

SpaceTime Tanks Flotation Center

Address: 2526 North Lincoln Avenue

Phone: (773) 472-2700

Via CTA: Take the Red Line to Fullerton.

Via car: Take Lake Shore Drive to Fullerton Parkway. Turn left onto West Fullerton Parkway. Take a slight right onto North Lincoln Avenue.