Stress Test

Stress Test

As I stepped into the float tank at PuREST Float on Crown Street, I couldn’t help thinking of those oracular Precogs lying face-up in a pool in the 2002 movie Minority Report. The floating part sounded really cool. But the isolated darkness? Not so much.

Still, I was determined to give it a try. Danielle Gill, who manages both of PuREST Float’s locations—the one in New Haven opened last September, two years after the original in Trumbull—had already given me a friendly orientation to the tank. The size of a large soaking tub with a seven-foot-high ceiling and a solid door shutting it off from an adjacent private shower, the tank has an intercom in case clients need help, plus big can’t-miss buttons to control the light and the music. These would cue me in and out of my hour long float, Gill explained, but I could choose to keep both on the whole time if I wanted to.

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After a quick shower—I elected to wear my swimsuit, but clients often float in the buff—I stepped into the shin-deep water and shut the door.

It’s not hard to do the floating part. 1,100 pounds of Epsom salt dissolved in the water do that for you. Even your head is buoyed, keeping your face out of the water, while plugs provided by PuREST Float protect your ears. (But watch out for salty water in the eyes!) The air and water are comfortably heated to a “skin-receptor neutral” temperature. The tank is narrow enough for you to reach your arms out and touch both walls. The light is gentle and blue, the music soft and soothing. Both are set to fade out after the first five minutes. Unless, like me, you’re not ready to turn out the lights.

I spent about the first half of my float with the light on and my eyes closed. It wasn’t totally dark, and whenever I felt my body drifting (mostly a trick of my brain), I could look and see where I was. Occasionally one of my toes would brush the wall, and I’d gently push off again.

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But after maybe 30 minutes of this—who really knows how long it was?—I was comfortable enough to give total darkness a try. I reached out and kept just the tips of my fingernails against the wall so I could still feel where I was. A noise out in the hall made me jump, and I had to turn on the light and then try the darkness again a few minutes later. The second time I lasted a bit longer. But that floating-in-outer-space feeling is the part I would have to “practice” if I were to float again. I felt a little bit like a napping cat—resting, but on alert.

That’s not an uncommon first experience, says PuREST Float owner Chris Fischman, who was on hand to talk with me at the end of my hour, after I had dragged my body back up to a standing position, showered, dressed and appeared in the lounge feeling pretty groovy. Some people come out of their first float exclaiming that their life has been changed, Fischman says, but most need two or three floats to really get the hang of it.

Fischman was one of the latter. As he approached his 40s, the stress of working as the chief technical officer for a hedge fund “really started catching up to me.” His doctor prescribed Xanax, but Fischman couldn’t function on that. Then an Instagram post popped up on floating. He went to one of the state’s only other float centers, in Westport. “I literally in the tank for 50 minutes going, ‘Am I stressed? I’m still stressed. This is not working’ … I couldn’t get out of my own way.” Then, something happened in the last 10 minutes. “‘Okay, whatever that was,’” he told himself, “‘I want that again.’” He immediately booked another float. That second time, he got a release of stress that lasted for days.

Ordinary stress isn’t the only reason people come to float. Fischman counts among his clients elite athletes, veterans suffering from PTSD and people with chronic pain. He cites recent medical research that touts both the emotional benefits—deep relaxation, lower stress—and the physical, including absorption of the magnesium sulfate in the water, which reportedly can counteract insomnia. While very little research turns up in a search on the topic, the studies that do chronicle positive effects.

Float tanks have been around since 1954, when a neuropsychologist named John C. Lily used them for his research into sensory deprivation (which inspired the 1980 film Altered States). In the 1970s float tanks “got some traction” commercially, Fischman says, and today they’re common on the west coast. Connecticut has two other float centers, in Guilford and Westport, but Fischman says they’re not in competition and instead work together to get the word out about the benefits of floating. “Our biggest competitor is lack of knowledge,” he says.

With five tanks in New Haven—including one double-wide for couples or those who just like to spread out—PuREST Float can offer as many as 50 floats a day. Winter weekends tend to book up, but this time of year, appointments are available. After a float, clients can chill out in a relaxation room on a cozy couch with a cup of tea or a glass of water and blow dry their hair in a small side room with mirrors.

Pricing runs from $49 for a single 60-minute float Monday through Thursday to $350 for 10 60-minute sessions (the Trumbull location also offers 90-minute floats). Clients can also join the “Float Club” at $149 a month for unlimited weekday floats or $249 a month for unlimited anytime floats. Fischman says one of the rewards of owning the float center is the opportunity to help those who really need it, for whom he’s willing to offer price breaks. “Pretty much anyone that relies on it, I work with,” he says.

With all those people in and out of the tanks, I wanted to know about cleanliness. 200 gallons of water in each tank are circulated through a cleaning cycle between each client, traveling seven times through a 1-micron filter as well as UV light filtration. “Essentially, it’s cleaner than any pool, bathtub or hot tub,” Fischman says, adding, “Cleanliness is everything in this business.”

So it was clean, sure, but did I ever reach the state of blissful “deep relaxation” float tanks are meant to achieve? My entire body has never gotten a break like that all at once, and anyone with pain exacerbated by gravity would no doubt love the weightless, carefree buoyancy of the water. But you bring your brain into the tank with you, too, and mine was busy paying attention to my surroundings most of the time. I needed to write this story, after all.

Still, there was one benefit of my float that was yet to be experienced. “No matter how great of a float you had mentally, you’re going to sleep like a baby,” Fischman promised. And I did.

PuREST Float
212 Crown St, New Haven (map)
Sun-Tues 7:45am-9pm, Wed-Sat 7:45am-8pm
(203) 404-7755 |…

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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