Sensory deprivation tanks help folks unplug, destress | Crain's Pittsburgh

Sensory deprivation tanks help folks unplug, destress

Dave Rapach’s idea of relaxation involves 10 inches of water, 1,200 pounds of Epsom salt and complete darkness. 

As the owner of Levity Float Studio in Squirrel Hill, Rapach helps overstimulated folks relieve stress through sensory deprivation.

“People are more concerned with recharging their cell phones than with recharging their bodies,” he says. “We haven’t learned how to meditate. You have no other option in the tank.”

Levity boasts two tanks that are 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high. Although the space is relatively small, when guests lie down in the 93.8 degree-water away from all light and sound, their body begins to float like a cork and there is a sense of vastness. 

Guests, ranging from young athletes and middle-aged businessmen to pregnant women and retirees, can float for 60, 90 or 120 minutes. Some of them plunge into a deep, satisfying sleep. A gentle current, accompanied by soothing music, indicates the end of a session. 

Since opening the Murray Avenue business in 2015, Rapach, a former school counselor, has facilitated more than 4,000 floats. 

Michele Miklos tried it out last year and now considers floating to be part of her self-care routine, which also includes yoga and massage.

“I try to make sure I go at least once per month, as spending an hour away from all the stimulation of daily life is incredibly restorative,” she explains. “For me, it helps to clarify my perspective and reset my mind. I come out with a greater sense of what is important as my stresses and anxieties melt away. It also makes my body feel great with the warm salt water soothing my skin and muscles.”

Jeff and Val Marraccini had such a great floating experience in 2016 that they decided to open their own studio, Zero Gravity Float in Castle Shannon. 

“It's like a natural high,” Jeff Marraccini says. “Some people are able to carry that feeling of relaxation into the next day.”

Two different tanks give customers options; the Explorer has much cooler air than the Samadhi, although both pods keep the water at outside body temperature.

The couple welcomes people of all ages and sizes, although they warn that those with freshly dyed hair, new tattoos, infectious diseases or large, open wounds should hold off. Claustrophobes are invited to keep the tank door propped open.

Floating, once a popular trend in the 1970s, petered out a decade later with the rise of the AIDS epidemic. People were worried about contracting illnesses, although the salt kills the majority of bacteria and viruses that get into the tanks. 

Guests are asked to shower before the experience, but local studios owners are sticklers for an extra level of cleanliness, relying on state-of-the-art filtration systems that use UV light and refresh the water before and after each float. 

In the 1980s, Mark Taylor floated on a regular basis. As a New York-based touring dancer, he would seek out studios wherever he went.

“I was so happy to reconnect with the practice when Levity opened: floating calms and balances my mind as much as meditation and relaxes my body as much as or more than a good massage,” he says. “For anyone interested in exploring contemplative experience with physical benefits, floating is a great practice.”

March 5, 2018 - 3:26pm