The reception area at Lift Next Level Floats feels like that of a regular spa, with stacks of fluffy towels, complimentary chamomile tea, and Enya playing in the background. But instead of massage tables, the back rooms house five sensory deprivation pods, giant futuristic clamshells filled with water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt.
Opened in June by two longtime “floaters,” David Leventhal and Gina Antioco, Lift Floats is the biggest sensory deprivation center on the East Coast, and the first in Brooklyn. “We’ve been blown away by the interest since opening,” Leventhal says. “Floating is enjoying a resurgence.” Understandably: In New York City in the digital age, a sensory deprivation pod provides one of the few guaranteed escapes from constant overstimulation.
Leventhal suggests I think of the isolation tank as a kind of futuristic meditation room. “Many societies have contemplative traditions, like prayer and meditation, but to achieve meaningful results really takes practice and dedication,” he says. “Other societies use ingestibles [like ayahuasca or peyote], but those can have risky side effects, and they’re illegal. Floatation is a middle ground where, without risks and without years of practice, you can have some sublime experiences.”
When I climb into the pod, a female Disney robot voice welcomes me, and I’m surrounded by blue light. The skin-temperature water is saltier than the Dead Sea, so you can’t not float if you tried. The weightlessness that relaxes all my muscles feels surreal. When I shut the pod’s lid, the blue light turns off.
With my ears under water, the only noise is my thoughts, which, as it turns out, are loud and spazzy: “Brick House” by The Commodores plays on loop in my head. But soon, New Age cliches about being one with the universe mix into the lyrics. A slightly stoned feeling sets in, like my muscles have melted. The hour goes by slowly. Or quickly? I don’t know; I’m no longer bound by the laws of time. Eventually, the blue lights come on and the robot lady welcomes me back to the world. The magnesium in the water has made my skin silky as a seal.
Once back outside among the summer-in-the-city smell of hot garbage and the sound of sirens, I can see how easy it could be, if I had more disposable income, to become a float addict—it’s escapism at its least risky. Plus, it makes your skin really soft.