“Sensory deprivation therapy.”
At first thought, this experience may sound a bit intense, or even scary.
But in spas across the nation, it’s become the ultimate form of relaxation – and for New Paltz residents Joey and Grace La Penna, it’s become a rewarding way to make a living.
Originally opened in October of 2014, Mountain Float Spa on Main Street has brought this homeopathic self-care service to people of all walks of life: nurses, firefighters, expectant mothers, athletes, veterans and even children as young as nine. This husband-and-wife duo of Joey, a class of ‘94 SUNY New Paltz alum and Grace, a Rochester native, currently operate the only float spa in the Hudson Valley.
The process all starts with a large tub inside an enclosed float cabin. A foot of water inside the light-proof, sound-proof space is heated to skin temperature, around 94 degrees, and 800 pounds of epsom salts are dissolved within. The density of the water allows a person of any size to float like a cork, easing sore muscles and giving an overall sensation of weightlessness. Since the temperatures between the body, the air and the water surrounding feel relatively the same, all senses of body boundaries fade during the float experience, the couple said.
“Once the lights and music are shut off and you’re floating, all external stimuli are cut out – giving your nervous system a really good break,” Grace said. “Your body feels like it just disappears into the water.”
Reasons to float are far and wide, reaching anywhere from easing aching joints, chronic pain and migraines to helping with concentration, motivation and sleeping issues. The spa offers both 60 and 90 minute float sessions, which boil down to the feeling of around four hours of restorative sleep. According to the spa’s brochure, flotation therapy is used regularly among Olympic and professional athletes – even noting that the two teams who played in last year’s Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots, were the only teams in the NFL that utilized float therapy that year.
Like other groundbreaking trends, float therapy emerged from an academic with a simple question: What effect does depriving a person of their senses have on the brain? In 1954, American neuropsychiatrist John Lilly set out to experiment the sensory deprivation experience, building a flotation chamber to study participants’ reaction to this type of environment – one absent of all sound, light and overall body awareness. Lilly found that many emerging from the tanks described deep states of meditative-like relaxation, soon sparking a movement from laboratory tanks to commercial ones.
Currently a craze in cities like Los Angeles and Portland, the floating industry has seen a renaissance from its initial popularity in the ‘70s and ‘80s that was cut short in the wake of the AIDs epidemic. Time Magazine reports that in 2011, America only had 85 float centers – but as of November 2015, that number climbed to over 250.
With New Paltz being synonymous with open-mindedness and relaxed living, the couple has grown a loyal clientele among this small mountainside town that has come to love floating as much as they do.
“We really love floating, and love seeing that we are able to help so many people by sharing this experience with them,” Joey said.
“We often joke that we’re in the business of getting hugs,” Grace added. “So many people finish and just want to hug us for the relief they felt.”
Among Mountain Float’s clients, Joey said his most rewarding experiences are with those who just can not relax on a day-to-day basis. These include those with chronic pain from fibromyalgia, muscle pain from an injury and even veterans coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“One of the most humbling feelings I had at work was with a client, a veteran, with PTSD,” Joey said. “He came out of the float cabin almost in tears – because for the first time in a very long time, he was able to turn off his brain and just relax. To know you’re able to do that for someone is amazing.”
Current pricing for float therapy can be found at mountainfloatspa.com/pricing. The spa offers a special for students called “The Study Buddy,” where if a student brings a friend along with them, the two can float for a discounted rate of $45 each. Presentation of student ID is required. Happy floating!