SOUTHWEST HARBOR — One of my favorite things to do this time of year is float in the fresh waters of Mount Desert Island.
Recently, I experienced floating on a whole new level at Acadia Yurts &Wellness Center on Seal Cove Road. Within the new facility that opened in May, owners Karen Roper and Aaron Sprague have installed a salt water floating room — also known as a sensory deprivation tank, a UV sauna, a massage room and a yoga studio.
“We started adding all the things that we personally like,” said Sprague. “We’ve been floating together for the last seven years.”
Floating outside in a pond or lake, with the sky and trees as your focus, can be relaxing, but it doesn’t compare to a dark room without any stimulation. There is a reason these floating rooms are called sensory deprivation tanks. Sized at four feet wide, seven feet tall and eight feet long, the room can hold any body interested in the experience.
After taking a shower and entering the room, I was lying in the dark, weightless. The only sound was the hum of a water filter and the few thoughts that were able to surface in my head.
None of them are of great significance, really. There is the recognition of my tight shoulders and neck and the fact that my right hand has a harder time relaxing than my left.
It has been about 10 minutes and I’m still waiting for something. It is difficult to tell what, maybe the ‘it,’ the message. Then I realize that is actually the problem. There is nothing to wait for, nothing to expect, it is relaxation that I’m here for and that is difficult to achieve in the everyday race of life.
Another 10 – 15 minutes pass before I actually feel like it is okay to relax. Surrounding darkness makes it easier to approach because there is nothing to trigger thoughts of ‘have tos’ and ‘shoulds.’
As I sink further into the nothingness, which seems the best way to describe this place of no resistance, no muscle engagement, no stimulus, relaxation comes whether I welcome it or not.
Around and under me is eight inches of water filled with 1,100 pounds of Epsom salts, set at 93.5 degrees, the temperature of our external skin. This makes it difficult when floating to tell where the water ends and the air begins, which means distractions are nil.
All of that salt creates such buoyancy that I’m not sure the water ever went past the mid-way point of my body, which left the top half floating in the air. It was difficult to tell where water ended and air began.
“When you turn off the lights and you’re floating in it, there’s kind of an absence of space,” said Sprague. “A lot of people try to get to the theta state … We recommend falling asleep.”
The theta brainwave state is one of five frequencies we experience from being awake to deep sleep. Theta falls in the middle and can be reached in sleep, deep meditation or hypnosis. Being in theta state for any length of time can help with reducing stress and anxiety, increasing creativity, boosting your immune system and allow your body to heal from a constant state of fight or flight.
Over-stimulation from electronics, traffic, social and personal expectations, work and life in general is what prevents us from being able to relax. A sensory deprivation tank is void of all things meant to distract our mind and that is what we are left alone with in the dark, quiet room.
It can be overwhelming, really, as strange as that sounds. Our brains, in the constant state of processing information, continue to look for something. For me, it took about half the hour I had to float to actually relax. While my mind was zoning out, I could tune into parts of my body that were tense and be mindful in letting tension go.
“In the tank, you’re going to see broader results of laying in the water for an hour,” said Roper. “There’s a lot of mental benefits in addition to physical benefits.”
Sensory deprivation tanks have also been touted to help people dealing with addiction, people affected by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and athletes who are in training.
After one hour in the tank, I can see how even more time in the salt water could improve mental and physical health. My entire body, not just my brain, was so relaxed when I exited the water that it took me a moment to get my footing. My muscles had to be reminded of what their responsibilities are in helping it function.
Since opening Acadia Yurts, now in its fifth season, Sprague and Roper have wanted to add a wellness center to the retreat. It is the first building guests see on the compound that includes one large yurt, six smaller ones and two tiny houses.
While the rentals close for the winter months, they plan to keep the wellness center open year-round.
“It was important to us,” said Roper. “If we’re going to build it, we need that consistency … Everybody can find something they resonate with for self-care.”