I live near Magoun Square so I get extra excited whenever a new business pops up in one of the vacant storefronts. And when Float Boston began moving in last year, I was really intrigued … and a bit skeptical. Floating involves getting into a small, completely dark, silent tank filled about 10 inches high with water saturated with epsom salt. As someone who tries to avoid small, confined spaces, I was hesitant to try it myself.
A conversation with recent floating convert Rebecca Lyn Cooper of Somerville Soap Works helped me get over my fear and take the so-called plunge. And I’m really glad I did! While getting in the tank was a little intimidating, floating was one of the most relaxing experiences of my life. Of course, I had to know more, so I sat down with one of Float Boston’s founders, Sara Garvin (her husband, Colin Roald is the co-founder and both are pictured at right).
“Colin and I were both looking for a project. I’ve been a massage therapist for 10 years and wanted to stay in the same wellness space,” Garvin said. An article about floating came across her social media stream and she decided she had to try it. “There was no place to do it close by. I thought that was a huge missed opportunity.”
After seeking out the floating experience at a few other places in New England and Montreal, Garvin, and eventually Roald, were convinced that this was the project they’d been looking for.
“People are looking for ways to unplug from the nonstop onslaught,” Garvin said. “Floating is having a moment. It’s needed. It’s time has come.”
Somerville residents Garvin and Roald knew they wanted to keep their business in their home city if possible. After getting the go-ahead from the city in September 2013, they began looking for a space.
“What I love about Somerville is the real spirit of inventiveness. I like that people have the space to be who they are,” Garvin said. “People are very willing to support new businesses. Somerville as a city is very pro business. It’s conducive to opening a business here.”
After a long, challenging search for just the right location (not too big, not too small), they found Float’s home in Magoun Square. Originally Garvin wanted to include her massage therapy business in the same space, but size constraints didn’t allow for it.
After completely gutting the former hair salon, including adding loads of sound-proofing, which is key to the floating experience, Float opened in February of this year. Some of the funds to build out the space came from a crowd funding campaign that Garvin and Roald hoped would net about $10,000 and ended up making $48,000.
“We were really shocked by the response to the crowd funding campaign,” Garvin said. “We were pleasantly surprised when we hit $20,000, shocked when we hit $25,000 and dumbfounded after that. It made it real.”
Most of the donations came from the Boston area, as have most of Float’s customers, though some have traveled from farther afield to get the floating experience. Currently Float has two tanks and hopes to install two more in a different style that allows users to stand upright in the space and provides easier access for the mobility impaired.
The water in the tanks is saturated with about 900 pounds of epsom salt, making it extremely buoyant. Float filters and sterilizes the water between each use and the salt itself keeps the tanks very clean.
The dark, quiet space and the salinity of the water provide users with a unique experience that has many benefits, according to Garvin. While you’re floating, you have no sense of gravity (and of course, you can’t look at your phone), so the brain is less encumbered, leading to improved sleep and relief from chronic pain to better stress management.
“A lot of people who are skeptical think they’ll be bored in the tank,” Garvin said. “I don’t think everybody gets bored. At the same time, it’s not the worse thing to happen to you.” And what about claustrophobia? “You’re in control of the experience the entire time. There’s no lock, you can leave.”
Many people who float experience a restful state somewhere in between waking and sleeping that is usually associated with experienced meditators or children. This can be difficult to achieve on your own, especially in our always-on world.
“That’s what happens in floating, that’s what people get excited about,” Garvin said. “The most stressed, those who have the hardest time relaxing, will benefit the most.”
Floats generally last 90 minutes to allow users to fully enter that relaxation state. And with flexible pricing and membership options, you can come as often as you want. Garvin recommends once a week if you’re dealing with something acute and once a month for maintenance, though she stressed that the frequency is a very individual component of floating.
And while Float has only been about for about three months, it’s already booking sessions a few weeks out and receiving positive feedback from customers.
“People have been thanking me for bringing this into our community. People have wanted to float and people are getting a chance to try it,” Garvin said. “I’m so excited to share floating with people and looking forward to years of that continuing.”
All images (except Float reception are) courtesy of Float Boston.