Remember when you were stardust? When you were a weightless particulate floating around in deep silent space with not a care in the world? Or, when you were little, like really, really little, say, millimeters long, completely buoyant in the warm darkness with no stress, no aches and pains, no need for clothes or a blanket. No worries, just an embryo floating free and easy. Aaaaaah, those were the days. Right? Ever wish you could go back, if only for an hour or two? Well, you can, sort of.

Sensory deprivation tanks have arrived in Gallatin Valley. Re:alignment Collaborative in Belgrade and New Wave Float Therapy in Bozeman are currently offering float sessions and they are not to be missed.

Just what in the world is a flotation tank, you ask? They look like something out of an old sci-fi movie. In fact they have been featured in a number of films such as Mind Benders in the early 1960’s and Altered States in 1980. Even Homer Simpson did some time in the tank back in the 90’s.

They are roughly the size of a queen-size bed but fully enclosed and tall enough to sit up in. They started out rectangular but the newer models look like gigantic clam shells with groovy lights inside for when you first get in. They are filled with eight to ten inches of water and 1,000 pounds of magnesium sulphate (epsom salt). This keeps you completely buoyant. The mixture is then heated to internal body temperature, roughly 93.5 degrees. This keeps you neutral, neither warm nor cool. The tank is light and sound proof so there is no distraction, no stimuli.

So, without light, sound, temperature or gravity, our body, and especially our brain which spends a good portion of it’s day keeping us upright and warm and processing stimuli, has nothing to do. Our entire body gets a break from everything. We are free, and it is wonderful.

“With the elimination of external stimuli, the central nervous system’s workload is reduced by as much as 90 percent. The elimination of gravity on the body allows muscles and joints to release tension and heal more rapidly.” says Dr. Dan Engle, board-certified in adult psychology and neurology. “As a person floats, the brain waves slow down into theta frequencies resulting in a state of tranquility, creativity and very deep relaxation. This is akin to a state of REM sleep (dreams), hypnosis, or lucid dreaming.”

The tank was invented in the mid 1950’s by neuroscientist Dr. John Lilly, in an attempt to access a range of higher brain functions, meditation and healing flotation. He used the tank in combination with high powered psychedelics but that’s another story.

OK, so what is it like? It’s like this: You go into the tank room and close the door behind you. You take a warm, not hot shower being mindful of any cuts or scrapes you might have. Those you will want to coat generously with petroleum jelly to prevent stinging in the tank. I will tell you right now, if not completely covered the stinging from a little scrape will not subside and will ruin your experience in the tank. Both places offer earplugs. Use them. Then you climb into the tank and lay back in the soft warm water and relax. There is a little doohickey that you can place behind your head which helps to keep your head at neutral. Use that, too.

For the next few minutes you will begin to notice where your tension is and be able to let that go. Depending on your stress level, in time you just... let go. Some people sleep some meditate, some dream or just be. Each float is as unique as each individual. After an hour gentle music comes on and you emerge from the tank and shower, serene and rested. Just like that.

I decided to take two friends, Autumn Weis and Lisa-Carey-Davis, who had never floated and see what they thought.

Autumn went to Re:alignment, a cozy hip collaborative in Belgrade offering massage therapy, a registered dietician, health kinesiology, Reiki and more. This place is worth a visit. It’s Julee Ramljak’s tank and it is an old school model angular and roomy. The tank room is dim and warm with a gentle earth tones.

Autumn was pleasantly surprised. “When I got in I immediately realized I was tense,” she said, “but then there was this sense of nothing and that was soothing. I kind of felt like I was falling, not floating.”

Lisa tried New Wave Float Therapy in Bozeman owned by husband and wife duo Breezy Cutler and Chris Wood. Their space has a bright chic minimalist feel offering up two tank rooms and a welcoming post float nook for tea. Lisa loved her float.

“I had this feeling that if I opened my eyes I would see nothing but stars,” she said. “It reminded me of floating face up on the ocean at night, but warmer.”

She also mentioned that she was surprised at how quickly she felt comfortable and how she was “...even more surprised at how soon after I was neither aware of comfort or discomfort.”

When a person drops into a tank it is essentially the first time since they were an embryo that they have been without stimuli.

When the body is without stimuli it goes into repair and regenerate mode as it does when we sleep. Increased T-cell production strengthens the immune system. Cortisol levels normalize. Global inflammatory markers normalize. Blood pressure normalizes. Sensory deprivation therapy can also be enormously beneficial in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries by resetting the neuroendocrine system.

The “Brain Wave Explanation” by Michael Hutchison describes what happens to us on an emotional level.

“Floating subtly changes our body chemistry, creating profound benefit for an individual’s emotional balance,” he wrote. “Negative emotions such as anxiety and fear are replaced by positive feelings of empowerment, confidence, and well-being.”

The list of benefits goes on.

It is best to see for yourself because floating feels magnificent. It is a vacation in an hour, a system reset, and a return to stardust.