The Insider: Sensory Deprivation, Infrared Saunas, & Flavored Oxygen

ITK investigates the experiences you’ve been dying to try from all across the Upstate and brings you the real insider view. We explore, you enjoy. 

Sensory Deprivation Tank
(noun)  An isolation tank usually called a sensory deprivation tank (also known as float tank, flotation tank, or sensory attenuation tank) is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with salt water at skin temperature, in which individuals float.

Infrared Sauna
(noun)  An infrared sauna is a type of sauna that uses light to create heat. This type of sauna is sometimes called a far-infrared sauna — “far” describes where the infrared waves fall on the light spectrum.

Flavored Oxygen
(noun)  The flavor is produced by bubbling oxygen through bottles containing aromatic solutions and then pumping the vaporized scent through the hose and into the nostrils.

Good to know:

  • Avoid caffeine before your float, as it can disrupt your experience in sensory deprivation.
  • The staff recommends at least three floats to really get used to the experience, so please note that this article is based on the very first experience.
  • Sorry, Stranger Things fans, I did not make it to The Upside Down.

One step into Drift Float and Spa in Downtown Greenville and I can already feel the stress of daily life melting away. I’m greeted by a sunny front room, where essential oils are diffusing and there is a smiling staff member to offer a warm neck pillow and check me in for my day of new experiences. In the lineup is 45 minutes in an infrared sauna, 20 minutes in a customizable oxygen bar, and 90 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank. All three were going to be entirely new to me, and I was eager to dive right in (no pun intended.)

First up, the Infrared Sauna. I traded my street shoes for some provided slip ons and followed my hostess to a room down the hall. Inside was a spacious, sleek sauna, a chair and table, towel, and robe. I was given a quick tour of the space, including the tablet that controlled everything I could need inside the sauna itself. I was left with the whole room to myself, and control of everything from the lights to the music, to the sauna temperature.

I disrobed, laid a towel over the wooden bench, and settled into my session after dimming the lights to an ambient level that felt relaxing, but not put-you-to-sleep dim. I’ve put in plenty of time in standard saunas, and this was markedly different. First, the humidity is far lower. Second, something about the Infrared rays kept the elements in the room from getting too hot, while very effectively getting me to break a sweat. Infrared heat works from inside the body out, which made for a far more relaxing sauna experience. The lights and music combined to make for an unexpectedly meditative hour.

Next up was the oxygen bar. I got to choose different flavors/scents of oxygen. While I didn’t “feel” any immediate effects, I certainly didn’t hate breathing cranberry or mint flavored air while I waited for my float room.

The Float experience was a lot of Nothing (that’s Nothing with a capital “n”). And that is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Our brains are so hungry for stimuli, that when you take away sight, sound, tactical sensation, and weight, amazing things happen. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my 90-minute float, but what I got was far better than what I could have imagined. My guide showed me to my room, oriented me with everything I could need, and left me to my 90 minutes of blissful deprivation. I put in earplugs, showered off, covered any scrapes with petroleum jelly (to protect from the salt water), and stepped into the tank. I was ushered into my float with ambient lights, music, and water that was incredibly buoyant and temperate. I closed the top, leaving a small gap for air circulations, and attempted to settle in.

First off, relaxing is hard. I realized as soon as I was suspended in zero gravity that my shoulders and neck wanted to stay tensed up no matter what. Getting used to “letting go” of control is difficult, especially for an extended period of time. Second, this water is salty. Like, 800 lbs of epsom salt salty. That said, if it gets in your eyes (which happened to me), it burns. Luckily, the tank was equipped with a spray bottle of fresh water to flush out salty eyes in the case of a mishap. Once I got that situation settled, it was back to floating. The lights and ambient music put me in an immediate state of meditation. Time seemed to pass incredibly slowly, as I drifted from consciousness to something entirely different. With all senses quieted, my brain must have had the opportunity to do some deep cleaning. For me, 90 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank was a fast pass to deep, practiced meditation. In what felt like an eternity and the blink of an eye all at once, the lights slowly came back in, the music faded back, and I was back on earth.

I showered off and dressed in what felt like waking up from a long hibernation. I continued through the spa and landed in the lobby with a blissful expression that garnered a knowing smile from the staff. “Looks like someone got into that Theta state,” she said with a laugh. Apparently, Theta waves are produced in the brain during high-level meditation. Her description was spot on. After sipping some water and coming back to earth for a few minutes, I made my way back into the real world. I slept deeply that night and experienced almost no anxiety for about two days following.

Drift took me from the bustle of the daily grind to a space that I didn’t know existed. Between the Sauna, the oxygen bar, and the float, I was somehow able to shed months of stress in only a couple of hours. Needless to say, I’ll be floating again soon. Who knew the power of Nothing was so great?

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