Inside the flotation room in Deer Park, all is silent except the gentle lapping sound as a client floats in a pool of warm, silky, salty water -- in total darkness.
"With the lights out, it feels like you are floating in outer space," says Thomas Corbisiero, 28, of Massapequa, an Iraq War vet who says he started floating to lessen the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. He comes at least once a week to spend an hour lazing in 11 inches of super-salinated water -- there are 1,300 pounds of Epsom salt to help the buoyancy -- without the distractions of people, noise, conversation, phones.
"In the room, everything stops and you can focus on yourself," says John Papa, 23, who floated for about a year in Manhattan before opening his own place here, the Infinite Flotation Center. Open about a year, the center has two custom-designed flotation rooms -- more commonly known as sensory deprivation tanks -- where clients come in hopes of relaxing, relieving muscle pain or perhaps having an epiphany in the 95-degree waters.
Flotation has been around since the 1950s, when neuroscientist John H. Lilly began studying what happens to the brain when stimulants are removed. These days, experts say the physical benefits of floating are in line with taking an Epsom salt bath at home.
"Water therapy combined with physical therapy is well known to aid physical recovery, especially when you take gravity out of the equation," says Dr. Brian Durkin, director for the Center of Pain Management at Stony Brook University Hospital. Floating shouldn't pose a medical problem for most people, he says.
There are more than 500 floating centers in the world, according to the San Francisco-based Flotation Tank Association. Initially popular in the 1980s, the practice is undergoing a resurgence that started around 2010, says director Shoshana Leibner.
"Floating is so good for relaxation, for the muscles," adds Jillian Finker, a trained naturopath whose practice is in Bellmore.
It was a family history of arthritis that drove Scarlett Aguirre, 23, a psychic medium and Reiki healer from Merrick, to seek out flotation, despite her phobias of drowning and small spaces. She was hoping for relief from chronic foot pain. The first few times she floated, it was more a physical experience than anything spiritual or emotional, she says.
"I'd heard about people having these great meditation experiences," says Aguirre. "Mine was like getting the best massage of my life. It was like floating on a cloud." She has since started Epsom salt foot soaks at home.
Charlie D. Vullo of Sayville, who is working on a masters in integrated health and healing at the Graduate Institute in Bethany, Connecticut, says he considers the experience a complement to his studies. Vullo, 35, also says flotation eases his back and muscle aches and helps tone his body after an 80-pound weight loss.
BEFORE YOU GO
While it is fine to wear a bathing suit or swim trunks, most people float in the nude. There's a shower for a pre-float rinse before stepping into the treatment room, where the shallow pool takes up the entire 6-by-8-foot space. Papa says the water's sanitary levels are tested after each use -- he goes through about 50 pounds of salt a month. First-time floaters might ease anxiety by leaving the room's light on. Papa says the effects of a float can last 48 hours. Some say the immediate effect is just as enticing. "One of the best experiences is getting out," says Corbisiero. "All your senses are so heightened. Everything is so potent."