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Checking Gravity at the Door
by Pepper Van Tassell
Regenerate in Hagerstown offers a rare opportunity to experience total sensory deprivation, and all the associated benefits.
The first 20 minutes inside the pod were restless. I thought about all the science fiction references I could make here, and questions I should have asked before I entered. I tried rolling on my side or stomach (I had been told some pregnant women floated like this) and decided that I couldn’t, and finally, I let go of the neck pillow I thought I might need to keep me from drowning. When my ears (I was wearing the recommended ear plugs) finally touched the surface and sank just below, I tuned into the garbled sound of crashing waves on the stereo, and worked to turn off my brain and enjoy the quiet. The water was so dense — even more so than the Dead Sea, I was told — I felt suspended, light, and cradled. I had the feeling of being protected by the water I feared, and as that acceptance grew, the line where my skin began and the grainy warm water ended, vanished. Before long, I drifted into a dreamlike state, a rambling raft floating down the river.
I was in space, an ocean, a sketch, and I was nothing at all. The sleep — like the moments before waking — was sound, vivid, and brief. And when I awoke — to the same futuristic voice that announced the start of my float — I shot up, and began to walk out of the pod, struck by how heavy each step back on Earth felt. When balance returned, I felt giddy and energized, ready to take on the world.
The owners of Regenerate in Hagerstown — Eric Sarmiento, Bobbi Cool, and James Magee — say an hour in one of the pods at their downtown Hagerstown flotation therapy center provides the equivalent of four hours of sleep. Floating increases theta brain waves, which are the kind you experience after falling asleep or upon waking up. The theta state sparks the right side of the brain, causing vivid dreams and creativity. It has been reported that regular floating sessions can ease stress, pain, anxiety, depression, and addiction. And the practice is being extensively studied for its part in reducing the symptoms of fibromyalgia, a disease that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain.
“Gravity is removed from the body,” Bobbi says. “People don’t realize how much they are carrying on their shoulders. [Floating] really helps with a number of problems.” Eric adds, “And the experience is not over when you walk out the door. That feeling of euphoria — it lingers.”
“Everything that we’re doing here is backed by over 60 years of research,” Eric says. The first isolation tank was developed in 1954 by a neuroscientist named John C. Lilly, who designed it while studying sensory deprivation and consciousness. His tank was soundproof, lightproof, and filled with Epsom salt-packed water and set to 93.3 degrees (to absorb body heat loss) — all to eliminate outside stimuli. Regenerate’s 8 foot by 5 foot, white pods were built off that model, but look nothing like the stand-up tanks in which John submerged while on psychoactive drugs to test his theories (as dramatized in the horror film “Altered States”).
James Ramsey, who manufactures the pods for Superior Float Tanks in Norfolk, Va., and supplied Regenerate with theirs, says, “The purpose of our tank was to make it as inviting as it could be and reduce the built-in anxiety that someone has getting into it.”
For those who are anxious about their float, Regenerate has a room with massage chairs and an oxygen bar.
While some use it to overcome jitters before the float, others use it to wind down afterward.
Floating into Business
Engaged couple Eric and Bobbi heard about floating a few years ago, and were anxious to try it. When a friend said that they could float in his sensory deprivation tank, they drove five hours to test it. Bobbi wanted to destress; Eric — a mixed-martial arts competitor — wanted relief from muscle pain. The tank was like a coffin — a design that many floatation centers still use — but aside from the aesthetic roadblock, the couple says they were instantly hooked.
"We were refreshed, reenergized. We kept coming up with these 're-' words and that's how we ended up with the name Regenerate."
We kept coming up with these ‘re-’ words and that’s how we ended up with the name Regenerate for the business — it means ‘to bring into renewed existence,’” says Eric.
Eric says that business has been “amazing” since the center at 20 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown opened its doors in January. Regenerate has attracted customers from other parts of Maryland, D.C., West Virginia and Pennsylvania, he says.
There are probably about 20 to 30 flotation centers on the East Coast, James says, and more and more manufacturers are building state-of-the-art equipment with advanced filtration and sound systems, too. Now that sports teams like Super Bowl winners the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks report using floating to enhance performance, and other celebrities are quickly adding tanks to their personal collection, there are far more people interested in floating than there are pods, he says. “Access to [pods] is the big problem now,” James says. “There’s not a whole lot of these out there.”
Eric says they chose to open up their business in Hagerstown because they already had roots in the area, and got a really good reception from attendees at the city’s first “Pop Up” event last year. “In my mind, if you’re passionate about something and what it can do for someone, it doesn’t matter where in the world you’re doing it,” says Eric, who was a math major at Hagerstown Community College before putting all of his energy into learning about floatation, and deciding to pursue the business. “If we were to open in Frederick, we’d probably be successful, but we’d be a voice amongst the crowd. Here, we’re a beacon.”
Bring Me Your Ill
Customers are hearing their call. Eric says one of the first people to float at Regenerate was a reserved, stoic older man, who told him after his first session: “Son, I’ve seen a lot of things in my life and you’re onto something with this.”
Bobbi might be onto something too. Currently pregnant, she is working on a blog about her experience floating while pregnant. There hasn’t been much research on the effects or benefits of floating for expecting mothers, but Bobbi has been able to tune into her baby’s movements, and the couple suspects that her regular floating might have helped them conceive after a year of trying.
First-time floaters emerge from their session, ready to book another one.
Other customers have worked through anxiety at the center. One woman was claustrophobic, and told Eric that she overcame her fear of being in the flotation tank by starting out with the light on in the room, and then closing the pod when she was comfortable.
Bobbi’s brother, Matthew Cool, who served in the Army infantry in Iraq and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, says that his first experience floating made him feel closer to normal than he’s felt in a while. “I was totally relaxed after — not tripping over my thoughts or anything,” he says. “You’re always on alert — constantly — with having PTSD, but it took that away for a little while. I didn’t think about the things I normally think about.”
The center keeps a “Book of Reflections” where customers jot down their feelings about their experience that Eric likes leafing through. The more sessions a customer has, the better they become at meditating, and peeling back layers of stress; some people recall forgotten memories while floating, too, Eric says.
Neutralizing the Concerns
In the 1980s, floatation therapy lost traction amid the AIDS scare, says Eric, but technology was poor then, and the pods are very clean now. Customers shower with a fragrance-free, vegan shower gel before and after their session — to remove dirt and oils before the float, and the salt that coats their skin afterward.
Eric says that their pods “go above and beyond the health and safety standards of today,” because they use multiple methods of filtration. Three powerful ozone generators (stronger than chlorine) work synergistically to keep the water clean; ultraviolet light waves disrupt or break down organic molecules; and a one-micron filtration system purifies the water. The staff at Regenerate also uses hydrogen peroxide to disinfect, and check pH and salinity levels frequently, he says. “The water is probably the cleanest water that you’ll ever get into — it’s cleaned, purified, and filtered three to four times before someone else gets in there,” James says.
And for someone who is worried about drowning in that thing? “It is impossible to go underwater — once your body has been stripped of your muscles, you’re not going to have any muscle strength to roll over. And if a single drop of that water touches your eye, you’re going to feel it and wake up,” James says.
For a few days after the float, people feel more relaxed and creative, the Regenerate owners all say. Frequently, first-time floaters emerge from their session ready to book another one. Eric says that some people float weekly, while others prefer a monthly schedule. A one-hour session at Regenerate is $79, though there are various memberships, packages, and first-timer discounts available.
“You’ve just got to try it at least once in your life,” James says. “It’s just another tool that could help someone out there who has tried everything else and it hasn’t helped them. Some people go in and come out completely changed.”
Try it For Yourself
Those interested can schedule a session by calling Regenerate at 301.992.4249, or book it right online at www.feelregenerated.com
20 W. Washington St.