story and photos by Gabrielle L. Wheeler
What happens when you mix 1,000 pounds of pharmaceutical-grade Epsom salts in 10 inches of water? You get salty water – really salty water – that can keep anyone afloat.
In Watkins Glen, Inner Peace Floats is bringing tranquility to the community with its float rooms. Floatation therapy has been around since the 1950s; it was first used by neurophysiologist and psychoanalyst Dr. John C. Lilly while exploring the concept of sensory deprivation. Today, interest in float tanks is gaining momentum as an alternative health option.
Inner Peace Floats owner Kathie Notarfonzo has always been interested in health and wellness. In addition to working full-time for New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, she is a certified yoga instructor and teaches spinning classes. Ten years ago, her oldest son brought home the idea of floatation tanks due to a keen interest in sensory deprivation.
While float tanks were her son’s dream, Notarfonzo had hoped to one day own the gym she managed across the street from Inner Peace Floats. Then in December 2015, she had a chance to try a float. “After I settled, I literally couldn’t get out of my head that we need this in Schuyler County,” Notarfonzo says. “We need this in the Finger Lakes Region. We don’t have enough alternatives for people in their health care tool box.”
Brainstorming how to connect a floatation center with the gym and continuously coming up short, Notarfonzo decided to pursue her new dream elsewhere, when another building became available close by. “I just resolved that I’m on the right path, and I just trust my intuition and that it’s all going to be okay,” she says.
Soft-spoken and quick to smile, Notarfonzo’s son, Clayton DeSarno, shows me to my float room. He explains that I must shower first, then shows me how the buttons work. He says a white light will signal the end of my 60-minute float. Afterwards, there’s no rush, he adds. I can use the room as long as I wish, to shower and relax afterward. I do as he instructs and then slip into the 94-degree water.
Some centers use float tanks that are like small submarines with the water inside, but at Inner Peace Floats there are float rooms shaped much like a large shower. The lights turn off automatically save one dim light at my feet, which I set to blue. I fiddle with the knob to get my music to a volume I can hear with my ears underwater. (Both the light and music are optional).
During the first five minutes, I am afraid I might have a claustrophobic panic attack, but gradually I let go of the side railings, put the floating pillow away, and just let myself relax completely. My mind wanders here and there, comes to the present and then floats away again. I am literally floating on top of the water – buoyant, weightless, defying gravity – and at times I imagine I am a mermaid, as crazy as that sounds. I feel like I’m in a scene straight out of Eat, Pray, Love.
Family and Community
It seems like Inner Peace Floats, now in its second year, can’t do anything but succeed. Just like Notarfonzo has many professions, the business now offers numerous other services. In addition to the two float rooms, the building also features two massage rooms occupied by licensed massage therapists Jen Valkenburgh and Cassie L. Osborn. The upper level is an Airbnb, established before Notarfonzo moved in. A kitchenette has helped DeSarno add nutrition to the business’s philosophy. Of its one menu item, the Inner Peace Salad, he says, “It’s just a whole food, plant-based salad, so you always feel like you’re winning.”
Notarfonzo emphasizes that it is important that customers feel comfortable and un-rushed. While explaining to me the filtration process, which takes about 20 minutes between floats, she says that many businesses schedule customers one right after another. “We don’t do that here; we schedule our people really far apart because we want them to have the sense that they’re the only one there.” Ah, that’s what DeSarno meant about taking my time.
As a final unique service, floats are available to customers 24/7 if pre-booked between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. If a customer works a crazy schedule and can’t utilize daytime business hours, someone will open shop at any hour of the day so the customer can float. Says Notarfonzo, “We really want you to have that sense that this is your space.”
The experience of the float and the time I spent out of the float room getting to know the business lingered with me for days; making me feel like I’m part of their community, family, and dream. It felt good, especially because it helped my inner peace.
The Therapy Behind It All
Originally published on Health.com by Catherine DiBenedetto
Out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, clinical neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein, PhD, is trying to understand that mental piece of the float phenomenon. Feinstein is the director of the only float lab in the U.S. – the Float Clinic and Research Center at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research. His team has been using wireless, waterproof sensors and fMRI scans to collect data on what happens in the brain while people float.
“Our preliminary analyses are showing that the stress circuits of the brain are shutting off post-float,” Feinstein tells me over the phone. Once he finishes this current study, he plans to explore the therapeutic potential of floating for people who suffer from anxiety, especially PTSD. (To avoid triggering claustrophobia in subjects, the lab has a specially designed open tank in a light-proof, sound-proof room.)
“So what is it about floating that makes it so restorative?” I ask him.
“It’s most likely a combination of a lot of variables,” he explains. For one, you’re in a near-zero gravity state, he says, which gives your body a chance to relax. “You’re also reducing external sensory input to the brain—reduced light, reduced sound, reduced proprioception, or how you feel your body in space.”
This is why people refer to floating as a form of sensory deprivation. But Feinstein says that’s actually a misnomer.
“What we’re finding in our research is that floating is a form of sensory enhancement,” he says, because it allows you to tune into your own body—especially your heartbeat and your breathing.
“It becomes an ideal environment for mindful meditation,” Feinstein points out. “For anyone who may have trouble focusing on their breath outside of the tank, floating makes it lot easier to enter into a meditative state.”
If you would like to be part of the Inner Peace Floats community, please visit the center at:
111 West 4th Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891
Phone: 5FLOATS (607-535-6287)
Bodymind Float Center has two additional locations:
• 622-1 Park Ave Rochester, NY 14607
• 22949 Erie Blvd East Syracuse, NY 13224