Float Centers Bubble Up On LI As Clients Seek Stress Relief

By Daysi Calavia-Robertson

daysi.calavia-robertson@newsday.com 

@Daysi_CL

Updated February 2, 2018 6:05 AM

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Spalike businesses that are fostering the resurgence of “floating,” a practice that first made a splash in the ’70s, are finding a ready market on Long Island.

In the past five years seven float centers, from Rockville Centre to Riverhead, have opened on the Island, with at least two others set to open later this year.

Customers pay up to $100 for 60-minute “float sessions” in which they lie on their back, floating in pitch-black darkness and silence, inside a clam-shaped pod, or womblike tank or room, filled with about 12 inches of body-temperature water and about 1,000 pounds of pharmaceutical-grade Epsom salt. Some commit to paying about that much a month for a membership that allows them to float routinely... 

Some floaters, such as Mike DiLeo, 46, of Brookhaven, pay more than $400 a month to float twice a week.

“I’ve floated more than 100 times in the last year,” said DiLeo, who owns an ecommerce business. “Floating helps me focus.”

Floaters often seek stress relief, pain relief, or both. But many are seeking simply to relax.

Floating, which is also known as sensory deprivation therapy or restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST), was developed by Dr. John Lilly of the National Institute for Mental Health in Maryland in the 1950s.

It had its heyday two decades later but fell off suddenly in the ’80s. Many industry insiders attribute the decline to the AIDS epidemic and public wariness over contracting HIV from the water in float centers.

Movies like the 1980s fantasy-drama “Altered States,” in which the main character combines sensory deprivation experiments with hallucinogenic drugs and soon loses his grip on reality, didn’t help either, said Thomas H. Fine, an associate psychiatry professor at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, who conducted flotation therapy research early in his career.

“But now, floating is getting its second wave, and it seems as though the tide on this one is even stronger than the first,” Fine said.

“It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when massages, acupuncture or yoga were not as popular and widely acceptable as they are now. People are increasingly becoming more open to the idea of wellness and self-care.”

Nanda Viswanathan, marketing professor and assistant dean of Farmingdale State College’s School of Business, cited two reasons float centers are catching on here.

First, “technology and social media have made our lives much more connected but also much more hectic. It’s hard to find a place to get away from it all,” he said.

If businesses that offer floating can provide a space for people to decompress, they can get past the novelty factor and gain long-term sustainability, Viswanathan said.

“Stress is a genie that you can’t put back in the bottle,” he said. “It’s a great target audience. Everyone is stressed.”

Second, Long Island’s relatively older and wealthier demographic makes a good market for an activity that is somewhat expensive and can benefit “aches and pains,” he said.

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