What is it like to be completely alone?
Answering this extends far beyond a social context. Complete isolation isn’t just sitting in privacy — it means obliterating absolutely everything beyond your own mind. Achieving this state demands the elimination of all sight, sound, smell and touch from one’s consciousness, starving sensory processes of every and any possible stimulant.
To be completely alone means reducing yourself to nothing but a consciousness, the only exception in a total void. And it feels terrific.
Finding this out has become surprisingly accessible, thanks to the recent opening of Float Madison. Located on East Wilson Street just a few blocks shy of the Capitol, Float Madison is the first facility in the downtown area to offer visitors an experience with isolation therapy.
Owner Greg Griffin opened the facility just a few weeks ago, after a multi-year endeavor that began with his first experience with isolation therapy four-and-a-half years prior. He took an immediate liking to it, and decided to bring it back home with him.
“I got tired of driving down to Chicago to float,” Griffin said.
The space instills calm with a cool blue palette and bountiful natural light, quartz crystal lamps and complimentary kombucha, establishing a distinctly alternative sort of welcome.
Float Madison’s guest facilities currently include a snug lobby, two flotation rooms and a post-float relaxation room. Griffin said he plans to expand with another flotation pod and massage facilities in the near future. Griffin estimates that Float Madison is one of about 400 flotation facilities in the U.S.
Float Madison’s two isolation tanks each have designated rooms, their sleek plastic silhouettes radiating blue light and providing a futuristic centerpiece. Griffin refers to one as a float pod and one as a float room, both serving the same function and differing only in size.
Each device costs tens of thousands of dollars and is equipped with sound-proofing and anti-vibration mechanisms. They’re filled with 160 to 180 gallons of body-temperature water with 1,000 pounds of epsom salts dissolved in.
Stepping into a float chamber is an utterly alien experience. Visitors must strip down, shower and enter the water naked naked, as even the sensation of clothes touching one’s body distracts from complete sensory isolation.
Paradoxically, floating in the hypersalinated water can at first enhance and exaggerate sensory input. Deprived of the constant sensory barrage of daily life, minute motions like swallowing or flexing a muscle receive a disproportionate amount of mental attention. Soon enough, the body adjusts to this curious environment and the fabled capabilities of the flotation chamber emerge.
After half an hour in the tank, I found myself in a state of what felt like mild hallucination, picturing strangers’ faces and oscillating geometric patterns when I closed my eyes. With practically zero external inputs to process, mental processes turn introspective. At a certain point, I realized I was no longer aware of my limbs. I was nothing but the entity of an imagination in an otherwise vacant, black arena.
I experienced enhanced mental focus, specifically toward rather heady or abstract corners of self-evaluation. I’m not sure if I fell asleep or just zoned out into some strange trance, but I felt like I has been in the isolation tank for three hours by the time I emerged after the hour-long session.
For nearly an hour after my session ended, I experienced what felt like a body high. My limbs felt looser and more relaxed in a very welcome way, and the sudden wealth of sensory stimulation seemed all the more vivid in contrast.
Griffin said Float Madison has received very few student-aged guests, but that he’s considering offering student discounts during exam season.
For adventurous Badger psychonauts, flotation represents a tempting frontier in physical therapy, mental centering and psychological exploration.