by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Hey. I’m into participation sports, right?

So there I am, naked, alone, inside a dark, fiberglass tank, floating in water.

Floating? Yes. I am told this is the latest thing. I am told this is what the modern athlete does. Here is what I want to know: Where’s the soap?

“Flotation tanks are great for reducing stress, healing injuries, and allowing athletes to focus on performance,” says Pete Panelli, owner of Tranquil Visions, 4514 N. Woodward in Birmingham.

“Uh-huh,” I say. “They can’t accidentally lock, can they?”

Perhaps you have heard of flotation tanks. The greatest relaxation tool since the living room couch? Football players, tennis players, weight lifters
— they’re all getting into them, as a means of physical and mental replenishment. Panelli says several Lions have been in his place, floating on their backs.

Maybe they’re practicing the offense.

Anyhow, I have been curious about flotation ever since that movie “Altered States” in which actor William Hurt spends something like nine days in a tank, then emerges as a prehistoric chimpanzee.

Fortunately, I have to be home by 4.

And Tranquil Visions is the only place like this in our area. Seven days a week. Come on in. Float around. Only $15 or $20 per session, depending on when, which tank, and what you choose as input. Nowadays, you needn’t just lie there in darkness. You can watch videos, listen to music, or have subliminal messages whispered through underwater speakers.

Like: “Be successful . . . act successful. . . .”

Or: “Be positive . . . act positive. . . .”

Or: “Wash behind your ears . . . ah-ah, you missed a spot. . . .”

What the heck? I went. I undressed.

I closed the lid.

The brochure promised I would feel “more creative, more energetic, smarter, healthier.” But that’s after you get out. The first few minutes inside one of these tanks is not the most natural of experiences. For one thing, the water is saturated with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, to keep you afloat — which kind of makes you feel as if you landed in the Dead Sea.

Then there’s the silence. It’s eerie. And dark. And you don’t really know what to do with your arms or head, not at first, and then, whoa-oh, look out–

I floated into the wall.

I pushed away.

And I floated into the other wall.

There is nothing to see. Or hear. Soon, your body does indeed relax. Or go numb, I’m not sure. And you find your mind drifting into wonderfully peaceful thoughts, calm and soothing and–

And I fell asleep.

Well. Hey. I had a long night.

“Your mind becomes a sponge in there,” Panelli had told me. “That’s why athletes float while watching film of themselves executing the perfect form, over and over. Subconsciously, they absorb this, and when it comes time to do it, the body remembers.”

“You mean if Dennis Rodman got in the tank and watched a man shooting perfect free throws–“

“He’d be a much better shooter,” said Panelli.

Hey, Chuck. You getting this?

(By the way, you can own one of these things. People do. I can just see the guy coming home from work. “Hi, Honey. Anyone calls, I’ll be in the tank.”)

Anyhow, 45 minutes passed in silent darkness. I kind of enjoyed it, floating, blinking. I did not think great thoughts, but I did remember where I left my sunglasses last June. And look. A screen lit up. A video came on. At last, something I was good at: lying back and watching television.

The image was of a skier coming down a mountain. Same skier. Four hundred times. The music was that New Age stuff which, to me, always sounds like someone fell asleep on top of his synthesizer.

This was subliminal imaging, I was told. I was absorbing it. It would help me ski. I tried to shift around a bit, to imitate the skier, swoosh, swoo–

I hit the wall.

And after an hour, it was time to get out. I found the lid (which isn’t easy), lifted it open, and emerged from the pod, feeling like Gordo Cooper after the splashdown of Mercury 7.

But boy, was I relaxed! Loose. Free. Wow. I got out, turned the corner, reached for the faucet.

And I slipped in the shower and fell on my butt.

How’d it go?” Panelli asked.

“Good,” I said, looking at the white salt around my fingertips. “I’m a little sticky.”

Panelli smiled. He has been floating for 10 years. Not literally, of course. A former nose tackle at Central Michigan, Panelli says the tank did wonders for his football injuries. He’s hoping athletes and executives and stressed-out types discover its magic. He even has a float “room” for those who are scared of getting in a tank.

“The effects of a float can last for days,” he said.

“Really?” I said.

I wondered how that would affect my driving.

And I said goodby. And that was that. I cannot tell you this morning whether floating is all it’s cracked up to be, or if it will improve my free throws, or turn the Lions around. I do know I plan to get my boss in a tank, then have one of those tapes whisper: “. . . Give more vacation . . . more vacation. . . .”

And if it works, I’m buying one.

Mitch Albom will be signing holiday copies of his book “The Live Albom” on: Friday, noon-to-1 p.m., Borders Books in Novi, and 7-9 p.m., Waldenbooks at Fairlane Mall; Saturday, 1-2:30 Waldenbooks, Lakeside Mall, and 4-5:30, Waldenbooks, Lakeside Mall.


Mitch Albom tries a flotation tank on for size.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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