By Angela Marsh
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a fan. So is Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman. And basketball star Steph Curry. And members of the U.S. Special Forces. They all have used something called floating to help them perform better and heal quicker.
These are the same reasons Amy and Brooks Brinson went out on a limb three years ago and opened Loudoun County’s first floatation center in the heart of Ashburn. It’s called OmFLOAT, and many who try it quickly become proponents.
“Once you just let yourself go, it is amazing,” said Broadlands resident Jessica Reed. She and her husband, Jim, have become regulars at OmFLOAT. Jessica has fibromyalgia and was looking for alternatives to prescription medicines. “It makes a world of difference to me and I feel relaxed for days.”
For the Brinsons, the world of floating started with a hunch in Texas 15 years ago. They were newlyweds when Brooks Brinson first read about the therapeutic benefits of R.E.S.T., which stands for Restricted Environmental Stimulation Treatment. Some people also know it by the terms “sensory deprivation” or “floatation therapy.”
The idea, first developed in the 1950s, involves floating in a silent, darkened tank filled with salt water. The feeling of floating combined with the lack of visual or aural stimulation purportedly provides a host of mental and physical benefits — including increased awareness, reduced stress and better mental and physical performance.
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Convinced of the concept without ever having done a float himself, Brinson and his wife, Amy, bought their first float tank. His faith was justified. The tank helped Brinson work through anxiety issues and back pain he had suffered from for years. He was also a competitive pistol shooter at the time who trained students for Olympic development. He used the tank to help his students with visualization and focus to improve their shooting performance.
In 2011, a job change bought them to Northern Virginia, and the tank came with them. In 2016, they opened OmFLOAT in the Ryan Park shopping and office center at Ashburn Village Boulevard and Shellhorn Road.
The facility has five tank rooms that have hosted nearly 15,000 floats. Each room is equipped with a shower, towels, and spa amenities. All customers need to bring is an open mind.
“Any kind of expectations get in the way of truly experiencing themselves and their true selves,” Brooks Brinson said. “The thing I say around here is that so many people are looking for happiness outside themselves and sometimes the tank helps them realize that true happiness comes from within.”
Each tank contains 10 inches of water and 850 pounds of Epsom salt — making the water denser than the Dead Sea and very buoyant. The saltwater is heated to something called “skin receptor neutral” or about 94.2 degrees, so it matches the floater’s skin temperature and there’s no real feeling of hot or cold.
This environment creates a sense of weightlessness and — combined with the quiet darkness — makes you feel like you are floating in outer space.
“That’s exactly how I would describe it — like space,” Reed said. “You just kind of melt in and there’s nothingness around you.”
Each session at OmFLOAT is 90 minutes. The Brinsons say there is scientific evidence that shows our body’s daily rhythms are synced for 90-minute periods of activity. And from their own experience, the Brinsons have found that an hour just isn’t enough.
Many guests feel a bit disconnected after a float. So, the OmFLOAT offers a lounge area with bean bag chairs and pillows where guests can slowly come back to reality. The friendly presence of Turner, the center’s therapy dog, helps many guests reconnect with the world.
Some people spend their time in the tank thinking with a clarity they can’t get outside. Others find they enter into a Zen-like state and lose sense of time passing. Afterward, some people find they think better and perform better at work or in athletics, while others find aches and pains are diminished.
The Brinsons say many of the players from the Washington Redskins were regulars at OmFLOAT, popping down from their Ashburn training facility for sessions. That stopped when team managers apparently found it so beneficial they bought their own float tank for players.
“Each person is different and each float is different,” Amy Brinson said. “The tank gives you what you need.” Indeed, she says a floating session even gave OmFLOAT its name — it came to her during a session.
— Angela Marsh is a freelance writer living in the Broadlands with her husband, Dan, and their two children. She’s also the owner of CoolMama, a local purveyor of gourmet granola products.