Sensory deprivation tank before the float. Photo by Julian Mark

When Reboot first popped up on Valencia Street a couple months ago, I was a bit skeptical: Its sleek, sterile decor suggested less a sensory-deprivation spa, and more a laboratory where I’d be guided to a back room, chloroformed and implanted with some sort of mind-control device.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case this week when I decided to try a so-called “float” — a 60-minute relaxation product in which you bed down in an isolation tank filled with salt water and “lose track of where your body ends and the water begins.”

“Basking in total weightlessness, you’ll release all the tension stored in your muscles, allow your mind to rest like never before, and emerge with a euphoric afterglow that can last for days,” coos Reboot’s website.

Sounds great — but only if you’re willing to pay $89 for one hour in the tank. (We had a coupon).

Before the float begins — and, in fact, even before you arrive — Reboot warns via email that anyone with open wounds and new tattoos is not encouraged to do a float because of copious amounts of epsom salts in the water — 1,200 pounds per tank, to be exact. The salt facilitates the floating and has “detoxifying” properties, Reboot claims.  

The lobby features a futuristic theme and, upon walking in, you’re greeted by an employee who has you sign a waiver. Apparently, I’m liable for damage to not only me, but also the mysterious “pod” I’ll eventually occupy.

You’re then subjected to a video in which a pointy-eared purple man wearing a druid-like robe (his name is the “Float Guru”) explains that the “float pod” (or sensory deprivation tank) was invented in the 1950s by neuroscientist John C. Lilly — who, it turns out, did floats while ingesting large amounts LSD and ketamine. Sadly, I was offered no LSD or ketamine at Reboot. Let me know if they give some to you.

The Float Guru went on to explain that, during the process, I would undergo something of a cosmic experience, as the floating would make me feel “like a part of you is returning home — a state akin to being in the womb.”

That’s fine, I figured. The womb was never a horrible place to be.

I’m led to a room where I insert earplugs. They add to the sensory-deprivation effect, but they’re mostly so you don’t get salt water in your ears, the employee tells me. She also informs me the float is done in the nude, and that I would have to strip down and take a pre-float shower beforehand.

After I shower, I stop for a moment before I climb into the tank — a shiny, white, almost bean-shaped coffin the size the of Volkswagen Beetle. It takes up most of the room, and it’s opening seems like a hungry mouth looking to consume a scared, naked human.

It consumes me. I close the hatch.   

The water’s temperature is that of a kiddy pool baking in the sun, and it smells like chemicals (maybe it’s just the thousand pounds of salt). Its ceiling pulsates with various magentas and greens and deep murder reds. Suddenly, meditative pan flute music, complete with chirping birds, begins to play. As I settle into the shallow water and close the pod, the colors only get brighter and the water’s reflections make the ceiling of the tank seem like a Bob Ross rendition of the Aurora Borealis.

But I’m distracted, as my skin begins to itch from the salt, and my head bumps up against the side of the tank. (I was warned about the bumping, multiple times.)

After 10 minutes, the pan flute music stops, and I’m relieved. I turn off the lights. “Return to the womb” might be a stretch, but I do feel like I have returned to my bed. As suggested in the video, I concentrate on my breathing, and this makes me sink into a meditative state — although always, after a few minutes, I can’t help but think: I’m still in a giant pod full of highly salinated water — on Valencia Street.

Other times, I’m filled with a nameless dread that only comes with being deprived of all of one’s senses. I had to open the tank several times to take a deep breath and come to grips. Was it nausea? Was it a sample of death, or cosmic oneness? Maybe I was overwhelmed by the so-called “theta waves” the Float Guru spoke of in the video — the state of half-sleep most akin to hypnosis.

To center myself, I try the various floating “poses” suggested to me by the guru: put my hands over my head for the “I surrender” pose, which is supposed to help with neck and back problems. I also try the “Nile Dance,” in which you crane your arms in the shape of an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph. The Nile Dance’s benefits never quite become clear to me.

As I do the poses, I accidentally splash water into my eyes, which feels worse than shampoo. It also gets into my mouth and doesn’t taste salty so much as a cocktail of death. I hear that epsom salt is a laxative, so for the sake of the next voyager I try not to ingest too much.

The meditative music kicks back in, which I was told signals that time is nearly up. Soon after, I hear a robot voice say: “Your float has concluded. Please exit the pod.” At that point, aquajets blast on, as if to shoo me out.

The water is slimy on my skin, and I rush to the shower to get it off. My float has, indeed, concluded.

When I return to the lobby, the attendant, naturally, tries to sell me more floats, which I turn down. I remember the guru’s suggestion in the video that a float’s “true” benefits come after multiple sessions, and realize that is just it: Enlightenment is always only a few payments away, on Valencia Street or elsewhere.

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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1 Comment

  1. “Sadly, I was offered no LSD” – ha ha! A great piece which really answers a lot of the questions I had about this place. Thank you for this. I kind of feel relieved that your experience was as I’d suspected it might be…

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