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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In the Dark, See the Light

Between endless traffic jams, small apartments, the flashing lights of too many casinos and the meat grinder of the metro, Moscow is the Thunder Dome.

The dacha and banya are one way to relax, but a new method of both physical and psychological relaxation has come to the city, and it does not involve hoeing potatoes or sitting naked in a hot room.

Floating is here. It is just what it sounds like -- floating -- except in this floating you are in a big, dark box.

It sounds weird, but it may be the deepest rest or psychological regeneration and exploration you can get in this city -- and it is new, at least in this country. Nail Gareyev, 28, has just set up Russia's first and only float tank, a Samadhi model shipped in pieces from California.

Gareyev's Embrio Float Center has already been a small success, with more than 50 customers in its first two weeks after opening Oct. 5. Floating costs 2,000 rubles an hour.

One client, who identified himself only as Dima, had already been twice in the first 10 days.

"It's really hard to get rid of Moscow," said Dima, 33, who works in the banking industry. "And with the noise and the sounds, life here is very intense. But in the tank, you get separated from all that, you don't have all these external things going on.

"But it's not just a physical experience, it's also a psychological one," he added.

In the early 1950s, experiments began with float tanks, then called sensory deprivation tanks, to see what would happen to the human brain when cut off from the effects of gravity, light, sound and the sense of touch.

Scientists thought the brain would stop working, resulting in a coma. Others hypothesized that the brain would continue generating experiences.

To test this, in 1954 the American physician, psychoanalyst and writer John Lilly built the box that became the modern float tank: a box lined with black, waterproof material, equipped with a small colored light and air inlets, filled with 25.4 centimeters of water heated to skin temperature, and nearly saturated with 400 kilograms of Epsom salt. The salt concentration is so dense it allows even the skinniest bodies to float like a cork on its surface.

Gareyev said that while the tank can be used for exploring one's mind, it can also be used for physical and mental relaxation, as it stimulates the brain's theta waves, as in the state between wake and sleep.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
The dense, skin-temperature water minimizes the effects of gravity and the sense of touch, while the darkness allows a floater to either relax or delve into the mind.
The trained psychologist's office is calm and peaceful, with low lights and ambient music.

Unlike most spa treatments, such as baths, aromatherapy or massage, the float tank takes away stimulants -- light, sound, gravity -- allowing a person to disconnect and relax.

If you are looking for something more conventional but also involving some kind of hydrotherapy, another center, First Spa, has a whirlpool bath with underwater jets to which can be added various oils and minerals. Soothing music is also played. The cost is 450 rubles for 20 minutes. Other spa centers and health clinics around town also offer various sorts of hydrotherapy.

But if you're looking to explore yourself and try something new, Dima the banker recommends floating.

"I had a really powerful psychological experience. It's similar to parachuting," said Dima, who has gone skydiving several times. "You can feel like you are not in your body, but totally free. It's not scary at all."


Embrio Float Center, Klub Manas, 2/4 Kazansky Per., 238-4064/8814, M. Oktyabrskaya.
First Spa, 2 Ploshchad Pobedy, korp. 3, 148-5659, M. Park Pobedy.