Much like Lift / Next Level Floats owner, Gina Antioco, I too had to try floatation therapy as soon as I heard about it. As an entrepreneur with two children, the absence of stimulation seemed just about the best thing I could think of, and when I heard it could also help with chronic pain, well, I couldn’t get in that tank fast enough.
Gina was kind enough to host me at Lift / Next Level Floats, her gorgeous new floatation therapy center in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. In my blissful, post-float state, I also had the chance to sit down with Gina and talk about floating, starting her own business and Theta waves…among other things.
TB: Tell us about floating. What inspired you to make it your life’s work?
GA: I am the type of person who seeks out new experiences to such a degree that you might call it a hobby, so when a friend introduced me to floatation therapy, I booked my first session immediately. I did some research before booking the appointment, and afterwards I was completely terrified because what I learned implied that I should prepare to undergo the most intense psychology session of my life. No distraction, only true introspection. I went anyway, ready to face myself in the mirror while floating in the dark. After that first session, I’ll never forget the overwhelming feeling of calm I experienced stepping out onto the crazy, overstimulated streets of Manhattan. My head was clear and I felt light. It sounds silly, but I swear the sun seemed brighter. Dealing with anxiety had always been the norm for me and I was no stranger to insomnia, so when I walked out of the session feeling euphoric, and then had one of the best night’s sleep that evening, I recognized what floating could do.
Come On In, The Water is Fine
GA: At that time in my life, I really disliked my work. As a banquet manager, I watched people spend $70K + on their “special day” and it began to feel terribly superficial. I knew there had to be a way I could apply my skills to create something more altruistic. I am a risk taker by nature and had a bit of nest egg set aside so I decided to open the float center. All of my business books instructed me to find a niche, so I did. I believe it was always the challenge that drove me.
TB: How did you get started? What were some of the challenges you faced?
GA: I knew that experience would be key in order to run a successful center. I began researching, and quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to gain that experience in New York, as the industry simply did not exist here, so I moved to the west coast where floating was already quite prevalent. That’s when my journey really began, about two years ago. It was challenging and incredibly exhausting. I worked at a hostel so that I had somewhere rent free to sleep, and volunteered at a start-up float center who couldn’t yet afford staff. This is how I learned the ins and outs. I worked seven days a week and my only income was unemployment. I ate at a “community dinner” and received assistance at a food kitchen. There was no easy shortcut and I was determined not to dip into my savings. It made me stronger and I learned many of the skills that would help me run a business.
When You Know, You Know
While out west, I tried to secure additional financial backing. After a lengthy conversation with an Irish bar/restaurant owner, I thought that I had…until he tried to kiss me! It’s difficult being a female entrepreneur, trying to get people to take you seriously, especially when you have to convince them to believe in a service that most have never heard of. When I met my now business partner — a New Yorker who had started floating in the 80s— at a float conference in Portland, we were a perfect match. We decided to join forces after only two and a half days of knowing each other, a fact that still surprises me. I am impulsive, but not that impulsive! I thank our mutual love of Burning Man for helping us to quickly experience a level of trust that only attendees of the festival would understand.
After meeting Dave, my business partner, we briefly explored the option of franchising the location I was working at out west. After a meeting with their silent partner, a misogynistic tanning salon magnate who did not acknowledge me at the meeting except when he pointed out to Dave that all I would be is “Dave’s best employee”, rather than a partner, the decision to go in our own direction was easy.
We’re Very Lucky
I moved back to New York and took a temporary job at a spa franchise to continued learning the business while our space was under construction. Now, two years later, after many hiccups along the way, we have a warm and inviting five-tank center — making us the largest on the east coast — and many happy customers. From conception to fruition, it’s been an amazing partnership. Since the business is so new, we’ve yet to take days off, but we love what we do. Witnessing the overwhelmingly positive responses of our guests is all I need to keep going.
TB: How are the effects of floating distinctly different from the effects of meditation or yoga?
GA: For many, beginning a practice in meditation can be frustrating. A person is asked to do nothing and suddenly his or her brain is doing everything. Floating is different because without any sensory input the brain chatter naturally slows down. The body is so relaxed that it just happens, almost effortlessly. While on the west coast I was able to observe the effects of floatation therapy. Our clients were often candid and shared the benefits they were experiencing, such as eliminating anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and painkillers from their daily routines. Others used it to deepen their meditation practice, lower stress and beat insomnia. I dealt with people working through traumas, PTSD and others recovering from surgeries. It was extremely rewarding.
Floating Is One Of Those Things That Is Difficult To Put Into Words
The sensation is best described as waves, beginning at your center and emanating outwards; the moments when you let go, and feel your breath make its way through your system, while at the same time your body drifts away. It’s trance-like and feels as if you’re peeling off layers, breaking things down to a manageable level, forgetting your worries, transforming as you go. Suddenly everything that was stressing you out is now, somehow okay. It’s quite remarkable and when you think about how simple it is, you wonder why you haven’t been doing this your entire life.
TB: In addition to floating, what other health & wellness practices are most important to you?
GA: I’ve recently been turned on to somatic therapy, which is the study of the mind/body interface, and the relationship between our physical matter and energy. It implements the practice of “checking in” with yourself, which is of particular interest to me as this technique can also be used to train yourself to lucid dream, something I hope to relearn to do. I’ve also found hypnagogic light therapy to be rather effective in aiding in relaxation and overall wellness. This experience involves sitting under halogen and LED bulbs that pulsate at different frequencies and intensities. It offers the benefits of a deep meditation through an expanded state of consciousness as the light stimulates brain waves patterns that help the user access theta activity. Theta is the brain wave state that practitioners of yoga as well as many “floaters” are ideally working to achieve.
In Short, I Look For Balance
This extends far beyond any diet or exercise routine, although I can say I am a clean eater and a runner. Sometimes balance means treating myself to a pedicure because I’ve been working like crazy and my feet hurt or spending a night out with friends. I keep looking for balance in its many forms and try to stay true to myself.
To learn more about floating, visit Lift / Next Level Floats online or call 718-701-0808.
All photos by Frank Rocco.
As told to Claire McCormack. Twitter & Instagram: @clairemcmack