Back to Black
by Emily Kovach
Russ Stewart’s journey with floating started six years ago with a bad day at the airport. He’d been stopped by the TSA, nearly missing his flight to visit his aunt in California. When he arrived, he was in a terrible mood and his aunt suggested a float in her neighbor’s sensory deprivation tank, which had helped lessen her own anxiety. He tried it, floating in the dark quietude, his body held by water the exact same temperature as his skin. “I didn’t know what to expect, but afterwards I felt like I’d put down a 20 pound kettle bell,” he says. “I realized a bad day doesn’t have to affect me.”
At the time, Stewart was working as a commodities broker selling coal and iron ore. His job required lots of travel, and during trips to cities like Nashville and New Orleans, he’d research and visit flotation centers. After a few years of unhappiness in his job, and many floats later, Stewart decided to open his own space in Philadelphia. “My wife and I had just sold our house and had some funds coming,” he remembers. “My wife knew I was unhappy and said it was time to go for it… she was a huge support for me.”
They found a storefront on Fishtown’s burgeoning Girard Avenue and opened Flotation Philly in February 2015. The space, which resembles a typical spa, offers three float vessels in private rooms: a pod, a tank and a cabin. Though varying in size and features, all deliver the same result: a soundproof area free from the stimuli of light, gravity and temperature.
Guests are given a brief but thorough information session before being left to shower and enter the tank. The water is dosed heavily with Epsom salts, which helps the body float and relaxes the muscles. Earplugs shut out noises that may leak through. The first 10 minutes are spent adjusting to the environment, and then the mind can begin to enter a dreamy, meditative state.
“A lot of the people we attract are clientele who use this in conjunction with their overall wellness umbrella,” Stewart says. But he’s noticed that while floating is still a niche, it’s gotten more mainstream through the endorsement of professional athletes and celebrities. “Some people do it and check it off their bucket list, but a lot of our clients, probably 80 percent, are repeats.”
Stewart floats at least twice weekly, and repeat sessions have given him a philosophical take: “My floating practice has changed how I use my time on this earth, the people I spend it with, the emotions I want to portray. I don’t want to cause negative energy or emotion. That’s part of how it’s helped round me out as a better person.”