Flotation therapy, salve for stress and pain, sets N.J. adrift on salty bliss

Vanessa McDonald-Hobbs climbed into the small, shallow pool, pulled a large clamshell lid over the top and eased, flat on her back, into the water. She closed her eyes. Because of the high salt content, she didn’t have to worry about steadying herself — she immediately floated.

Stretching her buoyant arms out wide, she felt the warmth of the water, heated to body temperature, gradually fade away until there was nothing left but stillness.

Soon obscuring her usual tangle of everyday thoughts about work and family was a strong image — the product of what some might call visualization.

McDonald-Hobbs, 58, had been training for a half-marathon. Floating in the pod of saltwater, she pictured herself finishing the race, powering across the final stretch.

“I could see myself running across the timing mat,” she says. Not long after she left the saltwater tank, she ran that race. Everything was just as she had envisioned: No obstacles. Clean finish.

Vanessa McDonald-Hobbs prepares for a float session at Serene Dreams in Kearny by inserting earplugs. A runner, she credits floating with shortening her recovery time. (Amy Kuperinsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

McDonald-Hobbs is one of a growing number of New Jerseyans finding solace in flotation therapy tanks. Also known as sensory deprivation tanks, these dark pods, or pools of water, are saturated with Epsom salt, which instantly sets the body afloat, creating a weightless sensation. For fans of floating, the practice can be a route to relaxation, enlightenment and drug-free pain relief.

Devised in the 1950s, the concept — which endeavors to expose the brain to as little stimuli as possible — has experienced a resurgence in recent years, becoming a mainstream habit endorsed by professional athletes and backed by a growing field of medical research. 

In an effort to decompress, McDonald-Hobbs, who lives in Linden and works on scholarship programs at Rutgers University in Newark, had tried…

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