Afloat therapy studio offers isolation, relaxation—from inside a tank

With isolation, earplugs and 10 inches of buoyant water, Dan Martin wants to give his clients a reprieve from the hustle of daily life.

Doing so involves a specially designed floatation tank that Martin said can help people relieve stress, recover from injury, improve physical performance and enhance mental clarity. But for many first-time users, he believes the greatest benefit will be the moments free from distraction.  

“When you can block out all that sensory input, you can actually take a break,” Martin said. “This gives you an opportunity to just take a break.” 

Afloat, Martin’s floatation therapy studio, began operating in Bellingham in early July. The business, which is located in Suite 111 of the Ohio Workstudios at 112 Ohio St., offers clients 60-minute to 90-minute sessions to float in a tank of water laden with Epsom salt. Prices range from $60 to $80 per session, and a variety of discounts are given to regular customers.

Floatation tanks, also called isolation tanks, were first developed in the 1950s to study effects of sensory deprivation. More recently, alternative health advocates and practitioners have turned to the devices as mediums for meditation and relaxation.

Commercial floatation centers are seeing a resurgence after declining in popularity in the 1990s, although it’s not entirely clear just how many exist today.

Floatation International, a company that provides information, tools and services for the industry, lists more than 420 float centers worldwide in its online directory, including two just across the U.S.-Canada border in British Columbia. 

Martin said his interest in floatation piqued after he felt the therapy connected with his background in psychology—he holds a master’s degree in the subject from Saybrook University in San Francisco—as well as his studies of spiritual disciplines and healing arts. 

Beyond its physical effects, Martin said he believes floatation therapy can help produce meditative states in people and contribute to a deeper understanding of body and mind.

The controlled environment of the floatation tank is key, he said.

Martin’s tank, which is a little more than eight feet long and about four-and-a-half feet wide, holds between 160-170 gallons of water. Nearly 30 percent of that is salt, which makes the water dense enough to allow users to float on top.

With the tank’s controls, Martin can maintain the temperature of the water precisely. He said the heavily controlled surroundings are one benefit to using the tank to relax instead of using a regular bathtub or hot tub.

Sessions start with an orientation to the therapy itself. Martin has clients use the restroom beforehand. People can get out of the tank in the middle of a session, if necessary, but doing so has the potential to counteract positive effects, he said.

Clients are given earplugs and take a brief shower with nonscented soap.

Once they enter the tank and position themselves comfortably, the tank’s inner lights dim and the session starts. Soft music from underwater speakers, which starts playing five minutes before the end of the therapy, acts as an ending signal. Clients shower afterward, as well.

While Afloat officially opened its doors in the beginning of July, Martin began preparations for the business during the beginning of 2013. He had his equipment and studio space ready by the end of April.

Obtaining regulatory permits from the Washington State Department of Health caused some delays. Classified by the state as a public water facility, Afloat follows similar regulations as public pools and spas. 

Martin’s permitting process ran longer than he anticipated, which he believes is likely due to the unique nature of his business and the lack of similar companies currently operating in other parts of the state.

In keeping with safety and hygiene regulations, Martin said he plans to maintain regular water testing to ensure it meets proper quality requirements—the water is also removed and filtered between sessions to keep it clean for each use—and he will have his facility and equipment inspected by state officials at least twice per year.

As a new business within an industry new to Whatcom County, assuring clients that the therapy is safe and hygienic will be important at Afloat, Martin said.

Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or

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