Fans of sensory deprivation tanks say the experience can be a profound one. "When I've been able to do two floats in a week, the second one, I was like Deep Space 9," says Ginger Pils, a Missoula resident. "It was like floating naked in outer space. It was a tripped-out experience, for sure."
Pils says she's been enamored with float tanks ever since she first tried one at a spa in Kalispell five years ago. Since then, while traveling, she's floated at several float centers across the country. The basic experience at any center is the same: the floater, usually naked, spends an hour to two hours in an enclosed tank filled with warm saltwater, which provides effortless buoyancy. Tanks are kept dark or softly lit and quiet so all physical sensation disappears and the user can melt into a meditative state. Now Pils won't have to travel to reach that state. Enlyten Lab Float Center opened this month in the former Betty's Divine location on South Higgins. Farther down the road, Missoula Floatopia plans to open its doors on Southwest Higgins later this year.
Enlyten Lab owner Matt Gangloff is a combat veteran who served in Iraq with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division in the early 2000s. After the army, he graduated from college and worked as an IT consultant. He started floating at a center in Whitefish a few years ago in search of relaxation and relief from PTSD symptoms and back pain.
"The environment lifts and separates the vertebrae naturally and counteracts the gravity we deal with all day long. Halfway through, my whole spine lets loose and cracks," Gangloff says. "It feels unbelievable."
Two years ago, Gangloff decided to quit his job, write a business plan and start scouting for locations for Enlyten.
As Gangloff was hatching Enlyten in 2015, Stephen Likewise was formulating plans of his own for Missoula Floatopia. Likewise says he's had more setbacks than expected, and he still works full time at a lawncare company while renovating the Floatopia space, a former hair salon, in his free hours.
Likewise says he plans to distinguish Floatopia with a diverse group of services, including an infrared sauna, massage and Reiki therapy. He's also building an extra-large float tank sized for two people.
The first commercial sensory deprivation tank opened in 1979 in Beverly Hills, and the concept enjoyed a brief heyday until the mid-1980s. About 10 years ago, float tanks started seeing a resurgence. In Montana, Missoula's new float centers arrive on the heels of centers in Whitefish, Kalispell and Belgrade.
Pils says she's looking forward to trying out the new local float tanks. "Taking time away from the world to truly be with yourself is an awesome thing that not a lot of people get to try," she says.