Daring to Be Silent
by Sharyn Flanagan
“We’re basically telling people to do nothing,” says Joey La Penna, co-owner along with Grace Kladstrup of the new Mountain Float Spa on Main Street in New Paltz. Nothing, that is, while floating as buoyant as a cork in 12 inches of water, heated to body temperature and enhanced by 800 pounds of Epsom salt, inside a four-foot by eight-foot “cabin” or “float spa.”
Why float? The reasons people engage in flotation sessions varies widely. Some are looking for relief from injuries or chronic pain while others are seeking a spiritual experience or a way to focus their mind on a creative project. Many are simply looking for a sort of ultimate relaxation without the need to fight gravity or take in external information; a one-hour float is equal to four hours of deep sleep, according to Joey.
Open just seven weeks now, Mountain Float Spa is the only flotation center located in the region. “When we first looked into opening this type of business,” says Grace, “we were surprised there wasn’t one here in New Paltz already.” Their very first customer was a woman 35 weeks pregnant who drove several hours to get there. “Not only is it relaxing to float when carrying that extra weight,” says Grace, “but it’s the closest thing we have to being in the womb again. So for her it was kind of a “double womb” experience to float while carrying the baby. She seemed very happy.”
“It was a great way of starting off,” says Joey. “The demographics have been all over the place. We’ve had people come in who used to float in the ’80s and hadn’t done it in a while, and couples come in to float together [at the same time, but in separate cabins]. One man came in who’d had his spine injured in an accident and he came out feeling so good; it was a relief for him. Then we had a veteran who said, ‘I hadn’t been able to shut my mind down like that for a very long time.’ It’s not an immediate cure, but it really helps people with stress to relax.”
Mountain Float Spa also has massage therapists, currently offering Thai and Swedish massage, available without a float or with for peak relaxation (they call that a “float sandwich”).
And this might be a good place to say what a flotation session is not. It’s not scary. Why mention that? Because when one Googles this topic it generates images of pod-like, coffin-lidded capsules that are alarming to anybody who doesn’t like to be enclosed in small, dark places. But the cabins at Mountain Float Spa bear no resemblance to these; while they are enclosed, they are seven feet tall. Each cabin is in a private room with a shower — used before and after a float — and the entrance to the cabin is through a glass door that opens above the water level; the person steps into the water before lying down (naked), and once floating, can even leave the glass door open if that makes them more comfortable. They have control over how much light to let into the room, and music is available for those who’d like the option (or people can bring their own). It’s all very serene.
After a float, people have the option of spending time in the “post-float” room, where there is bottled water, organic tea and chocolates, to ease back into everyday life before getting back in the car and going home. “Some people come out energized and ready to go,” says Grace, “and others come out in a whole different space, especially if they have a massage, too. Either way, you need to hydrate afterward.”
Grace and Joey are both avid float enthusiasts. “It’s a passion industry,” she says. “People who open float spas don’t do it for the money, they do it because they really love it themselves.” Her background has taken her from competitive ballroom dancer to yoga teacher — she still teaches two classes each week at Satya in Rhinebeck — but once introduced to flotation it became a natural extension of her interest in restorative yoga. “I studied with Judith Lasater, who made restorative yoga popular and brought it to the forefront,” she says. “I realized the need that we have now for restorative practice rather than an intense, physical practice. People need to relax. And flotation is restorative, but with even more benefits; it’s more accessible to more types of people and you don’t have to consider the quality of the teacher. We can just tell people, ‘go relax for an hour, and we’ll see you.’”
Joey grew up in Long Beach on Long Island, where a love for the beach and salt water was ingrained in him, he says. “Even when we lived in the city and traveled to Long Beach to see my family, the first thing I always did was roll down the window to get that salt water breeze; it’s very calming.” Now that they’re in the country, he says, “I brought the beach to us.”
Joey first lived in New Paltz 20 years ago while attending a theater program at SUNY New Paltz, but Rochester native Grace had never been here before meeting Joey. Both had lived years in the city (Brooklyn for him and Manhattan for her) but when they met several years ago and decided to move to New Paltz this past December seeking a more peaceful lifestyle, they promptly got engaged, got a puppy and started a business. Joey was still commuting to the city daily at first to work as a cameraman in television, but when he was laid off, it turned out to be “a blessing in disguise,” he says. Both passionate about floatation, they made the decision to go into business doing something they loved that they could do together. “We’re just so happy to bring this to the community,” says Joey, “and we hope they’re willing to try it and embrace it.”
The two live in the village and can walk to the spa. They plan on being hands-on proprietors, they say, with at least one of them there at all times. “We want to be here and make sure it’s running smoothly and everyone is getting the right treatment,” says Grace. “And it’s important for people to associate us with the business; it’s not a one-time thing, we want to see them again on a regular basis.”