by Alexandra Felton
photography by Ashlyn Hulin
Science fiction meets holistic meditation as I gaze at the pod in front of me. This white egg of a structure, just long and wide enough to fit my body, is going to float me on my back into a state of suspension over a shallow 10 to 12 inches of water filled with more than 1,000 pounds of salt. I have so many questions, but I am not afraid. “How did I get here again?” I wondered as I realized the experience I was about to do: float on my back with no light, sound or weight in order to experience sensory deprivation therapy. My journey getting to this point will surprise you.
First of all, I never knew what a sensory deprivation tank was until I watched the streaming Netflix television show “Stranger Things.” The concept of the show intrigued me when I saw how the supernatural and real-world collided throughout the storyline. (Disclaimer: Spoilers!) As a lover of sci-fi movies, I now try to find the real-world connections within the concepts of the show. For example, Marvel’s mythological Asgardian Norse God Thor has a magical hammer that is made of a cosmic material called “Uru” that no one can wield except him (or anyone else worthy of being him).
Did you know that there are actual science advisers who put the scientific components into science fiction? Astrophysicists even teamed up with the Doctor Strange movie to make the time-warping explanation more realistic to viewers. Look up Clifford Johnson, a Professor of Physics at USC, and you realize why most portions of the sci-fi universe seem to make some legitimate sense. Knowing this, I wanted to understand more about one of the main characters in “Stranger Things”: Eleven.
She is so complex with a harrowing back story of unregulated lab testing and imprisoned isolation, but, even still, she is a young girl who likes the taste of Eggos. Sweet and relatable through the crazy, right? During the first season of the series, Eleven sees visions in her makeshift sensory deprivation tank that help her team solve mysteries. I knew that there had to be some truth to the therapy. So as a dedicated sci-fi enthusiast would, I set out to be my own science adviser and see what makes sensory deprivation tanks work.
According to a float blog by the Northwest Float Center, floating was used as an experiment by Dr. John Lilly in the early 1950s to understand brain stimuli and what would happen if it was temporarily relieved from most of the sensory responses. It was not until the 1970s that flotation tanks started to be used as tools for meditation, chronic pain relief and athletic recovery. Celebrities like John Lennon, from the Beatles, and actor Robin Williams first used flotation pods, and from then on a new commercial industry was created. Also, a 2014 scientific study reported in the Journal of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research says that “stress, depression, anxiety, and worst pain were significantly decreased.” And, sleep quality and optimism increased. After doing this basic research online, I understood that this was a technique that could target body and mind all at the same time, so I scheduled my appointment at Feeling Groovy Wellness and Cafe in Claremont, California. When I arrived, the atmosphere in the establishment, let us just say, looks like a hippie’s paradise. The 1960s themed colors splash onto the walls with hues of orange, purple and yellow covering even the chairs and tables with a similar paint job. I realized why they called it “groovy” wellness from then on. After walking in the front door, I could tell that the space was much larger than what it seemed like from the outside. They have more than 10 rooms that specialize in an eclectic mix of certain therapeutic services.
A vintage Volkswagen bus is cut in half and fused to the wall where attendants sit and answer your questions or take appointments. To the left of the cafe entrance, there is a store to buy all sorts of meditative items. My lungs filled with incense and fragrant kale salads as I walked into the open room that sold homemade body scrubs, healing crystals and other homemade items made of the healing cannabis oil CBD. I was overwhelmed with the amount of segmented areas that inhabited the space. “It was actually a really fun project,” Steven Carter, the architectural designer, owner and president of Carver Solutions LLC, says. He was involved in working on the ins and outs of Feeling Groovy Wellness and Cafe. He and his team were contracted by Nicole Lanni, founder and CEO of Feeling Groovy. They have been collaborating on the experience for more than two years now. Steven tells how the original size of the location was once smaller, but luckily the unit next door moved out after they finished the first portion of the entrance. This, in turn, provided the opportunity for a wonderland of available treatments. “This place is a lot…there were a lot of obstacles, but it turned out exactly as she wanted,” Steven exclaims as he waits in a fuzzy orange chair for his meeting with Nicole.
Teddie Andrade, an employee at Feeling Groovy Wellness, was my tour guide and pod operator. “I frickin’ love it here dude,” Teddie says about her job. But before I visited, I spoke to Emily Schneider the assistant manager. “It is healthiness and happiness from the inside out,” Emily comments, reflecting their mission statement. “We’ve had repeat clients stay in the pod for three hours. Meditation is their livelihood, and they come out so enlightened.” Each flotation experience is booked for 90 minutes, with enough time at the end to shower off.
“I used to be a massage therapist” she says. She had to stop for medical reasons. “I have a joint disorder, which is a huge reason why I went into wellness. I am allergic to opiates and other things,” Emily says about how alternative medicine gets her through the day. “This is a natural realignment of the body and is especially great after a massage, because the Epsom salt pulls the lactic acid out of the muscles, which is a main cause of tension and knots.” She says what separates Feeling Groovy from other businesses is that “we give you your own space. You also get an intercom to talk to us while you are in the pod if you need it. If you are ever uncomfortable, there is an “oh snap” button you can press. I have never had someone need to use it yet, though.”
It may be a little costly to have this as a daily hobby (it costs $40 for a first time visitor and $70 for future appointments), but I am certain that if it is incorporated into your routine after a busy work month, this experience is a great reward. There may be some sci-fi elements right here on Earth to explore, so if you are ready to take the plunge, call 909-480-1711 and visit the center for more holistically therapeutic opportunities. ■
Meet the Owner
Only a few people go out and chase their dreams, and Nicole Lanni is one of them. This is because her story toward how Feeling Groovy came to be is one of unconventional reasons. On Aug. 12, 2011, she suffered a heart attack and her life changed. “So many people think they are happy, but they really aren’t, and it reflects in their attitudes,” she says referring to her former self-care habits. “[The heart attack] sparked a new beginning within me.” She says her unbalanced stress levels were taking a toll on her life. “The only person who could make changes was myself,” she says reflecting on the second chance she was given at life. Nicole decided to use her background in business and entrepreneurial endeavors to create a wellness center to help others in need of stress relief without having to depend on solely traditional types of medicines. “I took responsibility for my life, lost more than 80 pounds and achieved a happy and a healthy lifestyle,” she writes on the website’s online testimonial.
The first center opened in January 2016 in Rancho Cucamonga, but closed and re-opened in Claremont a little more than a year ago. She has 30 employees at her Claremont location, and 20 at her ranch in the Northern California town Trinity Center. This historic ranch is called Feeling Groovy Ranch at Eagle Creek and is historically linked to the Pony Express, as it was used as a telegraph station during that time. They now utilize the location as a cannabis-friendly bed and breakfast while also acting as a wellness retreat hot spot.
Her husband is a prospering member within the cannabis industry and is ecstatic to be growing their own plants for distribution. “We really want whole health.” She says that her mission is to not judge what someone’s version of healthy is and to not constrain their cafe to anything specific like only paleo or ketogenics. “I don’t put wellness in a box, that’s why we have so many options to have our customers reach their goals. When you’re happy, you’re healthy and vice versa.” Nicole is also a Master NLP Practitioner and Trainer, a Master Hypnotherapist and a Reiki Master now, which makes her happier and healthier than ever before. ■