This story eventually will move to the potential benefits of float therapy: how it has seemed to help some people with pain management, in coping with anxiety; how it might even be used to help people quit smoking.
But first, the naked truth:
In spite of what you may see in any photos on this page, float therapy normally is done in the altogether.
Even in buttoned-up northern Minnesota.
"I think people would be afraid to be naked, but it would feel really weird to have clothes on in there," Amy McClellan said.
What the Superior woman was talking about is the float pod at the 1434 E. Superior St. home of Inner Bliss, one of the newest of the Northland's yoga/meditation/massage studios.
The new wrinkle at Inner Bliss is its space age-like float pod and float therapy, which as far as co-owner Tiffany Slattengren knows is the first place it's offered in the Northland and only the third in Minnesota.
The float-your-troubles-away method actually dates back to the 1970s, but it has been refined considerably just within the past few years, said Arjan Lighthawk, Slattengren's business partner, and her life partner.
"Back in the day it started out with sensory deprivation tanks, and these were very boxy units," said Lighthawk, 46. "They looked rather industrial. And over the last decade there's been a real modernization, and it changed to more spa-like elegance."
Can't not float
The float pod, in a spacious but spartan basement room, is anything but boxy. It's white and, well, pod-shaped. When Lighthawk lifts the lid, warmth exudes from the 98-degree water, along with a purplish glow.
Floating in the pod is nothing like floating in the swimming pool or in the lake, because the water is saturated with 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts.
"So it's impossible not to float," said Slattengren, 40. "You could fall asleep in there and you will not drown because there's so much salt. It's very buoyant."
The float therapy recipient enters the room, which is locked, disrobes and showers, Lighthawk said. Earplugs are provided to keep salt out of the ear canal. The water will have been filtered three times since it was last used, a process that takes 15 minutes, Slattengren said. Such facilities are inspected by the same state inspectors responsible for hotel whirlpools and hot tubs, Lighthawk said, but Inner Bliss holds to a standard set up by a float therapy association that's actually higher than state standards.
"Our highest priority is making sure everyone feels safe, that everything's clean," he said.
Upon entering the pod, the floater normally pulls the lid down over himself or herself, but in one case a woman who suffers from claustrophobia chose to keep it partially open.
Respite from pain
McClellan, 47, describes herself as "severely claustrophobic." She has had to be anesthetized to go through an MRI. But not so when she was closed inside the float pod.
"I felt very safe and cared-for," McClellan said. "You get in and you can't sit up if you wanted to and you can't sink if you wanted to. So you get into it and your body automatically just slides back into a floating position. ... Like I said, you feel very held."
McClellan has experienced chronic pain since sustaining a back injury in 2001, she said. The pain has spread to her hips and her knees.
"You just have this whole lower-body conundrum of icky," she said. "I don't take medications for it any longer because they just didn't work."
McClellan's 90 minutes in the float tub didn't cure her. But it gave her a respite that lasted a couple of weeks, she said. It was more effective than anything else she has tried, including massages, acupuncture and cupping.
Kaye Sitko, 50, of Solway Township, also suffers from chronic pain, also stemming from a back injury. The second time she went to Inner Bliss for float therapy, she was having a "bad pain day," she said. On the drive to the facility, she experienced excruciating pain in her lower right leg. She wasn't sure if she'd even be able to handle time in the pod.
On the drive home, she experienced the same excruciating pain. But she suddenly realized that while she was floating, she hadn't experienced any pain at all.
To her, even that brief respite was worth it, Sitko said.
"That was huge to me," she said. "Absolutely huge. If you're a person with chronic pain and it can take ... all of that pain out of your brain for 90 minutes, it's worth gold."
Small studies suggest benefits from float therapy. For example, a 2014 study by Swedish researchers of 65 participants - split into a floatation treatment group and a control group - found stress, depression, anxiety and "worst pain" were "significantly decreased" and optimism and sleep quality "significantly increased" for the floaters. No significant results were reported for the control group.
A 2016 study by the same authors found significantly reduced generalized anxiety disorder in the group receiving floatation therapy.
The floater can be accompanied by colored lights or (almost) complete darkness; by silence, relaxing music, guided meditations or self-hypnosis recordings, Lighthawk said. "For instance, someone trying to quit smoking could have a float experience and listen to one of these tapes to help them deal with that."
It can also be used in stroke recovery, Slattengren said. Last week, Lighthawk was in the process of building a "float cabin" that will be handicapped-accessible.
Finding float therapy
Slattengren and Lighthawk both are native Minnesotans. She grew up in Duluth; he was raised in the Fergus Falls-Detroit Lakes area. Slattengren spent time on the West Coast and in Hawaii, being trained in yoga in Los Angeles and first learning about float therapy there in 2004. Lighthawk was injured in a motorcycle crash at the end of Park Point in 1994 and decided to stay here, he said.
Both are experienced as massage therapists and yoga teachers and got to know each other through their careers.
After spending the winter of 2014-15 in Hawaii, Slattengren returned to Duluth but felt homesick for the ocean, she said. Remembering her brief introduction to float therapy, she searched the Internet and found out it was available in the Twin Cities. She tried it, learned about it, and became a devotee. When she and Lighthawk decided to start their own studio, they were determined to include a float pod.
They had a name for their business, but not a place, when Slattengren happened to walk past 1434 E. Superior St. Built in 1913, the three-story red brick building is adjacent to a much newer structure - Lutheran Social Service's Center for Changing Lives, which opened earlier this year.
Once the home of the Patty Cake Shop, 1434 E. Superior St. most recently had housed Architecture Advantage, now at 2715 Piedmont Ave. That ended when a lightning strike in August 2014 left a hole in the roof and water in the building, and the damage was exasperated by a fire about two weeks later.
Lighthawk describes Slattengren's realization that the building would be ideal for Inner Bliss as "Tiffany's epiphany."
Their studio, which opened in early September after extensive renovation, occupies the first two floors of the building. A full kitchen and a wooden dining table on the first floor create a homelike atmosphere that is intentionally unhurried.
"After people are done floating they don't have to run off," Lighthawk said. "They can hang out and have a cup of tea, or ... journal a little bit about their experience."
The couple live in one of the four apartments on the top floor, along with their 7-month-old son.
The atmosphere at Inner Bliss is noticed by its patrons.
"It's a different business," Sitko said. "It feels like a home more so than a cold, hard studio."
Agreed McClellan: "It's a lovely, lovely space."
So, for McClellan, is the relaxation and sustenance she found in float therapy.
"I've done everything I could do for pain," she said. "And that is, by far, the number one most relief I've had."
Float sessions at Inner Bliss, 1434 E. Superior St., last 60 minutes or 90 minutes. The price is $80 for 60 minutes, with a new-client special of $59.99 for 60 minutes. To learn more, call (218) 464-4941 or visit innerblissduluth.com.