Sensory Deprivation as stress management


Liam Connolly

In addition to floatation therapy, Sonder Mind & Body in downtown Greensboro offers massage therapy, yoga and meditation sessions.

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Associated Press, eight in 10 average college students experience some level of stress during a typical semester. Whether the stressors are exams, sports or relationships, it’s easy to see that many could benefit from some new stress management techniques. That’s where the life-changing practices of sensory deprivation can come in.

Floatation therapy, defined by some as a form of sensory deprivation, is a process primarily designed to eliminate or manage stress and illness. This is done by placing oneself inside a dim room or pod that’s filled with Epsom salt water, allowing the person to float like a cloud without the sounds of the outside world to bother them. By dulling the senses and peacefully floating in the pod, people become one with their thoughts and discover new ways to manage their ailments and stress, whether physical or mental.

When asked, a number of people had only heard about sensory deprivation through word of mouth or an episode of “The Simpsons” that involved Homer and Lisa trying it out for the first time. But what some fail to realize is that the practice has been around for decades, dating all the way back to the 1950s, and with advances in modern science and medicine, sensory deprivation has evolved into something unique. At least that’s how the practitioners at Sonder Mind and Body on South Elm Street in downtown Greensboro see it.

Established in May 2018 by sisters Veronika and Jessika Olsen, Sonder Mind and Body can be described as many things. To the owners, it’s their dream business. To some clients, it’s a wellness center designed to help manage and eliminate stress and illness through means that best benefit the individual. To others, it’s a massage center and cafe for anyone looking for a calming environment or a healthy lunch. But above all else, it’s a place where people can go, sick or stressed, to get what they need and reduce the stress in their lives.

“We’re very hands-on and (want) to show people that we care about their well-being,” said co-owner Veronika Olsen.

After taking a flotation therapy session myself, I found the process exciting but difficult to put into words. After running through the do’s and don’ts for the session and taking a shower before entering the room, I began the float session and just laid down flat on my back, letting my thoughts drift as I began to unwind. Immediately I noticed just how relaxing it felt to float like a cloud, as everything except peaceful music and beautiful dim lights left my surroundings.

“You’re supposed to let all of your thoughts flow by like a parade, because in a parade you’re much more likely to let it flow by than (to) latch onto a particular float, right?”  said co-owner Jessika Olsen, sharing her thoughts about the best mindset to have when going into a pod or room, depending on your preference.

Olsen mentioned that it usually takes three sessions to get into a comfortable rhythm, and that some people tend to have mild hallucinations during the floatation process. Others merely come out of their sessions with a newfound sense of peace or thought. For me, it was much more akin to feeling peaceful while alone with my thoughts, though I will say my mind went to some strange places.

For two minutes I thought I was Dr. Strange, traveling the cosmos in a mystical mecha as I sought the wisdom of an Eric Andre type of individual, far off in the distance of space. But that’s less of a hallucination and more of my weird and vivid imagination at work.

What makes Sonder so special isn’t just its fantastic floatation therapy, but the numerous other types of practices this wellness center houses as well. These include yoga, massage therapy, and the center’s in-house lunch and juice bar dubbed “The Well Cafe,” all of which belong to their respective practitioners.

“Each practitioner is their own business within the business and we don’t take a cut. We wanted to be a roof, one that houses all a person could need when they’re sick” Jessika Olsen said.

With a number of top-tier licensed practitioners, Sonder’s staff is able to work with clients to find the most appropriate methods of achieving a healthier lifestyle.

Sonder’s owners describe the meaning of “sonder” as realizing that just about anybody lives as complex a life as anyone else. As such, the overall theme of community is always present at Sonder, with local artists donating paintings and sculptures for display in the lobby while the center constantly evolves by working with Greensboro’s Launch Lab program to help new businesses.

Between working within the community and expanding the business, Sonder aims high for the future. But above all, its primary goal is and always will be the wellness of its clientele. The Olsens want to offer people a place where they can get the help they need, perhaps gaining a more positive attitude and participating in a new kind of experience along the way.

“We wanted to make the place we needed when we were younger, and I think we’re well on our way towards achieving that dream” Jessika Olsen said.