Sensory deprivation. No sight. No sound. Limited sense of touch. Sounds pretty dang scary, right? Right.
Trepidation about this accompanied me to a local float tank center in the city I live in. I tend to think outside the box with my health, and am always open to natural and alternative ways to treat myself, along with the recommendations made by my doctor. An isolation tank, or float tank, wasn’t really on my radar per say, but then I came across a local float center in Boise. Why not give it a try?
Uh, maybe because of Joe Rogan’s weird ass experience in one! He was under the influence of marijuana though. I would be going in with a clear mind.
I’ll give you a little history on how these tanks came to be. Back in 1954 physician and neuroscientist John C. Lilly developed a float tank to test the effects of sensory deprivation on the human mind. Dude was a little wacky, albeit brilliant. He experimented with LSD and ketamine on himself, while in an isolation tank and while hanging out with dolphins (he also studied inter-species communication), helped search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and had some WILD theories about human activities in general.
Anyway, early float tank experiences were freaky, but the process was refined when epsom salt (and lots of it) was added to the tank water to keep the user afloat, even if they fell asleep.
My intention, going in, was stress and pain relief. I’m pretty active, and work out on a regular basis. Seeing as 1,000 lbs of epsom salt are in each tank, I figured that had to be good for muscle pain. And, with an active and busy life, stress is always a part of the equation. Finding time to just be quiet, and being forced to do so, didn’t seem like a bad idea.
It’s not the mother ship, it’s just your float pod.
Upon arrival, one of the friendly co-owners of the business, Jerrod, took me back to my personal room, complete with float tank and shower. The process involved disrobing, taking a quick shower to wash any oils off my skin, then getting in the float pod. Then afterwards getting out of the tank, showering to get the excess salt off my skin, getting dressed, and hanging out in the lounge area for as long as I felt like to drink tea and reflect on my experience.
I was provided earplugs to put in my ears so salt water wouldn’t getting in them, but in my haste to get in the tank I forgot to insert them. I was nervous to get out of the tank to retrieve the plugs, because at a point all lights go out (in the tank AND room), and I wanted to be settled in the tank before that happened. So, I opted to use the pillow provided that my head could float on top of, leaving my ears above water level.
As I lay in the tank, I realized that I was having a hard time breathing. I wasn’t that nervous, was I? I quickly realized that it was the moisture in the air. The feeling was similar to the day I walked out of my friend Leslie’s DC condo this past August, and got winded walking a few steps. Living in a very dry high desert climate, my lungs do not do well breathing in swamp. Due to this, I opted to keep the tank door open halfway to let cooler air from the outer room flow in. With water registering at 94 degrees, the cooler air was not uncomfortable.
Those were my only two speed bumps.
As the music died down and the lights clicked off, I was left to my own sensations, feelings, and thoughts. At first it almost felt like the water was laying over me like a blanket. I could feel the edges of the water against the limited exposed skin of my body. I concentrated on breathing at first, because I assumed this experience was supposed to be like meditation, right?
I didn’t need to concentrate on it, the meditation part just came naturally. I think it would have been heightened had I had earplugs in and my ears underwater, but my mind felt pretty darn still regardless. Starting to take note of my body, I realized that at first my limbs felt really heavy, almost numb. At one point I even felt like the organs in my abdomen felt heavy. It wasn’t uncomfortable, just… odd.
It’ll feel like you’re floating on them.
But as my float progressed, I went into stages of feeling completely buoyant. As cliché as this sounds, I felt like I was floating on clouds. I would also feel like I was ever-so-slowly spinning, as if floating down a gentle river, but that was impossible, as my feet never hit the sides of the tank. Moving my limbs slowly about, it felt like they would softly hit walls of jello. I SWEAR I was not high!
My mind stayed fairly calm and quiet throughout. I would have short periods of odd thoughts, and every now and then my limbs would jerk, as if I was falling asleep (though I was not). The only discomfort I experienced during the process, besides my neck being a little kinked from the floating pillow (again, earplugs next time!), was some itchiness on my skin. Turns out that the salt drying on the exposed areas of your skin can cause it to itch.
That, and jebus my stomach is loud! When you don’t have much else to listen to, the inner-workings of your body take center stage in your auditory senses.
At one point toward the end of my float I started rocking my torso slightly from left to right. Why? I have no idea. But holy cow if I didn’t feel like a baby being rocked to sleep.
I was so very relaxed, so peaceful, my mind so happy, that I felt a little disappointed when the “time to start waking up” music came back on in the pod. The water filter clicked on, and eventually the lights brought me back to reality. But as I sat up, and felt grains of salt left behind on my skin, my mind felt active and clear.
After I showered and dressed, tea in the lounge was the perfect way to transition out of a very relaxing experience and back into the rest of my day. Jerrod came and sat with me and asked me about my experience. I loved the way my body and mind felt. My body was in a total state of relaxation, and my mind, while relaxed as well, was full of clarity. I didn’t experience any of the strange visions or hallucinations other people have, but I was just fine with that.
I’m definitely going back for another float, and next time I’ll wear the plugs and try to close the pod.
It’s a tough thought, being alone in the dark, with no distractions to keep you from whatever your mind throws at you, fear included. But floating is an act of healing, I get that now. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to recommend it to anyone considering it, including you.