When I started my new job, I was convinced that there was nothing interesting about the rural town my company calls home. Upon further investigation and lunchtime adventuring, I discovered a bunch of cool businesses around the area–including a float tank center.
Sensory deprivation float tanks peaked my curiosity for quite some time. After listening to Hannah Hart’s experience on her podcast Hannahlyze This!, I was very interested to see if I could handle full sensory deprivation, and what it could do for me physically and mentally.
As I write this, it is the day after I went for my very first session. Here’s what I got out of the experience:
Before the Float
I booked my appointment online–$45 for one hour of float time. This is quite a reasonable price compared to other float centers I’ve looked into!
Upon entering the float center, I was welcomed with calming music and comfortably dim lighting. The receptionist greeted me quietly and warmly, and guided me to the post-float area. I waited for my float time on an extremely comfy couch, against windows looking out to a beautiful wooded area. There were assorted teas and books, and the guide made it clear that I was welcome to stay in the area as long as I wish after my float was over.
The guide led me to my individual float room, where there was a bench to put my clothes, an open-air shower with shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and the float tank. Before visiting the center’s website, I was picturing some futuristic, egg-shaped tank that closed tightly around the floater. Instead, the tank was behind a glass door, and looked like a big bathtub. There was an intercom on the back wall in case of emergency, and a switch for the light within reach. Calming music played within the tank.
Pre-Float Prep (In My Case, Lack-Thereof)
I disrobed, put in the provided earplugs, showered off in lukewarm water, and stepped into the tank. The water felt nice and warm, and the air in the tank felt warmer as well. As I sat down, a very intense stinging occurred… I won’t go into detail as to where it hurt, but it wasn’t fun. I got out of the tank, toweled off, and applied petroleum jelly to the area, then entered the tank once again.
As soon as I was starting to relax, I felt my eyes really start to itch. Naturally, I brought my hands to them to give a little rub, and it stung so badly. Swearing up and down, I stepped out AGAIN to towel my face off. The clock was ticking, and I wanted to make sure I got the most out of the 60 minutes I had in the room. This was turning into a very frustrating experience, totally by my own fault.
I settled down into the tank again, and I was ready to go. I switched off the light, laid back in the salty water, and let myself float.
It took a bit to find a comfortable floating position. My neck felt like it wasn’t fully relaxing for a while, but having my arms floating overhead seemed to take the stress off of my neck. I didn’t even have to try floating, as one would in a normal pool–the copious amount of salt in the water made it impossible to sink to the bottom.
Though it was easy to float, my body wanted to move. It took a bit for me to actually settle and let my body relax; the tension in my neck, shoulders, and lower back was hard to let go of. My mind wasn’t easily settled either: I thought about the 40-minute drive home, about how my friend could be texting me and I wouldn’t be able to answer, about the things I had to do the next day at work.
(Really) Settling In
Finally, I looked inward, as I do each time I meditate. I asked myself, “What is one hour to yourself going to hurt? If anything, this one hour to yourself will make your drive home nice and easy. It will make you a better friend. It will allow your mind to make room for productivity tomorrow.”
I took a deep breath in, and out, and felt the sensation of the water around me. I listened to my natural breath. I let my thoughts come and go without judgment, and began to move my arms and legs around ever-so-gently to be sure I was relaxing and not holding on to any tension.
As I moved around, a bit of water splashed onto un-submerged parts here and there, which felt a bit cold after a while and took me out of a meditative state. Once I allowed myself to be still, I had a few moments where I truly felt like I was floating in nothingness. I thought this feeling would be anxiety-inducing and intimidating, but it actually felt quite freeing. In the tank, I had no responsibilities. I couldn’t reach for my phone to check emails or texts. All I could do was accept that I would be in my own world for a while.
Getting to Know Myself
I mentally scanned my body. I had been feeling very poorly the week previous, mentally and physically, and this was a perfect time to check in with myself. I felt relaxed, and was proud of my body for letting go of tension so easily. My legs felt strong, my arms felt light, my shoulders lowered considerably, my neck and head hung freely while feeling supported by the buoyancy of the water. Though I was in pitch black darkness, I felt beautiful. I felt thankful. This feeling lasted for a good third of the time I was in the tank.
During the other two-thirds of session, I kept coming out of focus. I was hyper-aware of time passing incredibly slowly, and felt like I was done with this experience about a half hour in. Though much of me wanted to get out, I tried to relax. Once the music faded back on to gently let me know that my session was over, I turned on the light and hurriedly exited the tank to shower off.
As I sat on the comfy couch in the post-float area, the attendant asked how my experience was. I chuckled, saying, “It was interesting–very enlightening.” Being in a dark room doing nothing but floating for an hour was definitely a wake-up call; I have been out of my meditation practice for a bit, and though I have some skill built up, I couldn’t get into that “zone” very effectively. I still felt a lot of tension in my shoulders, and knew that I needed to get back into yoga as well.
Some tips I have for anyone looking to try floating:
Take the time to really prepare to get into the tank. Make sure the earplugs form a good seal, clean off any makeup/mascara that could irritate your eyes, and put ointment over any cuts or even the slightest irritation you may have.
Settle in and try not to make sudden moves, if you can help it. You want the sensation of floating in nothingness–when you move around a lot, water will splash onto parts that aren’t submerged, and will make you cold. The goal is to maintain a consistent temperature so you get that feeling of floating in space.
My float tank experience was generally a good one. Though there was some frustration in the beginning and antsy-ness near the end, it told me a lot about my current physical and mental state. I’d love to try floating again once I get back into a more active meditation routine.
Have you ever tried floating, or sensory deprivation therapy? What was your experience like, and do you have any tips on how to make the most out of it? I’d love to hear from you!