Sensory Deprivation (aka Floating): My Experience
I was curious about sensory deprivation tanks, or “floating” as they say here in LA so I found a place nearby and scheduled an appointment. Joe Rogan, who loves it, mentions it on his podcast and I did some research. A daily meditator I was looking to experience another level of self reflection but I also just like new experiences. From what I read it was recommended that beginners should start with a shorter session to see if it’s for you. After all you are pretty much floating alone in salty water in a big coffin with the lid shut. This can bring on claustrophobia in a massive way. Fortunately for me I don’t suffer from it so I booked an hour. the hour-long session cost was $69USD. Having no comparative reference it sounded reasonable.
The float studio was set up like a nicely decorated salon and I was greeted with a friendly smile. The attendant asked if I had ever floated before and I told her that I hadn’t. She suggested I go to the washroom first and meet her right after. It was a good call. Being immersed in warm water for an hour may trigger the pee signals so it was a good idea to take care of business beforehand. I can’t speak for every float studio but this one was very clean and the attendant was extremely informative and professional. We entered the room that had a shower and a huge white plastic spaceship-like coffin with glowing blue water rippling inside. The attendant detailed the instructions: I was to first take a water only shower to rinse off the body thoroughly. After I was done I was to return to the shower and use the provided body wash and shampoo which would help clean off the salt water. I could wear a bathing suit but most opt to go nude. After my shower I was to step into the tank and pull the top down. It was recommended that I use ear plugs. I hadn’t thought of ear plugs but they would both prevent the salt water from getting in the ear canal as well as further drowning out any extraneous sound. I’m not a fan of ear plugs. I find that when I wear them that my breathing is on a loud speaker and I cannot focus but I was still hopeful. Once inside I would pull the lid close and lay back. Inside two buttons can be found. One was for turning the glowing light on and off and the other was for relaxing sound you could listen to (while under water with ear plugs in). It turns out there are various sensors you can stimulate while in sensory deprivation. As for position I could chose to leave my arms by my side, I could interlock my fingers and let them rest on my belly or I could lift my arms completely over my head letting them float there or I could interlock my fingers and place them behind my head or neck. The last option was recommended to first-timers as there is a tendency to tense your neck in an effort to hold your head up for fear of your face sinking into the water. I was assured that this wouldn’t happen and that the water would only come as high as the side of my face. She claimed that once I let my head completely rest in the water that there would be a huge release of pressure as the neck relaxed which would last several minutes. Like most people my neck tends to get tight and quite often I feel pain so I was looking forward to this part. The attendant also mentioned that it was perfectly ok to fall asleep in a float tank allegedly. “One hour asleep in a float tank is like four to five hours in a regular bed.” I found that to be quite the claim but not one I was keen to test. I sleep on my side anyway.
After taking the requisite soap-free shower I entered the tank. I had put the ear plugs on before the shower so my ears wouldn’t be wet when putting them in. This was a solid tip from the attendant. I stepped into the tank and the water was comfortably warm. Before I pulled the lid closed I reached over awkwardly to the wall to turn out the lights in the room. Without doing that the light would sliver through to the inside. After that I pulled down the lid and laid back into the watery abyss. The water was a little thick, almost slimy, but not so much that I would slip or fall. I kept rubbing my fingers together to feel it. I switched off the light and sound to experience peak deprivation. As soon as I laid back I was lifted to the top. It was a strange sensation. I felt weightless. As the attendant warned I was naturally hesitant to rest my head completely back. I let it fall back and even pushed it a bit further to ensure I was fully relaxed. I tried the hands behind the head thing which wasn’t that comfortable but I left my arms up which was more relaxing than I would have thought and let my neck relax. As the attendant predicted I felt my entire body tingle into a state of calm. No muscles contracting, nothing to see or hear and there I was floating in the dark.
I had two challenges as I lay there. These may only be issues that I have personally so others may not have these problems at all. As I mentioned earlier with ear plugs the sound of my own breathing was deafening. It was like an echo chamber in my brain or someone wrapping their mouth completely around my ear and doing their best heavy breathing caller from an 80’s horror movie impersonation. The other challenge was that I could hear a constant low level tone. It was as if I was on a plane or on Star Trek. Turns out I clench my jaw all the time but when I relax it completely the noise went away. The problem is when if I am laying back and I relax my jaw completely I cannot breathe. Breathing is one my favourite things to do and also how I remain alive so I that meant that I was stuck with the noise. I had to endure this for an hour. After some time (I have no idea how long) I was able to relax as my buoyant body bopped around in the briny box. I was able to focus my mind and simply float. At times I tried to focus as I would in meditation but the water was far too distracting. By the end the light turned on and it was over. I was glad it was over to be honest. I was getting bored. I felt complete exhausted and sluggish the rest of the night. I slept deeply that night and I woke up as if I had had a massage.
When I meditate I am able to be fully quiet, still. I can focus in silence, repeat a mantra or I can wish joy to others all of which gets me in a meditative state. Floating was distracting. I felt there was more senses being stimulated than when simply sitting still. Although I am glad I had the experience because I was curious I don’t think I’ll be floating again.