I Spent 90 Minutes in a Sensory Deprivation Tank
A Story About Floating
Today I paid money to float in a dark tank full of salty water for 90 minutes. Why? Well because my therapist isn’t able to see me until next week and this somehow seemed like a viable alternative when I made the appointment yesterday.
If none of this has made sense to you, you may be unfamiliar with the concept of sensory deprivation tanks. The basic idea is that you give a white dude with dreadlocks some of your hard-earned dollars and in return he lets you float in a tank of saltwater. The temperature inside the tank is regulated so that you don’t feel the difference between the water and the air, and the water is so full of salt that you float on top of it effortlessly. The overall idea is that you are deprived of all sensory stimuli for the duration of your session, and this is intended to put you into a deeply relaxed state. People have used this technology to treat both physical and mental health concerns. John Lennon supposedly used one to overcome his heroin addiction. Several athletes claim to use them as an aid in their meditative visualization techniques. Joe Rogan has one in his own home and uses it to meditate (which makes perfect sense, because through this whole process I was half expecting a bald man with a microphone to ask me if I had ever done DMT – It wouldn’t have been the weirdest aspect of this whole experience).
I had very little idea of what to expect from this experience. I once heard a snippet on a podcast of a woman who had an encounter with God inside one of these tanks. Maggie Simpson had a vision through the eyes of her cat. What sort of epiphanies were waiting for me? Who knew. so, I go inside the float place (I don’t know what to call it. Float spa? Float studio? Float pad?) and let the girl at the desk know that I had an appointment at noon. Shockingly, there was nobody else in the waiting room, nor did I see anyone else for the whole time that I was there. It was almost as if I was the only person who deemed this to be my top priority at noon on a Wednesday. The girl gave me a form to fill out. Instead of a normal pen, she gave me a sharpie. This isn’t relevant to the rest of the story, but I would just like you to know that I had to fill out the form with a sharpie.
The girl directed me to a cubby area where I could leave my shoes and put on a pair of crocs. She then asked me if I would like to listen to music during my floating session. I hadn’t considered this – wasn’t the whole point to deprive all my senses? But sure, what do I have to lose. So, she handed me a list of all the possible playlists I could choose from. Most of them were typical spa kind of things; whale sounds, ocean noises, etc. One was simply titled “Astral Projection”. I was about to choose Astral Projection, until my eyes were drawn down to the bottom of the list:
When I indicated my selection, I was met with an expression of surprise. “That might take me a while to find” she let me know, “I think you might be the first person who has ever chosen that one.”
"Already killin’ it." I thought.
As it turns out, I had the option to only play music for part of my session. So, I chose 45 minutes with, 45 minutes without, just to get the full experience.
So, my new friend brings me into the room with the tank. The tank itself is much larger than I was expecting. I was picturing a bathtub with a lid. This puppy was at least nine feet long and six feet wide with something that resembled the door of a front-load dryer in the front. There’s a shower head in the wall to rinse off before and after the float. There are buttons on the wall that control the volume of my Gregorian chants and the colour of the lighting. Once my guide leaves me, I set the lights to low green and crank up the chants. I am so ready for this.
I open the door to the tank. The heat from the water and the smell of the salt both hit me. As I climb through the door, I can’t help but feel like I’m crawling into an Apollo rocket capsule. Scenes from Interstellar are going through my head as I close the door behind me and slowly wade into the abyss. This tank is at least seven feet tall, so I’m standing upright, naked as Adam, wading through the slippery, salty H2O. The water has a weird texture – the high amount of salt makes it feel almost thick and gelatinous. When I think I’m about in the middle of the tank, I sit down in the water, and slowly let myself float. This was a bizarre feeling; only by completely relaxing all my muscles I simply float there. I relax my neck and find that I don’t even need to try to keep my head up. My arms drift up naturally at my sides and my knees curl slightly. Now let us not forget my music selection – something vaguely resembling the Halo theme music from my childhood is humming away in the background as I experience a new kind of weightlessness. This was indeed a very trippy experience. I tried to make the most of it by forcing myself to relax and not dwell on the strangeness of this whole thing. I found myself feeling actually rather peaceful.
My head hit the back of the tank. I hadn’t even noticed that I was drifting backwards. I position myself back in what feels like the middle of the tank and let everything go. I’m not a tall guy – I could easily float around in full 360-degree circles without hitting the edge of this thing. At several points I realized that I had no idea where I was in relation to the tank. Depth perception was gone, spatial awareness was gone. It was pretty cool. The only thing I could feel was the parts of me that were above the water – they were slightly colder than the water itself, but this got better as the tank warmed up.
"Alright," I thought to myself, "this has been a really cool experience. I’m glad I tried this." Then I got the first drop of saltwater in my eye. Holy smokes. With nowhere to go I had to clamber out of the tank and head over to the shower head to rinse my eyes out. I checked my phone while I was out – surely my session was almost over anyway. Wrong.
7 minutes. It had been 7 minutes.
I rinse my eyes out and I scooby back on into the tank. 83 more minutes to go, I guess. The monks of Notre Dame are still going strong, my eyes are still kinda burning, and honestly, it’s getting kinda chilly, but I paid for this. I try every meditation and relaxation technique I know of. Focusing on my breathing, imagining all the sensory details of a hypothetical peaceful scenario, counting backwards from 100, etc. About 20 minutes later I’m wondering if it’s too late to request a new selection of music – maybe I should have gone for the astral projection after all.
A while later, more water in my eyes. Shoot. Back out to the shower head, check my phone again, still got 45 minutes to go. Haven't had an encounter with God or a vision of a cat yet. Back into the tank.
So anyway, I floated away in there for 45 more minutes. I had read online that there was a wonderful “post-float” sensation of relaxation still to come – I guess I was still looking forward to that, but here I am now, having floated through the entire session. The only “post-float” sensations I’ve encountered thus far are a thin saline layer over my entire body and a slight burning lingering in my eyes. But I have no regrets. It was a very cool experience for the first 10 minutes and I’m glad I satisfied my curiosity. But will I do it again? meh. I may just stick with turning off my bathroom lights at home and having a hot shower in the dark – that seems like a more practical option.