A sensory deprivation tank is the best way to shut out all of your senses. It is a soundproof dark “pool” with water that has over 350Kg (~770 pounds) of epsom salt dissolved into it in order to improve floating. Users report seeing hallucinations and even “beings” from other universes. It’s very similar to a psychedelic trip.
This is the description of sensory deprivation tanks that I came across while scrolling through my Facebook feed at work earlier this week. Interesting, huh? Couple this sales pitch with a picture of a sweet futuristic looking pod and this concept definitely had my attention. I began to research the topic with an unusual level of excitement as some of the ailments it claimed to alleviate were some of the same things that I myself suffer from—chronic stress, migraines, insomnia, and joint pain, just to name a few. Some studies even say that more serious ailments like fibromyalgia and bone degradation could be helped through flotation therapy.
Besides these medical claims, many “floaters” said that they had experienced periods of deep thought and creativity while in the tank and that frequent floating often led to a more positive outlook on life. Better relationships, increased biofeedback, higher awareness—the whole nine yards. For obvious reasons, some of these more emotional claims raised my eyebrows more than a few times.
I’m a pessimist and extremely skeptical of anything that promises to alleviate stress, cure my insomnia, or enlarge my penis. Ok, the last one might not have been promised by any of the studies that I managed to find, but you get my drift. This whole thing screamed new-age, homeopathic, incense-burning, Birkenstock-wearing nonsense. But hey, I’m a writer who is open to new experiences and the process was definitely interesting, even if it was not a viable form of therapy. So I made my appointment and I prepared to lay in a salty tub for an hour and a half and maybe catch a quick nap before writing an incredibly dismissive article. All in a day’s work, my friends.
The Day Of My Session
I pulled up to Float Nashville around 30 minutes before my session was scheduled to begin. The parking lot and the office building I found myself sitting in front of was fairly nice. Nothing like the strip mall/truck stop massage parlor environment that I had expected. I took a couple of pictures in front of the sign, looked inside the lobby, and even got back into my car for a few moments in order to make sure that I had my game plan put together.
- I wouldn’t get out of the tub, no matter what. Everything I had researched said that the complete isolation from all noise, light, and other stimulus was extremely important in order to get the maximum experience.
- I would keep an open mind during my session. My personal bias and general dislike of what I perceive to be alternative medicine or treatments shouldn’t interfere with my time in the tank.
- I would be up front and honest with the establishment in letting them know that I would be writing about the “floating” experience.
After going through all of these little notes I had managed to scribble down and a little bit of deep breathing, I walked into the building and checked into my appointment.
Upon entering the building, I was immediately offered water, tea, snacks, and various other little treats that were supposed to make me feel comfortable as I waited for my appointment. The receptionist was courteous and seemed to be really enthusiastic about the whole idea of flotation therapy. I was pleasantly surprised at the welcoming environment but I was still trying to look and listen for anything that would give me an idea as to how this process affected the people that do it regularly.
As I filled out the forms and signed some safety waivers, the 3 rooms behind me suddenly all opened up and three very wet and very happy looking people exited. Each one of them then paid (it was a bit odd that a service like this wouldn’t require payment up front) and then left. The receptionist immediately jumped into the double duty of teaching me how to get into the tank. After closing the door, I was all alone. Just me and this big tank of salty water.
Putting two large globs of wax into my ear in order to better insulate myself from any outside noise, I took a quick shower to rinse off any hair products, sweat, or natural body oils that might still be clinging to me, opened the tank door, and slid inside.
What Happened Inside The Tank
The first thing you realize once you get in the tank is that no matter how comfortable you think you might be with small spaces, being inside a lightless box is incredibly confining, both mentally and physically. The first 5-10 minutes are spent basically coming to terms with the fact that your eyes will not adjust to the level of darkness like they might in a dark room in your house or even walking around outside on a pitch black night.
The water, only about 10-12 inches deep, is actually very comfortable. Heated to skin temperature, getting into the water is comparable to stepping into a very well-heated outdoor swimming pool. As the water is saturated with hundreds of pounds of epsom salt, the smell is almost neutral and after spending a few minutes in the tank, the only sensation you have is the feeling of the water running across your body when you make any quick movements.
Once you settle in and realize that you don’t have to try to float, the experience quickly turns from an uneasy act of coordination with a bit of anxiety to a very calm and totally isolating experience. Your heartbeat and your own breathing are all that are left to distract you from your own thoughts. And if you’re a talkative or extroverted person like me, those thoughts can be pretty loud.
Now that I was comfortable and starting to relax my muscles, the tank turned from a very physical place into an extremely mental place within a matter of minutes. “Should I have eaten today? Will my stomach and my appetite ruin this entire session? How can I get lost in a magical world of consciousness and psychedelia when all I can think about is going to Red Lobster and eating a huge lunch? I mean, shrimp scampi with…wait a minute, hold on.” That’s when something extremely strange happened inside my own head.
I suddenly could very clearly see the first dish that one of my uncles had ever taught me how to make almost 13 years ago—shrimp scampi. I could remember the kitchen that we had stood in, the ingredients we used, hell, I could even remember the design that was painted onto the inside of the dish that we used while we were making the scampi. The dish, the smell of my grandmother’s house, the table that I was forced to sit at with the other kids while the adults ate in the other room. All these things flooded the inside of my mind with insane clarity.
From my own best estimate, I had probably been in the tank for about 20-25 minutes at this point. I can only really relate the experience in one way that I think will help make sense of it. If you’ve ever been on the internet and clicked on an interesting link, only to find something on that page that interests you, and that process going on and on and on until you end up far away from what you were originally thinking about—that is the exact same thing that your brain does when you’re in the tank. Connections between events, people, places, and smells all start becoming incredibly strong and lead your mind down a really odd path.
This exploration of my mind and of my memories continued throughout the remainder of my floating session. Without anything to look at, touch, hear, or smell, my brain seemed to be trying to find some other way to entertain me or at least provide some sort of stimulus. For what seemed like days, I thought extremely hard about some long-forgotten portions of my life. From childhood friends, old TV shows and movies I enjoyed, favorite vacations and social events—nothing was off the table and most surprisingly, I didn’t want anything to be off the table. It’s an extremely rare occasion for me to not have my phone, another person, or a television to keep me occupied and with this experience, my own own mind was forced to do the work of all those things and more.
After what seemed like 3 days, a low humming tone of soft music reverberated through the tank and signaled for me that it was time to get out, shower off, and get back to the real world.
The Final Verdict On Sensory Deprivation Tanks And Floating
I didn’t see any beings from another dimension or planet. I didn’t hallucinate or come to a higher state of being. I didn’t find God or Buddha or anything like that. But a few really cool things did happen while I was in the tank.
Besides being fully relaxed for the first time in I don’t even know how long, I was able to really get inside my own head and separate myself from the daily drag of everyday life. As simple as that might sound, this feeling of isolation and general comfort with my own thoughts is, at least for me, something very hard to attain in a world as fast paced and attention-grabbing as the one we live in. After leaving the tank, I felt refreshed, energized, and more positive than I did when I went in.
Now, whether or not the medical benefits of flotation therapy and/or sensory deprivation tanks are all completely true or backed up by science is still being argued about by medical professionals. The one thing that is proven by science is that stress and anxiety are harmful for the human body and mind in general and that reducing it can greatly benefit your health. Knowing that, if my experience inside the tank is anything remotely similar to others (you can read more like mine here) than there is no doubt in my mind that floating in a sensory deprivation tank does just that.