First-Time in a Sensory Deprivation Tank

Would you pay someone to take away sound and your sight? What about if it eased pain and improved your overall health or caused hallucinations and spiritual growth.

Isolation tanks eliminate outside sensory stimulants through sound and light proofing. The Epsom salt-saturated water allows a person to float effortlessly in this sensory deprived environment. Float tank users claim medical benefits such as:

  • Alleviating back pain.
  • Boosting production of endorphins.
  • Increasing magnesium levels.
  • Reducing cortisol levels.

Floatation tanks piqued my curiosity and apprehension a few years ago when they reminded me of a fictional invention from a children’s Christian-based radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey, I listened to as a kid.

The drama’s main character, John Whittaker, reprograms the Imagination Station to stimulate life after death. As a Christian, Whittaker experiences heaven, but his atheist employee and fellow engineer, Eugene, experiences hell, which is simply being alone in darkness and, seemingly, having no escape from the isolation that feels like hours in just minutes.

Do sensory deprivation tanks actually have physical and mental benefits, or is sensory isolation the equivalent of going mad? I checked out a float spa in Chattanooga, TN to see if being left in a dark box would be heaven or hell.

What to Expect With a Salt Water Float

At Lucidity Float and Wellness Spa, isolation tanks are set inside private rooms. These rooms feature a shower for mandatory use before and after float sessions as well as the usual spa amenities like robes, towels, soaps, conditioners, and lotions. There were also:

  • Two types of earplugs (silicon and foam).
  • Cotton swabs.
  • A&D ointments.

Naked and showered, I shoved in the silicon earplugs. The isolation tank door opened like one to a boat’s cabin, and I stepped down into the warmish water. At 95 degrees, the saltwater was tepid.

Although I couldn’t hear the lobby, the sound of my voice, water splashing and my breaths were magnified. Whether my eyelids were open or closed, however, there was no difference in view. It was complete and utter darkness.

Being in an Isolation Tank for an Hour

After I leaned back to float, I spread my arms out to the side until my fingertips pressed against the tank’s sides. As instructed, I held this position for about 20 seconds until the saltwater settled, and I relaxed my arms at my sides. Shavasana

The high salt content allowed my body to experience zero pressure and near weightlessness, like laying in a personalized gelatin mold. Early in the session, I was so relaxed that I consciously rubbed my legs together to make sure they were still there. The salt-water density supported my form but there were doughnut- and noodle-shaped foam floats for my discretion.

Later, by using the subtlest pushes, I slowly bounced against the tank’s sides like an air hockey puck. My inner child likes baths too.

Consistently, I wondered about the time. Has it been 20 minutes? How much time is probably left? I refused to check my phone partially because I was determined to fulfill 75 minutes without a device but mostly because I feared that only three minutes had passed and I was, indeed, slowly going crazy.

Results From Being in a Float Tank

I don’t think I have ever felt more physically comfortable than in that isolation tank. But I also fell asleep in an MRI so my threshold for weird in small places is pretty high. Subjective results include:

  • Muscles relaxed.
  • Elevated mood.
  • Creative juices flowing.

For hours after, I felt very calm and tranquil and, to be honest, a little revved up on holistic healing. Like treating myself to a massage, I could see how routine float sessions could double as both a physical and mental therapy.

I didn’t have visions or see bursts of colors. I imagined myself in the endless black void, floating in infinite nothingness. My big revelatory moment was when I thought,

“I am Schroder’s cat. I am in the box but do not know if I am alive or dead.”

However, I could also see how floating in the dark with only my thoughts keeping me company could feel like hell on earth. It was difficult to quiet my mind with the anxiety about being forgotten and contracting some flesh-eating bacteria in addition to the normal circus noise of random thoughts.

5 Tips for Your First Time in a Floatation Tank

1. Put the plugs in while your ears are dry.

2. Keep your head tilted back so you do not get saltwater in your eyes.

Saltwater, particularly the highly saturated, burns cuts, other open wounds, and eyes. After a few minutes of feeling every nick and paper cut burn, the sensation should subside. When I sat up to leave the tank, the water from my hair ran into my eyes and burned. Below are the recommended periods to wait before floating:

  • Shaving – 4 to 6 hours
  • Waxing – 48 hours
  • Tattoo – 4 to 6 weeks
  • Open wound – until it is healed

3. Avoid getting your face wet or touching your face with wet fingers.

When the tank’s water dries on your skin, powdery salt remains. Each time you touch your face, you increase your risk of getting saltwater in your eyes.

4. Gently, press your fingers to the side of the tank to find stillness.

5. Don’t expect anything.

Some people enjoy a deep spiritual awaking in sensory deprivation tanks while others float just to flesh out the details of a project. When it comes to first-time experiences, each can be as different as discovering life’s purposes to anxiety from claustrophobia.

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