Sensory Deprivation (Float Tank) - My First Experience

Article length: 1,600 words

Reading time: 5-8 minutes

Take home: My first experience gave more questions than it answered. Sensory deprivation is a critical tool for stress-reduction and big idea thinking. 

So it's been about 30 hours since my first experience in a sensory deprivation tank - with this post I'm not attempting to convince you of anything or talk about any performance benefits. I'm only going to speak about my experience. Keep in mind these are my initial thoughts and will surely evolve as I float more.  

Also, this article is framed with my experience, not necessarily what you can expect. My experience is unique to the business I went visited, the specific tank used and the overall environment. 

What is It?

Sensory deprivation tanks are also referred to as "float tanks." 

 

The tank is filled with epsom salt that allows you to float effortlessly. You may be like me and think "Oh. I can't do this. I can never seem to float in the pool." I had similar thoughts, but was reassured that the salt will do all the work. It surely did. 

You shower before and after going into the tank.  

From there it's simple. Put in earplugs, hop in the tank, close the door and float.  

Uh, Why?

I was asked this endlessly leading up to my float and shortly after. In general, people just don't see the benefit. 

Popular comments included, 

"So you do nothing for an entire hour?"

"That's crazy. I would feel so unproductive."

"I don't think I could make it 10 minutes."

Either people were confused and thought it sounded boring or they couldn't wrap their head around paying to not do anything

But think about the last time you did nothing? I don't mean you were bored so you scrolled Twitter or you finished class early so jumped on Netflix to "relax." I mean truly nothing. You just sat without any stimulation. No phone. No laptop. No music. No talking. 

My guess is that it's been awhile, which leads into the most hilarious and yet appropriate analogy for the float tank. "It's like being in the womb again." 

I was dying of laughter when I first heard that, but as it began to soak in I realized exactly what they meant. Since birth we are hit with stimulus at a volume of 100 and the float tank gives you an hour to forget what that's like. 

There are a variety of people I think would greatly benefit from sensory deprivation - honestly this describes nearly everyone

  • If you have "holy shit" moments where there is simply too much on your plate and end up doing nothing out the sheer overwhelming effect.
  • Your days are constantly "busy." Filled with meetings, appointments and a large to-do list. You never make time to do nothing. 
  • You're struggling with focusing on the big picture of something.
  • You're reconsidering the path in life you're taking. 

The tank gives pure alone time to think about whatever you'd like with no interruptions. Possibly something you've never experienced before. 

Joe Rogan explains sensory deprivation tanks beautifully. 

Individualize

I really liked that I was able to individualize my first experience. With the specific tanks I used you had the option play music, keep the tank lid open and even alter the LED light in tank between several colors or have it completely off. 

The tank allows you to choose how close to true sensory deprivation you want. With no music, tank closed, pure dark being a 100. 

I chose somewhere in the middle for my first float.  

I chose to play music during my float, because I was a little intimidated by the hour timespan. Leading up to this float, experimenting with meditation (for a year or so) and have only pushed to 20 minutes.

I debated on creating a playlist or choosing a mix off of 8 tracks. I ultimately decided to pick 8tracks, since I wouldn't be familiar with the songs and be able to recognize how far I was into the hour float. 

I chose to close the lid immediately. I'm not claustrophobic or anything, so this wasn't much of an issue.  

FInally, I decided to have the LED lights on for the first 5-10 minutes, but then decided to turn them off. Pure dark.  

So majority of my experience was with the door closed, no light and a soothingly playlist of songs I wasn't familiar with.  

 

Timeline

With my longest stint of mediation only being 20 minutes I knew the float was going to be interesting. Of course this timeline is an estimation as I had no true way of telling the time. 

0-10 minutes

I felt calm in the shower and even jumping into the tank, but as I started to float my HR actually climbed. It was odd. Although the tank was plenty large I know I was moving around quite a bit because I felt the edge. I would sort of slightly slide to try and find the center, but did this a few times before the mid-float where I didn't feel the side and honestly lost any proprioception of where I was in the tank. 

10-20 minutes

Prior to the float the employee gave me a great orientation of the process and what to expect during my float. He noted that many first time floaters have trouble trusting the water and resting their head/neck and often cramp up. While I didn't cramp, I definitely felt a lot of tension in my neck during this experience. I then used the pool noodle they provided to help ease my head/neck. It helped. 

20-30 minutes

This is the point where I started to feel sort of disconnected from my body. It was difficult for me to separate this floating experience from floating in general. Honestly, this was the first time I had floated in water for longer than a few seconds. I've never been able to do it. Not in the pool, ocean, anything. 

I also had a weird feeling of the float not to be over, I knew this was about where I'm accustomed to meditating and wanted to push past my limits.  

30-40 minutes

I'm really starting to approximate now, because at this point I had no idea how long it had been. All I know is that it's longer than the 20 minutes. Physically, I was feeling great, but again, hard to separate this from floating in general. Mentally, I was not on my game. My head was everywhere!

This is not surprising considering I'm a novice meditator and can normally only last 5-10 minutes before my mind is totally fucked and lost on 5 different thoughts.

I believe a big mistake I made was treating this differently than normal meditation. When I normally meditate I try to focus on one thing. With the float, I attempted to think of "nothingness" before and this caused me to get absolutely wrecked with meaningless crap. 

About this time I started to drop the attempt of nothingness and instead focus on one thing (business idea.) This helped tremendously.

40 - 60 minutes

Cramming this together because I'm just guessing the timeline at this point. I honestly can't recall much from the last half of the float.  

I did float in and out of my singular thought, just as I do when meditating, but it still helped me find that flow.  

Physically, I was gone at this point. I remember wondering if I still had the pool noodle behind my neck. During the first 30 minutes I went through periods of using it and not - and at this point had no clue what cycle I was on. This was a good sign that I was letting go of my body.  

I'm not sure what turned on, but something cued me that my float was over.

The last 20 minutes was a blur. 

I was also warned that getting the water in your eyes could be problematic and they provided a spray bottle in the tank, but I didn't have any issues.  

Post-Float

The first few minutes out of the tank was odd. 

Physically, I felt like I woke up from the greatest nap of all-time. Still a little groggy, but refreshed.  

Mentally, I was sort of empty. No thoughts. It was awkward to be honest. I don't know if my expectations going in affected this or not, but I was expecting more of a blissful moment. Instead I almost felt nothing.  

After showering , the business provided an awesome post-float room with several different types of tea, couches, relaxing music and their large white board wall for customer comments. 

 *Not the actual room

*Not the actual room

I'm not a tea person at all. #TeamCoffee

But I decided to give it a shot. Landed on some chocolate coconut tea with some Sweet N' Low and it was amazing. Maybe tea is alright after all.  

Thoughts/Mistake

Now, being a little more removed from the experience I don't notice any huge effects.  

A big mistake I made and I think many others will too is having too high of expectations. I would warn against having expectations of a single moment of enlightenment that will be life-changing. Go in expecting nothing.  

However, I was thoroughly impressed with the atmosphere of the company. And knowing that with anything repetition will improve the experience I decided to sign-up for 1 float per month. At a cost of $30 a float with a student discount I thought it would be a wise investment and self-experiment.  

I'm sorry if you read this expecting me to have some incredibly positive or negative experience, but it was honestly grey. I'm expecting (only trying not to) that with more floats I will be better at disconnecting my mind/body, focus on singular thoughts for long-periods and overall have a better experience.  

As a general life motto right now "Don't be scared your whole life." If you're interested in sensory deprivation and you have a tank in your area - stop thinking about it and just do it. 

Thanks for reading and stay tune for more.