The idea of sensory deprivation tanks has interested me for years. It’s also known as Float Therapy, floating, or REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique) therapy. This past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to try it at the Theta Float Spa in Springfield, MO in a pod similar to the one pictured. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. However, in retrospect, that may have been the whole problem; I went in with expectations. I’d read articles and watched videos about other’s experiences while floating. Some of them sounded rather profound; some sounded like an acid trip. Although their experiences were intriguing, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that myself. That touch of apprehension may have prevented me from fully relaxing, either physically or mentally, and may have impacted my own experience.
To be totally candid, curiosity wasn’t the only, or even the main, reason for trying this. I’ve been looking for answers to some life and writing questions I’ve been struggling with for a while. I firmly believe they are buried somewhere in my subconscious, I just haven’t been able to drag them out into the light of day yet. I was hoping (and still am) that the isolation provided in a float tank might help me reach down deep inside myself and find the answers I’m seeking. I’m not really looking for some metaphysical experience, just answers.
But, back to the float.
The spa is just a little under an hour from where I live. On the drive up, I was feeling a strange mixture of anticipation, intrigue, excitement and the aforementioned apprehension. I pulled into the parking lot, pushed the apprehension aside and walked in the door. The place had a nice, calming atmosphere: Subdued lighting, soft music, and a large, well-stocked fish tank along with comfortable seating while customers are waiting for their turn to float. The wait wasn’t long, and soon I was guided back to the room where I would begin my silent, lightless journey. I was asked to leave my shoes in the waiting area so as not to track any dirt into the tank rooms. Once in the room, I received a short, yet thorough, explanation and then I was alone with the pod, a shower, and the amenities I would need.
I put in a pair of provided earplugs to keep the salty water out of my ears, took the required shower to get rid of any dirt, sweat, oils, lotions, deodorants, hair spray, etc… and then stepped into the pod. The water was warm; most places will have it at skin temperature, 93-94 degrees. This is so that when you’re floating, you “lose” the water line. The goal is for the floater to not be able to tell where the water ends, and the air begins. For the most part, it was successful. The only place I could still determine the water line was around my face.
As I sat down, almost before I could get my hands on the bottom of the pod, my legs and feet began floating. For any concerned about sinking, there is only 10-12” of water in the tanks, saturated with about 1000 pounds of Epsom salts. With very few exceptions (none of which currently come to mind, but I assume they exist), it is almost impossible NOT to float. I pulled the door to the pod closed, and I was immediately in absolute darkness. I could touch both sides of the pod if I stretched out my arms, and I used the sides to steady and position myself to float in the center.
Once the ripples died down and I stopped bumping into the sides, I relaxed and began the process of quieting my mind. It took a little while, as it was racing pretty fast, but I finally put my thoughts in neutral and then tried to do the same with my body. The slightest motion would start gently rocking me as my movements created more ripples in the water. As I floated, there were several times when I realized my eyes were open when I thought they were closed. Yes, it’s that dark.
I’d like to be able to tell you I had some profound experience while in my isolation, or even that I managed to drag an answer or two out from the recesses of my thoughts. Alas, there was no psychedelic journey through the stars nor life-changing revelation to be had, at least not during this session, just darkness and silence. And when sharing a house with three other adults and a toddler, let me tell you, silence is a rare commodity. The introductory package came with three sessions, so I have two left. I’ll let you know how those go. Regardless of the lack of any unusual experiences, it was very relaxing and soothing, and it was nice to be able to just stop thinking at all for a while.
A few things I did notice:
If you’re worried about claustrophobia, I will say that, once in total darkness and floating, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a box. At all. And if you keep in mind that you can get out any time you wish, that should be helpful too.
I was surprised at how difficult it was to completely and totally relax my entire body. More than once, I had to consciously force my neck and shoulders to relax.
I have a touch of tinnitus (probably from my Vegas days), so I was never able to experience absolute silence in my own head. Also, you might be shocked at how incredibly loud your own breathing sounds in the absence of other auditory input.
About two thirds of the way through (I think), it started feeling like there were some kind of float pads under my forearms and lower back. Even when I moved my hands around, the sensation of having something holding up my forearms and supporting my back was still very prevalent.
Toward the end, I thought I heard a quiet, steady musical tone. I don’t know if I was “hearing” it with my ears or just in my head, nor even what it was. For all I know, it could have been a hum or vibration from the HVAC system. We’ll see if it comes back again the next time.
If you’ve never done this and decide you’d like to give it a try, be aware that you may be a little unsteady when you first get out. Take proper precautions and make sure you use the handles on the tank for support until you get your land legs back under you.
So, there it is. My first time in a float tank. I know I didn’t go into a lot of detail about what I experienced, but, really, there wasn’t much to tell. It was just dark, silent, and relaxing. If you’ve tried this and had any interesting experience(s), I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Or, if you have any questions or advice about my experience, I welcome those as well.
Have a great week!