To be honest I can’t really remember when I first heard about sensory deprivation tanks but in the last year, I have had a very strong desire to try it out. It was quite an interesting experience, to say the least. Not only is it super helpful for myself to mentally process by writing things down, but I also want to share my experience with those that are curious. I honestly think everyone should try it, especially since the world we live in overloads our senses and demands our attention in real-time.
I went to Pure Bliss Float Center in South San Jose, CA yesterday after finding a really good New Year deal through Groupon, it was surprisingly affordable which led to the compulsive purchase lol 🤷 I bought the Groupon deal on January 1st wanting to get into the right mindset for the new year. So I scheduled it for the next day since they had pretty open availability, hell yea!
If you’re not familiar with sensory deprivation tanks or flotation therapy (these two share similarities but are not the same), here’s the jist as I understand it:
What are Sensory Deprivation Tanks?
A sensory deprivation tank, as explained by Healthline, is used for restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST). It is a dark, soundproof tank that is filled with a foot or less of salt water. The water in this tank or pod is heated to skin temperature and nearly saturated with Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), providing buoyancy so you float effortlessly.
You enter the tank nakie and are cut off from all outside stimulation, including sound, sight, and gravity when the tank’s lid or pod door is closed. As you float weightlessly in the silence and darkness, the brain is supposed to enter into a deeply relaxed state.
Sensory deprivation tank therapy is said to produce several effects on the brain, ranging from hallucinations to enhanced creativity. It feels much like floating in outer space.
What is Flotation Therapy?
As Pure Bliss explains it, float therapy is a powerful tool for relaxation, healing, pain relief, sleep improvement, and overall wellness. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in an isolation tank or pod, they can also be in private, but open pools.
- 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt dissolved in 180 gallons of water creates a super dense solution, enabling people to float effortlessly. This weightless, yet stable and supported sensation is deeply relaxing – it’s even safe to fall asleep. I almost did!
- The spine naturally elongates and straightens, and the body mimics a similar regeneration process that occurs during deep sleep states.
- Epsom salts are great for your skin, hair, nails, and act as an exfoliate. They aid in joint pain, ease stress, and naturally relax the body.
- A few minutes of stillness and meditation lowers the levels of cortisol circulating in the body (a stress hormone responsible for alertness, waking from sleep, and eliciting fight or flight responses). With high cortisol levels, we feel depleted, immune system becomes suppressed and many experience the symptoms of burn-out and mental fatigue.
- Floating stops the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands and allows cortisol in the bloodstream to be metabolized by the body, allowing individuals to feel refreshed and serene. We are able to access remarkable creativity and high-level problem solving in a distraction-free environment.
Basically, flotation therapy can either be in an isolated tank or in an open pool. So I got in a sensory deprivation tank to start 2022!
My Experience in the Isolation Tank
I’ve tried a few forms of meditation & relaxation over the years and I haven’t been able to find one that I truly enjoy. Maybe my personality & the environment in which I grew up made this a bit harder for me to get into it (special thanks to toxic macho culture), or maybe I just don’t have the patience for it. Either way, I think it’s important to point this out because I’ve been seeking this type of mental state for a long time.
As soon as I walked into Pure Bliss Float Center, I was greeted with incense, which actually shocked me. I thought the entire thing was going to be devoid of anything that would trigger your senses. I loved the added contrast, as I was going right into the isolation tank for the next 60 minutes.
After a quick rinse, I went into the tank pictured above and closed the lid. It had a purple light coming from the other end, with a small speaker left. It was playing very slow and relaxing “spa” music very softly. I pressed a black button and turned off the purple pod light & music. And then the light goes off in the room…
I cannot see anything. I tried very hard to see if I could spot a single speckle of light that would come from under the room door and go through the pod lid to finally reflect back at my eyes. I looked all over for a few minutes until I realized I had never not seen anything. I’ve never been in complete darkness. I couldn’t even see my hands 1 inch from my eyes. I blinked, but it didn’t matter, I could not see my eyelids close. I opened and closed my eyes multiple times but there was nothing to see. I decided to keep my eyes open regardless. Soon after, I begin to see two blobs of dark purple moving in unison across the length of the pod. Maybe it’s the blood in my eyeball? Then I remembered about my hearing sense.
My ears were submerged underwater, but there is so much salt in the tank that you have a really good balance floating so you don’t move as much as you would think. I think if you really focus, you could remain perfectly still and cancel out your sense of feeling. The water is that dense. But I decided to shift my attention to my sense of hearing.
Although muffled underwater, I heard very quick & faint bumps maybe three times during the whole 60-minute session. The first time sounded like someone was hammering something on a wall, it kind of bothered me as it was early in the session and broke my attempt to not get distracted, but it was so faint that I struggled to figure out how far that sound may have come from. My body felt very confused from the sensory deprivation, it heightened its senses but made me simultaneously aware. I was so focused on what that sound came from when suddenly I began to hear my heart pumping blood throughout my body. Very slowly. I focused on my heartbeat and began to breathe slowly. I don’t think I have ever heard or felt my heart beating that slow.
The whole experience wasn’t completely devoid of senses, obviously. You can still feel the water on your skin and based on how much you move, you can also feel waves rippling throughout the tank, and you, and the tank, and then back to you. At one point, I jokingly pushed my body off the tank very softly to see what would happen. Since I couldn’t see anything, I actually had the sensation of spinning in circles (without getting dizzy) many times. It was a trip because I knew the tank wasn’t that wide. But I kept feeling it. I think this is what they meant by weightlessness. Then the smallest water bubbles started coming out from underneath my neck, back, and legs, tickling me along the way, and then I shifted focus to something else. I moved my hand for some reason and a drop of water landed very close to my left eye which got the tiniest amount of water in my eye before I could tilt my head. It was barely any water and it felt like it was piercing my eyeball from all the salt. I decided to not think about the pain and shifted my attention elsewhere. After a minute, the pain was gone.
The whole time in the pod felt like an internal monologue. I could hear my own voice, focusing on one thing at a time, deciding where my mind would go, which thoughts or feelings I wanted to pursue, and what deserved my attention. After a few more minutes, maybe halfway through the session, I realized that the experience didn’t feel like I was floating in space. It felt like I just didn’t have a body. Like I was just a mind. It was definitely a very trippy sensation.
I continued on a thought journey for a bit until my mind slowed down. I stretched for a minute or two. I think I was just breathing for the last 20 minutes, it was hard to keep track of time. This was a strange sensation that I have been thinking of lately. Normally on a day to day you sometimes measure time by tasks or activities you engage in, like making coffee in 5 minutes, quick walk with Chia for 10 minutes, breakfast in 20 minutes, dinner in 1 hour, etc. But in the sensory deprivation tank, there is nothing but a mind.
It wasn’t until the soft music came back on and the pod light behind my head turned on, illuminating the whole pod in a soft purple that I realized how sleepy I was. The light, sound, and smell of incense pulled me back to reality. I take a minute to get my shit together, come out of the tank, and rinse the salt off in the shower next to the pod. Within minutes my back cracks from top to bottom, then my knees and elbows. I crack a lot lol (I’m crunchy), but it felt like the tenseness of my body had escaped.
I was fascinated by the whole experience and cannot wait to go back. I am an anxious person but do not have any anxiety disorders. If this experience gave you anxiety, maybe it’s the way I’m describing it? But know that while I was a bit scared of going in the pod, I immediately decide I didn’t want the light on. There was no fear of the dark, sense of claustrophobia, or worry about “internal demons” at any point during the hour. Sometimes anxiety takes a hold of me, but this was an entirely pleasant experience.
The More You Know
According to an article published in 2014 in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine, floating in a sensory deprivation tank has been found in a handful of studies to increase originality, imagination, and intuition, which can all lead to enhanced creativity.
Though most of the research that exists is older, there is some evidence that sensory deprivation may improve focus and concentration, and may also lead to clearer and more precise thinking. This has been linked to improved learning and enhanced performance in school and different career groups.
Flotation-REST has been found to be effective in reducing anxiety. A 2018 study showed that a single one-hour session in a sensory deprivation tank was capable of a significant reduction in anxiety and improvement in mood in the 50 participants with stress- and anxiety-related disorders.
A 2016 study of 46 people who self-reported generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) found that it reduced GAD symptoms, such as depression, sleep difficulties, irritability, and fatigue.
Have You Tried Sensory Deprivation?
It was super relaxing, de-stressing, and made me reflect on how much power you have over where your mental energy goes and what/how you think. Something I had been looking for in a while.
I don’t think I know anyone that has used a sensory deprivation tank or done flotation therapy before. I’m so curious to continue exploring this and would also love it if more people tried it out. Please share your experiences with me! I thought I might be scared of the complete darkness. I even asked if they recommended the light off (which they do if you feel comfortable). In the pod, I did feel like I was the only one in there, so fear of darkness was never on my mind. There was nothing that would harm me.
Would you try a sensory deprivation tank?
Disclaimer: I may have had a small amount of wedding cake 🍁 lol