Today I finally experienced an hour in a floatation tank, also known to some as a sensory isolation tank. I’ve known about this for a long time and it is the kind of thing that naturally makes me curious. The basic question is
How will the brain function when all external stimuli are removed?
To achieve the conditions for this, you step into a lightless (and I mean “can’t-see-your-hands-at-two-inches-away-dark”) and soundproof tank filled to a depth of about 10 inches with high concentration Epsom salt solution. The salt helps you float easily, while the water temperature is kept as close to skin temperature as possible, to give the sense of nothingness. While you’re inside, you float completely naked and you’re left alone with your thoughts.
While this might sound scary or ridiculous to some people, several report health benefits of doing this sort of thing. As far as I’m concerned, the scientific evidence is patchy, but that has never stopped me from trying. As I stepped into the 8 feet by 4 feet tanks at Float in Oakland, I did so with an open mind, not really seeking any benefits – just a challenging experience.
Stepping into the tank and closing the hatch was honestly scary. I was expecting this, but I had to be careful not to panic for any reason (there’s no threat in the tank, just in the head). Once I lay down and relaxed my neck, things felt under control, barring the strange feeling that I was sliding on the water surface and might lose orientation of where the exit was. Overall, it took several minutes to feel physically settled. Later on this wasn’t a noticeable issue.
After physical comfort had been achieved, I distinctly remember how hard it was to tell how much time had passed. Things felt as slow or fast as my thoughts made them. At first I tried to think about the lingering doubts and questions in life, but soon decided to stop being deliberate. Over time, I slipped into a half-asleep state where I could tell I was awake, but only barely so. I find that state pleasurable and have the privilege of not being in a significantly depressed state right now, which meant I didn’t have to worry about anxiety or a panic attack. Another way I would describe my time in the tank would be the interplay between deep and light sleep. I found myself “dozing off”, only to suddenly “wake up” with a jerk a few minutes later.
After time was up and I had showered, I felt extremely calm and physically relaxed. This was not very different from when I’m able to both sleep well and wake up full of energy (not often). Our host Craig served herbal tea at the end which felt good. I will certainly go back, and remain curious about what a second, or even third experience will be like.- nRT