The alarm rings. I wake up, and I am out of the door in 40 minutes. I go to work for eight hours, and through the passing evenings, I try to find time for family, friends and myself.
In the summer, this cycle is broken by holidays or summer trips, yet I come back to the same life with the same questions. Life seems very methodical and mundane during these times. I rarely get time to just sit, think and relax.
Recently, I tried sensory deprivation therapy, which offers a unique combination of mental clarity, physical relaxation and meditation. I had the opportunity to try this therapy at an independent ‘float spa’ close to my work. My first visit to the spa was to inquire about the therapy, its benefits and the cleanliness of this therapeutic method.
A sense of detachment
When I went to the spa, I was greeted by a nice lady who answered all my questions regarding floating. Sensory deprivation therapy works by adding hundreds of pounds of Epsom salts to about 10 inches (or about 25 centimetres) of water inside a floatation pod.
The water is heated to match the floater’s body temperature, which allows the user to float effortlessly in the water. The ease of floating in the water creates a sense of detachment from one’s body.
After the removal of the mental awareness of your body, other stimuli such as light and sound can be removed. This creates an isolated environment for your mind, free from all possible stimuli. By reducing the brainpower needed to respond to different senses, floaters achieve a relaxed state in which thoughts can flow naturally.
Besides this relaxed state of mind, other stated psychological benefits are positive effects on PTSD, depression, substance abuse disorder and anxiety.
The physical benefits of sensory deprivation are achieved by the zero-gravity environment and the Epsom salts. The zero-gravity environment supposedly stimulates tissue repair and alleviates joint and muscle pain. The salt helps soften skin and expel toxins from the body.
The lady reassured me that the pods are very sanitary, due to a filtration system that circulates between every float and the combination of chemicals used during the cleaning process. The pods themselves also go through regular cleaning cycles. All these claims are supported by various articles and claims posted on the company’s website. After my information session, my natural curiosity led me to book an appointment.
Before I went to my appointment, I was able to convince my co-worker, who is also a good friend of mine, to try sensory deprivation therapy. Lili and I would have different rooms and our own pods.
In a way, Lili was the ‘control group’ in this experience. I was told about (and read about) the spiritual, mental and physical benefits of this therapy. If I experienced this alone, I would only reaffirm my previous knowledge about floating. Going with someone who was unaware of the full array of benefits, and only of the relaxation part of this therapy, would be a way to combat my confirmation bias about floating.
Additionally, another perspective on floating would only add to my understanding of sensory deprivation therapy.
On our appointment day, we signed a waiver and a form that informed the staff of any medical issues. After the waiver was signed, we were given a full tour of the pods and the rooms. Each room had its own shower, soap, shampoos, towels, earplugs and shower caps. There was a bathroom available, which also had hair dryers and brushes. Inside each pod was a small towel, a spray bottle of water in case anyone got salt in their eyes and a button to control the lighting.
Also, there was a button that served as an intercom to communicate with the receptionist, in case of an emergency. Lastly, we were told that it is recommended to be in the individual pods naked, and without light, to receive the full benefits of floating. This made sense, because swim gear would be another thing your mind could focus on during the floating session.
My thoughts flowed naturally
After showering, I got into my pod. My first 10 minutes were spent moving around, adjusting the light, getting earplugs and trying to remove the salt water from my eyes.
Later on, I figured out how I was supposed to ‘float’. Initially, I kept moving slightly, like I was treading water. Then I realized that the optimal position was to stay in a comfortable posture like I was trying to fall asleep.
The best way to describe the experience is by asking you to imagine sleeping in a dark room with no windows.
The best way to describe the experience is by asking you to imagine sleeping in a dark room with no windows. Your mind can relax because your eyes are not processing any light, which means your brain isn’t processing the light.
Now, imagine removing the sound. Finally, imagine mentally removing your body from your brain’s cognitive activity. This creates a state of pure isolation, in which your mind can think and freely process thoughts.
The thoughts that flowed through my mind during my session were different than usual. Before I fall asleep, my mind is jumping from idea to idea and trying to control those thoughts so I can relax. I do not have the luxury of time, because each passing minute results in a minute less sleep for tomorrow’s workday.
During the float session, the time in the pod was my time to spend freely, without worrying about the passing minutes, and due to zero-gravity and the isolated nature of the pods, my thoughts flowed into one another naturally and comfortably.
All of my thoughts and memories felt different, because this unique experience was allowing me to analyze them from a different perspective. The mental clarity I experienced within the pod allowed for a steady, natural and unbroken flow of information to circulate within my mind. My thoughts were happy and cheerful ones, likely induced by the relaxing and easing environment in the pods.
At the end of the session, the light turned on and the jets of the pod circulated new water. The only thing that made my session difficult was the salt water in my eyes and the humidity inside the pod. I had to open the pod twice to get some fresh air. However, I feel these problems can be overcome with more experience.
When I asked Lili about her experience, she told me an interesting idea. Before our float, we were given hollowed-out pillows for our faces. I floated face-up, facing the top of the pod. Lili told me that by using the pillow, it is also possible to float with your face down, with just the tip of your nose touching the water.
The day of and the day after my float, I felt that my mind was clear and my body was relaxed. I remember waking up in the morning at the same time I always wake up to get to work. However, this time my body felt so relaxed, to the point at which it made getting out of bed more difficult.
Later in the day, I asked Lili about her experience. She said that her session was very relaxing, and that it provided a lingering sense of mental clarity that she did not expect to get from this experience. She also said her skin was softer as a result of the floating session.
Clear mind, body relaxed
After my experience, most of the people I talked to inquired about hallucinatory experiences in these pods, primarily because Joe Rogan talked about it in a podcast. I did not hallucinate, although I feel that it would be possible to have visions or even hallucinate while in there.
Just as with any drug, I feel that sensory deprivation can be mind-altering, but there is a lot of control in the floater’s hands. It would be possible, after multiple sessions and a deep state of cognition, to have visions or revelations. I do not want to make any bold statements here, because these are just my opinions. Nonetheless, there are many articles and documented accounts about hallucinations resulting from floating in sensory deprivation tanks.
Overall, I would say that sensory deprivation is a unique experience that I would definitely try again and recommend to other people. Besides the psychological, physical and spiritual benefits mentioned in this article, I feel that sensory deprivation is a great escape for us in our modern society.
We live in a technological age of smartphones and laptops, where information is available to us in seconds, and our lives are stressful due to the engulfing nature of technology and social media. Today, technology and social media play an important role in our relationships, our work and our self-esteem, which makes it hard to step away from these things.
While it is difficult to break away and unwind from these aspects of our modern world, sensory deprivation is one way I feel that people can be truly alone and free with their thoughts, while exploring the depths of their minds.