As a reporter, I find myself questioning and planning constantly all day long — running like a computer with way too many tabs open. When the hustle and bustle of deadlines and everyday life become too much, my favorite way to cope is to spend an hour depriving my body of all senses and stimulations.
A sensory deprivation tank blocks all light and sounds. The water, which is around 93 degrees, matches the heat of a human body and has a very high amount of Epsom salts, so you’re able to float effortlessly. This water provides you with the feeling of zero gravity, once you’ve been floating for a couple of minutes.
I found that after floating for about 15 minutes I will start to lose track of my body as if I don’t have one; not to sound cheesy, but I become one with the tank. After I lose connection to my body, I’m alone with my thoughts and can deeply think about whatever I would like to.
The tanks were originally invented in 1954 by a neuroscientist named John C. Lilly, who spent extended amounts of time in the tanks exploring the nature of human consciousness. Lilly reported that by depriving his senses in the tank he was able to make contact with beings from other dimensions.
While I haven’t spoken to any beings while floating, I have had strange visions and visuals. During one float I can recall vividly dreaming of myself as a fetus, and each time I made a movement I could see the fetus move as well. It was like picturing myself from an interesting outside perspective.
I’ve also experienced dreams of what almost seemed like I was taking a peek into the future, each one very vivid. Once while in the tank I had a dream of being at an outdoor event, there were people laughing and the sun was shining. I could feel the grass on my feet and the scent of barbecue filled my lungs. I genuinely felt like I was there. I only came to reality once my arm twitched and created a splash; for a split second once I came to I had no idea where I was. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was floating in a tank, and the barbecue was only a dream. Even if I were to panic within the tank, you just simply have to push up for the lid to open; it’s on hydraulics so it’s very easy to quickly exit the tank.
Whenever I fall asleep during my floats it’s like a super nap, and the most restful sleep I’ve ever had. After leaving the pod I always feel very refreshed, and ready to take on the next week with a clear mind. The night after a float I’m always able to quickly fall asleep when otherwise I tend to toss and turn for up to an hour.
I found that if I kept my eyes open while in the tank, after about 15 minutes I will start to see colors and sacred geometry and start to lose track of what way’s up and what way’s down. I begin to detach from my body, and can really focus on one thought without the distraction of smell, sound, sight or touch. I genuinely believe that one of the best ways to get yourself out of an uncreative rut is to float for an hour; I’m able to come up with new photography concepts and discover new story ideas. If I have an important decision to make, I always like to think it over during one of my floats because I’m able to ponder it so clearly.
Float sessions usually last 60 minutes, however, depending on your mental strength you can float for longer. After an hour of floating my brain starts to make me feel like I’m shooting through space, so I haven’t had the desire to go for longer than an hour. Lilly, the inventor of the tanks, would float for up to six hours and said he was able to communicate with dolphins when he kept his tank near them.
While there are sensory deprivation tanks all over the area, my favorite place to go is Urban Float because they use i-Sopod tanks. These tanks are 50 percent larger than most tanks on the market and have both a light switch and call button inside the tank. The opening to get inside is very large and the lid easily opens and closes. During my floats, I like to use a thunderstorm soundtrack for the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes of my float. This helps with putting yourself into meditation and pulling yourself out once the float is over.
Floats at Urban Float run fairly reasonable: the first float is $45, and if you enjoy that they have membership deals. I personally like to wait once a month for Groupon deals, because you can usually find another float for $45.
An important thing to remember when floating, and I cannot stress this enough, is to use the restroom right before your float. Nothing is worse being deep in a vision and come back to reality because you have to exit the tank.
A trick I’ve learned from floating regularly is to put your earplugs in before the pre-float shower. The earplugs don’t go in very well when your skin is wet, and you’ll want to use them to stop salt from getting deep into your ear.
It is required to take a pre-shower before floating to keep the tanks clean for other guests. Since the water is so high in Epsom salts (about 850 lbs), it’s filtered after each guest rather than changed altogether.
Once you exit the tank after your float, you take a post-shower to wash off all the salt. I found that you really want to use the vinegar drops provided to clean out any salt from inside your ears — without using it I get earaches. Be sure to use that before washing your hair and skin, or you will be smelling vinegar all day.
But hey, you don’t need to take my word for it. There have been multiple scientific studies on the benefits of floating regularly in sensory deprivation tanks. The physical benefits include relieving everyday pain, reducing pain and helping improve sleep quality. The mental benefits include reducing stress, increasing mindfulness and focus and enhancing creativity. Floating regularly also has emotional benefits like decreasing anxiety, reducing symptoms of depression, increasing optimism and improving feelings of well-being.
With the help of sensory deprivation tanks, I’m able to fully relax, and connect with my brain in ways I could never achieve otherwise. After a float I find that my anxiety is much lower, I’m happier, more creative, and any body pains I once had usually go away.