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What It’s Like Inside A Sensory Deprivation Float Tank

by jenny sansouci on May 6, 2015

Hi friends –

Yesterday I posted a photo on instagram from the Float Sanctuary in San Diego, California, where I did a 60 minute float.

Caption from the photo:

I was trying to capture how relaxed my face was after floating in that tank naked in salt water for an hour. As humans I don’t think we ever take time to have that LITTLE amount of sensory stimulation around us. Totally dark, no sound, can’t feel anything, only our breathing. Even when we meditate we can still feel discomfort, feel our bodies, and hear sounds around us. This is next level quiet.

 

This was my 2nd float of my lifetime so far – the 1st one was a 90 minute float at Float On in Portland, Oregon in 2013. I totally meant to post a recap of my float after that first time, but I guess I was just too spaced out to do it. But now I’m here to give you all the dirty deets. :)

What do I mean by “float”?

A float is a session where you are floating in salt water in a Sensory Deprivation Tank (or Float Tank), pictured in the above photo. Floats are typically 60-90 minutes.

What is Sensory Deprivation?

Sensory deprivation is the goal of the float tank — providing as little stimulation to the senses as possible. Meaning: no light (complete darkness), no sound (complete quiet plus earplugs), and no touch sensations whatsoever (you’re floating in a tank of magnesium-based epsom salt water that’s the same temperature as your body and can’t feel a thing).

Love this quote from Float Sanctuary that describes the experience — “May the experience of nothing give you everything.”

Sounds weird. Where did this concept originate?

According to Float On, in 1954 a neuroscientist named John C. Lilly needed to eliminate incoming sensory information to create a control group for his experiments. He ended up discovering that sensory deprivation has lots of benefits that far exceeded the experiments he was doing.

What is the point of this floating?

Also according to the Float On site, about 40 minutes into your float your brain stops producing its normal Alpha waves and starts producing Theta waves. These are responsible for that ‘between-waking-and-sleeping’ state. While it only lasts for a few moments in your bed, you can achieve a prolonged Theta state in the tank, a state of consciousness that is usually only seen in children and people who have spent years practicing meditation.

(Yowzers! That statement alone is enough to make me wanna get back into that tank NOW). I love this stuff so much.

What are some other benefits of floating?

Because floating gets your brain into a super calm and relaxed state, it can put you into a deep feeling of meditation. Many people report having creative ideas flow to them when they’re inside the tank.

According to Float On: without the constant pressure of analyzing the world around you, your body lowers its levels of cortisol, the main chemical component of stress. Your brain also releases elevated levels of dopamine and endorphins, the neurotransmitters of happiness.

Aside from the mind benefits, there are body benefits as well. Not having to fight gravity lets your muscles and joints take a break. Your body suddenly has extra resources (usually spent supporting your weight, regulating temperature, etc), which it gets to focus on things like healing and resting.

Do you get claustrophobic inside the tank?

Admittedly, I was nervous during my first float. I had to open the door and get out twice because I was scared there were sea creatures inside the tank with me (there weren’t…). My second float was no problem, though, because I knew what to expect. As Float Sanctuary states, the feeling of floating in the tank is more like hovering in space than in a confined area.

So now that you understand the basics of floating, I’ll give you some more details from my experience.

When you get into the tank, you are completely naked. You’ll have your own room with a door that locks to change in where the tank is, so don’t worry. They recommend you shower before you get into the tank, and take another shower after. There will be a shower in the same room as your tank. The tank looks like the photo at the top of this post. At both float locations I’ve been to, they had the same exact type of tank, but I know there are other kinds as well (that I’m excited to try).

Before you get into the tank, you put earplugs in. Both float places I’ve been to give you the choice of a couple of different types of earplugs. I opted for the “surfer’s earplug” – they are waxy and you can mold them to your ear shape for a waterproof fit.

When you get into the tank, you’ll squat down and then close the door behind you. It will be very dark and quiet. Then you’ll lay down in the salt water and you will find yourself floating. You don’t need to keep your head lifted up – you can let your head relax and it’s ok if your ears go under water. Your head will float enough so that water doesn’t get into your eyes. You will NOT drown! The salt is so potent that you’ll float. You really will. If water does get into your eyes at all, they provide a towel and fresh water in a bottle right outside the tank.

For me, the first 20 minutes of both floats was spent sort of getting accustomed to my surroundings, noticing if I bumped into the walls at all, listening to my breathing, just feeling weird in general – trying to get used to it. So don’t worry if you don’t “get it” right away. It will take a little while for you to fully relax – because let’s be honest, how often do we really put ourselves into THIS QUIET of a situation, with no sensory stimulation? Never.

After about 20 minutes, in both floats, I started to drift off into a different “state.” Super relaxed, like I said above, sort of that “between awake and asleep” feeling. It’s likely that you might fall asleep in the tank, which is totally normal. If you don’t fall asleep, you’ll be brought into a very relaxed mind state. Many people say they are able to “work out issues” inside of the tank, because the only thing to pay attention to is your mind. If there’s something going on inside that pretty little head of yours…you’ll discover it inside the tank.

The difference between my 1st float and my 2nd float was actually very significant. My first float was 90 minutes, and now after experiencing a 60 minute float, I will do 90 minute floats from now on. 60 minutes is nice but 90 minutes really gets you into a deep state, so when you get out of the tank you are like WHAT! I have a body! It’s so trippy. I felt that with the 60 minute float, I only had a short time of being in the optimal relaxed state after the initial adjustment period.

The only way I can truly describe it is you can’t feel anything at all except your breathing and your mind. What comes from that will be different for everyone.

When it’s time to wake up, they start softly playing music inside the tank. You will most likely think the music is coming from your dreams. It will gradually get louder until you realize it’s time to wake up and get out of the tank. If for some reason you don’t wake up to the music (you likely will), they will typically start running a gentle filter inside the tank so you’ll feel vibrations in the water.

My recommendation is to take a few minutes to really get reacquainted with your body inside the tank before you get out. Slowly move your arms. Slowly move your legs. Realize how little sensory stimulation you’ve been feeling for the past 60-90 minutes. Realize how trippy it is that you have a body.

When you get out, move slowly. Shower off, taking time to gently wash the salt water off of each part of your body. Don’t check your phone right away. Look in the mirror. See how peaceful your face looks. Relish in that.

Then, I also highly recommend taking some time to process what happened in the tank. Take a gentle walk in nature if you can, and hydrate or get a green juice, maybe sit and journal for a little bit. I personally am VERY sensitive to over stimulation whenever I re-enter the world (kinda how I felt after Burning Man) so I need to be very careful not to jump back into a work scenario, answering emails, entering into a crowd of people, or even getting in conversation with an aggressive or loud person for the first hour after the float.

The first time I did a float, my friend and I walked slowly around the streets of Portland for about an hour with a green juice, discussing how we felt inside the tank. We both intuitively knew we shouldn’t get back into our car right away. That was a great re-introduction to real life. Yesterday, after the float, I forgot about the re-introduction period, and I went straight to Whole Foods. I actually felt very thrown by all the people and lights and sounds, it was overwhelming. So just plan to chill for a sec after you get out of the tank, ok!? Especially if you’re a sensitive susie like me.

I love floating and I can’t wait to go again. I’ll probably book a sesh at Float On (or the Float Shoppe) in July when I’m in Portland for the World Domination Summit.

I live for experiences like this. And let’s be real here. Even if you’re not into all of the “expanding consciousness” stuff, I’m willing to bet you could use a little bit of full body relaxation, and lowering of cortisol levels. Capiche?

Some books about floating:

The Book Of Floating: Exploring The Private Sea

book of floating

The Deep Self: Consciousness Exploration In The Isolation Tank

the deep self

Alrighty, I think that’s it. Did I miss anything you have questions about? Lemme know in the comments!! Have you done a float? Share about it below! Let’s be float pals!!!

Yours in constant experimentation,
Jenny

 




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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Beks May 7, 2015 at 9:07 am

Interesting. I’d never heard of Sensory Deprivation until I started watching “Fringe” a few years ago (currently on Netflix), where, to solve a weird mystery, an FBI agent gets inside one with electrodes on her temples. You explained the reality of it better than the show (obviously). I kind of want to try it now.

Reply

jenny sansouci May 7, 2015 at 2:36 pm

That show sounds cool! You should try it. It’s super trippy and great.

Reply

Mark May 7, 2015 at 12:12 pm

I want to try this some day. I’m curious about your meditation routines (I’m assuming you meditate on a regular basis) since the being-alone-to-your-brain experience in the tank seems to be an great opportunity for an extreme meditative state. I’ve been wanting to get into a routine with meditation and I’m guessing that once I get good with that (or at least more familiar) then I’d be able to maximize my float experience. That way I don’t go into a distracting cycle of “now THAT itches….”

I’ve been saying I want to start to meditate for a while now and just haven’t started. But soon!:)

Reply

jenny sansouci May 7, 2015 at 2:39 pm

I actually don’t have a solid daily meditation routine, but generally if I meditate I like to journal first. I get everything out of my head, and then I sit and get really quiet, focus on my breathe and sort of listen for answers. Sometimes I like to put music on (my favorite song to meditate to is Dragonfly Across An Ancient Sky by Helios) and just breathe. :)

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Kristen May 8, 2015 at 11:26 am

Hi Jenny,

First, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog and following your adventures on Instagram. You are truly a great writer and I love how clearly and creatively you are able to tell stories and share experiences with us!

Anyway, I wanted to know if you had any recommendations for float tanks here in NYC. Are there any specific ones you’ve heard good things about? I’m going to try one out ASAP.

Thanks :)
Kristen

Reply

Liz June 2, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Would LOVE to know of any in the NYC area!

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