“We’ll All Float On”- One Therapist Intern’s 90 Minutes of Sensory Deprivation

Alright, going in to this experience I have to say that I was a little bit nervous. My husband had experienced it once before and was ranting and raving about it for weeks! I still wasn’t 100 percent convinced.  Would I feel claustrophobic and freak out? What if I fell asleep, would I drown? Will it help me relax or will it creep me out? As I was going into this, I thought to myself, I wonder if this is what death would feel like and if so, how the heck is it going to make me calm? What the hell am I going to think about for 90 minutes?! Yet, I was open to trying the new experience after I read some things online about floatation therapy.

What is floating?

Floatation has been around for over 60 years and consists of a sensory deprivation tank with about ten inches of water that has about 1200lbs of Epsom salt to help you float effortlessly. The water is kept at 93.5 degrees so that you lose track of where the water and air begins*. The sensory deprivation tank ensures total darkness and is insulated against sound so that you float in a quiet, dark space.

Now, how does this help me?

buddha-509372_640Without the strain of gravity, your body is allowed to heal from pain and pressure. Without sights and sounds, your mind is now free from distraction and can focus on rest, relaxation, and healing. Floating is also known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST)*. Many say that there are intense benefits to such a therapy, including a lasting calm, lowering blood pressure and inflammation, heightened creative thought, and your skin feeling soft and glowing afterward*.

Sensory-deprivation tanks, once popular with stoners, oddball geniuses, and the kind of people who own healing crystals, (and once terrified everyone in the movie Altered States) are now reappearing in modern culture as a therapeutic form of treating chronic pain, addiction, stress and anxiety. It is intended to help not only the body but the mind as well. One of the reasons I was so intrigued by floatation tanks was the fact that with all senses taken away, I can’t even think of a time besides my time in the womb that I have ever experienced such a thing. What happens to the brain in these types of circumstances? (Theta brain waves to be exact!)

So I decided to try it. I booked an appointment at a local float clinic and was surprisingly greeted by a very calm and serene waiting room, reminiscent of a massage parlor. I was greeted by a warm gentleman who offered to give me a tour of the place before I begin. I was given the tour of the three rooms that they offered, each a little different than the last, but all contained a large shower, 20160118_122501fragrance free shampoo and body wash and the door to the tank. As I stepped inside the room, there was soft, zen-like music playing over the speaker and I closed the door behind me. After I showered and entered the tank, the music stopped, the motion sensor light turned off, and I slid into the salty water.  For three or four minutes, I had a vague feeling of panic. I was not afraid of anything in particular, and yet floating in the dark was so disorienting that I felt the need to reassure myself by touch. I felt the floor of the tank, only a few inches below; from time to time I’d reach out sideways and touch the walls to assure my mind that I was still contained in a space. I’d begun to drift around the tank for a few minutes.

I began to use my meditation and mindfulness techniques that I had learned over the years to quiet my anxious mind. I focused on my breathing, the rise and fall of my chest. Every thought that entered my head I would acknowledge and then let it go. I tried to focus on just my present experience. I found my mind beginning to wander from playful to serious pontification of my life. I began to imagine my life laid out in front of me as if on a back-lit table. I asked myself serious questions, playful questions, and tried to figure out what was important and what I could let go of. At one point I even thought, “this is really all we truly have 20160118_123520in this world, our bodies, and our breath. Nothing else is promised to stay forever. It’s what I entered into the world with and what I will leave the world with” (I told you I went pretty deep haha). This wasn’t a sad thought, but more of a calming and peaceful one. I didn’t have to worry about all the things on my to-do list. I could literally just float in space by myself for a bit, imagining stars, far off planets, and even colorful galaxies if I wanted.

Suddenly, soft music began to play, signaling the end of the 90 minute session. I blinked a few times, bleary eyed;  90 minutes had apparently passed, and I barely even noticed. I got out, showered the crystalizing salt off my body and hazily wandered out into the reception area, which was bright with daylight and filled with soothing music. I felt like I was waking up to so many new things. I had to work later that day, a few errands to run, but I no longer felt stressed out about them.  The float had done what I had hoped it would: I’d found a way to focus, relax, and enjoy my mind.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone looking for a unique experience in exploring your mind, reducing stress, and relieving pain. I think it is especially helpful if the person has some knowledge of mindfulness or meditative techniques to help focus on breathing and reduce the initial “weirdness”. It was definitely a unique experience that I would try again in the future.

Citations:

Dierendonck, D., Nijenhuis, J. (2007). Floatation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) as a stress-management tool: A meta-analysis. Psychology & Health, Volume 20, Issue 3 pp 405-412. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08870440412331337093

You can find more information at: http://www.floatclinic.com

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