Floatation tank therapy: “The cure for what ails you.”
I’m no sucker - if you know me, then you know that.
But I tried this.
I point the causational finger at G.I. Joe and Larry Hama. In issue #2 of the Marvel Comics series from 1982, the character Snake Eyes is roused from an episode in a sensory deprivation tank for an important mission. If you don’t know Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe, the dude is one bad mammer-jammer. My seven year old head thought that if Snake Eyes used that to meditate, and it helped to make him more bad-ass, then I that’s something I was interested in. So I read more about it, researched it, etc., etc. (I was an odd kid) and so by now I’m pretty well versed in everything that’s supposed to be attributed to time spent in the things.
I stole this from a website though, because I’m lazy:
Floating creates a state of deep relaxation for the body and mind, relieving the effects of stress. There are three general benefits that are frequently reported by floaters. These three general benefits are relief from pain, rejuvenation and intensified concentration. There are extensive reports from floaters that their sessions in the float tank relieve pain in their body. Floaters with chronic on-going pain find relief. The deep relaxation state coupled with the detoxifying effects of the Epsom salt are major contributors to the relief of pain reported by floaters. The deep state of relaxation is the major reason for the other two most frequently reported benefits of floating – rejuvenation and intensified concentration. Floatation has been used to help recover from the effects of jet-lag, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and detoxification. As the body relaxes in zero gravity with no light or sound, the mind is freed from many of the moment to moment processes it usually is monitoring. The mind-body connection is intensified, thus promoting intense healing in both the mind and the body. Floaters often report feeling rejuvenated and better able to concentrate. · Oxygen consumption decreases · Breathing rate slows · Heart rate slows · Blood pressure decreases · Muscle tension decreases · Endorphins create a calmness in the mind
So I found this place in Rockford (I’m leaving the name out - you can look it up if you want to and I don’t advertise) made the call and went up to check it out.
It seems rather odd in a way. It’s a small business tucked into the side of a “health and fitness center” along with a physical therapy clinic and a massage therapist. The “office” consists of one of the owners sitting at a table with his laptop and a locking cabinet. Granted, it’s not like a “fringe” kind of new age healing business like this isn’t going to exist as its own physical entity in a solitary building. Of course it’s located off in someone else’s spare office space. We have to make a profit somehow, right?
I have to admit - there are times when I over-estimate my own physical and psychological abilities these days. I’ve been all over the place emotionally this past year (though mostly low) and I definitely haven’t been at my absolute best. In a way, putting myself in a spot like a sensory deprivation tank could have been a massive mistake. I’m not sure if it was or not, but I’m still evaluating the possibility.
First, let’s talk the physical environment: The tank was in a small room, maybe only 3-4 times the size of the tank itself. Lots of decorative rocks strewn about the room and in pots, as if rocks create a sense of peace. I think the dude got his idea of a zen garden a bit confused. I could have asked for some “soothing” music, but I opted for the full on absence of sound. The lights were low - it’s about the mood, you know what I mean?
So the door is locked and I strip down. The water in the tank is ten inches deep and warmed to the exact temperature of the human body. It is an Epsom salt solution that allows the body to float perfectly on the surface of the water. Once you climb inside, there is no light that is visible through any of the surfaces or through the door. So you find a comfortable position in the center of the tank and float. You’re not touching the sides or the bottom, you’re warm like in the womb, and it’s perfectly, absolutely dark.
It takes a while to calm your mind, or a while longer if you’re like me and your mind runs miles a minute. I think that I was in there for about a half hour before I could fully relax and experience something out of the ordinary. It was weird. You do have an innate sense of your bodily position; some feel that that “sense” constitutes something that should be considered your true “sixth sense.” Regardless, you know where your body parts are. It’s how we can walk and move without falling down while not watching our feet. But after a half hour of floating motionless, I lost my sense of body vs. the boundary between me and the water. I could no longer feel that definitive line between my skin and the water. I felt like I actually extended to the edge of the tank. No lie. The fact that it wasn’t moving and was actually the exact same temperature as my body meant that the boundary between the two dissolved.
A little bit later, bored and unable to concentrate further, I started waving my hands in front of my face. Now, it was still perfectly dark, but with my eyes open, I could see a white moving, blurring outline of my hand as I waved it a foot in front of my eyes. There is no rational explanation for this other than that it was a manifestation of that same kinesthetic sense. That my brain somehow knew the position of the my hand without the visual cue, but that the part of the brain that maintains the kinesthetic sense was connected to the visual lobe, and that the sense that my body had of its own location was superimposed in a way onto my visual cognition.
Well, I didn’t have any hallucinations or communications with a higher power, but it was an interesting experience. If I do it again, I plan to work more on my self-discipline and meditation first. I think I missed out on the full experience because I couldn’t keep myself from thinking about anything and everything that crossed my pointy little mind. I can say too, that the “pain relief” aspect might have been overplayed. My back pain was a little bit worse, and I couldn’t escape it while I was in there. I had trouble relaxing because there was no way that I could ignore the pain emanating from my upper back while I was floating there. Perhaps the loss of pressure put more strain on that group of muscles - I’m not sure.
Overall, it was worth it. I’ll do it again sometime, but I’ll prepare myself better first. Like I said, I don’t know about the “pain relief” part of it, but I’m willing to give that another chance.
sensory deprivation tank
there is a forgotten light, an impossible gleaming overhead.
where does it come from? where does it go?
popping in and out of focus.
there is lightning in the shapes that move above me
they shift and I see one-second stars in the dark.
i am floating in the middle of the ocean,
i am feeling the spines of fish brushing against my own.
visions come and go.
what is that sound?
my heart beating becomes my mother chopping vegetables from our garden in the kitchen.
i can hear my own eyelids opening and closing.
i feel butterflies moving over my skin.
there is a demon hovering over me
the moon is full
I watch the rain fall
and the flowers rise
Then comes the knocking at the door
Why the Tank?
How a 20-something Aussie found himself floating in a sensory deprivation chamber in the middle of Japan.
By Michael Phillip Nelson (@midwestmike__)
Not a week after my previous post, a personal friend of mine, Michael Philp, (no relation to myself and pictured above), had his first float in a sensory deprivation tank. Given the timing and content of his experience, sharing this first-hand account is an opportunity too good to pass up.
Though floating in an isolation tank is far from a traditional pastime, I’d wager that Mike’s path to the tank was even less traditional than most others’.
As a 20-something Aussie expat educator and DJ living in Nagoya, Japan, Mike is a busy guy. Between his job, his fiancé, friends and gigs, you might think something as esoteric as an isolation tank would be the last thing on his mind. However, like many of us, Mike grapples with some of life’s bigger questions. These general fascinations began to solidify and take shape about a year ago, when he began to voraciously consume podcasts, most notably the Joe Rogan Experience and London Real (both of which I highly recommend). The conversations in these shows led him to a deeper interest in the mysteries surrounding consciousness and the various tools at our disposal to explore it. Mike found the idea of using a sensory deprivation tank especially compelling. “The more I heard people speak about it, I knew I had to try it,” he said.
Let’s step back to about a year ago, when I was also living in Japan. Mike and I would get together and often end up philosophizing about our mutual interest in the nature of consciousness and the human condition. As a matter of fact, we spoke specifically about isolation tanks. We concluded that these were areas and questions we needed to ultimately explore personally. We encouraged one another to take action in some fashion, yet always found excuses not to (an easy thing to do when you’re living in Japan).
Not long after these conversations began, we started hearing rumors about an American guy in Okazaki (about 30 minutes away from Nagoya) who, supposedly, had a tank of his own. This seemed odd, sketchy even, but we were intrigued. Unfortunately, I never pulled the proverbial trigger and before I knew it, I found myself back in the States.
Fast forward to a few days ago—
Overcoming the doubt, excuses and nerves, Mike finally did what too few of us do, took action. In this case, action included getting on a train bound for Okazaki, trusting a stranger and sealing himself in a huge tank of water (a collection of actions well outside the comfort zone of most Australian Expatriates). Mike put it this way—
“I had two distinct feelings running through me. One of pure excitement, of finally trying something I’ve been yearning to for ages. The other was one of nervousness, butterflies in my stomach… Anyway, I pushed through all of that, opened the door to the tank and stepped into a new world.”
This world was one of salty water, heated to the temperature of the human body. Because of the salt, there’s enough buoyancy, so that you may float freely and comfortably. The view inside the tank? Total darkness. Again, from Mike’s perspective—
“Stepping into the tank, at first, is a surreal experience. You duck inside, close the door behind you and are immersed in complete darkness. I have to say, the first 10 minutes or so were spent trying to find my bearings, control my breathing and find the most comfortable floating position. After that, my mind started running.”
The idea of being enclosed in a tube of blackness while floating in salt water may sound a bit daunting, but to someone trying to obscure his or her senses and attain a state of meditative stillness, many say there is no quicker way. This environment frees your mind of distractions and leaves you with only your inner world.
After gaining some semblance of comfort in the tank, Mike reported the following—
“People, places and things started flicking through my brain. My mind started darting from one thing to another. Then, pure weightlessness.”
“I let it all go. My body melted into the water. Ideas, not people, started filling my mind. I focused on my own self-growth. Theories on living and life— What am I? How do I define myself? This went on for who knows how long, time became irrelevant. Slowly I started to focus on all the roles people and objects play in my life.”
Toward the end of Mike’s float, things started getting more mysterious and psychedelic.
“I started seeing visions, similar to the ones when you push too hard on your eyelids with your eyes closed. I felt something emerging in my mind.”
What was it? Mike doesn’t know. It was too elusive for him to get a good feel for.
The next thing Mike heard was the faint sound of music from the alarm in the tank.“That was my cue to finish up this journey. 1 hour and 15 minutes of pure isolation. I must say sitting up after spending all that time suspended in water was an experience unlike anything I’ve felt before.”
Mike already has definite plans to return. “I don’t have an end goal or anything. I want to gain deeper view of myself… To think about the grand scheme of things, rather than the gritty, day to day details.”
If my previous article was a call to action, this is an example of how to take action. In this anecdote, we find a man with a busy, largely content life, who still isn’t satisfied. He makes a point of finding time to explore his inner worlds, to peel back the layers of his own consciousness and really strive for self-improvement and understanding. He’s making an active effort to look for a truth beyond the ego that operates on the surface of his psyche. Mike is doing what we must all endeavor to do, fight. For if we don’t fight, we will become victims of an unexamined life. I can’t abide this, Mike can’t abide this and I hope you’re thinking, “Neither can I.”
The Sensory Deprivation Tank: It's More Relaxing Than A Massage
Imagine that everyone of your senses is temporarily disabled. Imagine being placed in an environment where there is nothing to see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. That’s what Dr. John C. Lilly created. It’s called a sensory deprivation tank. It’s also known as an isolation tank, floatation tank, or samadhi tank. It’s like an oversized bathtub located inside of an enclosure. The tank is filled with approximately 12 inches of water, which contains approximately 800 pounds of epsom salt. The epsom salt allows the individual to effortlessly float on the surface of the water. And the water and air inside of the tank are heated to the same temperature as your skin. The inside of the tank is completely dark once you close the door. There are no lights or sounds inside the tank. There is nothing to smell or taste. This is the basic concept of the isolation tank.
I first heard about an isolation tank on Joe Rogan’s podcast. It seemed fascinating, so I looked it up online. I read a wide range of material, including research studies, reviews, and testimonials. Benefits include stress relief, relaxation, increased blood flow, and pain relief. Many testimonials said isolation tanks are “more relaxing than massages.”
I used http://www.floatation.com/wheretofloat.html to find a local facility with an isolation tank. There was a location less than half an hour from my parent’s house, so I called to get some more information. The woman I spoke to over the phone told me about the floatation tank, the benefits, the cost ($50/hour), and I scheduled an appointment for the following week. She said their location accepted most common forms of payment, and recommended I bring aquatic earplugs. She said people are required to shower before and after using the tank, and that there is a shower in the same room as the tank. She recommended I bring sandals to wear for convenience, and that the facility provided towels, shampoo, and soap. I wrote down a reminder to get aquatic earplugs, thanked her for her time, and told her I would see her the following week.
My appointment was scheduled at 9:00am. I arrived five minutes early, and I learned the facility opened at 9:00am. They opened the doors, I paid for my session, and the girl at the front counter walked me to the room with the tank. She explained that most people enter the tank nude, but some wear swim suits. I read that online prior to arriving, and elected to enter nude because you will still be able to feel the fabric of the swimwear. She said that there was soap and shampoo in the shower, and towels were on top of the tank. She said some people will leave the door on the tank cracked for airflow, or to let in a small amount of light. I decided against those options because I wanted the most pure experience possible. She informed me I had ten minutes to shower before and after using the tank, and she left the room.
There was a small table in the room where I set my belongings. I took a shower, quickly dried off, and walked across the room to the tank. I opened the door to the tank, placed one foot inside, and then the other foot, and I climbed inside. After I closed the door and sat down in the water, I realized I forgot my earplugs. I opened the door, grabbed my ear plugs and went back in the tank.
The tank is very tall inside. It’s possible to sit on the bottom without hitting your head on the ceiling of the tank. I leaned back until I was laying down in the water, and I immediately began to float. My feet were at the front of the tank, near the door. The water was extremely salty, which wasn’t surprising considering it contained over 800 pounds of epsom salt.
My senses were reduced, but they were not completely disabled like I had hoped. Even with the earplugs, I could very faintly hear the sound of the running filter. Although the loudest thing in the tank was the sound of my breathing. The water was very warm, but I think it may have been just a little bit cooler than the temperature of my skin. The tank was pitch black. There was nothing to see in the darkness. There was no smell inside the tank. And nothing to taste. My senses were not completely deprived, but they were significantly reduced.
I had an itch on my cheek, which I made the mistake of scratching. The saltwater ran down my face and into my eyes, and my eyes started to burn from the salt. I tried to wipe it out with my other hand, which didn’t help. I sat up in the tank, and considered getting a towel to wipe my face. But all the movement disturbed the water, and I realized the same thing would happen when I got back in the tank. I decided to lay back down, and tough it out until my eyes became comfortable.
A couple minutes passed until my eyes stopped burning. Then I was finally able to start relaxing. I moved about inside the tank. I reached out and touched the wall to the right. Then I reached out and touched the wall to the left. The tank was pretty wide. I estimate it was between five and six feet wide. I floated all the way to the back of the tank until my head touched the wall. I pushed away from the wall until I was directly in the center of the tank.
Now I was in the prime position to experience the tank. My mind was free of external distractions. My goal was to go as deep into my mind as I could within the hour. Some people use the tank to reach deep levels of trance and meditation. I’ve never tried meditation before, but I was hoping to reach those levels.
At first, I thought about upcoming events and obligations. Then my thoughts shifted to a conflict occurring between me and a good friend. And then I started thinking about starting school in the fall. And after several of these trivial, mundane thought sequences, I realized that I had stopped paying attention to my senses. I didn’t feel the water or hear the sound of the filter, until I acknowledged that I hadn’t felt the water or heard the sound of the filter. I was starting to use the tank for its intended purpose.
It felt as if my mind was a dark cave, and I was exploring it with a flashlight. I would mentally focus whatever I shined the flashlight at. At one point, all I focused on was my breathing. I think I had been in the tank for almost half an hour at this point, but I don’t know because you have no concept of time when you’re inside.
When I was trying to get to focus on relaxing, I would distract myself. It wasn’t until I stopped worrying about relaxing that my mind would really get creative. I stopped thinking with words and conversations. My thoughts started turning into very brief images and scenes. Almost all of them were too short to remember, but one image in particular stands out.
A black background with a white symbol flashed across my mind. But that image froze in place for a short amount of time. It may have been several seconds, or several minutes. I’m not sure. The symbol looked like the symbol for infinite, “∞,” except the bottom-left portion of the symbol was different. Instead of rounding down and to the right to reconnect with the rest of the symbol, a line extended straight down from the top-left corner. And another line extended to the right from the bottom-left corner, forming a right angle. Except this line didn’t connect with the rest of the symbol. It stopped before, creating a gap. I don’t remember ever seeing a symbol like that before. I don’t know what it means. But for some reason that symbol stands out in my memory.
There was other weird imagery. At one point I remember visualizing a conversation between people I knew, but it sounded like they were speaking backwards, as if somebody had recorded them speaking, and played it in reverse. And there was one other image I can recall. For some reason, I imagined a piece of artwork. Although, I am not much of an artist. I’ve never developed any ability as a painter, sculptor, or drawer. But I imagined a painting of a giant electrical outlet made out of dozens of standard-sized electrical outlets. I imagined it would be approximately six feet tall, and however wide an electrical outlet would be if you scaled its height to six feet. I imagined all these outlets would be painted in a way to make it look like one giant electrical outlet. The bottom rows of outlets would be that white or tan color that is common to electrical outlets. And the smaller outlets would be painted black to look like the cavities for the plugs on the giant outlet. I have no idea where that image came from, but I’m tempted to make it.
Shortly after those visions, I thought I heard knocking on the door. The girl from the front counter said she would knock when my time expired. I got out of the tank, and started walking to the shower. The room looked a little different than it did prior to entering the tank. Nothing about it had changed. Everything was still in the same place, but it looked different. It was like I was seeing the room through a new set of eyes. After my shower, I got changed and opened the door to leave the room.
When I walked up to the front counter, I was very happy to see other people. It felt like I had been on a vacation, but I hadn’t seen anybody in a long time. The girl at the front counter informed me that I still had several minutes left in the tank, but I was already dressed and prepared to leave. I noticed that it had started raining while I was in the tank. It was a clear, sunny day when I arrived an hour earlier, but now it was cloudy and raining. Despite the rain, I was still in a good mood. I felt relaxed and reenergized.
I opened the door to walk outside, and I felt the rain hit my skin. Normally, I would run through the rain to get to my car, but this time I walked because the rain felt good. When I got in the car, I left the music off, and drove home to nothing but the sounds of the rain on the rooftop.
My experience in the floatation tank was awesome. It took a few minutes to become adjusted, but after I became comfortable, there is nothing else like it. I didn’t want to get out at the end of my session. I wanted to stay in there for another hour to see how I felt after two hours in the tank. I would definitely do it again, and I plan on it.