Any time I’ve been to a kids birthday party, especially one at an indoor swimming pool where the noise is just so…. noisy… I always joke that I need to spend time in a sensory deprivation tank to recover.
I find myself overwhelmed when I’m surrounded by lots of competing noises, and I get worn out having to talk loudly in order to be heard.
Clearly I could never be a school teacher.
It was in just such a scenario recently – kids party, indoor swimming pool – where I made my sensory deprivation comment to a friend. “Oh, you should try Serenus, the float place!” she told me.
I hadn’t even heard of this, but apparently a ‘float center’ opened up in my hometown just recently. So, in the name of providing an informational service to you, my faithful blog readers, I figured I should give it a try.
I know, I know, I’m a generous soul.
What Is Floating?
Floating is just that – floating. It typically takes place in flotation tank, also known as an isolation tank or a sensory deprivation tank.
The tank is filled with highly salted water which is warmed to body temperature, allowing the user to float easily and feel completely weightless while lying in the water.
(Interestingly it’s creator, John C. Lilly, would study the effects of sensory deprivation in the tank while taking LSD. I had to pick the kids up from school in the afternoon so I didn’t take any mind-altering substances during my visit.)
With sound and visual stimulation removed, the user should be able to enjoy complete relaxation. So how was my experience?
My Sensory Deprivation Experience
We were welcomed to the facility with a complete tour and explanation of what the floating experience would be like. I was grateful for this because when I saw the tank, I started to feel a little anxious.
The pod looks almost alien-like, and I was nervous about how I might react to being in the dark with just my thoughts. Typical: I finally get the peace and quiet that I’ve been craving, and I start to freak out.
Fortunately the pods are equipped for people just like me. There are two buttons inside the pod, allowing you to turn music and lights on and off as you need.
The first most important question I need to address is: do you float naked??
The answer is YES. You have a thoroughly cleansing shower first, then you get into the pod in your birthday suit. The reason for this is to have as little physical distraction as possible: I know I certainly don’t need my MiracleSuit digging into my fat rolls while I try to clear my mind.
The one item you do ‘wear’ are earplugs, to prevent the highly-salted water from getting in your ears. Once they were in, I didn’t notice them at all.
Inside The Sensory Deprivation Tank
Showered and naked except for earplugs, it was time to get inside the pod. The lid pulled down easily by a handle, and you can spend some time getting accustomed to floating while enjoying the lights and music.
You wouldn’t be able to stand up inside the pod, but I certainly didn’t feel claustrophobic. If you do suffer from claustrophobia, there are other options that will offer you the same experience. Aside from the enclosed pod, the float center I went to had a separate room with a large open unit, something akin to a giant bath.
The Floating Sensation
The floating sensation is lovely. When both you and the water become still, you can’t feel where it ends and you begin. As a child I used to imagine being able to be on a cloud, and it felt like what I imagined that to be. It’s like the softest pillow ever that allows your body to sink in just where it needs to without applying pressure anywhere.
With the lights and music on, it is a fun experience. Like a kid, I pressed all the buttons and figured out all the light options. But I wasn’t there to have fun – I was there to experience sensory deprivation!
Experiencing Sensory Deprivation
It is thoroughly amazing how the brain reacts when all other stimuli are taken away. Much like I discussed in this post about getting a good night’s sleep, the monkey mind goes into overdrive in the silence and darkness (like at 3am.)
Mundane thoughts buzzed through my head – things I needed to get done that day, how I was going to write this post: the chattering was incessant. At first I let myself be distracted by…myself – this is my normal state after all.
Once I noticed what was happening, I tried to employ some of the techniques I had learned from my meditation practice using Calm. I tried to center my attention on my breathing, and to allow the thoughts to come and go – acknowledging them without judgement.
It turns out I’m still terrible at meditation – it is something that takes practice over a long period of time, and I’m definitely not there yet. I felt that my efforts were having no effect.
Somehow, as time passed, my mind started to slow down. At a certain point I noticed my eyes were closed, although I don’t remember shutting them.
I then began to experience a sensation, a feeling, of being in another time and location. At first I couldn’t quite place it, but then I recognized it as the feeling of being in a place from my childhood. (I know, this is sounding a bit wacky, but stay with me here!) Not a specific house or location, just the sense of being in that time of my life at home in England.
A little research after the fact told me that this is a common experience of sensory deprivation as my brain activity slowed down. The activity of our brain is characterized by different wavelengths (brainwaves!) The four most common are Beta (alert and working), Alpha (relaxed and reflecting), Theta (drowsy, forming ideas) and Delta (sleeping).
Take a look at this graphic from Ned Hermann’s book The Creative Brain. I don’t need a neuroscientist to tell me that I spend most of my waking hours in the Beta state – busy doing.
I know that because of smartphones and social media, I don’t make enough time to be in a relaxed and reflective state of mind. Sensory deprivation (as well as exercise and meditation) force that altering of brain waves to happen.
Interestingly, children are in theta state most of the time. As this article from Warrier.do states “up until age fourteen, we are primarily in a theta state – our minds are fluid, creative, never overthinking, and ready to soak up the world around us. As we get older and our brains develop, and faster beta waves dominate the mind, making it increasingly difficult to access theta.”
Being able access theta state, either through a sensory deprivation tank, meditation or that space between sleep and wakefulness, can be beneficial to access long term memories, to find an extreme sense of peace, and to generate new ideas or solve problems. ‘How To Hack Your Brain Waves Before You Even Get Out Of Bed’ taps into that idea of using the theta state to your advantage. Knowing when you’re in that in-between state of sleep and wakefulness will allow you to take advantage of that time, and use it for idea generation and problem solving.
Alone With Your Heart And Mind
At some point in the tank, I began to hear a sound – something similar to a car outside with loud bass music playing. I paid attention to it and realized I was hearing my heart beating. I was able to observe it and accept it, and I felt totally connected to myself.
In that moment my outer body was irrelevant, and all I knew was my heart and my mind. It was both so normal and utterly mind-blowing.
Drifting In And Out
Once I had reached this place of peace, I began to drift in and out of sleep.
At one point I did what I always do when I fall sleep on airplanes. I made an ‘mm!’ sound which brought my attention back. (This is embarrassing when you’re sandwiched between two strangers on a flight, totally cool in the flotation tank.)
The next thing I knew, the water began to move, and the gentle light in the pod came back on, and I realized I was being roused from my sleep state. My float time had come to an end – I had been in there for 60 minutes.
I had to move very slowly to get out of the tank, I felt like I didn’t quite have control of my body yet. I took another shower to clean off the salt and this helped bring me back to wakefulness.
As I reflect on my float experience and having researched the impacts and benefits after the fact, I am keen to do it again. Being familiar with the process and understanding what my brain is likely to do will allow me to get even more out of the session.
Is It Scary?
I can imagine that time in a flotation tank may not be for everybody, but I definitely did not feel confined at all in the space available. Once I was familiar with the pod and the sensation of floating, I felt entirely at ease.
Is It Worth It?
There are many reported benefits of flotation therapy. Here are just a few:
- Reduce stress
- Reduce blood pressure
- Alleviate back and joint pain
- Reduce feelings of anxiety
- Encourage introspection and idea generation
This 6-min video shows what happens to brain and body function during the experience and demonstrates the evidence of a lowered heart-rate and reduced blood pressure. It’s pretty amazing.
Who Would It Be Good For?
If you work out a lot and need a way to relieve muscle tension, then floating would be great for you.
If you have a stressful job and need to find a way to completely disconnect from all the external interruptions, then floating would be great for you.
If you need to be creative in your job and want to tap into parts of your brain that are hard to access, then floating would be great for you too.
If you want to try a new experience and have some ‘me’ time, then floating would be great for you.
If you know that you need to Get UnBusy, then floating would be great for you!
More About Serenus Float & Wellness in Bloomington, Indiana
For my local readers, you can learn more about Serenus Float and Wellness here. The facility is sparkling and the staff knowledgeable and helpful. Included in the price of the float is access to their Zero Gravity Massage Chair.