Wednesday, February 26, 2020

I Tried It: My 90 Minutes in a Sensory Deprivation Tank

In 2015, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about how all moms really want for Mother's Day is peace, quiet, and basically a stint in a sensory deprivation tank. Later that year, my dad asked what I wanted for Christmas and on a whim, I think you can guess what I told him.

And because he's always willing to entertain my wacky ideas, an email gift certificate for a place called FLOAT appeared in my inbox on December 25th.

Where it sat for over a year.

Partly because it's hard to schedule 90 minutes (plus drive time) for something like that when you're a mom. But also, if I'm honest, it's because I was terrified.

I loved the idea of a sensory deprivation tank; I just wished it could be more of a sensory deprivation very-large-and-wide-open-space.

The words that came to mind when I first saw this tank were "commercial dryer" followed by "cremation furnace."

When I was little, I remember visiting a cave with an exhibit outside demonstrating the tight spaces a cave explorer might encounter. On display was a small cross-section of a cement tunnel just barely large enough for an adult to squeeze through, which gave me nightmares back then and still gives me the creeps 30 years later.

I don't think of myself as claustrophobic, just someone who's not a fan of being trapped.

When you go to one of these sensory deprivation places, here's what happens: You shower off. You get naked. You lie in what they call a "pod," effortlessly floating on about a foot of water that has hundreds of pounds of salt added to make you ultra-bouyant. There's no sensory feedback: you're wearing earplugs, floating in the water, with the pod door closed to block out all light.

It sounded great, except for parts like the pod door.

Actually, it was only the part about the pod door. In fact, lying awake imagining an "open the pod bay doors, Hal" kind of situation was what had me hyperventilating into my sheets at night.

But last week my dad and stepmom were here to watch the kids, Phillip and I were planning an overnight trip in the vicinity of FLOAT, and it just made sense to finally put on my big girl pants and use my gift certificate.

I was thrilled when I went online to schedule my session and saw there were two styles of tanks: the classic model shaped more or less like a chest freezer, and the "summer sky" model that was roomy enough to stand up in.

Unsurprisingly, the summer sky was booked solid.

Should I just abort the whole mission? Do it another weekend? Wait for the summer sky tank like every other sane person in New England?

No. I could do this. It would be fine.

Probably.

I made the appointment and announced my intentions to the kids, who were simultaneously horrified and amused. I stated explaining the process but my 8-year-old interrupted me: "Wait, you'll be naked?"

"It's a private room," the 15-year-old told her. "No one else will be there when Mom gets in the coffin."

The morning of my session did not start out well. I rolled out of bed half-asleep, planning to cut Phillip's hair before he left for work, and somehow I hurt my neck while reaching for the clippers.

I went back to bed with a heating pad and was lying there bemoaning my fate when the 3-year-old wandered in with a diaper that had leaked poop overnight. The good thing about being paralyzed is that you can't change diapers; the bad thing is that the 3-year-old threw a fit because he wanted me instead of Phillip.

So at 6 AM I was lying there in pain, listening to the 3-year-old screaming his head off over the sound of Phillip dry heaving at the contents of the diaper he was changing.

Good times.

Later that afternoon, I walked into the blue-tiled lobby of FLOAT. It was decorated with abstract pictures of blue swirls on the walls, and on the counter was a display of KIND bars and stack of books for sale called Get High Now (Without Drugs.) Behind the front desk were two nice young ladies with bull nose rings.

"Have you ever floated with us before?" one of them asked.

I thought the answer was pretty obvious, since between the three of us and the one other person in the lobby, I was the only one without a nose ring.

After I traded my shoes for a pair of blue plastic flip-flops, she showed me to a pale blue room about the size of a one-car garage. Silhouettes of bamboo shoots were painted on the walls and a large healing crystal sat on an end table near the door.

She explained the rules, pointed out the earplugs, and opened the tank to show me the inside. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to see the panic button on the inside of the pod door (she called it a "call button" but I know a panic button when I see one.)

Thank goodness someone thought to install a freakout alarm.

The tank actually looked a lot bigger in person than in pictures, and I had no trepidation crawling in and closing the door behind me.

I forgot how salty the water was, until I sat down and my feet popped right up to the surface.

My neck was still stiff from being old hurting it this morning, and I had a hard time finding a comfortable position. I tried letting my arms float at my sides, but in the end what felt best was lacing my fingers behind my head like a country boy in a Mark Twain novel so that's what I did.

Then I waited.

It was quiet, obviously. I could hear my heartbeat.

I was paranoid about getting the saltwater-on-steroids into my eyes, so I had to fight the urge to touch my face or scratch any itches.

Occasionally, my foot or elbow bumped up against the edges of the tank.

Sometimes I got a feeling of swaying back and forth gently, like I was in a hammock. Other times, I got the sensation of slowly beginning to turn head over heels, but not in an unpleasant way. Sometimes my legs felt like they were made out of wood.

After I got into relaxing, I did enjoy it. It was nice swaying (or at least feeling like I was) in the dark to the sound of my heartbeat. But mostly it was... nothing. Neither good, nor bad.
The whiteboard in the lobby of FLOAT.

At some point I vaguely recall twitching a few times, like you do when you start falling asleep, which was really weird because each twitch was followed by a ripple of water. And then I definitely fell asleep, because I remember suddenly coming to and wondering "Did they forget me in here? I feel like I've been in here my whole life."

I got out to check what time it was, and there were only a few minutes left of my session. So I climbed back in the tank but left the door open this time.

I was starting to get bored.

It was almost a relief when the music came on to signal that my time was up: a peaceful, flowing melody that sounded like the soundtrack of a National Geographic documentary on whales.

I got out and took a quick shower with the provided lemongrass body wash and sulfate-free unscented shampoo, at about which time the peaceful music gave way to a loud and aggressive rap. I couldn't understand all the lyrics, but the gist of it was: "Time is money! Get out!"

Phillip wouldn't be there to pick me up for another 30 minutes, so I headed back to the lobby to kill some time. Turning to the lady at the front desk, I asked, "How long have you been working here?"

"About five years."

"Do you do... it... often?" I gestured toward the hallway leading to the tanks, unsure of the appropriate verb to use. So, do you sensory deprivate often?

Apparently, since "sensory deprivation" sounds like a method for extracting secrets from enemies of the state, people who make a living running places like FLOAT don't call it that. They call it 'flotation therapy.' And the correct word for what you do in a sensory deprivation tank  I mean 'pod' — is 'float.'

She answered, "I try to float once a week."

When I asked what she liked about it, she said she's normally an anxious person, so when she gets overwhelmed it helps her to recall "the peace of the tank."

Okay, so I think I get it.

I guess it shouldn't have surprised me that my experience was kind of... nothing, because it literally was nothing. My senses were given no input for 90 minutes.

The value of floating, I'm thinking, is that it strips away your feelings of stress and negativity, bringing you back to neutral. Regularly floating probably helps you learn to get back to that neutral state on your own when you need to.

I'm glad I tried it once, but I think that was enough for me.

If I had 90 minutes of free time, I think I'd rather spend it outside in nature, or soaking in a regular bathtub with music going, or reading my scriptures. You know, something that also has a positive element to uplift and elevate.

But it makes sense.

After Phillip and I returned home, the kids were crowded around the computer watching a YouTube compilation of goats screaming like humans, and just a tiny piece of me wondered if I didn't want to go back for just a few more minutes of quiet after all.

I survived!
I was instantly curious when I heard about flotation therapy. Float therapy (a.k.a. sensory deprivation) involves floating in a saltwater tank known as a ‘pod,’ with no external stimulus like light or sound. It’s supposed to promote mindfulness and relaxation, and help with managing stress and anxiety. Well, I tried it! Here is my review of my 90 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank for the first time. #sensorydeprivation #flotationtherapy #therapy #wellness #stressrelief #review
I was instantly curious when I heard about flotation therapy. Float therapy (a.k.a. sensory deprivation) involves floating in a saltwater tank known as a ‘pod,’ with no external stimulus like light or sound. It’s supposed to promote mindfulness and relaxation, and help with managing stress and anxiety. Well, I tried it! Here is my review of my 90 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank for the first time. #sensorydeprivation #flotationtherapy #therapy #wellness #stressrelief #review
I was instantly curious when I heard about flotation therapy. Float therapy (a.k.a. sensory deprivation) involves floating in a saltwater tank known as a ‘pod,’ with no external stimulus like light or sound. It’s supposed to promote mindfulness and relaxation, and help with managing stress and anxiety. Well, I tried it! Here is my review of my 90 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank for the first time. #sensorydeprivation #flotationtherapy #therapy #wellness #stressrelief #review
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4 comments:

Diana Dye said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm like you, it sounds great but probably not when it comes down to it because I'd get bored and feel unproductive. I'd much rather take a walk.

What I really want are headphones that filter out the whiny tone from my kids. They exist, right?

Kristina said...

I haven't ever tried it though I've heard of it. I think maybe I would feel the same as you--that I would just as soon take a bath or something else I enjoyed with the time. I don't know that I want or need to deprive my senses to relax. But I've never done it, so I don't know for sure...

PurpleSlob said...

That would be a big, fat NO to the NOPE!! And a H E double hockey sticks to the NO!!
But I'm very glad to hear you survived! And could open the door from the inside!!!!

Ann-Marie Ulczynski said...

What the what? I didn’t know this was a thing. Bravo to you for trying!