LESSONS FROM THE TANK
Sensory deprivation by means of spending over an hour alone in secluded stillness is something that, while being on my radar for several years, has always been intimidating to me. And, I am not sure exactly why.
Despite my understanding and knowing fully that I am a bit of a control freak, I have seldom been one to shy away from new experiences, particularly those that have the potential to elevate my consciousness and expand my horizons. And yet, Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) by means of a float tank, which typically involves the participant floating weightlessly in a solution of water and Epsom salt for an extended period of time, is an experience that I have consciously eluded. While floating can be very similar to a traditional meditation practice, the thought of being alone with my thoughts in an unfamiliar environment continually frightened me away from ever taking the plunge (no pun intended.)
So when the Christmas present to the Better Buzz Yoga teaching team was revealed to be a gift card good for one free float at Samana Float Center, I was simultaneously excited and nervous (but, mostly the latter.)
Forcing my hesitations aside, I reluctantly set a “float date” with two of my fellow Better Buzz teachers. And, true to form of being a perpetual and constant over-analyzer, I started to do some research. What is REST anyway? What are the alleged benefits? What will I experience? Am I going to feel like Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole? Is it going to be like being on psychedelics (sorry, Mom!)?
A quick Google search answered the first couple of my myriad questions. The brainchild of two American neuroscientists, the first float tank was designed in the 1950’s with the intention of studying broadly, consciousness, and more specifically, how a brain is affected by complete isolation from external stimuli. Upon embarking on their studies of sensory deprivation, the neuroscientists discovered that, rather than falling asleep, participants were more likely to maintain full consciousness while floating. While the breadth of information on the reported benefits of sensory deprivation is vast, the general consensus among varied sources is that floating may be of benefit in several arenas, including increased relaxation, pain alleviation, increased creativity, treating addictive behaviors, improvements in sleep patterns . . . I could go on, ad nauseam.
Armed with a few hours of internet research and a lingering sense of anxiety, I entered Samana Float Center to see for myself what REST is all about. A brief self-guided tour around the facility while I waited for my room to be prepared revealed a clean space with a comforting vibe, complete with a post-float space in which floaters can assimilate back into reality over a cup of tea before exiting.
There are four rooms that encompass one float tank each. Three of four rooms offer a float “cabin,” with the fourth room offering a float “pod.” Although the float pod looked spacious enough, I opted for a float cabin to help combat my small, yet persistent, concerns about feeling claustrophobic.
After very clear guidance from the kind soul who checked me in, I locked the door in my room and began preparing for my experience. Because floaters are to enter the float tank as clean as possible, each room at Samana has a shower, and floaters are given approximately six minutes to shower before the 90-minute allotted float time begins. Ear plugs and petroleum jelly are provided, the latter to rub on small cuts or abrasions to prevent the salt water from causing a stinging sensation, and floaters are also provided with a floating halo in which they can place their head for support during their float. As I finished my shower, a soft recording of a female’s voice telling me my float time was about to begin played over the speakers in the room. Oh, shit. It’s time. I stepped into the cabin, and pulled the door closed.
The cabin was softly lit with a blue light, and meditative music began playing in the background. I slowly eased into the water, which was maybe about a foot, or a foot and a half deep, laid down supine, and was, instantly, in the zero gravity zone.
It is an extremely jarring transition to move from standing upright to floating effortlessly, and at first, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I fidgeted with the floating halo for my head, using it, then tossing it aside. I experimented with my range of motion, stretching my arms up overhead and back down again, and finally settled in.
Once in the cabin, one has the option, and control, to keep the soft light and music on or off. While I found both the light and music to be comforting, the voice of a good friend of mine familiar with floating crept into my head; earlier that day, she recommended floating with the music and lights off and experiencing true sensory deprivation. I, reluctantly, turned the music off first, and then the lights. That’s when shit got real and my experience truly began.
I have never known what it is like to be truly be alone with myself, to truly sit with just myself, until I was floating in complete darkness that day. The darkness was stark and the silence was deafening. And, true to form when life gets a little too real for me, I turned my attention directly to breath. Just as during the first few moments of any yoga class I teach or take, I brought my awareness to the cadence of my breath. I placed one hand on my belly, and felt it rise and fall as I heard my heartbeat ring loudly in my ears. My breath and my heartbeat warded off my monkey mind until any awareness I had of where my body ended and the water began, any awareness of my conscious mind, absolutely disappeared.
The duration of my time spent in the float tank was something I can only do my best to describe as somewhere between the dream state and the subconscious mind. I cannot say for certain if I was awake or asleep, though I think it was the former, but I can say for certain that during those moments, I was reassured of the power of self; the power of self-love; the power of self-worth; the power of being unabashedly and unapologetically myself in the pursuit of self-understanding; and, for the first time in a long time, the self-realization that I am enough just as I am. These weren’t conscious thoughts that flooded my mind, so as much as an overwhelming feeling of calm, of peace, and of comfort in my own skin.
I think I have still been unpacking my experience since that same soft voice that told me my float was about to begin, gently told me my float was about to end. The blue light slowly came back on, beckoning me back to the world of stimuli. I showered the salt solution of my body, and proceeded immediately to the post-float haven Samana provides, the value of which I did not truly understand until I emerged from the float tank.
I did not feel immediately relaxed, or immediately at ease, so much as I felt myself wondering what the fuck just happened. I sat down and began paging through the journals and books in which floaters document their experiences, should they choose.
Some people wrote notes. Some people wrote poems. Some people drew blissful images. Some people drew disturbing images. But everyone was working through what they just experienced.
I say this with the disclaimer of not being an expert on floating by any stretch of the imagination: I think floating allows people to tap into their subconscious to allow themselves the experience they need. For me, it was an experience of reassurance; of comfort in my own skin; of acceptance; of empowerment to be myself, unapologetically, no matter what anyone says. It was certainly one of the more profound moments of self-exploration I have ever experienced, and I can’t wait to get back in, do it all over again, and add it to my toolbox of practices that ground me when I need grounding.
If you are how I was, interested in but slightly nervous about sensory deprivation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or Taylor Rose Worden, a devout floater, next time you stop by for a class at Better Buzz Yoga. We are always here to support you in your self-growth and self-exploration, in the studio, and out, on the mat, and off.