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  • Sam Darling

My time in the sensory deprivation tank

It’s hard out there for a skeptic. On the one hand, we know that things like acupuncture are placebo effect and don’t really work, but who doesn’t like a nice placebo effect-induced sense of well being?

I’ve tried loads of things. Long ago, I settled on massage because it had the most studies to support it does provide real pain relief. However, finding a good massage therapist is hard and I tend to worry about their well being during a session instead of focusing on my own relaxation. And it’s expensive.

It’s been two years since I had a massage or any sort of spa-like treatment. We’ve had a kid, moved twice, and I just spent two weeks with our children over the holidays on my own. When both kids and the cat insisted on joining me in the bathroom, I joked that I needed a sensory deprivation chamber. So, I found one.

I did a bit of digging and found some research to support health benefits of floating, and unlike acupuncture and many other such treatments, nothing that said it was dangerous. The Epsom salts have an impact on tired muscles. And, science notwithstanding, ninety minutes of no sound or visual stimulation coupled with a weightless feeling sounded appealing.

I dislike it when I have to bash through a thicket of woo before I can get to the actual experience, but this particular place was fairly low on the in-your-face “alternative medicine” of it all. I had a massage one time where they made me chant with the masseuse before treatment. That was awkward.

Properly instructed and showered, I prepared to enter the tank.

And this is where I face my fear as I’m clautrophobic. Yeah. I learned this when we were doing a caravan tour of New Zealand and I was expected to sleep in an upper berth with the ceiling mere inches from my face. No thankee.

But I know how to battle fear. I would face my inner demons; Mommy would not be deterred from quiet time.

The first ten minutes were kind of awful. Rising panic and then settling and then panic again. The air inside was hotter and more humid than I’d anticipated. Breathing in a Louisiana summer added to my panic. But I was in there. I shut the door. With the earplugs and the complete darkness, all that was left was immersion. The extreme buoyancy of the water makes you feel like you’re getting sucked into the tank.

It was nerve wracking.


I probably won’t get to Israel to swim in the Dead Sea. You’ve likely heard descriptions of it, how it’s like being held up and there are no pressure points on your body. The water feels slimy, more viscous than regular water. Something between water and olive oil. Once I stopped freaking out it was actually very nice.

Once I relaxed I was able to pinpoint every part of my body that was carrying tension and work my way through it. The ability to fully stretch without fear of falling was fantastic. The neck and shoulders were particularly overdue for some self care. And I can report that a day later the benefits of this tension release are still with me. I am more lithe and limber and able to do tasks that normally have me groaning like an old lady. You know, hard stuff like standing up after being seated.

The feeling after a float tank experience is similar to spending an entire sun-filled day jumping through the waves at the beach. You know at the end of the long day that you will sleep extra hard. You get that nice feeling in just ninety minutes. It’s pretty great.

The other purported benefit of this floating practice is the ability to achieve deep meditation. I achieved total bodily relaxation but my mind was not turning off. That’s okay. I’m not chastising myself for an overactive brain. Most of the time, that brain is working for me and doing good things for me like remembering to buy more bread.

The guys working the place said that repeated floats can change how your mind responds so maybe in the future I’ll be more relaxed in that respect as well.

I also asked about their overnight hours. They stay open late on Fridays and Saturdays. One customer floated for eight hours. I resisted the strong temptation to make an Altered States reference. I’m sure they’ve heard it all before.

My normal life beckoned and I had to go to an opera-related meeting where I was a total space cadet who could barely speak basic sentences. So that’s possibly the down side of turning off your brain and relaxing for a while. I lost my hat on the bus. I’ve had that hat for twelve years and five continents and never lost it. Spaced out. If you do a float tank prepare to do nothing afterwards.

Slept great though.

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