The term “sensory deprivation tank” doesn’t exactly have the nicest ring to it, but float centres in which participants spend time floating in tanks or tubs filled with highly salinated water, often times void of all other sensory input, are popping up in major cities across the world. After my first experience floating for a full hour, it was obvious to me why they have increased in popularity as the experience was tranquil and meditative. I left feeling highly rested and in a complete state of bliss. After only one experience I am already a fan and am looking forward to including floatation therapy as a regular tool in my self-care routine.
Sensory Deprivation at Float Sixty, Chicago
After a friend had touted her positive experiences floating, I was excited to give it a try, so I visited a sensory deprivation float centre in Chicago called Float Sixty in the River North neighbourhood. The float centre had multiple tank options available in which participants could choose rooms that would allow them to have gentle light or music piped in while they were floating in small pools to the full sensory deprivation experience of floating in a small tank in complete darkness with no sound.
I opted for the full sensory deprivation experience and chose to float in the Samadhi Tank. Due to a product launch and prepping for upcoming travel, I arrived to my appointment sleep deprived and lacking energy (its advised to not consume caffeine 4 to 5 hours before your float, which was a huge challenge for this coffee addict) and unconvinced that anything could help me relax in that moment. While I do have a regular meditation practice, I was also incredibly nervous about whether or not I could handle having all of my senses deprived for such an extended period of time.
My nerves were calmed immediately though when I was greeted by my float guide, Emerson, whose energy was a wonderful mix of friendly, gentle, and zen. As someone who tries to float on a weekly basis, it left me curious how much of his relaxed energy was due to his regular time spent in the tank, and his calm demeanor and positive energy quickly quieted my nerves. After a tour of the facility including the two relaxation and meditation rooms I could use before or after my float, as well as a quick view of the other room and tank options available, I was led to my private space before being left with clear instructions on the process and tips for getting the most out of my first time including a reminder to relax, breathe, and just let go.
Relax, Breathe, and Just Let Go
There was a private shower in my room where I cleansed and put in ear plugs before getting into the tank. To be honest, I had a really challenging time getting comfortable at first. While I knew that there was no way I could sink, I found myself resisting the float and carrying tension throughout my neck and glutes. After several minutes of deep breathing and changing positions (hands tucked behind my head became the winner!), I was finally able to let myself fully succumb to the water and relax, and it was bliss.
I have a regular meditation practice, but usually only meditate for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, so one of my main concerns was being able to handle a full sixty minute session. Fortunately, you always have the option of exiting the tank early which helped to ease those fears; however, when the tank gently started to churn water to signal that my session was over (and to turn over the water to keep the experience hygienic for the next guest), I was in such a meditative and blissful state that it felt like I had only been in my space for a short period of time. I’m still not quite sure where my body and mind went in those sixty minutes, but I came back into my space knowing that wherever they went, I wanted to visit again.
Getting out of the tank was an experience itself as I was slightly disoriented and after floating and feeling weightless for an hour, I felt as if I had a serious case of sea legs. After a warm shower to cleanse the salt off of my skin, I retreated to the meditation room to seek additional quietness, find myself in space again, and reflect on the experience.
Meditation and Reflection
In this space, Float Sixty provided a book to write about your experience or small sheets of paper to leave your thoughts in picture form. After browsing the hundreds of doodles and reading the words of other floaters before me, it became very clear that this had become a place of retreat for so many others who also find themselves consistently over-stimulated and victims of chronic stress in a non-stop world. On my walk back home, I too found myself carefree and blissful, oblivious of the fact that my sleep was lacking and I had felt significant stress just hours before. Its been three days since the experience and my sleep quality has been the best in years, my productivity has sky-rocketed, and my creative output has been bursting at the seams.
Tips For Your First Sensory Deprivation Experience
If you are considering your first float session, you can make your experience more comfortable and enjoyable by following a few rules before your session.
- Skip shaving for a day prior as the highly salinated tanks can cause irritation on open skin.
- To help yourself relax, avoiding caffeine, consuming lighter food options during the day and fasting for a few hours before can help ensure that you are able to fully enjoy the experience.
- It took me a bit of time to find my groove in the tank, but trying different positions finally helped me settle into one that worked best for me, so don’t be afraid to experiment or get frustrated if it doesn’t feel right immediately.
- If you’re concerned about taking on the full deprivation experience initially, consider one of the larger tanks, or small rooms with pools where you can choose to have a gentle light on or music sent into your space.
- Most importantly, go into the experience with an open mind and give yourself permission to relax, let go, and sink into your bliss.