Sensory Deprivation Tanks: A New Treatment For Anxiety?
I was told about floating at a jazz and poetry reading. A friend was going to perform an improvisation poem, and the mere idea of her doing so made me nervous. She assured me she felt serene, and she attributed her deep inner calm to an hour-long floating session.
SEE ALSO: The Secret To Developing A Zen Mind
Sensory Deprivation Tank
Floating, I soon found out, meant entering a sensory deprivation tank naked, or near-naked, and, quite literally, floating for an hour or more in what seemed to me a bunch of saline solution. One of my writing students, who met us at the club, soon joined the conversation and revealed that she too had tried floating.
“What’s it like?” I asked.
“Like nothing. Then, after a while, it’s like dropping acid,” she said. I had rarely achieved inner calm and had never dropped acid, so my interest was piqued.
After my friend delivered her poem to standing applause, I fumbled with my phone to look up nearby floating centers. I had an online appointment scheduled before we left the jazz club. When GPS led me to a strip mall next to a paycheck-in-advance lender, I found the place tucked into the armpit of the L-shaped shopping mall, the door and windows of the floating facility were darkened with shades. I toured the changing room, the relaxation room (books and tea), a room with a ceiling painted like the sky and massage chairs that guests can occupy to “find their center” before the sensory deprivation, and, finally, the chambers.
The pod is exactly that, an all-white pod-shaped structure that opens like an automatic trunk to reveal a sort of fancy techno-suited bathtub. The water is only about a foot deep and heated to body temperature, then made buoyant with loads of Epsom salt. Deep inner confidence was enough of a reason for me to try just about anything, but as I toured the facility, my guide told me that athletes float to repair muscle damage and drain the body of built-up lactic acid. She also said that meditative floating techniques have been known to help people work through past traumas and reconcile fears that would take years of therapy to overcome.
“It’s different for everyone,” she was careful to add.
My Personal Experience
I forwent the earplugs that were left for me and used the petroleum jelly packet to cover the tiny cat scratch on my arm. I stepped inside the tank and felt nothing. When I lay down, I remembered the instructions to either position my hands above my head in a diamond shape, cross them over my body, or simply keep them to my side. Over the chest made me think of being in a coffin and over my head made my right arm go to sleep. I tried my arms a few times each way, listening to the Zen-like music that eases in the session, then opted to keep my arms by my side.
The light began to fade after a few minutes, as did the music. So there I was, floating in total darkness and alone with my thoughts with a full hour ahead. I began thinking of everything I had to do that day, and how odd the experience was. I worried I might fall asleep and wake up with salt caked around my eyes, unable to open them. I regretted not grabbing the earplugs and imagined the impending pain of swimmer’s ear.
My brain, an incredible worry machine, ran its course. After who knows how long, because time no longer existed, I settled in. I watched my thoughts, let them bring me back to swimming as a kid with a paddle board. I wondered if this was what it was like to incubate in the womb. I began to see lights and feel my body’s muscles jerk, then release. Soon, I was calm. My normally knotted-up shoulders relaxed.
Just about the time I felt I was getting the full experience, the music returned. I blinked my eyes a few times, realizing they stung a little, and I sat up. I pushed the top of the pod up, and it eased slowly to the fully open position. After a shower and a minute or so of reorientation, I closed the pod door and that filtration setting immediately engaged. It sounded like a car wash.
The Effect of the Experience
I am not immune to psychosomatic euphoria when it comes to new things, and I recognize this, but after that session—a few hours after, when I felt human again—I was surprised to find that I still felt great. My muscles were relaxed as was my anxieties about a busy and potentially stressful week ahead were quelled. I was impressed. A few days later, the effects were gone. The overall experience (massage chair, tea, relaxing time alone) made the total package rather spa-like and calming. In the end, it very well might offer a boost of confidence due to the deep relaxation, but it takes dedication.
A daily meditation and yoga practice may be more aligned with my lifestyle and budget, but it’s nice to know a deeper meditation is there when one needs an extra dose of calm.
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