Floating in a sensory deprivation tank is supposed to leave you feeling restored and peaceful. Many people consider it a spiritual practice. Even those who don’t say that afterwards colors look brighter and that you’ll sleep deeply the following night.
This was not my experience.
The Float Spa
I was visiting two friends in Portland, OR when we spontaneously decided to try sensory deprivation tanks. It was a bit expensive – $70 for 90 minutes – but I thought I might as well try it once.
We walked in at about 7pm and a guy with an unnatural sense of calm explained how the “float” worked. The water has such a high saline content that you’re suspended at the top of the water. Even if you push yourself to the bottom you’ll float right back to the top, with the water line around your temples. He warned us not to get water in your eyes. Apparently it’s excruciating.
In addition to float tanks, the spa also had massage, acupuncture, and for some reason counseling services – in case you want to pour your heart out to a random therapist before your massage.
He showed us around to the different tanks and let us each take our pick. I chose one the basically looked like a science fiction cryogenic sleep chamber. It had a lid and a blue ambient light, as well as lights that mimicked the night sky, all operated by buttons. Each room is soundproof, but each tank also has an emergency button inside the tank. There’s also a private shower so you could clean up before and after your float.
Getting in the Float Tank
I got in the tank one foot at a time, trying not to slip on the salty floor of the tank. I sat and took a moment to appreciate the surreal, futuristic appearance of it before laying down. I placed both hands on the floor and stretched my legs out in front myself. It was odd but delightful to layback and not touch the bottom. I was totally suspended. I heard a series of pops as my joints cracked up and down my spine.
I played with the lights for a while: On. Off. On. Off. I kept opened the lid to it’s full extent, then closed it completely. The temperature of the air is as similar to that of the water as possible so it feels as if you’re floating in space, unable to differentiate the air from the water. This is especially true if you’re in darkness.
Claustrophobia Sets In
At one point I actually couldn’t tell the difference between the water and the air, but instead of feeling like I was tranquilly floating into infinity, my brain assumed that I was underwater, and therefore drowning. I fumbled for the “open” button on the lid but I was completely disoriented. My heart rate was steadily quickening. At the same time, I didn’t want to hit the emergency button and have them come and get me over nothing.
I stopped thrashing around to take deep breaths, only to start thrashing around immediately after. I can only imagine how weird it would’ve been to be in that soft-lit room, hearing frantic splashing from inside of the sensory deprivation tank.
The thrashing eventually got water in my eye, which felt almost as bad as getting pepper sprayed. I managed to open the lid and step out into the shower. I grabbed a hotel-shampoo-sized bottle of water to rinse my eyes but it wouldn’t open. (That bottle turned out to be vinegar, meant for rinsing the salt out of your hair, so lucky me).
I pried my eyes open and let the cool water rinse them out.
Finally enjoy it
Once my eyes stopped hurting, I left the lid open just a crack to let in a breeze and prevent claustrophobia. I let my mind wander, just floating in silence.
I found myself found myself feeling really blissful, gently swishing from one side of the tank to the other thinking “I love you” to no one at all, like my brain had been pumped full of oxytocin. I started feeling really sentimental and full of love, thinking “I have so many wonderful people in my life who care about me and I just want to help people and being a therapist is totally my calling!” Being a therapist turned out not to be my calling. Don’t trust your judgment when you’re in that good a mood.
My friends were super calm afterwards and apparently went to sleep almost immediately after their heads touched their pillows. I was hyped up, so I had a hard time falling asleep, but it was a positive experience overall. I’d recommend it to anyone interested. (Even if I didn’t experience astral projection like in Stranger Things.)