Sensory Deprivation tanks or "float tanks" have been around since the 1950s and were created to provide the very unique experience of perceiving what life is like devoid of all external bodily senses, including sight, sound, temperature, touch, and smell. In order to experience this unusual state of being, the floater is suspended in water and isolated within an enclosed tank without any light or sound. The water is heated to body temperature, so the floater doesn't feel it, and the water contains around 1000 lbs of Epsom salt, which allows floaters to remain at the surface while delving deeper into their consciousness without any external stimuli or sensory interference.
To many, the idea of being enclosed in a tank all alone in the dark might sound a little scary or sad; but, surprisingly, it's not. Many people enjoy their sensory deprivation float experience and describe it to be relaxing, peaceful, and at times spiritual. Floating has become relatively popular in recent years, as well as the subject of several research studies. According to one study published in the Journal of Complementary & Behavioral Medicine, floating in a sensory deprived environment has been shown to reduce stress by calming the mind and inducing a sense of deep relaxation. Other physiological benefits include increased mindfulness, decreased anxiety, lowered blood pressure, decreased heart rate, stimulated mental clarity, and lowered cortisol "stress hormone" levels. As you can see, a broad and fine array of benefits that clearly outweigh some of the method's scariness.
Aside from the encouraging mind-body benefits, the best thing about floating, in my experience, is the sense of perspective gained when totally cut off from everything, including modern technology, from phones, social media and panic news to emails and the incessant distraction of non-stop sensory stimulation.
I had my first float session at the Zero Gravity Institute in Austin, TX, which is a locally owned spa that specializes in floatation. Being slightly claustrophobic and unsure of what to expect, I was, admittedly, a little nervous. My mind went into straightway panic mode for about the first five minutes; however, once I realized that I was in a safe environment and could turn the light on at any time during my session, the panic quickly dissipated, and I soon found myself in what could only be described as a very surreal state of being. It almost felt like I was floating off into some otherworldly yet familiar dimension, which, in my case, turned out to be the less traveled realms of my inner self. Without sensory stimulation or the commotion of everyday distractions, I found myself in a more clear space of mental and emotional processing.
Floating, needless to say, is very different from the high speed rhythms of everyday life. In a sensory deprivation tank there is absolutely nothing to see, hear or do, and alas, the world becomes still and clear. The fog of distraction lifts with nothing to focus your attention on except maybe the unexplored dimensions of yourself.
Still, while many enjoy floating, some do not. For those individuals, being alone in a dark space can provoke anxiety and unwelcome stress. For first time floaters who are unsure of how they will react, it's advisable to start with a shorter first session of about 30-45 minutes to help reduce anxiety by slowly easing into the experience. Being nervous your first time is normal. It's such a different experience that it's pretty easy to go into freak out mode for a minute or two (or ten), but once the initial shockwaves of primal fear wear off, most people tend to relax and have positive and sometimes even profound experiences.
In essence, floating is a sweet reprieve from the constant chaos of the world at large and a great way to reset the nervous system and reconnect with yourself in a strange yet exceptional way. So float on friends; it's well worth it.