I can’t remember when I first heard about float tanks, I only know it was years ago. I’d read a few stories about the experiences people had in them and I was super curious.
A float tank is basically an enclosed pod filled with shallow, warm water (see below for photos). They keep the water around 95 degrees. This is cooler than your body, but meant to be the same temperature as your skin, in order to help facilitate the feeling of infinity or being one with the water. In the water they pour around 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. This makes the water extremely dense and anybody, of any weight or size, will float in this.
Float tanks were created in 1954 by the American neurophysiologist Dr. John C. Lilly. He wanted to study consciousness and brainwaves and he was curious about sensory deprivation, or the removal of all stimuli outside of a person. Since then, studies on the tank have shown that it does have an effect on the brain that is similar to deep states of meditation. People often describe feeling more creative, inspired, and relaxed while in the tank. Some things associated with repeated use of float tanks are reduced stress, healing of aches and pains, increased mental clarity and increased energy.
After you get into the tank you acquaint yourself with it and find whatever position feels most comfortable. When you’re ready, you close the lid and turn off the soft interior light. This step of being in a rather small enclosed space in the dark is what most people find to be a deterrent to trying this. But it was because of the stories I’d read of what happened that I knew it would be fine. Some people had epiphanies that changed their lives, and others felt as if their body melted away and they were floating through space, going on a journey that sounded like an out of body experience.
Once I had showered I went into my private room with the tank. I suddenly felt trepidation, even though I’d been so excited about this. The idea of closing myself in the pod gave me a little bit of nervous butterflies. But I knew I was on a time limit, and I wanted to get as much of the experience as possible. As soon as I felt comfortable I turned off the light and the darkness swallowed me up.
I took the first minute to float lightly, getting the feel for how I was moving and drifting ever so subtly over the water. I tried a few arm positions and was surprised to find keeping my arms back over my head was the most comfortable. This had seemed like a weird position before I laid back, but with my entire body supported, putting my arms up felt like the most natural thing. I also loved how it felt to have my whole body stretched out. At one point I extended my toes and reached back with my arms as far as I could. My back popped and it felt like my whole body released tension.
In the first few minutes I started breathing deep, and without telling myself to do so. My breathing slowed down on its own, as did my pulse. My breathing became so deep the sound of my breath seemed to fill my whole body, and this only relaxed me further, which made me breathe deeper and slower. I was truly in a world of myself, and the sensation of being in an enclosed space was gone before I knew it.
My mind stayed quiet active, and I knew it would be best to let go of any expectation and allow what wanted to happen to happen. I didn’t try to quiet my mind or the thoughts, but instead allowed them to fully surface and finally have their own chance to breathe free and deep.
As the time went on the perception of the edges of the tank faded further and further. A few times I even forget where I was, and it felt as if I was drifting in a wide open abyss. I mean I truly forgot, not in the sense of I was in a pod, but I forgot about the city I was in, the state, even the whole planet. I was in a state of pure existence. It never felt empty or overwhelming in its expanse. It instead felt calm and supportive, and as I felt more open so did my mind. All those thoughts that were jumbled together now had space to separate and sort themselves out. It felt as if these walls fell away, and everything that was crammed within my mind could be sorted through. It was as if I’d taken everything from an over stuffed closet and spread it out in a huge room, where I could see it clearly and with feelings of both detachment and clarity.
I began to get clear insights on things, and I knew which steps I wanted to take in areas that I had felt so utterly lost in. All the while, I continued to feel supported and relaxed. Sometimes the feeling of the water would be so tangible it was if I was laying on a bed. Except not really a bed, more like I was being held by a billion feathers and soft, pearly beads. Other times, I felt again like I was floating, and the sensation of the walls of the tank only came back to me a few times.
I seemed to drift into a very deep state of slow brain waves. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but at one point my body jerked and I sort of jolted back to full consciousness, in that way you do when you’ve fallen asleep unexpectedly and then you spasm and wake up. It was so strange because it felt like I’d jarred out of a deep sleep, but I could swear I was awake the whole time… after that a feeling of euphoria came over me and I had an epiphany.
Earlier in that day, I’d been thinking about the fact that nothing lasts forever. How no matter what you create or do, eventually, no matter how much you tell yourself it’ll last, it’ll be gone. In the one sense that new books, movies and ideas overtake the old, and everything is constantly changing. But also in the sense that even this planet won’t last. Even if you somehow created something that could somehow never be destroyed or forgotten, it would still, no matter what, be swept away when the sun overtakes our Earth billions of years from now.
Isn’t that a dark thought? It’s extremely pessimistic, and left me with feelings of Why bother? Who cares what you do, nothing is important because everything will eventually be replaced or destroyed.
I hadn’t even realized how heavy and dark my thoughts were until I’d gotten super relaxed in the tank. After I had the strange body jarring sensation, all of those thoughts came back to me. But now, they were all different. I realized that it was for that exact reason, that nothing lasts, that everything should be seen as special and cherished. Everything that’s happening right now can never be again, and that’s what should make me excited to do stuff, because whatever I do and create is a rare moment that I am blessed enough to be a part of. All I am asked to do is to appreciate it and to stay in the flow, to allow what stays to stay as long as it’s natural, and when I let go, to feel immense gratitude for all of the conditions that brought it into my life.
It was a dramatic and much needed shift in perspective. It helped me to also realize how powerful perspective is, and that looking at things one way can be depressing, and looking at them another way is uplifting and inspiring. As these thoughts filled me, I began to feel really excited. I wondered how I would stay in the tank with so much excitement running through me. Yet even with the feelings of being fully awake, I was still so relaxed, and looking forward to what I would realize next.
And just as I eased into that, the bells chimed, and my hour and fifteen minutes were up. I wanted nothing more than to stay in the tank and follow this evolution of thoughts and feelings. Before I’d gone in, the 2 hour option seemed insane. But at the end, I was wishing I’d chosen that.
A few days later I saw a coupon for a float tank at a different place. My experience at this one was much different. Like the first time, as soon as I turned the light off and got comfortable I started to effortlessly breathe deep. This tank was a little smaller and oval shaped and so I couldn’t put my arms over my head. I let them rest beside me, and this position had a strange effect on my body. At first my neck and back felt so tense from this. As I laid there, I realized that this position allowed my neck and back to open up more, and I soon noticed the tension felt like I was getting a deep tissue message. I could feel all of the tension and tightness slowly unravelling…
I continually closed my eyes and unlike the first time, my mind was very quiet. I was super relaxed and I may have fallen asleep a few times. I didn’t follow any trains of thought, until at the end, when something strange happened. I was overcome with feelings of negativity and doubt. It washed over me, and I couldn’t understand what was happening. Had I done something wrong? Why didn’t I feel amazing and inspired, like the last time?
As the feelings rose up, I could feel the truth. These feelings had been inside of me for a long time. It was like I’d put a cement floor over all of my frustration, anxiety and self-doubt, and the salt water bath had dissolved right through that layer and allowed it all to rise up so it could finally release.
When the music chimed to let me know it was time to get up I felt a sense of disappointment. I was just getting into some good stuff, some real truths, and I didn’t want to get out with these heavy, dark feelings hanging on me. But it was time to go, and I had to drive over an hour to get home, so I figured I could reflect then.
As I drove home, I reflected a little and just let my mind drift through what was coming up. I didn’t have any big realizations, but I did start to feel an incredible lightness come over me. It seemed there wasn’t anything I had to do except let those feelings go. I started to feel so good I was laughing. Laughing at nothing. Only laughing because I felt a joy and lightness I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I felt free and open and energized. It felt good to laugh hard and to laugh purely because it felt good.
I’m back home now, and I had something to eat (both times I did the float tank I was ravenous after!), relaxed a little, and now I’m feeling quiet tired. It seems a lot processes and happens in my mind and body during these sessions.
And yeah, I would do it again. If these float tanks were closer, I’d do it every week. I think it’s a powerful tool in helping someone heal, get clarity, or to perhaps have one of those magical, mind opening experiences of traveling through space.
If you live in the Bay Area, the first experience I described was at Oakland Floats, and I would highly recommend it. My experience there was fantastic. The second place I went to had smaller tanks, which wasn’t a problem in the claustrophobia sense, but in the sense that it diminished my feelings of floating. I kept bumping the balls and so it took me longer to relax. I also had a full hour and fifteen minutes at Oakland Floats, whereas the other place made me feel rushed as the time it took me to get undressed and showered was included in my float time. I didn’t like this because with that in mind, it ended up being about 45 minutes of floating. Trust me on this, because it sounds like it’s waaaaaaaay too long, but you need at least an hour.
For your first time, I would suggest going with a friend. Knowing my friend was beside me in her own tank really helped me to relax and feel more at ease. I also loved hearing her story after, and going with a friend is a great way to enhance your experience. Her experience was very different than mine, and I was amazed at what happened at the end. At the end, she truly felt the sensation of free floating, and it was as if she was floating upwards, going up through the infinite expanse of space. Pretty wild!
Be sure and let the attendant know if it’s your first time. There’s some important stuff to know about not getting the salt water in your eyes. Also, if you have sensitive skin you may felt a bit of discomfort at first. When I first got in my back and legs were itchy, and I was concerned I wouldn’t like it. But this feeling quickly went away, and it was no big deal. As a matter of fact, when I got out my hair and skin felt softer than they have in years! Along with the kinds of experiences I wrote about above, about the feelings of relaxation, surrender, and receiving much needed insight, soaking in Epsom salt does amazing things for your body and is very detoxifying. The place I noted where we went, Oakland Floats, has a really great FAQ and information section that can help you decide if you want to try this for yourself. If you were to ask me, I would give this a complete endorsement, but you will know for yourself if this is right for you or not.
Above left: At the second place I went to they had a super nice lounge to hang out in after your soak. You could have some warm tea and take a few minutes to process before getting in your car and driving. I loved the journals they had for people to sign. Most people were new and wrote that they enjoyed it.
Above right: The smaller and more circular tank. It worked just fine, but given the option, I would choose the rectangular and larger tank. What was most important to me was the time, and I will return to Oakland Floats based on the fact that my soak was longer.