I'd first heard about float tanks years before I ever seriously considered going to one. Although I didn't go right away, the stories I'd read about them stayed with me. My curiosity was piqued.
A float tank is basically an enclosed pod filled with shallow, warm water. 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. You enter the tank naked, lay back, and just... let go.
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.
Despite all the benefits, this probably still sounds weird. And that's because it is. It's totally out there.
Which is why I didn't go for several years after having heard about it. No one I knew had done it. And when I mentioned it to people they said, "So you're going to float in a pod? And this helps you how...?" Even though I kept bumping up against how strange the whole concept is, I knew there was something in it for me. And I had to remember, what's weird today is tomorrow's normal.
Meditation was once the activity of only your most woo woo friends. Today, meditation is so mainstream it's being taught in schools and mental health centers. Like meditation, I knew there were benefits in this for me. I couldn't wait for other people to make this socially acceptable. I was just going to have to do it.
This was an adventure, and I was being called.
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. Because of the stories I’d read of what happened with other people, 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 (a prerequisite at all spas to keep the water clean), 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 quite 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.
For your first time, I would suggest going with a friend.
Knowing my friend was in the next room, 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.
I give this experience a complete endorsement, but you will know for yourself if this is right for you or not. If you're curious, look up your local float spa. They'll be able to answer all your questions, and you might be floating to infinity yourself before you know it.