Sensory deprivation: exploring the flotation tank
I’ve been interested in altered states of consciousness for most of my life. From studying Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, to running my own hypnotherapy practice, to setting up my own mind-body magazine on the mind’s potential, I’m passionate about learning more about tools for wellbeing.
So when I was offered the opportunity to have another float at Calm Water, I jumped at the chance. I’d only tried a flotation tank once before and I found it to be an incredibly relaxing and soothing experience.
For those of you who doesn’t know what a flotation tank is or how floating works, it’s a unique sensory experience. You float inside a large dome, filled half full with warm water and Epsom salts, and the air inside the tank is exactly the same temperature as the water.
Once you’re in the pod and comfortable (the salt water buoys you up and supports your whole body), the lights are turned off, the music fades and you experience full sensory deprivation. There’s no sound (except your own heartbeat), no sight (it’s pitch black), and no sense of space as the body can’t decipher where you end and the air meets (due to the temperature).
The float experience:
Shoes are left at the door as you put flip flops on, take a seat, and choose your introductory music. The float session lasts an hour, but you have gentle music filtered into your pod for the first and last five minutes of the session.
I chose some soft electronic music with Asian undertones, and made my way to the room. You have to shower before you enter the pod, and remove all clothing to ensure you get the full experience.
You’re supplied with some air tight ear plugs, and a towel. It’s best not to get any water near your face as it is filled with Epsom salts, which really sting!
I was incredibly tired after a long day so I was looking forward to floating.
There’s some really interesting studies on flotation and sensory deprivation, and the enormous healing benefits it may bring to both mind and body.
I read beforehand in the book of Floating that the float state is an incredibly good state to be in for healing, because of the lack of outside stimuli. There’s even an acronym coined for the experience, REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique). As I’d recently had Guillian Barre Syndrome, I thought having a float would be a great thing to try for my recovery.
As I was so tired, I seemed to drift away immediately. I felt as if I was sinking down, further and further through the pod and into the floor. Sometimes I felt as if I was drifting backwards, or forwards. I knew that the float state can be conducive to out of body experiences, and it certainly seemed that way in my heavily rested state. It’s as if it causes more of a perceptual disconnect between the mind and body, which is quite fun!
I decided to use the tank as a tool for healing and visualisation, and imagined a large glowing orb coming into the tank and infusing my body with light, and then imagined the entire tank being filled with sparkling light.
What was interesting is that I felt some psychological benefits, too. During my period of recent illness, I was alone in a foreign country, and experienced huge amounts of anxiety and panic, and felt totally out of control.
I knew this was an important lesson for me, and as I pondered it I thought I might have got salt in my eye. Sitting up for a moment to open the pod and wipe my face, the branding on the toiletries seemed to jump out at me ‘Faith In Nature’. I felt as if I needed to give my faith to nature more and trust that my mind and body can heal themselves if only I let go more and allowed that space for healing.
I remembered in my first float session I shut my eyes even though I was in darkness, afraid of what I might ‘see’ that would freak me out. This time, I opened my eyes and enjoyed the darkness. I also got a strong feeling that this was somehow symbolic to my psyche too, as the darkness was not something to be afraid of but something to be embraced.
Because the salt water in the tank supports your whole body, all the muscles and fibres throughout your body can really relax, even your head, neck and shoulders. There’s no words to describe that true sensation of being supported in every sense, not having to do anything at all, just relax. It is a really enjoyable feeling!
All in all, the float tank is a wonderful, calming and soothing experience, and can take you on a physical and mental journey into your own consciousness.
For more information or to try a float session, visit www.calm-water.co.uk
Float Hopes: How Floating aids mental health and anxiety, Time Magazine
Benefits of Floating, The Pacific Standard
Research on the effects of floating on wellbeing, Karlstad University