Sensory deprivation: A way to relax, meditate, and relieve stress

Sensory deprivation float tank at Float House in Vancouver BC

A sensory deprivation tank at Float House

What is a float tank? A float tank is a sensory deprivation isolation chamber. You lie inside for 60-90 minutes where all your senses are numbed. You are not able to see, hear, smell, taste or feel anything. This is accomplished by lying in a tank which is filled with water saturated with Epsom Salts. This makes your body buoyant in the water, and you effortlessly float without sinking to the bottom. The experience is surreal, and afterwards you come out feeling calm, relaxed and having a great sense of clarity.

I had heard about float tank a while ago from a friend of mine and I really wanted to experience it. The idea of sensory deprivation sounded pretty interesting to me. I looked online for a place to go to in Vancouver and couldn’t find anything commercial available, only talks of personal tanks some people had. In the summer of 2013, finally a place opened up! I was so excited to finally go.

We booked a late night float from 2am-4am. At first, the thought of floating for so long made me a bit nervous, however I thought if I got bored or restless, I could just cut it short and get out of the tank. My friend suggested it would be better at this time anyways, as the city is dead and quiet, and more peaceful.

We arrived, and I was brought over to a nice big room, with its own shower and changing area. The lighting was this calming, blue color and it made everything look futuristic, especially the enclosed tank I was going to be lying in for the next 90 minutes. I showered with the pre-float body wash and stepped into the tank. The water was nice and warm, and the air was thick and humid. Finally, I closed the tank door. I had little idea of what I was just about to experience.

I have to admit, it was a bit claustrophobic at first, especially with it being so dark and humid inside. I immediately started to do some deep meditation breathing. It took quite a while for my body to relax, as I constantly caught myself tensing up certain muscles in my body without realizing it. Relaxing my neck was the biggest challenge, and I focused for the longest time to just let my body float passively, like a dead body floating in the water. Finally, I decided that I needed to use the pool noodle provided (if needed) for more neck support. That helped to relax me a lot more.

This whole time I was floating in the tank, I had my eyes closed, as that’s what I usually did when I relax and meditate. Suddenly, I decided to just open my eyes and stare at the darkness, to see how that would feel like. What I saw next was the most surreal visual spectacle I have ever experienced.

As soon as my eyes began to adjust, I started to see starbursts in my vision, just like how your eyes feel after seeing a bright camera flash. Then, as my eyes continued to adjust, I started to see bright swirling movements of light. At first, I thought I was imagining it. Then it started to become really clear. I could see the color really vividly, and it was this glowing, neon, mustard-yellow color. It was moving around like crazy, and the best way to describe it was like those winamp visualizations from back in the PC music days, when the swirling colors moved to the sound of the music. This was the same, except the movements of light were moving to the energy inside my mind and body. It continued for some time, and I was fascinated by the colors and shapes I was seeing. Finally, the colors started to fade, first fading to a darker green, and then finally disappearing, leaving behind the pitch black darkness of the enclosed space.

Vibrant green swirlAfter this visual experience, my body was extremely relaxed. That was when I really started to feel the floating sensation. It was more than just the feeling of floating in water. I felt like I was being levitated from the ground and just hanging in mid-air. There was a moment when I felt like time actually stood still. Even though it was only for a split second, if there is a feeling associated with being in space or time traveling, I definitely experienced it in that moment.

As I was lying perfectly still in this bath of salt water, I had fleeting moments when I felt like I was spinning really fast. There were times when my mind was playing tricks on me and it was like my mind and body were going through a roller-coaster ride. It’s almost like if you were flying through outer space and spinning really fast, you would have moments when you knew you were spinning and other moments where you felt really weightless and still. It was the coolest feeling ever. I was on a natural high.

Finally the music started playing quietly in the water. This was my indication that the float was coming to an end. I continued to float for a few more minutes, listening to the calming sound of the music. I could feel the sound waves in the water and was enjoying the sensation. Slowly, my mind and body became conscious again I got out of the tank, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, I was really thankful for the calming blue lighting in the room. Afterwards, I felt really relaxed, and it definitely helped that it was about 5am and the city was almost completely dead. I had a great restful sleep that night, and the experience was simply amazing. I’m really looking forward to going on my next float!

Float House in Vancouver: www.floathouse.ca

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