Citation: Anatoli Smorin. "Floatation Tank: Discovering a Wellness Tool: An Experience with Floatation Tank - Sober (exp112672)". Erowid.org. Jan 20, 2019. erowid.org/exp/112672
This report is part of a collection of seven reports. The collection consists of a summary report that is retrospective and generalized in nature as well as six more detailed chronicles of my experience with sensory deprivation, or floatation tanks. If desired, please see the summary report
, where one can find links to each of the other experience reports.
A little background: I consider myself to be well versed in the realm of substance use. Previous experiences include opiates, stimulants and psychedelics. A fair amount of my substance usage history includes novel research chemicals often in less than common combinations.
With the exception of the time spent in the isolation tank, I kept detailed written notes in combination with an audio recording device in order to write this report as accurately as possible. I am confident that all timestamps are correct to within a + / - 60 seconds.
I take vitamin D and Asacol HD daily, as prescribed, for a stomach condition (including the day of this experience). I do not believe these had any impact on the experience at all.
The experience described below is my first ever time in a sensory deprivation tank. The decision to float was on a bit of a whim. While floating has long been something I desired to try, there was no intent whatsoever to fulfill my aspiration on this particular trip. I am on vacation with my partner Kai in a large city in the Northwestern United States to visit two of our good friends. In passing, one of these friends, Bodhi, points out the floatation shop where he is a member. We have two days left on the trip and decide to schedule a session for both Kai and I for the following day.
I am mostly excited but there is a twinge of nervousness that keeps resurfacing from time to time between making the appointment and the session. I have asked my mate Bodhi who floats frequently for some basic tips and to give me some insight on what he finds most productive in his sessions. Bodhi keeps his advice high level, useful, and not didactic. This allows me to feel a bit more comfortable going into the experience without any firm expectations that could influence my experience.
On the day of the experience, I am relaxed. I have done some shopping with Kai and we eat some tacos about two hours before the float session. No substances were consumed prior to the sensory deprivation.
The writing of this report was done using intensive notes taken prior to and after the experience.
Floatation Tank: Discovering a Wellness Tool
The employee shows Kai her pod and provides a quick, unnervingly sparse, ďhow toĒ. I am becoming increasingly scared and find it difficult to pay attention. Suddenly we are in my float room, having left Kai to enter her float pod. Immediately I feel myself flush. The room is uncomfortably hot and humid. The employee shows me how I can turn down the heat in the room but suggests I at least start with it as its current temp. I opted for a less traditional floatation tank when making my appointment to help curb my concern of claustrophobic discomfort. I have a sealed room (from light and sound), at the center of which is a shallow rectangular tiled bathtub. The ďInfinity Float RoomĒ they call this, as the tub I will be in has no lid to close on top of the user. I was skeptical if this would be true sensory deprivation but was assured by the employee it would be 100% effective.
The employee points out the towels, earplugs, light dimmer, and spray bottle (in case any salt solution gets into my eyes) before disappearing, leaving me to my experience.
T + [4:05 PM]
I turn off the light and step into the pool. The solution feels unpleasantly warm, not the refreshing coolness I was hoping would provide relief from the humidity of the room.
My nervousness has been erased by sheer excitement now that the anticipation period is over.
My nervousness has been erased by sheer excitement now that the anticipation period is over.
Iím about to experience sensory deprivation!
I sit down and feel a quick sensation of vertigo and nausea as the salt solution prevents me from reaching the bottom of the tub and bounces me upwards. The stomach discomfort passes quickly and I lay supine with my arms at my sides.
The solution is slick; my first impression of it is not particularly positive. It feels a little like Iíve submerged my body in olive oil. I was thinking the float solution would be more like lying in an extremely comfortable bed. This is not the case. I decide to embrace the odd texture and begin to explore the float tank.
Pushing off the sides of the tank brings a smile to my face. The sensation of moving through the water is just plain old fun. I forget the lofty wellness goals of self-improvement and meditation and simply play around. The unpleasant oily texture of the salt solution feels less foreign and unpleasant already.
My arms feel unnatural at my sides. Placing my arms over my head is far more comfortable and seems to allow me to breath deeper, leaving my chest / diaphragm more open and able to take in more air.
As I become more adapted to the solution, I focus on the absence of light. I came into the experience with no expectations of having visuals of any kind. As I stare upwards I can feel my brain and eyes trying to find something to focus on. I actively focus my eyes on a point in space but this is as difficult and fruitless as it would be trying to focus on a point in the air outside of a tank. Eventually the sensation overcomes me that I am in a vast space. Unable to see anything above me (the closest thing would have been the ceiling and a bit of the tank in my peripherals), I might as well be laying beneath a wide starry sky.
The limitless void suddenly shrinks. I instantaneously feel claustrophobic. My mind has played a twisted mental trick on me and replaces the comfortable starry sky with a coffin lid type environment. I feel the blackness pressing down on me, now seemingly a solid surface only a foot or so above my face. The darkness is absolute and it is making me squirm a bit. I literally feel myself moving my fingers and toes aimlessly in the water. My mental state is becoming an unpleasant one, and quickly. The pace of my thoughts quickens as I search for the true source of my discomfort. I begin a structured mental conversation with myself:
What are you feeling?
Iím nervous, uncomfortable, panicky, borderline frightened!
Why are you any of those things? You are lying down in a dark room . . . there is not anything scary or dangerous here.
Wrong! This is teetering between very uncomfortable and actually frightening.
On and on went this conversation. Not able to resolve my discomfort, I try and distract myself by attempting meditation. I begin with simply bringing awareness to my breath. I last about three inhales and two exhales before I realize I am counting the breaths. I immediately return to my frantic thoughts: ďhow long have I been in here! Surely I must be almost done!? I canít wait to be done!Ē
Thinking that perhaps the stillness is potentiating my discomfort, I stretch myself to be as long as I can. Arching my back feels odd, but good. I explore this further by squeezing my shoulder blades together and pushing my chest outwards. It is bizarre to feel pressure working against gravity as I execute these motions, the salt pushing me away from the bottom of the tub. I test the limits and find I can touch the bottom, but it takes effort and I could not, for example, touch my butt on the bottom without it immediately moving towards the surface.
Giving my mind this distraction of movement helps calm me down a bit. I notice that salt crystals that have begun to form on the bits of my stomach that are not constantly submerged in the solution. This clear sign of time passing causes me to ponder again how far into the session I am. I guess something close to forty-five minutes. I wish I were closer to being done.
I begin to think about work and some of my upcoming tasks. I am surprised at how easily I can think ahead. Itís almost like I can see the dead ends of ideas before I actually arrive at them. This allows me to re-route my thoughts and rapidly move towards working solutions. I come up with several good ideas before I am distracted by my discomfort with my surroundings once again.
Some time passes, probably close to five minutes, not that I was counting . . . I am feeling overheated, much like I do if I spend too much time in a hot tub or sauna. The discomfort grows until I feel borderline light headed. I salivate at the thought of the cold shower waiting for me at the end of the float. I donít want to get out and turn down the heater. Well, actually I very much so do, I want a break badly. I know I can turn the light on, check the time, and lower the temperature in the room. No one is keeping me from doing these things except myself. These actions seem like a failure, an inability to complete a session of sensory deprivation.
Eventually I cave. The heat is the final straw. I slowly stand to avoid any potential nausea or head rush. I brace myself as I step out of the float tub so as to not fall on my greasy and slippery feet. I already donít feel bad about getting out for a moment. That concern is long gone, Iíve committed now. ďThere is no wrong way to floatĒ the employee had told me in my quick intro earlier. I take this to heart as I turn on the light to the lowest setting. I can still see everything in perfect clarity. I canít recall a time I was more adjusted to seeing in the dark, excluding some extremely early morning backcountry ski touring. The moment of truth has arrived as I wipe off my hand on a towel and turn over my phone to check the time.
T + [5:11 PM]
I have not been far off with my time estimations. Iím pleased to see that I made it over an hour before caving. I donít dawdle; I lower the heater from its level five position (highest) to position two (second lowest).
My phone still reads 5:11 PM as I step back into the salt solution. I am feeling way more comfortable knowing that there is less than thirty minutes left in the float for me to ďendureĒ. I decide to explore meditation again with my newfound excitement about the experience.
I am able to achieve a state of mind that feels more simplistic than normal. At one point I lose track of my breath; I no longer command, think about, or even register the ins and outs of breathing. It passes from a manual process that holds all of my attention to an automated background bodily operation while my mind focuses on . . . nothing Ė a ďheightenedĒ state of non-thought. I am only aware I have reached it when I leave it; the first breath I hear startles me as I gain sudden awareness of my body once again.
The blackness of my visual field is complete save for a few ďfloaterĒ type distortions that drift to-and-fro, only notable for the slight difference in texture they posses compared to the saturated matte coloration of everything else. I find it more comfortable and less stressful with my eyes closed, the darkness less foreign like this.
Soon enough the question begins to gnaw at me again: How much time is left!?
Soon enough the question begins to gnaw at me again: How much time is left!?
I know there can really not be much more than ten minutes left based on my estimation based on my knowledge of the time when I turned down the heat (which has had surprisingly notable effects on the roomís temperature). I canít believe how strong my desire for light is. I crave it. My thoughts are speeding up again, chattering out of control, convincing myself I should get out and be done.
I try to experiment with visualization. I think about an apple and attempt to conjure an image of one into my visual field. This is completely unsuccessful so I try again with a more emotionally charged image. I try to picture Kaiís face instead of the apple. I still see nothing besides the obvious blackness. I give up on the attempt and begin to think about what I should write in my journal about this experience. As I think about drawing a floatation tank the air in front of me lightens until it is a very light grey color. On this lighter patch of air I can see crisp smooth black lines form in an abstract rendition of a float tank. After a few moments all the air returns to its blackness, the design and its background shimmer and fade, pixel by pixel, until it disappears.
The visual effect is really enjoyable and slightly unbelievable to me. Iím a little unnerved about having a visual while Iím sober. Beyond sleep deprivation (typically after substance use) is the only time I have had this occur. This surprising event triggers the fast paced, increasingly panicked thoughts. These thoughts intensify until I canít think about anything other than the question of how much time remains. No rational thinking can keep me from this query.
T + [5:29 PM]
I canít take the suspense any longer. I decide to check my phone again. I repeat my slow and cautious exit from the tub to see I was only 120 seconds away from the end of my float. Iím elated to be nearing the end. With a grin on my face I almost leap back into the solution.
T + [5:31 PM]
The music is not of much surprise being that I knew it was only minutes away. Despite this, I feel a wave of relief come over me; I made it, I survived.
Iím clearly new to this. Iím naked with my head titled back to try and avoid getting the salt solution in my eyes as I cautiously make my way into the shower.
The cold water is absolute heaven. I go heavy on the shampoo and conditioner with the anticipation that the slick solution that coats my body will be difficult to remove. I am pleasantly surprised to find that after a relatively normal washing I donít feel sticky or slippery like I would trying to wash olive oil off my hands.
I dry off and dress before heading downstairs to reconvene with Kai. I feel like I am in a bit of a fog as we check out before exiting the building. Iím speaking at a slow pace and even though Iím excited to hear about Kaiís experience, I am relaxed and patient.
T + [5:48 PM]
Kai and I were originally planning on hiring a ride service to get from the float shop to our next destination which is a used book store about two miles away. We both agree quickly that walking sounds far more appealing. There was a light rain while we were inside and the air smells delightful and fresh. I feel like I am walking on air. I marvel about this to Kai: I actually feel high. This is not just a calm mood; this is a tangible Ī on the Shulgin Rating Scale. The only thing I can compare it to is the glow that I have experienced after a long massage or at the very tail end of a euphoric stimulant experience.
I feel elevated and removed from normal everyday concerns and thoughts. My mental process is decisive and clear. Short term decisions, such as where to eat dinner, as well as longer term decisions, such as planning large travels, are easier than normal. I am happiest when not planning however; just smiling and looking at my surroundings, holding hands with Kai, this is what I am enjoying the most. My mood is positive and gosh I just really am enjoying the way I feel right now. The calmness and happiness I feel has already made the challenging parts of the float worthwhile.
The calmness and happiness I feel has already made the challenging parts of the float worthwhile.
The walk goes by quickly even though our pace is slower than normal. My skin feels soft to the touch and sensitive to the cool breeze.
T + [8:17 PM]
Iím still very floaty as we order our dinner. I have a cocktail [1.5 ounces 40% ABV] but this seems less appealing than normal. The food is mediocre and a bit overpriced, but Kai and I donít really care as we continue to enjoy discussing our float experiences with one another. The alcohol has little to no effect on me in a physical or mental sense.
T + [9:27 PM]
We arrive back at our friendsí home. Bodhi is still at work, but his partner Bhoomi is there to chat with us. We gather to discuss the experience and I open a beer [4.2% ABV]. Bhoomi tells us almost immediately that she senses our relaxed and altered mind states. I find this especially intriguing, as I donít generally buy into a lot of the spiritual, mystical, vibe sensing new age shenanigans. When Bhoomi immediately mentions that she can tell we are off baseline and glowing with a calm energy, I am truly surprised. How could she know? I have not mentioned anything about how I feel but there was no wavering of guesswork in her statement. She spoke her sensing of our altered state as fact, as clear as if she had pointed out that I was wearing pants. I note this phenomenon in my notebook so I can ruminate on it later. For now, the present is still more enjoyable than deep thought.
T + [9:45 PM]
As we settle in and change into comfortable clothes I begin to feel a little more grounded and sober. My mood is still impeccable and the calm demeanor I find myself in is remarkable.
T + [11:32 PM]
Kai has made her way to bed for the evening but I stay up awaiting Bodhiís return from the office, eager to discuss the float tank experience with him. I feel connected, calm, thoughtful, and articulate while talking to Bhoomi who I donít know nearly as intimately as Bodhi. Conversation flows smoothly and I note an increased ability to truly listen to her comments and respond genuinely.
T [12:31 AM]
Bodhi returns home. We both enjoy a cold beer together [4.2% ABV] and discuss his workday but quickly turn our focus to my time in the tank. The discussion points are not relevant to readers, so I elect to not share them here. We are both tired and decide to call it a night after a good hug.
T + [8:35 AM + 1]
I wake up naturally without any alarm. My sleep has been sound but I did have better than average dream recall. I even note that the dreams I had were vivid and borderline lucid at times. This is an infrequent thing for me.
As I move about my morning activities: greeting everyone in the house, showering, and dressing, I feel a touch of serenity and calmness that stretches beyond a good mood. The intensity of the ďpost float glowĒ is barely perceptible, far less so than last night. Kai and I head off to meet a good friend of mine for breakfast and I consider myself absolutely at full baseline by the time the first egg yolk is spilled.
Due to the fact that the float session was not planned, I really did not have much time to form expectations before going into it. I enjoyed the time in the tank far less than I anticipated. I had read some of John Lillyís writings about minds becoming chaotic and making sensory deprivation uncomfortable but I never expected that would be my reaction. While I did not have a panic attack, I did most definitely get anxious and have strong desires to leave the darkness and quiet. The afterglow of the tank was something I did not expect in the least. I found this phenomenon remarkable and it dominated my conversations about the experience with anyone who cared to hear it for days afterwards.
Despite the discomforts I felt, I almost immediately had a desire to try floating again. I feel as though this activity, like almost all others, will become not only become easier but also more productive with practice. There were some periods in the tank where I forgot my discomfort and began some productive problem solving type thinking. I am interested to see if the lack of distractions might allow significant productivity in a relatively short amount of time.
An aspect of the sensory deprivation that I was not expecting was the hyperawareness I felt towards my own body at times. The solution was not a total spa type relaxation, at least not without some effort on my part. There is a clear connection between mental and physical body. I could feel tenseness in my body, particularly my upper back and neck. As I mentally stressed, physical tightening of my muscles reflects this. The best example of this was a phantom neck tension. I could tell I was not fully letting my head lie back to be supported by the solution. I was holding it up just slightly, not trusting and giving in to the experience. When I focused on relaxing my mind, the body would follow naturally and vice versa.
My breathing was a focal point of the extra bodily awareness as well. Throughout the hour and a half I was floating, I would re-realize that my breathing pattern was irregular. Each breath was shorter or longer, shallower or deeper, than the breath before it. This was painfully obvious due to the earplugs in my ears, which made internal bodily noises, such as my breath, overly loud. I would ďfixĒ my breath, making it more regular until I forgot about controlling it. The task would become automated until I became aware of the breath being off once again.
Overall, this experience was positive. Iím glad I went in with little to no expectations and Iím happy with the overall outcome. The difficulties and challenges of sensory deprivation have motivated me to try again with hopes of becoming more comfortable in a tank. I believe this has the potential to be a very productive wellness practice for myself. Specifically, I hope to further my progress on lowering my overall stress levels and ability to take a step back before becoming wrapped up in worries and concerns.
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