My Experience in a Sensory Deprivation Tank
by Kevin Gullickson
Is it possible to float your stress away?
I intended to find out at the new flotation spa that opened up in town.
When I first heard about flotation spas on a podcast, I was immediately intrigued. The idea behind the experience was “sensory deprivation.” It sounded a little freaky to me at first. Then I understood what it meant. Sensory deprivation is removing stimuli from your senses to create the most relaxed state you can experience.
Here’s what the whole flotation experience was like for me…
Pre-Flotation Pod Prep
I started off at the appointment desk, where the spa employee told me what was getting ready to happen. Then he took me to a waiting room. The video playing there gave an overview of the experience and offered testimonials from other “floaters.” They also offered an oxygen bar as a bonus.
The testimonies on the video shared how people felt a deep sense of peace and calm, received clarity on things going on in their lives, or even had visions while floating. Some of them seemed a little strange to me. I wondered if I would possibly have some sort of “out of body” experience. But I tried not to create any sort of expectations for myself based on what I heard.
I waited a few minutes for a room to open up. The water in the flotation spa had to be recycled from the previous customer’s session. A large machine cleans and purifies the water for about 20 minutes, so it’s ready for the next person.
I didn’t need to prepare much for the experience. The spa supplied everything except for a contact lens case and solution, which I brought. I also brought a swimsuit, just in case, but they recommended floating in the buff. In hindsight, I think that was the best way to get the full experience of the float. Anything touching my skin would have been a distraction.
Each personal spa room had a shower, changing area, and the flotation tank. The flotation pod itself was shaped like a giant clamshell, and looked quite a bit like an alien spaceship, with it’s glowing lights and ambient music—especially once the lights in the room were turned off!
After getting final instructions from the spa employee, I showered and prepared to hop in. The spa provided earwax and petroleum jelly in the changing area. The petroleum jelly was for applying to any small scrapes or cuts. Due to the high salt content in the water, you would “feel the burn” leaving any open wounds exposed and uncovered. I didn’t think to put any on my dry, cracked hands…and regretted it! I jumped back out to apply some petroleum jelly after the fact. But since my hands had already been exposed to the salt, the petroleum jelly wasn’t effective. I also popped in the earwax to avoid getting water in my ears, to block any sounds and round out the sensory deprivation experience.
Now it was time for me to jump (or rather duck) back into the pod. The water was perfect body temperature to create the feeling of, well…not feeling anything. With the high volume of salt in the water, I imagine it was like stepping into the Great Salt Lake or the Dead Sea. The salt serves two purposes:
- Keeping the floater on top of the water
- Providing the well-documented benefits of Epsom salts
I slowly sat down and pulled the clamshell top down. Then I laid back, stretched out and lifted my legs to float. There came a point where I pretty much had to trust the water to keep me up, which it did, of course.
I have to admit that my mind was racing at that point. I had turned the room light off, but the lights and ambient music in the spa were still on. I knew in order to get the full experience it would be best to turn them off. But in the back of my mind I recalled a “freak out” claustrophobia moment in a pitch black room. It was a moment I don’t care to repeat ever again. But I decided beforehand that floating was going to be all or nothing. So I reached over to the button on the wall of the spa and turned off the lights.
I waited a few moments with the gentle, soothing music still playing in the spa speakers.
So far…so good.
No claustrophobia crept in and the music seemed too loud after a while. So after my comfort level grew, I was ready to turn off the music as well.
Initially, I had to make a few adjustments to floating in the pod. I found my toe touching the wall and had to gently push away — but avoid drifting to the other side!
Next came the moment I had been anticipating…complete silence and solitude…the moment of just letting go.
I could feel my heart beating, but the rhythm was relaxing. I released all tension in my muscles and let my thoughts drift.
I got so comfortable that I decided it wouldn’t be a big deal if I fell asleep. (And I may have at one point—I don’t even know for sure!) I almost felt like I couldn’t tell where my body ended and the water began.
I didn’t have any visions or “aha” moments of inspiration. I didn’t have a spiritual experience. I just relaxed and enjoyed a moment of peace—away from the hustle and bustle of life and work and family, away from the pressures of the day.
Sixty minutes passed—slowly or quickly, I can’t even say. I literally just enjoyed the moment. It evolved without creating any expectations or pressures around what I was supposed to think or “do” or experience in the spa. A friend of mine ended her session early because she got bored, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.
Did it float away my stress? Maybe. I hope that my wife and kids noticed that I was a little less tense and more relaxed as I enjoyed moments with them that day. It’s possible that my brain finally found a chance to declutter and re-organize itself a bit. Maybe my chiropractor found that my back wasn’t as tense and out of line as it normally was. Plus there were the added benefits of the Epsom salts.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. For an introvert like me, an opportunity to close off the rest of the world for a little bit is a welcome one! But if I had to choose between a float and a massage, I would probably choose the massage.
If you have a flotation spa near you, look for a local group coupon deal and give it a try! Whatever your experience, be sure to let us know what you thought at Facebook.com/BartonPublishing.
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Kevin Gullickson wears many hats as the COO of Barton Publishing. He loves to implement systems and processes that help everyone on the team work more efficiently. When he’s not working, he’s enjoying his family, cycling or working out…or trying to help others in some way! He’s a pastor and church planter “on the side” and recently planted a church in Sioux Falls, SD.