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Thoughts and reflections | August 21, 2023 | By Monika Halsan

Floatation therapy: Sensory Deprivation Tank

Since my yoga retreat in Portugal, I have been on the lookout for new avenues to help me grow, develop and heal. Yesterday, I went to my first ever Sensory Deprivation Tank experience.

Feeling extremely relaxed and calm both during and after the experience, I wanted to share it with you. Maybe you’ll find out you want to give it a go, too?

An open sensory deprivation tank.

What is a Sensory Deprivation Tank?

So first of all, let me explain what a Sensory Deprivation Tank even is.

Also known as a flotation tank or isolation tank, it is basically a closed off tank/pod, halfway filled with extremely salty water. You will enter the pod naked (don’t worry, you’ll have the room to yourself), close the soundproof tank over you, and lie down and simply float. Really float, there is a lot of salt.

You can choose to keep the lights in the tank on, but it is recommended to switch them off for maximum impact.

What is the purpose of the experience?

Sensory Deprivation Tanks are an extremely useful tool for meditation. Because it almost strips you of sensory stimulation, it helps most people reach a deeper state of relaxation. Because you also float with ease and kind of don’t feel gravity, it is a very unique yet wholesome experience.

While in the tank, if you choose to have the lights off, you will not be able to neither see nor hear anything, allowing you to be fully present with yourself.

My first floating therapy experience

Monika inside a sensory deprivation tank.

My partner and I have been talking about trying floatation therapy for a long time, so when his birthday came around and he didn’t really want anything, I figured we’d do something instead. Onto Google I went, found Float Level, and booked us in for an hour-long session.

After a shower, I tried lying down in the tank, checking if I floated well or if I wanted to keep the available neck rest. You don’t want anything floating in the water and bumping into you, so after deciding I didn’t need it, I left it outside and closed the lid of the tank.

Some very soothing meditation music started playing, and the dimmed, moody RGB type of lights were very relaxing. I had the lights on for a couple of minutes to get used to the experience, before switching them off. The music played for a few more minutes – helping you ease into the experience – before that went silent, too.

Pitch dark. Dead quiet*.

It is a bit of a trippy experience. Because you are floating, you just exist. The temperature of the water matches your body temperature and the air within the pod, so the difference between water and air is minimal. And since you don’t see anything… you’re kind of drifting in space.

There were times when I could feel my legs sort of go a bit downwards – when I followed that feeling, really followed it, it was though I was kind of rotating up and around with my legs. Similarly, when I focused on the feeling of moving in the water (very small movements), I could “trick” myself into believing the movements were big. As though I was doing a full 360 around the pod.

I didn’t personally reach a fully meditative state (I’ve always struggled with that), but I felt extremely relaxed. Focusing on my breathing and just trying to make sense of the sensations. Feeling one with the water and air.

Honestly, I felt so relaxed both during and after – and when I met up with my boyfriend after the session, he was in the exact same state. While drinking our glasses of cold water, we both agreed we need to do this more often.

*I did hear some sounds from outside a couple of times, so in hindsight I probably should have used the earplugs that were offered. I've also been hearing these strange crackling sounds in my ears when I yawn or get in the lift since, so I'm assuming some salt got stuck in my ears, so the earplugs might have helped prevent that, too.

The benefits of floatation therapy

There are a lot of benefits associated with Sensory Deprivation Tanks. I’m not saying one session will do all (or any) for everyone, but I definitely believe that the experience can help experience a lot of this. From general well-being, to mental and physical benefits, let’s have a look at some of them – though the list can be much longer than the below:

  • Relieves stress and evokes full relaxation
  • Can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Refreshes and rejuvenates, leaving your body very soft
  • Helps reach a deeper state of meditation
  • Improves problem-solving, concentration and creativity
  • Reduces blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption
  • Relieves pain such as headaches, chronic pain, arthritis, and headaches
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Can assist with overcoming addictions, phobias and habits

In addition to these benefits, Sensory Deprivation Tanks are also said to improve certain conditions, such as stress-related disorders (anxiety and PTSD), depression, burn-out, hypertension, and chronic conditions.

Common questions about Sensory Deprivation Tanks

I’m by no means an expert on the topic, so the answers to the questions and concerns below are based on personal experience from this one session.

Are sensory deprivation tanks scary?

I’ll admit I’m an easily scared and paranoid person. When I first closed the pod, I kept the lights on for a couple of minutes just to get used to the room, the tank, and the whole feeling. When I switched the lights off, I did have a few moments where I was a bit on edge, but only because my mind was playing tricks on me (you know, thinking of all the horror movies I’ve ever watched).

But I wasn’t scared. And I had no reason to be. You have the light-switch easily accessible within the tank, and you just push the tank’s lid to open it. You are in full control throughout the entire experience, so not for a second did I feel unsafe in there.

Will I be able to fully meditate?

I wasn’t. It wasn’t a life-changing experience that helped me reach new levels of meditation, personally. My boyfriend reached a deeper meditative state.

The experience is different for everyone, but either way it is an out-of-the-body sort of experience simply because you are floating. For me, focusing on my breathing and trying to let go of my thoughts (but accepting that they were there, and returning to my breath), truly helped. I don’t feel I reached the Theta meditative state* that apparently is the typical float level, but either way I was extremely relaxed throughout.

*Theta is the stage where we are between awake and asleep. We go from Beta (normal day-to-day alert state), to Alpha (relaxed but aware), to Theta, to Delta (deep sleep).

Are sensory deprivation tanks safe?

Yes – as mentioned above, I never felt unsafe. You have full control of the pod (lights and open/closed tank), and because there is so much salt you can’t drown either should you fall asleep (unless you choose to turn down and lie face-down, but that’s not recommended). I didn’t feel tired or close to falling asleep personally anyway though. Just comfortably relaxed, mentally.

Are sensory deprivation tanks cold?

No, the water (and air) is at body temperature, so you don’t really feel the temperature at all.

Can I do it if I am claustrophobic?

I didn’t find it claustrophobic at all (but I’m also not claustrophobic). Again, you can open the pod yourself and at any time, so you can control your space. The pod itself is fairly big, but you can reach the sides with your arms if you take them out. Since you are floating, you’ll experience touching the walls around you every now and then, but it’s a small bump and you just push yourself away – most of the time I wasn’t touching anything.

Does time move slowly or quickly when floating?

I felt quite unaware of time, personally. It was difficult to say if time was moving slowly or not. Since it’s dark and quiet, there’s not really much entertaining you, but that’s also not the point of the experience. For me, one hour was perfect – it allowed me quite a lot of time to fully ease in and get comfortable, and then for the second half I was fully relaxed and just enjoying it.

There is music and light both at the beginning and the end of the session, helping you ease in and out of the experience.

My mind is always scattered, will I be able to enjoy it?

My mind is scattered too, and I enjoyed it. But it’s a personal experience, and in all honesty there is only one way to truly find out. I do, however, feel that this experience could be really good for you at different stages of life, such as before a big change or if you’re needing to make a big decision. Or if you just want to take some time to yourself.

Even if you don’t reach a deep meditative state (I didn’t), there is so much to enjoy. It’s one of those experiences you will remember, and that people around you will be curious about.

Closing thoughts

After wanting to try this for a long time, my partner and I instantly agreed we want to repeat this, perhaps even turn it into a somewhat regular experience. So maybe it’s worth checking if there is one in your area, so that you could try it, too? You don’t have to be used to meditation to try, and you might just found that you truly enjoy it. If you don’t have one nearby, why not check if there is one at your next holiday destination?

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