Smart phones, traffic, noise, pollution, deadlines, soccer practice, birthdays, exams, loneliness, smothered, in-laws, kids, emails, bills, mortgages, texts, exercise, eating well, eating poor, smoking, stress, stress, stress…
Arrival, preparation and slipping in
I walk into Float House after another continuous day of events. I go to my private room, disrobe, and begin to cleanse my body in the shower. I start to bring my awareness away from the external world; I begin to feel the water turn warmer on my skin. I wash my hair and body thoroughly with the unscented shampoo and body wash. I begin to feel the subjective stench (or triumph) of that particular day washing away, the shower begins to stimulate all of the receptors of my skin. I begin to channel my awareness away from the repetitive stream of thoughts that had filled the day to this point and direct them towards the senses. I connect more deeply with my breath, feel the weight of gravity compressing my joints down to my feet, and begin to anticipate the natural re-booting of my human biocomputer.
I am now physically cleansed and as I insert my earplugs I feel them expanding into my ear cannel, at first muffling the quiet hum of the sound insulated room and then muting it altogether. I open the door and step in, the water feels warm, not hot, and not cold, it matches my skin temperature very closely. I lie back and my body is picked up like a cork, my arms go above my shoulders making right angles to my torso and right angles at my elbows.
As I settle into the silky solution of the flotation tank there is no sound other than my breath, which resembles the waves of an ocean breaking at the shoreline, and my heart beats rhythmically, like a primitive tribal drum. The beats begin to slow and I release conscious control of my breath, trusting my autonomic nervous system to keep me alive, I don’t need to breathe for myself, my body’s intelligence just does. My thoughts that were once acknowledging the black, quiet, humid solitude I have now entered, begin to slow down, they spread apart and the space and silence behind the thoughts start to rise towards the surface of my awareness like oil separating from water. All my muscles begin to release, I let go of control, and I surrender to the empty space I have given myself to for the next 90 minutes.
I haven’t taken any drugs and yet I feel high, my natural biochemistry has taken over and my senses are paradoxically heightened from the sensory deprived environment. There are commercial float centers popping all over North America, particularly on the West Coast. I try to float 1-3 x per week, a fairly “heavy” user compared to the majority of our members who decide to enter into sensory deprivation typically 1 x per month.
A float tank in a nutshell
10” inches of skin-temperature water, 900lbs of Epsom salts, a light proof, sound proof enclosed environment that voids your nervous system of as many senses as possible. The user floats effortlessly due to the extreme density and experiences a profound state of physiological and psychological relaxation.
Even though my first float was somewhat challenging to relax into right away, I was able to settle down enough to have an idea of what this tool could be used for and how to “let go” of control and learn to trust just letting things be as they are.
And it was after the float was over that I really started feeling more of the effects. I felt oddly sensitive. I felt a little disoriented and I did not want to just get in my car and start driving right away. I felt a little spacey and simply wanted ground myself a bit before I drove home. What were the mechanisms that created such a reaction I wondered?
After just that single float my brother and I decided to buy our own tank. For the first 6 weeks I was floating nearly every other day. And this was amazing! I started feeling the physical benefits nearly immediately from habitual tank use. Being a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athlete at the time, the tank felt great for my sore muscles and joints (especially back & neck pain) due to the combination of anti-gravity, decreased catabolic stress hormones in my body (accelerating recovery from training and injuries), and the magnesium absorption, via the Epsom salt, through my skin (a mineral with multiple health functions). And then there was the stress management: a synergistic combination of physical tension release, endorphin release, and stress hormone reduction left me feeling physically loose, light, pain-free, and mentally clear and calm via the cessation of all stimulus for 90-minutes.
The sensory deprivation tank creates an environment that allows for your body to get to a state of relaxation that it rarely, if ever, gets to achieve. And on top of that you get to remain conscious during this very rare, intense state of deep relaxation. To feel your body in this physical state can be profound, and typically if your body is in this altered relaxed state, your mind will be as well. And this is where the psychological benefits come into discussion.
The “altered states” of floating
The practice of floating when applied to a psychological framework could be coined “The Art of Letting Go”. Once you become physically relaxed it is quite easy to become mentally relaxed, and if you’re exhausted at the time of your float there is a strong chance you could fall asleep. Which is why I like to float when I am not absolutely exhausted and would probably just sleep, because I love taking my mind into the void and stillness that is.
Many within the floating community purposely left behind the term sensory deprivation because it was felt to not accurately represent what floating is and also to prevent deterring people by the “scariness” of the term itself. The thought was that “if I went into a sensory deprived environment then I would not feel anything. Why would I not want to feel anything? Is that not at least part of the reason why we exist as a sensory being of the universe in human-form?”
When we minimize as much sensory input as possible, we actually start to feel/experience whatever there is left to feel; our inner body: our thoughts, our emotions, the very physical sensations of our body itself, our energy. Living in a perceivably external world, known to us purely through our senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and scent, and living in a world with endless forms of entertainment and stimulation, we get strongly conditioned to always being externally aware. There is always something to watch, taste, listen to, feel and smell. And we end up blocking out a large chunk of the various stimuli because there is simply too much to process, so we consciously don’t, we become numb and automatized to many of the senses we chronically experience. We literally block out huge chunks of our lives. And with more and more forms of external interconnections being made, we are never at rest, at peace, in silence, or in stillness unless we consciously create that space for ourselves. It is also very easy to get wrapped up in all of the external events of our lives and to not be aware of what our inside is “saying” or feeling, at least until it is too late when our health deteriorates, our relationships fail or our happiness is gone.
Disconnecting from all there is outside of ourselves for 90 minutes allows us to begin re-establishing the connection within ourselves to ourselves, to whatever we are. And this is where things get really interesting. We know we are a part of this universe, we are here, we are atoms and we are told by quantum physics that at the sub-atomic level we are a part of this homogenous soup of energy. And here we are, in our conscious human form, a part of all there is. When we take away the outer world for a moment, when we get still and quiet and begin to strengthen our connection to our inner selves, our inner-ness, we begin to develop a greater sensitivity to whatever there is to sense. I personally begin to feel (real or phenomenological) this sub-atomic universe of interconnectedness. I begin to feel this growing sensation that goes beyond the boundaries of my body (the water matching the temperature of my skin aids this, it literally helps to dissolve the sense of boundaries we have within this human flesh vehicle). And combining the unique physicality of the float tanks environment with the altered mental states one can experience if one can learn to “let go” provides me with personal, subjective experiences that feel as real as they need to in order to shift my perspective on life.
Floating + life
Floating is a practice to be used along with other boundary dissolving techniques (psychedelics, yoga, meditation, etc.). It is simply our bodies doing what they do when not being bombarded; it is a part of our natural operations to allow for this sort of healing, awareness, and discovery to occur. If psychedelics are done quarterly, bi-annually, or annually, and yoga/meditation is done daily or a couple of times per week, then floating could be used supplementary in between these other two tools, 1-4 times per month. It can deepen the more frequent boundary dissolving practices we do and help integrate/buffer the more intensive ones.
From floating I have become more aware of my limited time on this planet and what things are truly important to me: the people, the experiences I have, and the positive contribution I choose to make with “my” life-energy. This is why we have devoted this portion of our lives to creating this business and to help bring this previously very rare tool, the isolation tank, to the public. For even if it can affect just one other as it has affected my brother and I, then who knows what that change could manifest in regards to that person’s positive contributions towards a better future for all, it could be the catalyst needed.
Mike Zaremba is an avid ‘floater’ and co-founder of Float House: Sensory Deprivation and Flotation Center.