Kim opened the door to a small room dominated by a large white tank, not unlike a chest freezer or an extra-long washing machine. A large cargo strap was cinched around it – the Samadhi float tank is modular for easy transport, and therefore collapsible. Presumably. The idea of the tank collapsing while I was floating inside of it had thankfully not occurred to me before this moment.
The time after the tank was actually more interesting, perhaps because I wasn’t expecting it.
I had driven over an hour to West Boylston to take a ride in a float tank. They’ve also been known as sensory deprivation or isolation tanks, although “float tank” is the preferred term these days
. That’s what I’d signed up to do for an hour: float, in warm shallow water saturated with Epsom salts. Relaxation and inner focus would be my reward.
Kim pointed out a squirt bottle of plain water just outside the hatch, to be used if you touch your face and the salt solution gets in your eyes. That stings. “I’ll knock when your time is up,” Kim says. “Enjoy your float!” I repair to the bathroom to take out my contacts and shower, and then it’s time to go. Closing the tank room door behind me, I open the hatch and take a look at the warm, dark interior. I feel a moment of foreboding as I roll silicone earplugs between my fingers and press them into my ears. Am I really going to go in there?
Gingerly, I step in and sit down. The water is about ankle deep and warm, pleasantly so. The hatch is lightweight and swings down easily – and suddenly it’s disorientingly dark. I slide my legs forward and stretch out onto my back, bumping fingertips against the walls a couple times until I figure out a central position. Time to… do this! Whatever “this” is.
The first thing I notice is that the air is warm and humid and smells slightly of chlorine – I’m reminded of indoor swimming pools in the winter. It feels a bit stifling, and the sensation (plus some anxiety) makes it a little hard for me to breathe comfortably. I recall that this model has the air exchanger at the far end, so I sit up and turn around, feeling above my head carefully. The roof of the tank is a lot higher than I expect; in fact, the interior is much roomier than it looked from the outside. I can move around easily. After a short while in the new position, a slightly cooler breeze wafts over my face. I’m instantly more at ease.
For a few minutes I just breathe and drift and daydream. The noise of my breathing (and of my ears ringing) predominates at first, but then that fades and I can hear my heart beating. Nice. I pay attention to my neck a few times, shaking it out gently, letting it be heavy. Once the tension lets go, I find my head floats a bit lower than I expected: the water is almost at my eyes. At one point, I did hear – or feel – low vibrations that must have been a truck going by.
My brain quiets its usual chatter after a little while, but then begins describing the experience to me. I tell it that it’s okay not to do that; it’s okay to let go. There’s a tiny squeak of boredom-panic.
My brain: whoa! But it’s dark! Did you know it’s dark?
Me: Yes, it is. Seems okay though, right?
Brain: Errrr… Hmm. Are we really staying in here a whole hour?
Me: Yes, that’s the plan. We can get out any time if that isn’t cool.
Brain: Well. All right. [silence]
OH GOD, WHERE ARE MY LEGS? [splash]
Okay. Whew! Thought we lost them for a minute.
Me: What if we did? I think that would be okay. They’ll be back.
Brain: Huh. (image of limbs detaching and drifting off into space, accompanied by wee-ooo sensory feelings)
Me: …Wow. Okay, that was fun.
Brain: Yeah… I think I can get behind this.
But that was really the extent of my “visions”, once my brain stopped trying to entertain me. I didn’t trip, or hallucinate, or see anything strange. The things I did “see” were just at the edge of perception, and disappeared as soon as my attention turned toward them. A shape, a large curve, in dark blues, lit from underneath. A feeling of motion, somewhat like being rocked by the ocean… to one side, then the other, a fair distance each time.
Then – poom. poom. poom. That was Kim, knocking on the side of the tank to tell me my time was up.
I was genuinely shocked. I blinked, and as I reoriented myself, realized I’d drifted pretty deeply. I hadn’t fallen asleep, but had certainly tranced out. I have a pretty decent sense of time, but would have sworn I was only in there for twenty minutes or so. Feeling my way back to the other end of the tank, I found the hatch and pushed it open. Dry air washed over me and I sat there, blinking.
The time after the tank was actually more interesting, perhaps because I wasn’t expecting it. I felt like I was moving very slowly, but not in a soporific way. It was more… deliberate. I moved with care and noticed details. After I’d rinsed the salt away, I sat and looked around a little. I was glad I was alone; Kim had gone off to run an errand, my husband was taking his turn in the tank, and the house was quiet. I was glad I didn’t have to put anything into words right away. I took some pictures, instead. Then… I just wanted to sit. I didn’t want to read, didn’t want to distract myself. After a few minutes contemplating the air, I *did* want to knit, and I’m glad I brought that with me. The feel of the yarn and the colors were exactly what I wanted. I spent a little bit of time looking at the work I’d done so far, running it through my fingertips, then got to work.
- ENDORPHINS. I had about five waves of them!
- Floating was effortless!
- Water was shallow and felt safe – sitting up, I immediately contacted the bottom.
- Very deep relaxation with minimal effort.
- Time loss: that was interesting.
- The way I felt AFTER. Wow – I want that again.
Not so good:
- Climbing into a small dark space and shutting the door behind me made me feel apprehensive.
- Air felt close, stifling at times.
- Slight feeling of nausea – sort of like motion sickness.
- Distracting tickles: bubbles coalescing under my back, or beads of sweat rolling off my stomach.
Overall, I really liked my experience and am eager for more. I’m planning my next float to be at a center that has “Ocean” tanks – tall enough to stand up in. I think this might solve the first two negatives on my list. The other two might be things I get used to in time.
Have you ever experienced a float tank? What did you think?