Tag Archives: altered states

Floating and creativity

Peter Gabriel, the musical legend, says, “[My isolation tank] was quite useful, in the sense that you could get into a dream state, and I think that did allow…different thoughts and pictures to come through.

by Tia Davis
Float-inspired artwork by Tia Davis

Joe Rogan, the comic and MMA host, says, “The sensory deprivation chamber is the most important tool I’ve ever used for developing my mind, for thinking, for evolving.

Matt Stangel of the Portland Mercury reports that after floating, “I began to write creatively for the first time in months, but with an uninhibited ease that I haven’t experienced in almost five years. In short, I was astounded by the changes I saw in myself.

What’s going on here? Why does everyone seem to come out of the tank talking about peace, clarity, and cosmic oneness, or “colors — of cars, of buildings, of the sky — [being] more lush“, or achieving “profound, ecstatic nothingness“, or even “like a DJ had showed up to the party and started remix­ing my brain“? People seem convinced the tank increases their creativity, but does it really, or are they just tripping?

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Floating and pregnancy

“It’s just that I am feeling so heavy, cumbersome and sore this pregnancy that I would love to feel weightless if only for an hour.”

by Shinichi Moriyama
Float inspired art by Shinichi Moriyama, from the Float On artist project

As always, check with your health care provider first, for any conditions that might be specific to you.  Many people, though, report that they find wonderful relief from the stress of pregnancy in a tank. The dense Epsom salt-laden water gently takes up all the unaccustomed weight you’re bearing, and gives respite to your strained joints.

“I was eight months pregnant when I floated for the first time. Pregnancy takes a toll on every muscle in your body, especially your torso. Ironically, the times when you get a chance to rest is when the baby becomes more active and its weight continues to put stress on your muscles. While floating, I expected the baby to be very active, but was pleasantly surprised. Since there was no pressure from any side, the baby didn’t feel the need to kick or roll around. It was the best rest I’ve had in several months. I would recommend floating to anyone, pregnant or not, for a time of physical and mental renewal.”
(Heather Warren, Oakland, CA)

Here’s a great ten-minute talk from a pair of midwives discussing some of the reasons a pregnant person might consider floating.

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The relaxation response and altered states of consciousness

Here’s a thing I’ve learned through all the reading I’ve been doing about floating: the body has a relaxation response as the physiological counterpart to the fight-or-flight response. I was surprised — I hadn’t heard of this before — and then that thought was almost instantly followed by “of course it does”.

by Diane Jacobs
Float inspired art by Diane Jacobs, from the Float On artist project

Fight-or-flight is well known, and had been extensively studied for almost a century.  The body responds to perceived threat or danger with a reflex that releases hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other autonomic nervous functions.  This gives the body a burst of energy and strength to defend ourselves under physical attack.

The shifts triggered by the adrenalin and cortisol are hard on the body — they’re supposed to be an emergency reaction, not the normal state of being. The body expects that after running or fighting, we’ll stop and rest and relax, giving it a chance to clean up.  But unfortunately for us, the modern world frequently supplies stressful situations that trigger fight-or-flight where neither fight nor flight is a reasonable response, and where we also don’t get a clear time to stop.

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Floating in pop culture

Warning: if you enter a float tank, you will certainly experience every one of these things shown below, probably simultaneously.  As is well known, TV is invariably accurate, scrupulous, and truthful in every respect. To sign up to be experimented upon have a soothing spiritual experience, join our mailing list.

This may happen to you.
(Mermaid tank, by John Leonard)

The Simpsons, Make Room For Lisa, Episode S10E16, 20:32.  Lisa takes Homer to a float center; Homer’s tank goes for a ride (starting from 13:20).

Fringe, Pilot, Episode S1E01, 2:08.  “This will rip open your consciousness.” “I still think this is deeply irresponsible.”  Walter just makes everything more complicated than it needs to be.

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