January 30, 2017

Flotation Tanks: Should You Give One a Try?

photo: wikipedia

By Crabby McSlacker

So recently I spent an hour in a flotation tank. Or, as they're also known, an isolation tank, or sensory deprivation tank. Given the current state of the world, we could all use some sort of complete break from reality, right?

Or hell, if I wanted to be even more cumbersome about it (and not leave any potential googlers out), I could also say: I undertook some "restricted environmental stimulation therapy," or a "flotation REST."

Yep: I lay there naked in the dark, closed off in a little heated box, suspended in a solution of epsom salts designed induce an extreme state of relaxation and make my arms and legs and everything else melt away, leaving nothing but a state of pure Crabby consciousness.

Why would I do such a thing? What was it like? Did I freak out? Did I see God? Would I do it again? Do I have any advice for how to prepare?

Answers to these and other questions no one has cared to ask me below!



Supposed Benefits of Isolation Tanks & Why I Gave it a Shot


I hadn't done any recent research, but had heard good things through the years. Articles like this one on float tanks in Men's Journal mention things like "reducing stress by lowering cortisol levels; managing chronic pain, injury, and illness; fighting addiction and depression; elevating mood; and even improving sports performance." There are even more health goodies listed at the Floataway website.

On the other hand, to paraphrase Wikipedia (go-to source for lazy bloggers): a lot of this "isolation tank research" is pretty darn sketchy. And I couldn't find any super-convincing links after an exhaustive two minute search on the google. But really, who cares about research? This is one of those things where your own experience is going to be a lot more important than what random subjects in some study report.

And honestly, it was the altered-state-or-consciousness aspect that appealed to me more than the health benefits. And consciousness is something very hard to measure in any study.

Because you guessed it, yet again I'm trying to be more diligent about my own custom-designed bizarro meditation practice. And one of my primary modalities is body awareness.  I can get into some pretty trippy headspaces sometimes, yay! But one of my biggest challenges is relaxing and letting go. The idea of an environment specifically designed to accomplish this, to get my cranky little brain higher, deeper, and more nutty than ever? Very tempting!

However the thought of plopping down $60 to take a bath, even a trendy high-tech bath? Awfully hard to justify.

Enter Groupon!

I saw one back in early December for a cheap float at a place right down the street. And since I'm really hard to buy Christmas presents for, I decided to drop a gentle hint:

"Honey? Go online and buy me one of these Flotation Tank Groupons for Christmas. And hurry okay, before they sell out."

Okay, maybe not so gentle. My awesome wife dutifully purchased The Groupon, and last week I finally got around to taking the plunge. (So to speak. You actually can't plunge when you're buoyant.)


photo: pixabay

My Floatation Tank Experience


Yes, I realize this is chronologically backwards, I should start with the "preparing" part first, but the tips make a lot more sense when you know what can go wrong.

Because yeah, if I had to sum up my experience, I'd say: Disappointing.

I went to one of the Float Sanctuary locations. I don't know if this is common, or if this was an anomaly, but the first thing I noticed was the air temperature in my tank was a little chilly. A sense of uncomfortable coolness is not sensory deprivation, it is sensory aggravation.

Why didn't I just tell them to heat it up? Well, there was no intercom in my room or anything, or at least I wasn't told about one. And I'm lying there in a darkened box full of salt water and would have to make my way to the hatch, climb out, shower off the salt, find my glasses, get dressed again, wander out and find the nice lady at the desk and hope she was empowered to tweak the temperature, get back undressed again, climb back in, reposition, wait, and hope it got better but not too warm. Meanwhile: clock ticking.

And here's the thing: it may have a perfect temperature for someone else. For all I know, it varies from person to person. But if there's no feedback mechanism, there's no way to get the right temperature for the right person.

Other sensory phenomena that were annoying: even though I tried to keep still, I kept floating into the sides of the tank and bumping the walls. Perhaps I'm just asymmetrical that way. Water dripped down on me occasionally from the ceiling. The air sometimes seemed a little under-oxygenated, like an airplane, though that could have been paranoia on my part.

Not as annoying: a slight electronic hum which, had I remembered to wear the earplugs provided, I might not have heard. There were a little dim light from the oxygen holes, which didn't interfere with a sense of total darkness with my eyes closed. It was actually reassuring to know that if I opened my eyes and looked that way, I could reorient if I felt the need.

You're not locked in the tank, so if you start to feel a little anxious, you can always just pop the hatch and re-enter the Real World. I didn't need to, but it was good to know  that if somehow I found myself in some sort of freaked out state I wasn't going to be trapped there.

And the floating itself felt very nice! It does seem to allow muscle relaxation to a deeper level than lying on a bed. But my arms didn't feel entirely comfortable either in the recommended position above my head, or at my sides. I had to keep switching off.

So it wasn't horrible, it was sometimes pleasant, and I didn't experience any major anxiety or discomfort. But I did spend a fair amount of time grousing when I should have been relaxing, and I didn't float off into nirvana.

Would I do it again? Sure, if it was cheap, say maybe $15 bucks a shot, and I could make sure the tank would be warm enough. But failing that, I realized I've actually have better luck achieving the sense of my limbs disappearing by meditating at home, under the warm covers of my own bed. For free.

But if you're curious, don't be deterred just because a perpetually cranky blogger didn't drift off into bliss. A more easy-going attitude might make all the difference.

photo: pixabay

How to Prepare for Your First Floatation Experience


The float places will give you a general run-down of their particular procedures before you go. You'll probably be advised that you'll be showering first at the place before and after, that you're not wear lotions, that you should cover cuts with vaseline provided, and that you need to move slowly, particularly when you exit--like an astronaut returning from orbit, you can feel a little heavy and awkward when reintroduced to gravity. I'd also add that if you wear contact lenses, you may want to take them out and bring glasses so your eyes don't get all dry and scratchy and swollen.

But here are two additional things I wish I'd known to do:

1. Lower expectations for the first float.

A huge part of my problem was not realizing that flotation tanks apparently work best over time. (Which is great if you own a flotation business, or are independently wealthy, but not so great if you're looking for any immediate bang for your buck).

To use a medical analogy, flotation is more like a "therapy" than a "procedure." Much of my discomfort was self-inflicted because I'd had ridiculously over-optimistic hopes about what I might experience the first time out.

2. Check Yelp or other sources for reviews of your local flotation place.

Do a lot of people complain about temperature or conditions? If so, you may want to ask a few questions of the proprietors and make sure you will be comfortable.

(OK so as soon as I wrote "your local flotation place" I realized I was being an urban-centered asshat. Because yeah, how many people in this country, let alone the world, have the option of overpaying for the privilege of lying in a dark salty tub in their own neighborhood? Just be reassured that if you're cranky like me, you may not be missing much).

How about you all, have you, or would you, try a flotation tank? Any other experiments with sensory deprivation or altered states to report?

24 comments:

  1. I am glad to read your experiences, Crabby, because the idea of being in one of these things makes my breathing all rapid and shallow. Intriguing as they are, my claustrophobia prevents me from even thinking about it.

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  2. While you could always keep opening the hatch and jumping out of the box that would sort of defeat the "relaxation" aspect, so yeah, I can see why that wouldn't be on your bucket list. But you get your isolation in wide open spectacular wilderness of the kind few of us get to experience. So no need for a tiny box!

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  3. I do have the privilege of floating tanks a few minutes up the road. I will be checking it out. Soon would be nice.

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    1. Will be curious what you think Kimberley!

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  4. I need a little more action is my journey to inner peace. When I try to meditate I tend to get into a "Are we there yet? How much longer until I get there?" mode. I'm thinking that yoga where you make noises together is more my thing. Anybody know what that kind of yoga is called?

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    1. Chanting. My first yoga teachers did a lot of it. Sadly, in recent years the studios I've been going to don't seem to do much.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    2. There is also "laughter yoga," which looks goofy but I hear is quite wonderful. Or, um, sex. That could be called a yoga where you make noises and I hear it's a pretty "actiony" way to achieve inner peace. :)

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  5. It sounds like a nice bath/swimming pool experience, only completely private...intriguing. Although, my mind never shuts off so I wonder how much relaxing I'd get done vs. all of my SQUIRREL! thoughts.

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    1. THere was definitely a squirrel in my tank with my Shelley, wish I could have left it behind!

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  6. Man! These have been on my back and forth list for months! I was glad to read this. I just haven't been able to justify the cost, and being a bit too cold would be distracting. Thanks for the honest experience!

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    1. Your mileage may vary, you may want to check reviews of your local place. Plus, you're more used to cold than I am!

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  7. Haven't tried it and am not sure i'd want to. While i'm not exactly claustrophobic, i'm not so sure i'd want to be shut into one of these things.

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    1. I'd suggest covering yourself with kittens instead messymimi!

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  8. Good for you, Crabby, for trying something different!

    I probably would opt out. The cold temp would make me feel a bit clammy. But I have to give you kudos for trying it out :)

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    1. I don't hear most people complain about the cold, so I"m thinking either I was wimpy or it was a screw up on the part of my float place. But, it'd definitely dark and wet in there!

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  9. Hi Crabby, great post.

    I'm with you, this flotation thing sounds a bit skeptical. It also sounds a bit forced. I can see Sean Spicer owning a business like this: 'This is the most relaxing bath you'll ever take - period!'

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    1. Accck! Hanro just the mention of that name and I had to wash my brain out with soap!

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  10. I don't think I would like it. The day--yes, almost all day--I spent floating in the ocean, just treading water with my back to the beach was wonderful, but without the sun and sky and wind it just wouldn't be the same.

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    1. Ah yes, can't beat ocean floating Mary Anne! (Though I don't actually float very well, even in sea water. My butt and legs sink. So the tank had the advantage of actually suspending me, but the sun and sky and wind sure would have been nice!

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  11. Haha- I bought the same groupon and reached the same conclusion: a little disappointing! I'm just going to get a massage next time!

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  12. Put me in the same categories as Leah.. and Shelley. Trapped with my thoughts!I'd feel far too anxious to relax. But yours is the first firsthand experience I've read about it.. so now I'm even more convinced that it's not for me. ;)

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    1. P.S. Re your Google page comment "All I can think to share is how much I currently hate Google Plus..."
      You can easily direct folks to you blog by having them click on the "About" link on the Google+ header. Your blog is then in the Links section. I hate Google+ also but found that "About" leads to most blogs.

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  13. wow! I don't know if i can do it. it would sound better being in a free space as compared to an enclosed environment. lol! my thoughts though.
    I saw similar recommendations somewhere. yet to give this a try.

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  14. That's unfortunate you had such a bad experience. I hate chilly waters, I cannot imagine how uncomfortable it would've been ! you can't even relax in that state. But will definitely will check reviews of the surrounding locations before I commit to trying it.

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