It wasn’t on my bucket list, but it should have been.
I had the opportunity recently to experience my first sensory deprivation float. I had been experiencing a crippling level of anxiety in recent weeks, and members of my family gifted me the experience in the hopes that it would help. Leading up to the appointment, I encountered numerous people who wanted a report back on what the experience was like. So, I decided to write this in the hopes that it can help you decide if a float is something you would like to try.
Unfortunately, I had not prepared myself well. I arrived stressed, nearly late, and in a considerable amount of physical pain. In my life, however, the odds were good that no matter when I arrived, I was likely to be in that state anyway. I imagined that going into an environment specifically depriving your senses for a long period could have dramatically different end results based on what input you started with. Therefore, as I waited for my appointment on the small couch, I decided to listen to worship music and begin the process of calming down and relaxing before even entering the tank. I am a very spiritual person and decided to invite God into the experience with me, to ask for his help in addressing the anxiety I was struggling with.
I experienced my float here in the Mat-Su Valley at Float Alaska. I knew little to nothing about the experience outside of first seeing the concept in the movie Daredevil. Lucky for me, when you arrive for your first float you are shown a video that gives you a good idea of what to expect from the experience.
The first step of the process was being shown around the private float room. The staff pointed out all the supplies that I would use: specific soaps for before and after your soak; earplugs to keep the salt water out of your ears; water to use to flush your eyes in the case that you get any salt in them; towels; bathrobe; etc. The initial time you take to shower off and prepare comes out of your appointment time (you can schedule for 60 or 90 minutes), but the shower-off at the end does not. They show you how to safely enter and exit the tank, they start your timer, and then they leave you in peace.
The Process of Relaxing
You float in your birthday suit, so there is no need to bring a bathing suit or other supplies with you. The water in the tank is kept very near to your body temperature, so even the sensation of the water itself fades away as you float. Hundreds of pounds of epsom salt are dissolved into the water you’ll be floating in, which makes the water so dense that you will float without any worry of sinking. They do have a couple of options to use to support your head and neck in the tank, which can be especially useful if you have a hard time keeping your neck in a healthy alignment. I took one into the tank with me, but ultimately didn’t end up needing it.
After carefully climbing inside (the epsom salt makes the floor of the tank fairly slick), you close the door above you and are enclosed in complete darkness. The first sensation that hit me was the humidity in the air. With the tank keeping the water at a constant higher temperature, there was a considerable amount of moisture in the air which felt thicker when being drawn into my lungs. If you have ever experienced a steam room, it was similar but not as harsh. As I laid back in the water I spent a few minutes just adjusting to the sensation of drawing deeper breaths and becoming comfortable with that humidity.
I also spent what I would guess was the first 10 minutes or so just trying to get my body to actually fully relax. It sounds easy, and is anything but. I kept realizing my neck was still tense, or my leg, or my back. Part of it was not fully trusting the water to hold me buoyant. The water had to earn my trust, and it did as I realized that more than half of my body was completely out of the water when lying horizontally. I focused on my body one piece at a time, deliberately relaxing it further and further until I felt no tension anywhere.
Then the twitching started. For context, I am a chronic pain patient and have been most of my life. I experience both painful and non-painful muscle spasms daily. My physical therapist recently explained that this was a common trait of chronic pain, because the nervous system in my body is not ignoring the random, incorrect signals coming from my brain the way that it should: just like Fibromyalgia is my brain’s inability to tune out the constant false pain signals being sent from my nervous system. I would guess that I spent another 10 minutes just relaxing into the water as I waited for my brain and nervous system to sort themselves out and calm down all their drama.
The other thing going on for me in this initial 20 minutes (only my guess) was the adjustment to the sensory deprivation. With ear plugs in, my ears fully submerged, and no ambient sound in the room at all, I was shocked that it felt so LOUD. My ears were ringing for quite a while as they struggled to pick up on sounds that were simply not there. Similarly, my eyes took their own time relaxing into the darkness, which brought its own form of relief to the muscles in my face when they finally did. Some people describe losing the feeling of the water entirely, but I never fully did. It dimmed considerably in my awareness, but every now and then I would feel the faintest brush of the edge of the tank against my finger or toe as I drifted around in the water. The simplest movement of even a single digit would then drift me back out away from that subtle cue, and I would then only feel the faintest edge of the water itself against my skin again.
When watching the introductory video, it informed me that studies had shown that around 15 to 20 minutes into the float experience, most people’s brain waves actually change from beta waves into theta waves. It’s a shift from your brain being in its standard conscious, thinking state, into a more trance-like state closer to sleep. It sounds crazy, even to me, but I would swear to you that I literally felt that happen right after my body had made its final adjustments.
I am a person that even when trying to be quiet and contemplative, whether in analyzing a problem or trying to pray, cannot seem to ever quite get my mind to shut up. As part of my mind was focusing in on trying to relax through the process I described above, the rest of my mind was running circles around all kinds of things. I am a writer, so I was drifting in and out of various ideas for my current SciFi novel. I was trying to speak to God, and be open for anything he had to show or tell me. I was wondering what was happening to my husband and the rest of my family. When the shift hit, I was quite honestly not prepared for it.
I am a person who has experienced a lot of trauma in my life. If you are unfamiliar with it, you are welcome to check out my other blog at JocelynnsDaddy.blogspot.com and FreeClaytonAllison.com to get an idea of what I mean. Despite the trauma, I am also a person who rarely cries or actually physically exercises grief. I have had counseling recommended more times than I can count, but to be frank it’s just not a solution that works for me. The therapist ends up traumatized and crying just from my basic introduction - no joke. It’s impossible for me to feel safe in an environment with any doctor, because of the sheer power they can wield over your life, and I am a person that’s incapable of crying in any environment where I do not feel safe. Outside of my husband’s arms, which I no longer have real access to, I haven’t felt safe in more than ten years.
When I felt the transition, I had a very spiritual experience, and I have read since then that it’s not uncommon. All of a sudden, there was just my God and me. I was shocked to realize that the version of myself I could see was crying, and I mean the screaming, gut-wrenching, hysterical kind of crying. In the stillness and weightless embrace of the water and my deity, everything that I keep so tightly controlled and so deeply buried came rushing to the surface.
I was suddenly frightened that I would start really crying so loud that someone would come to check on me, but thankfully crying without sound is an artform I mastered many, many years ago. For the next 40 minutes at least, I worked my way through wave upon wave of trapped grief. At the start of the wave, I would full-body sob in silence. Then I would breathe deeply over and over again as the intensity faded and I struggled to breathe normally again. Then I would relax back into the water and rest just before the next wave would wash over me. Despite the intense physical movement of this experience, I never fell further into the water. It kept me floating high, able to even wrap my arms around myself without the salt water encroaching any further on my face. The water earned my trust even more.
I knew consciously that I needed what was happening desperately, although I probably never would have asked for it. The few times that I have cried in the last 10 years have been only when I had been pushed beyond a dangerous breaking point. Research has shown that as human beings, we cannot only deal with our grief in the theater of the mind. I’ve had numerous doctors tell me that my illness has progressed so severely because, “Your body cannot do what your mind can do.” Unless we physically exercise the grief from our tissues, it stays and it builds. When it is forced to erupt, it can be incredibly freeing and/or damaging. I have woken up many times in so much physical pain that I could not stand or walk normally. I have screamed so hard once that I actually burst the blood vessels around my eyes. Crying in the tank for me was an unexpected way to relieve that pressure and exercise my grief in smaller, safer measures, and in an environment where I felt safe.
As I cried, the waves became more and more spread out, with more time to relax and talk to God between them. Just about the time where I thought I was relaxed and relieved enough to actually fall asleep, the timer went off and I took a deep breath before greeting the world again. I showered off and put myself back together with the provided supplies.
I found that I felt a little weak, which wasn’t truly surprising after such a dramatic experience. It’s just like how you feel when you climb out of the bathtub at home, but turned up a few notches. I can see why some people like to schedule a massage immediately after, but even without one I was able to sink back into complete relaxation back in my chair at home.
I was headed to a church service that night, and normally the amount of pain I’d been in when I’d arrived at my float would have made it difficult for me to participate in anything later in the day. With the float intervening in the middle, however, I was overjoyed to realize I had the strength and freedom from pain to actually raise my hands to heaven throughout much of the service. I haven’t been able to do that in years.
I can’t say for sure whether any of you would have a similar experience to me or not. Since my experience, I have read a couple of reviews from people who had terrible experiences in the tank, but I noticed a pattern in those. The bad reviews I read involved a person carrying their negative expectations and/or fears into the tank with them. In contrast, I specifically mentally and spiritually disciplined myself to invite positive thoughts and expectations. I invited my God, and I invited peace. I truly believe that what you bring with you, or how you specifically design the experience for yourself around your faith, can have dramatic healing qualities. At least, it did for me.
If You’d Like To Try It For Yourself
I’d had such an amazing experience by the time that I left, that I asked them if I could write about it, and share their information online. They informed me that they have a referral system that I could share with everyone I want, and all of us could benefit from. Shameless plug! If you’d like to try a float yourself after reading this post, you can sign up for an appointment on their website at www.FloatAlaska.net. If you enter my referral code rg-944509, you will get a $5 discount and it can earn me free floats. I am eager to go back. *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* Seriously though, whether you use my code or not, I encourage you to think about the possibility for yourself, and what you would be bringing into the tank with you. If you’d like to try an alternative to treat your chronic pain, fibromyalgia, anxiety, etc, this is worth trying.
My float experience was a million times better than any other therapy ever could be.