Yikes. Eleven days since my last post. The reason for such a lapse is due to some crazy turnaround at work. Long work days followed by working from home. It was literally work, sleep, work, sleep, work, ad infinitum. At the end of this marathon, I was spent both physically and mentally. Coincidentally, I had an expiring Groupon sitting in my account for a self deprivation tank float.
What is Self Deprivation?
Self deprivation tanks are a unique phenomenon. They exist solely because we cram so much stimulation into our lives. They offer an escape without having to leave the city. It's paradoxical, really.
When you first go into the building, you check in at the front desk. They offer you some tea and give you a rundown of the whole process. You then strip down in a private room that contains a shower and the tank. After you wash down in the shower, you open the hatch to the tank and slowly ease your way in. The tank contains about ten inches of extremely epsom salty water. Because the water is so saturated, your body floats much higher than it would in normal water. This allows you to lie on your back with no effort and stay afloat. Once floating, you can hit a button to turn off the dim blue light in the tank.
What you're left with is nothing.
Nothing to look at.
Nothing to feel.
Nothing to hear.
You just, are.
You're left alone with your brain. It's almost like an awkward first date. I mean, when was the last time you spent an hour doing nothing while conscious? I would wager that hasn't happened this year. Or last. Unless you meditate regularly. And that's what these tanks encourage your mind to do. With no stimulation, you're able to think freely. Or not at all. Some people report a very 'trippy' experience where they dive deep into their consciousness. That is, of course, an ideal case; my experience differed greatly from what I expected.
My Mixed Experience
After stripping down and taking a pre-float shower, I was ready. I opened the hatch to this water coffin and stepped in. It was about 7 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet tall. The size didn't matter much, but I was definitely aware of the confined space. I flipped the blue light off and laid back. Woah. The first few moments are bizarre. The water and air are warm enough where you can't feel the difference between what is submerged or not, but it takes no effort to keep your mouth and eyes well above the surface.
After a few minutes, I got used to the feeling and tried to start meditating. My usual meditation practice starts with breathing exercises followed by focusing on each section of my body. This proved difficult, though, since you can't really feel your body. So instead, I just kept breathing. Because you wear earplugs to keep water out of your ears, you can hear and feel each breath you take. This becomes a sort of soundtrack for the whole trip.
Whenever I got to a point where I felt like I was reaching a new mental space, my hand or foot would lightly make contact with a wall of the tank. Each time this happened, it brought me back to an awareness of the tank. Because all other stimulus is stripped away, these tiny inputs to my brain would become the focus of my thoughts for a few moments. Compare this to a normal meditation where you're sitting or lying down; in those positions, there is a constant pressure of your body that you can become aware of, then release. But in the tank, there is no pressure other than light taps when your body reaches one of the sides of the tank. Maybe after going a few times, I would get used to this, but it was hard for me to ignore this time.
I felt like Neo from the Matrix. Motionless in a capsule of liquid, left to my own mental devices.
After about a half hour, I became more relaxed and started dreaming while still conscious. These dreams were abstract and random; although I did have some level of control in them, much like a lucid dream. But after a few minutes of dreaming, I fell out of consciousness. Yes, I fell asleep.
Water splashed in the cave or darkness, covering my face with the salty solution. My eyes! Before I had a moment to regain consciousness, my eyes burned as saltwater filled them. I had flinched in my sleep, causing a hurricane of splashes in the tank. I quickly sat up, rubbing my eyes frantically. Of course, my hands were soaked with salt water, only making the stinging pain worse. I fumbled around to find the button to turn the blue light back on and opened the tank hatch. My heart was still racing as the panic slowly faded.
I climbed out of the tank and took the post-soak shower. I was still disoriented and my eyes stung a little. Since I was expecting a hyperrelaxing experience overall, that moment of trauma was amplified, thus overshadowing the whole experience.
Despite my mixed first time, I would still recommend it. Just make sure to not be sleepy when you go! If you have floated before, I would love to hear about it! I'm sure self deprivation can cause very diverse experiences depending on the person, time of day, mood, etc.
The more I think about it, the more I want to go again.