I'm interested in alternative solutions to common problems, and float tanks are one remedy I can recommend – with caution!
Mistakes I Made In a Sensory Deprivation Tank
If you’ve found yourself here, then chances are you’re looking for more information on sensory deprivation tanks. Flotation therapy, flotation tanks, float tanks, isolation chambers – if you’re about to step into a tank that deliberately deprives your senses, you’re in the right place. Sensory deprivation tanks are becoming more and more popular as people are looking to disconnect from a constant barrage of stimuli and simply…float…their troubles away. With reported benefits including muscle relaxation, improved sleep, and reduced pain, stress and anxiety, is this a modern-day cause for the diseases of a modern-day world?
With a float center on my doorstep, I would walk past it most days, peering in at the steamed-up windows, hoping to get a glimpse of the mysteries inside. Low lighting, bean bags, floaters sipping post-float teas. What had they experienced in there? More importantly, why were they so willing to part with their hard-earned cash to be shut in a pitch-black, pin-drop-silent box in a lid-closed, buried-alive-like situation? What could possibly be the appeal of spending an hour with nothing but your own mind for company? It sounded like a psychological horror waiting to happen. Or, possibly, the worst date ever – an intimate one-on-one with myself.
Reluctant but nervously excited at the same time, I booked myself for an hour in the isolation tank. If you’ve got a float coming up, chances are you’re here looking for more information on what you’re about to experience, what mysteries are about to unfold, and what psychedelic visions are about to cross your path. Let me stop you right there.
In many ways, my first float was awful. Don’t get me wrong, that hasn’t stopped me from going back on a regular basis, but as floats go, it was a pretty grim experience, and I’m here to tell you why. I made a few mistakes along the way to sensory deprivation, so let’s see if we can stop you from making those same mistakes.
What Is Flotation Therapy?
In the days leading up to my first float, I found myself drawn to Google. Article after article, YouTube video, podcasts, Pinterest infographics. You name it, I feasted greedily upon it. I took it all in, the highs, the lows, the crazy visions some people reported, the increased vigour and creative energy, the conversations they had with their inner child. I was like a kid on Christmas morning walking into the float centre. I knew what was coming, I knew what the allure was, and I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself.
Then, there I was. Floating away, eyes, closed, breathing in, breathing out. Waiting. Waiting for it to happen. Waiting for the visions. Waiting for the euphoria. Waiting. And getting more and more frustrated by the minute that not a whole lot was happening. I was concentrating so hard on everyone else's experiences that I hadn’t left any room for my own. I had to let go of all the preconceived ideas I’d had about floating to really experience what the benefits of floating were to me.
How Quickly Should You get Inside the Float Tank?
At my local float centre, they give you around 5 minutes to get yourself float ready - which includes showering yourself down before you step into the tank. It’s good float etiquette to shower right before you float as it will remove any residue from things like moisturisers and deodorants which would otherwise muck up the tank. But in those five minutes, you have to unpack yourself, strip down, change if you haven’t already got your swimming costume on (if you’re wearing one!). I like to brush through my hair too (it’s really long). Those are the shortest five minutes of my life, and before I know it, the intro music inside the tank starts to play – I'm on the clock, and I haven't even taken off my shoes
I had it in my head that I had to be in the tank the moment the music started (our centre plays calming, meditation style music for the first 10 minutes to relax you) but that music felt like a blaring siren sounding the alarm. I rushed, I floundered, I slipped, I splashed. I felt as far from zen-like calm getting into that tank as you can get.
If you're not in the tank the minute the timer kicks in, don't panic. It's also worth noting you could ask your float guide to give you a few extra minutes before they start the timer, especially if it's your first time
The more floats I've gotten under my belt, the quicker I can get ready and get in, almost beating the music before it starts.
Take it from me. Take your time.
Can You Eat Before You Use a Float Tank?
This is one mistake I keep making – either eating too close to float time or not eating enough pre-float. There is nothing more distracting in a sensory deprivation chamber than a digesting, grumbling stomach. Eating too close to a float, I feel bloated, and I can hear every bite I took being digested through my system. It’s distracting and slightly nauseating. Not eating before, and the grumbling of my starving stomach echos around the tank. I found myself thinking about nothing but food for the remainder of the float – which I am pretty sure isn’t in the how-to guide when it comes to meditation. I couldn’t get away from thoughts around food, and just when I thought I could, my stomach let out this almighty, amplified grumble that brought me right back to the present.
I’ve found my sweet spot is a light snack around 30–40 minutes before I float. This seems to satisfy my hunger and keep all thoughts about cakes and cheeky take-aways at bay.
Remember! It's important to avoid caffeine several hours before you float! Opt for lemon water or a caffeine-free herbal tea.
Do You Have to Wear Ear Plugs Inside a Float Tank?
You're going to be floating around for up to an hour in salt water. Floating around in any water for any period of time isn't all that great for your ears, especially if you've suffered from swimmer's ear or wax build-ups in the past. We all know when salt water dries, it loves to leave a crust behind – and there's no way you are going to want that down your ears!
My local float centre gives you mold-able ear plugs, which are great, if you take the time to get them right. If I rush getting my ear plugs in, or worse, try to put them in after I've showered, it fails to form an air-tight seal, allowing salty water to seep in. I also get really distracting and irritating air popping sounds. The feeling of a tiny bit of water trickling into my ear is also really unpleasant. Take your time with the ear plugs, especially if you're not used to using them. Make sure you follow the instructions and form an air-tight seal – and always pop them in whilst your ears are still dry! If you're going to become a regular floater, it's investing in some proper ear plugs, like the ones professional swimmers might use.
How Can I Support My Neck During Flotation Therapy?
After my first float, I had shocking neck and shoulder pain. I was very conscious throughout my first float that my head and neck just didn't feel comfortable or float naturally. The lack of support caused me to strain in an effort to protect my neck which made the pain much worse. It wasn't until my second float that a different float guide at the centre told me about the halo. The halo is a round piece of foam that you popped on the back of your head (get it?) which would float and cushion your neck and head - removing all strain. This made the biggest difference - I won't float without a halo now. It allows my neck to reap the benefits of floating, and as someone who spends a lot of time at a desk, my neck and shoulders are always in need of muscle relaxing attention!
Everybody's float experience is going to be different. Everyone will see, feel, and think differently about it once they step out of the tank, but hopefully, by avoiding the mistakes I've made in the past, you'll get the most out of your first trip to the sensory deprivation chamber and be eager to book your next flotation therapy session!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Sarah Campbell