Monday, January 6, 2014

Becoming One with Water

Saturday night I took off all my clothes, got in the shower, washed my hair, scrubbed every inch of my body, and stepped, naked, into a tank filled with ten inches of water saturated with a thousand pounds of Epsom salts. 
 The thing hanging from the top of the tank on the black cord is an emergency call button.

As I crossed the threshold into the 93.5 degree water (the temperature at which your body and the water become one and you can no longer discern a separation between the two) and pulled the door shut behind me, I was enveloped in total darkness and complete silence.  I let go of the door handle and pushed myself into the center of the tank.  As instructed by the owner, I laid back in the water, hands above my head, and let the water support my body.

This is the inside of the tank.  I never saw it until the flash from my camera went off when I took the picture after my session was over.

He told me the hardest part is the first few minutes, because it's something new and we're not used to an environment devoid of light and sound.  We're also not familiar with what it's like to be weightless, and so it's often difficult to allow our bodies to relax completely and trust the water to do what the water can do - support us and hold us up.

Surprisingly, I didn't find that part difficult at all - the floating part.  I've been swimming since I was a child, and one of my favorite parts of being in the water was just floating on my back and letting the water support me. 

The lack of sound and sight was a bit more disconcerting, and yet not unnerving.  I couldn't see a thing, and the only sounds initially were the gentle sloshing of the water as I slowly moved my arms and legs, acclimating myself to the sensation of total weightlessness in this black void, and the sound of my own breathing, which seemed inordinately loud. At first I thought I must have been breathing really heavily, and then I realized that it was the lack of any other sounds in the environment that made my own breathing sound so loud.  And then as I relaxed into the experience, I realized I could hear another sound - the beating of my own heart.

It took a while to get used to hearing my breathing and my heart beat (I have no idea how long.  In that environment I lost track of time.), but eventually even those sounds faded into the background. 

Then it was time to attend to my thoughts, which were a chaotic jumble: thoughts about being in the tank of course, but old memories, current concerns, faces of family and friends, wondering if this might take me to a deeper level of consciousness that might allow me to 'see' God, or experience the Divine in a more intense, more personal way.  Some were so fleeting they passed through with only the faintest of awareness, and others lingered until I forced my focus back to my breath.  I did find myself wondering if I could really do this for ninety minutes, which was the length of the session I had scheduled. 

And then I was gone.  I don't know if I fell asleep, or zoned out, or left my body.  And I didn't realize I was 'gone' until I came back.  I didn't come back with a start, feeling disoriented or confused.  Just all of a sudden I was once again aware that I was in the tank, and also aware that for a while, I hadn't been aware.

I stretched, and my fingers felt like they needed to pop, so I cracked two of my knuckles, and in that silence, it sounded like two champagne corks popping.  As I stretched, the skin on my stomach felt tight, and when I touched it, I felt the crustiness of the salt that had dried on my skin.  After my initial submersion into the water, once I turned over and laid back, the buoyancy of the water caused portions of my body to be above the water line, and while I was 'gone', the water had evaporated and left a crust of dried salt behind.

The next thing I noticed was a stirring in my bladder, and although I knew I could leave the tank to go the bathroom and then get back in, since I didn't know  how long I'd been immersed, I didn't want to get out with only a few minutes of the session left if I could wait it out.   And then I heard the music that signaled the end of my float session.

Having been weightless for ninety minutes, I found it challenging to get my arms and legs to move appropriately to put me in position to open the door to the tank.  I wondered briefly what would happen if I couldn't open the door.  But with a little extra concentration and effort, I pushed the door open and very slowly exited the tank.

I felt very heavy, and moving was an effort.  I took another shower to wash off the salt, and as I moved around to dry off and dress, re-acclimating to the force of gravity, I noticed, as my movements returned to normal, that I was more flexible than before my time in the tank.  I could bend my knees, and bend at the hip easier, and I didn't have any pain or discomfort in my body at all.  I couldn't remember the last time I felt like that.

I also felt very calm and peaceful, rested, and yes, drained. But in a good way, like I would have been content to just sit and do nothing for awhile, which is actually what I did in the waiting area, before I got in my car and drove home.  And that night I slept very deeply, and woke up the next morning still free of pain.  Today my body still feels better than it did before my float.  I also feel a deeper sense of commitment to the plan of action that I've set for myself, and it was easier to motivate myself to get an early start today, rather than languishing in bed after the alarm went off.  All in all, I like the results.

Float tanks, or sensory deprivation tanks, as they used to be called in the 70's, aren't anything new.   What is new, is that they are becoming more and more accessible to regular folks like you and me so that we can benefit from the experience. 

Research shows that after 30-45 minutes of floating, our brains begin producing theta waves, which are responsible for that state between waking and sleeping, that most people are only able to access after years of deep meditation practice.  Floating naturally increases the amount of dopamine and endorphins in your system, which boost your mood and enhance your sense of well-being, responses that can last for days after a session.  Floating helps to relieve chronic pain and stress, and when our bodies aren't fighting gravity and taking in a lot of external information, they have a lot of extra resources available to use for other things.  Many people report experiences of great creative and personal insight after floating.

For myself, the greatest benefits have been the deep sense of relaxation and the reduction in physical pain and discomfort.   But they say that the more often you float, the more profound your results may be.

I've scheduled two more sessions.  I'm hoping for some of those ah-ha moments of deeper insight and  greater meaning, something I think would be very helpful as I move forward and work to figure out where I'm going and what my life is supposed to look like next.  But I'm also proud of myself for trying something different, something that I've wanted to try for forty years, something that took me outside of my comfort zone.  Because when you're naked in the dark, surrounded by silence, floating in a tank of water and completely alone, it's like nowhere else you've ever been, except perhaps in the womb, and who remembers that?  



  1. It will be interesting to hear how your other sessions go Bonnie. I know I enjoy soaking in my tub filled with epsom salt with the water as warm as I can handle but I do not believe it has been anywhere near 90 minutes. Most of the time I read a good book while I am soaking in the water cause it helps me to be able to stay in longer. I am not sure how I would do without being able to read while relaxing. Also, if the water gets too hot then I am not able to stay in it too long. To be in a tank that closes, ten inches of water, no noise at all… hum… not quite sure how long I would last. It sounds wonderful though. Gives me something to think about. Please share how things go next time.

  2. I wasn't sure I was going to handle it either, Rebecca, but I knew I wanted to try. Very different from being in the tub reading a book, for sure!