The Experience: Sensory Deprivation

Imagine yourself in complete and utter darkness and silence, floating weightlessly in what could easily be imagined as outer space. It can be a terrifying thought for a lot of people, being left alone with nothing but your thoughts for an hour. But I’m here to tell you that once you push past the initial anxiety and fear of the unknown, it is heavenly.

For those of you unfamiliar with this trendy yet otherworldly new wellness service, I’ll back up a bit. Sensory Deprivation Tanks, also referred to as ‘float tanks’, are quite literally just that - a tank of water that you enclose yourself in to escape all things external. Each tank holds about 8-10 inches of warm water and 1,000 lbs. of medical grade magnesium salts, on top of which you float. It’s completely light- and sound-proof, and when paired with the seemingly gravity-defying aspect of the heavily salted water, you’re left with virtually no external or physical distractions. And if the thought of all this scares you a little (or a lot), I totally feel you. Prior to trying it myself, I was undecided about whether this sounded like a fantasy or a nightmare. 

Eastern cultures have been using sensory deprivation for centuries to combat pain and bring balance to the mind + body. Recent studies have found that it reduces physical stress by lowering cortisol levels (our bodies’ stress hormone), in turn balancing the entire endocrine and immune systems. During sensory deprivation, our autonomic nervous system is nourished and relaxed, resulting in improvements for those suffering from a myriad of health issues, including chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. Float tanks also provide a super unique and easily-accessible way to increase your magnesium intake. Magnesium is a critical mineral for overall well-being, helping our bodies regulate over 325 different enzymes, yet is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies among Americans. By soaking in magnesium salts during sensory deprivation, our bodies are able to easily absorb and assimilate this vital nutrient. 

Like most of you, I can personally attest to how stressed-out and utterly over-stimulated I feel on a daily basis. With a large portion of my work work (along with a growing number of Americans’) taking place via social media and the Internet, it can sometimes feel like there’s no escaping technology’s grip. This, of course, is a huge part of why I retreat to my yoga + meditation mat daily, but I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I’m left seeking more. More solace, more stillness, more disconnection from it all, and more connection with myself. The promise of a space to cultivate this sort of stillness and connection grew increasingly appealing, so much so that I was able to lay my anxieties aside and take the plunge.

For my inaugural float, I hopped over to Choosing Transitions Float Studio, a sweet little space tucked away in North Palm Beach, FL. Along with a float tank, the studio also boasts a Migun Massage Bed + Ion Foot Bath, two holistic health services I swear by - but we’ll save those for another post. Though I had heard a lot of buzz within the wellness world about sensory deprivation, I showed up pretty clueless about what the actual experience would entail. After filling out a bit of paper work (and asking a million anxiety-fueled questions), I was led into the float room - a dimly-lit, private space fitted with a shower, toiletries, a spot to sit and unwind, and the float tank. At this point I’m totally anxious with a steady stream of crazy ‘what if’ scenarios running through my mind. But I keep it together - I undress, hop in the shower to rinse off, and slip into the tank. 

For the first few minutes inside I’m totally mesmerized by the sensation of floating. My body feels weightless and effortlessly buoyant. I lie my head back and for the first time probably ever, I just allow all the overworked and perpetually tense muscles in my neck and back to let go + relax. It’s a really surreal feeling. So I spend another 5 minutes or so wiggling around in there, playing with lifting and releasing different body parts into the water. Then I begin to settle in. I immediately notice how dark it is. It’s a little unsettling at first, but also really soothing. Even in the dead of night, my apartment is illuminated by the city lights outside my window and the unrelenting glow of technology - charging phones and computers, microwave clocks, dishwasher machines, whatever. No matter how hard I try, I’m never truly in complete darkness.

It’s also like, really quiet. Which again is briefly unsettling, but I soon relax right in. By my rough estimate, I probably spent the first 20 minutes getting used to everything. As in any situation, when I began to feel my anxiety and fear heighten, I turned to my breathe. Long, deep inhales and exhales, each breathe allowing my mind’s tight grip of control to slowly soften. By the 25 minute mark (again, totally estimating), I had settled into the stillness. 

My remaining time in the tank is kind of a blur. I don’t think I fell asleep (which is totally normal, Rochelle assured me), but I definitely wasn’t entirely conscious of my surroundings. Everything, both external and internal, was silent, dark, and still. I felt safe, warm, at ease. When Rochelle knocked on the door to let me know the 60 minutes was up, my mind quickly jolted back to reality. I couldn’t believe the hour was up (I swear, time flew by in there), and I definitely could’ve stayed in longer.

I emerged from the tank to a hot shower, and took my time easing back into the real world. I felt calm and quiet. The steady and seemingly-endless stream of thoughts that normally runs through my head was (to my utter surprise and amazement) not there. I felt alert yet relaxed, both in mind and body. It was as if I had emerged from the yummiest yoga class + deepest sleep simultaneously. In sum, I felt incredible. One float and I'm completely hooked, committing to make this dreamy service a regular part of my wellness routine.

Ready to get your float on? You can catch me zenning out at Choosing Transitions here in South Florida, but for those of you outside of the sunshine state, here are a few solful spots in your area: