Suspended in a warm pool of water, I float in the pitch black. There is no sound, just a loud, overpowering silence. I am falling, slowly, but steadily. I spin around in a whirlpool and wonder when I will be sucked down the drain. When my toe touches something solid. I remember for a moment where I am and what is happening. Then I drift off into the darkness and begin to fall once again.
I first became interested in flotation tanks years ago watching William Hurt lose his mind in Altered States. He played a doctor who would ingest huge amounts of drugs, seeking transcendence in a sensory deprivation tank. It was a fantastic movie and the thought of floating in suspended animation had great appeal to my teenage mind.
Decades later I began to meditate and explore the idea of altered consciousness, but without drugs. Once again the isolation tank called my name. I researched places and prices, but never took the leap. I may have slipped a few hints and my wonderful fiancée scored me a newbie two float package for my birthday at the Aspire Center for Health + Wellness.
Their site claims the following benefits from flotation.
1 Magnesium promotes muscle relaxation and improves overall sleep quality.
2 Researcbh shows that floating improves Theta wave activation, key for better relaxation and deep meditation.
3 It is scientifically proven to improve short term and chronic pain conditions.
4 The brain becomes more right side dominant without senses, which promotes creativity.
Without hesitation I booked my first appointment. They offer two different flotation tanks, Oasis or Tranquility. Opting for Tranqulity, I inspected the massive white and blue pod dominating the room. The technician gave me the lowdown, showing me the light switch in the tub as well as the button to open and close the hatch. She gave me earplugs that I would need when I got in the pod. She set the timer for 66 minutes and left the room. I ditched my clothes, rinsed off and entered the murky warm water.
So here I am bare ass naked settling into a body temperature pool of water loaded with 1000 pounds of epsom salt. This allows the body to float on the surface. I laid back, popped in the earplugs, shut off the lights and closed the lid.
My first impression was of the complete blackness and absolute silence. It was very peaceful and I waited for the magic to happen. For the first trick my neck and shoulders ached. The air was stuffy and the salt water leaked past the earplugs. For a few interminable minutes I had buyer’s remorse. The discomfort was acute and made more so by the isolation. Once I settled in I began to lose track of time. 10 minutes? 20 minutes? At a point time became irrelevant. My body felt heavy beyond belief as if gravity had doubled or tripled. I pushed my hands down slowly and could feel the water rise. Moving just a finger seemed to create a tiny tidal wave in my secret pod world.
Expecting the ultimate meditation opportunity, I tried to relax and focus on my breath. Instead of the usual calm my brain exploded with an overload of disconnected, insane thoughts. A wild cacophony of random sounds, colors and images rocketed through my head. I tried a few times to hush the tornado between my ears, but meditation wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t stop the raging flow of my mind. I teetered between awareness and a vague dreamlike state. None of it made sense.
At one point I imagined that the world was ending and here I was floating butt naked in a pool of dirty salt water. Disaster was all around me, but I was tucked away in my hidden bunker. I would emerge to the smoking ruins of civilization covered in a rime of epsom salts and flecks of other people’s skin and hair.
Then the lights came back on. My 66 minutes were up. Was it already over? The pod automatically opened. Had I done that by accident? I felt groggy and heavy. Could I even use my muscles? I staggered up and grabbed a towel, stumbling over to the shower with pod water pouring all over the floor. It wasn’t until I was dressed and had some fresh water to drink that I began to feel normal. The rest of my day was very mellow and my energy level hovered somewhere between sluggish and slow.
Float 2 took place one week later. This time I chose Oasis, a rectangular tank that’s bigger and a bit more old school. Since I’d had time to process the previous float, week 2 was less a revelation. I was already a pro and I slipped off my clothes, took a quick shower and slid into the body temperature water, closing the lid and waited for the lights to go down. Once inside I laid back and bounced like a buoy from side to side until the water settled.
Let’s talk about that water. First of all it has a slightly pungent odor, not offensive, but with a certain staleness, perhaps a hint of dirty gym socks. It is slick and slightly slimy. This time I thought a lot more about all the naked bodies that have floated in that same briny tub. While the idea of so many nether parts soaking in the ooze is gross, the 1000 pounds of epsom salt does kill everything in its path.
To avoid the stiffness and discomfort in my neck and shoulders the float technician suggested I use the inflatable neck pillow this time around. While the pillow relieved the muscle tension it created a bit of a disconnect from the water. I wasn’t completely immersed. My ears were above water and I could hear the sounds of the building.
However I was much more relaxed, my mind considerably calmer and more focused. Meditation almost happened, but I couldn’t quite get there. My brain wasn’t ricocheting in a dozen different directions, but sensory deprivation only served to amplify the white noise in my skull to fill the void. I was much more aware of time passing. The hour slowly drifted by on a river of random thoughts, never entering the sleepy, dreamy state I achieved the week before. When the lights came on I calmly stepped out, refreshed and alert.
I’ve checked this off my bucket list, but wonder if I will do it again. With two floats under my belt I realize it wasn’t what I expected. I had envisioned a William Hurt Altered States style mind altering transformation. Instead I had a synapse exploding confused first float followed by a calm and relaxing second float. Both hours in the pod offered a chance to competely disconnect from time and the world for an hour, leaving me relaxed and kind of dopey for the rest of the day. I am curious how the experience would evolve if I floated regularly.
Hmm, it’s not cheap and I have a birthday coming up. Hint, hint.