Having heard about sensory deprivation tanks around 10 years ago, during a time in which they were reported to elicit certain hallucinatory effects, I became interested and intended to try it myself. At the time the industry was extremely small, with only one venue in Melbourne offering the treatment, which was a small office with a single tank. The idea of trying out the tank was more a novelty than anything serious, hence the reason why it took me 10 years to eventually try a flotation tank!
Fast forward to today, a large number of research papers have been published on the mental and physical health benefits of sensory deprivation tank usage, and the previously reported extreme hallucinatory effects have been relegated to the place they belong, pseudo-science and myth. Although some visions occur with very long sessions, it is often nothing like one could expect from an hallucinatory drug. Originally the hallucinatory beliefs of these tanks stemmed from the tank creator, Dr John C Lilly’s obsessions with psychedelic drug use, a completely separate topic, although one where the fictional movie Altered States originally grabbed upon as a movie plot back in 1980. It took until around 2005 for the myths of these two events to diminish from the reputation of floatation therapy, and the true science and benefits to come forward and ground the experience into a reputable alternate treatment method for a variety of conditions.
I have suffered for more than a decade with serious stress and anxiety issues, mainly with social anxiety but also extreme events such as agoraphobia, a condition where by one fears the external world, specifically open spaces and public places. This condition is debilitating, and at its worst point confines the individual suffering the condition to the home environment, where by even leaving the house for a few minutes can feel like a life or death situation. I suffered agoraphobia at its highest level for around three years, until I decided to try hypnotherapy as a treatment for the condition. Fortunately for me, the hypnotherapy worked, although it did not remove the condition entirely, it minimised the anxiety experienced to around one third of the original level over the course of four monthly sessions.
That was seven years ago, and during that time anxiety has still been a part of my life, although not to the extreme levels it was before. Then around a year ago, when sensory deprivation tanks became mainstream, my interest in trying out the therapy again was re-ignited. Not because of an expectation of any personal benefits, but the conversations about the tanks had become more grounded, more based around actual fact and science, and I felt that it was now time to try out a tank and see for myself what all the fuss has been about over the years.
I bit the bullet and booked in for a one hour session. I showed up at the clinic and the owner took me through a course of what to do and what not to do when using the tank. The process was fairly simple and went as follows, before the session take a shower, then after the session take another shower. Before the first shower fit ear plugs, otherwise it can be difficult to seal if any moisture is present in the ear. The ear plugs prevent the Epsom salt solution from entering the ear and causing problems, as once the water from the tank dries, the Epsom salt solution would remain, this is the reason why you shower after the session, to remove the salt water from the body.
The session was provided in a locked private completely enclosed room, so no outside noise penetrates. The design of the venue I visited was extremely good, with a sealed off hallway to the tank rooms, then the tank rooms being fully enclosed too, minimizing outside noise. This deals with any fears of privacy one may have, as people shower and float completely naked, as clothing tends to weigh down in the tank, and can be annoying and detrimental to the experience.
The light in the room could be turned off by the user, and there is a light inside the tank. The type of tank used in this venue was the DreamPod V2, one of the most expensive and highest quality float pods on the market. After turning off the light in the room and entering the tank, the first sensation of floating was extremely strange, I felt as though I was entering a normal pool or spa, however my weight equalised almost instantly, and I was floating on top of the water. Once inside, I closed the entrance of the pod, so that I was completely enclosed, just myself and the tank.
I spent around five minutes adjusting to the experience, the enjoyment factor of a small child took over during this time, enjoying the novelty of such a strange sensation. When floating in the tank, it is best to find a comfortable position and remain in that position without movement. The smallest movements in the tank can send you floating off course, so realising this and finding the best and most comfortable position is vital. Once I had done this, I pressed the button for the light and the tank became completely dark. These tanks are also sound proofed, so the only noise you hear is the noises you make.
I quickly became aware of my breathing and heart rate and noticed my mind was racing at the same time. The difference between being in the tank and being out in the ‘real world’, was that inside the tank there is no escape or distraction from your thoughts, you have to face them. I found myself worrying about very minor things, but in a fairly serious way – tasks I had to complete while at work, friends and family, general things I had to complete at home. I realised these thoughts were a constant cycle and would inhibit my experience inside the tank, and I decided to close off those thoughts and focus on being inside the tank itself, floating without anything to see, hear, think or do.
At this point the experience really began, my mind was at ease and felt as though I was an astronaut floating calmly in space. As I found my body drifting towards the edge of the tank, it was best to not push off the edges when coming in contact, even the tiniest bit, as after doing this once, I found myself floating towards the other side of the tank fairly quickly. After realising this, when my body drifted lightly to the edge of the tank, instead of pushing myself off the side, I just lay there and waited, and soon after my body began to float back towards the centre of the tank on its own, where it stayed for the remainder of the session.
The experience was just amazing. As the session ended, nature based sounds and music began playing inside the tank, alerting me that the session was coming to an end. I turned on the light and lay in the tank for a couple more minutes, reflecting on the experience, and then proceeded to open the tank, get out and shower.
The clinic had a lounge at the front, with a beautiful wall garden and herbal teas were available. I spent the next 20 minutes drinking tea and enjoying what can only be explained as a glowing effect – one where the mind is completely empty, problems of before became meaningless and empty, and I was totally void of all stress and anxiety. I was surprised I felt intense euphoria from simply spending an hour in the tank.
I found this effect continued. In the first week I was completely void of stress and anxiety, work was more productive, my interactions with people more calm, relaxed and focused, and a deep feeling of well-being continued throughout the following weeks. I found the positive outcomes began to diminish after about a month so I had another session – this time for 2 hours. I again experienced the euphoric feelings. Subsequent visits prolonged the experience, which amazed me as regular medication and psychotherapy had been beneficial to me, but never on a level like this.
It was after these experiences, I decided to float on a regular basis, having done so and continuing to do so, my life has continued to improve for the better.
Roy Ellery is a Writer and Software developer from Melbourne, Australia. After years of suffering from high stress and anxiety, he found relief by using a sensory deprivation tank for ongoing therapy.
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