Falling Through the Rabbit Hole with Sensory Deprivation (and Why It’s Awesome)
The first time I did it, I remember laying there trying to practice ujjayi breathing. I even started chanting, trying to go into a deep meditative state quicker. And then I started feeling little burning sensations all along my legs. I shaved that morning and the salt in the tank was irritating my skin. Focusing on my breath and chanting was not going to help me if I kept directing my consciousness to the pain I felt on my legs. Soon, after enough time passed, and my body got used to the salt in the water, I started to fully relax.
I remember at one point I opened my eyes and I felt as though I was falling backwards, deeper and deeper into a black hole, like Alice falling through the rabbit hole.
Soon that rabbit hole turned into the night sky, and I felt as though I was suspended in air. I remember thinking “I have always wanted to go to space.” I used to see on TV and movies astronauts were suspended in midair with a beautiful shot of earth in the background and I wanted to be able to do that. I wanted to be able to feel that weightless feeling, as if nothing, not even gravity, could bring me down.
I felt myself slipping into a deeper state of relaxation and I fully let myself go there, and soon I was joined by someone.
She was a small girl who told me not to be afraid, that I was not going to drown. I felt at peace with her in the tank with me, and I remember we talked for a while, although I cannot recall any of the details. But there we were, this little girl and I, suspended in space, just chatting as if we were old friends. And then I started hearing soft classical music in my ears. I started to feel the weight of my eye lids, flickering open.
It was over. I was being pulled back down to earth. Stupid gravity.
I don’t know how long the girl was in the tank with me, nor how long I was in a deep state of relaxation, but the float was only an hour. Although I imagined myself falling and then floating in space, my mind was completely aware that I was in a tank of water. It was this bizarre feeling between states of mind that I cannot fully describe. It is just something you need to experience.
History of Sensory Deprivation
Sensory deprivation tanks, or isolation tanks, were originally developed and used by neuropsychiatrist John C. Lilly in the 1950s, who experimented with sensory deprivation and psychedelic drugs, mostly LSD. He wanted to test the hypothesis that without external stimuli the mind would go to sleep, and so he began to study consciousness as it related to the brain.
What It’s Like to Experience Sensory Deprivation
Currently, isolation tanks are used for meditation and relaxation. It totally blows “a day at the spa” out of the water. Literally. Tanks are designed to shut out all light and sound, and are filled with water containing thousands of pounds of Epsom salt to increase the density of the water, so you don’t feel like you are going to drown. You also wear ear plugs to further reduce the sound, and also to help protect your middle and inner ear from the salt water. And I forgot to mention. YOU ARE NAKED. So if you are the type of person who requests a massage with your underwear on, you can forget about that. The point of this is to feel no sensations on your skin, so clothes have to come off.
It totally blows “a day at the spa” out of the water.
The temperature of the water and the air inside the tank are the same temperature of your skin, so when you are floating, you lose sense of where your skin ends and where your body begins. Depending on where you go, your tank will most likely be a pod. However, some places, like the one I went to for the first time, have tubs inside of a small room so it does not feel so claustrophobic in there.
Once you start floating, it usually takes a while to quiet down the mind. At first you may feel uncomfortable because of the salt in the water, especially if you have any small cuts on your skin. I would not recommend shaving the day of your float, and make sure any wound is covered appropriately. Once you start ignoring the physical responses of your body, you can start letting go of your present mindset. It is said that after about 40 minutes in the tanks, your brain waves transition from either beta or alpha waves to theta waves, which are those that occur right before sleep and before you wake up. If you do this often enough, you can go into theta waves sooner, and it is possible to have these turned on the whole time you are floating without losing consciousness.
Who Should Try Sensory Deprivation
Not sure it’s worth it? Sensory deprivation floats have many benefits. They can help reduce cortisol levels associated with stress. They are also great for people who have anxiety and depression, since research shows sensory deprivation leads to improvements in people who are dealing with these symptoms. It helps with pain management, as endorphins are released during the float. Sore athletes can even benefit from the Epsom salt, as it helps break down lactic acid in the body. In addition to these benefits, I would also recommend this to anyone who practices mindful meditation, or any form of self-exploration, as it can be a therapeutic experience.
Sometimes you deserve to feel like nothing, not even gravity, can bring you down.
Sometimes work, school, family, friends, and life in general can be really stressful and anxiety inducing. Sometimes you just feel really weighed down by everything that is going on in your life. Sometimes you just need to indulge and treat yourself to something where you can forget how busy your life is. Sometimes you deserve to feel like nothing, not even gravity, can bring you down. For times like these, I would recommend taking a float, and I hope you enjoy it and have a unique experience!
Sensory Deprivation Facilities
Here is a list of some float places by major city (before buying a float, check Groupon or Living Social to see if you can save some money!):
San Francisco/Bay Area:
Los Angeles Area:
Have you tried sensory deprivation? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
From LA to the East Bay, Cindy has been a professional college student for nearly 10 years. During this time, she has traveled extensively within the U.S. and abroad. She never travels without her running shoes, and feels that a nice long run is the best way to get to know a place. Her very Mexican mother tells her she needs to “sit down,” but she is just too young and adventurous to do that just yet. She lives by the words of the brilliant Gloria Anzaldúa: ‘I am turtle, wherever I go I carry “home” on my back.’
Follow Cindy on Instagram or at thuperthindyrocks.blogspot.com.