Photography by Kristin Piljay

My experience in a sensory deprivation tank (isolation tank)

Finally I was able to experience proper meditation, or what I think proper meditation should be.  Whenever I have tried to meditate in the past, I always end up thinking about a bunch of issues bothering me or I fall asleep – one or the other.   I seemed not able to experience just nothingness or “just being.”   Well, now I’ve found a way – just plop me in an isolation tank and it’s effortless.

I had heard a couple of friends talking about their experiences in isolation tanks (aka sensory deprivation tanks), but I had no idea how popular they have become.  I had thought it was still an obscure activity.   A few weeks ago someone posted a groupon for a discount for a float at the Float House in Vancouver for $39, so I jumped on that to try it out.

I set out for the Float House this evening with anticipation on how the experience would be.  I was wondering if I would freak out in the total blackness or if I would have endless thoughts running through my head (like when I try to meditate) or maybe I’d fall asleep.

When I arrived, they gave me a video to watch with instructions and then a few minutes later I was taken to the float room.  You need to shower before getting in the tank and this is all in the same room (there are several separate float rooms).  They provide a special soap that is also used as shampoo.  After you shower, you put in earplugs that they provide and then lower yourself into the tank and close the hatch.  It’s complete and total blackness.  The water has lots of Epsom salts in it, so you float and it’s skin temperature, so you quickly don’t notice it anymore, unless you move.  It’s almost like a water bed without the bed part.

I relaxed immediately.  It was blissful nothingness.  None of the usual thoughts about issues in my life were in my mind.  I was just present, in the here and now and that now was nothingness and I enjoyed it.  Just floating and existing.  In the beginning, I mostly kept my eyes closed and sometimes I felt almost like I was going to drift into sleep, but then an arm would twitch and I’d be more alert again.  I definitely didn’t sleep, but it felt so relaxing that I would get to the point that I could almost fall asleep.  I didn’t try to do anything (like visualize or mediate), I just let happen what wanted to happen.  Sometimes I would move at the waist side to side just to feel that sensation of that.  I noticed that if I moved a bit, the water would lap and shift and then I would feel a chill.  But if I was totally still, then the temperature was perfect with not difference between my body and the air and water in the tank.  When you are still like that, you feel kind of  feel like you are suspended in a thick cloud floating.

Later in the experience, I decided to try and keep my eyes open more and when I did, I would start seeing patterns.  So the total blackness would be filled with various shades of gray that would swirl and change (kind of like the visualizer on iTunes, but without color).  It was all abstract with no images of actual things.  Later on, I did see a a bit of dark purple in the abstract swirling, but it was mostly just shades of gray.  If I closed my eyes, than all this would go away and when I opened them again, it would be all black once more until my eyes were open for a few minutes.

When 90 minutes has past, music starts to play to tell you that your time is up, starting quietly and then increasing in loudness.  I was disappointed when I heard the music as it seemed too short – I could have stayed in much longer.  I remained for a few minutes, listening to the music and swaying in the water a along with it to get used to moving again.  I put my hands on the inside of the tank and could feel the vibration of the music.  I felt like I could have even just been entertained by the vibration in the tank, even if there wasn’t music to be heard.  I felt fascinated by it.

So after you leave the tank, you shower again with the “after soap/shampoo” which is different  than the “before soap/shampoo) and then condition (your hair feels really dry otherwise).  I felt very talkative afterwards with another guy waiting to go into a float room and also talked with the guy working there for a quite a while too.  He told me that some people have trouble staying in for the 90 minutes the first few times and need to work up to it.  I asked if I could possibly stay in 3 hours.  LOL  I wanted a longer float!  Funny how people are different, but I felt like my experience was just beginning and it wasn’t finished!

So needless to say, I’m doing it again.  I signed up for a monthly membership of $50/month for one float and you can book subsequent floats during the month for $40.  Also got a special intro of a $10 float the first month.  I don’t think I’ll book a double for the next time, but maybe a few months down the line.

I would definitely recommend the experience. For me, if was an effortless experience of nothingness, deep peacefulness, being present within yourself, and being free from any distracting thoughts.  I’m not sure why the distracting thoughts were chased away, but they were, and I appreciate this greatly.  Some thoughts did come, but they floated away easily and mostly they were about what I was feeling and experiencing and not something I’m agonizing over. Afterward, there is also this feeling of clarity and of being very perceptive of the small details in your environment.  I understand that most people feel the effects of this for several days afterward, so it will be interesting if this also happens to me.

Here is the website for the  The Float House in Vancouver  for anyone wanting to try it out:  The Float House