“My brain felt as if I had been staring at the ocean for hours—the kind of ‘mindful mindlessness’ that those deeply experienced in meditation spend years trying to achieve.” ~ Wallace J. Nichols, describing his floating experience.
The isolation tank, also known as a float tank, was first brought to my attention while reading Nichols’ book: Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.
Having practiced meditation on my own, including a two day silent retreat, I was well aware of the struggle involved in reaching a meditative state.
The thought of achieving this state of “mindful mindlessness” while simply floating weightlessly in body temperature water intrigued me. In fact, it almost seemed like a way of cheating the meditation system, so I was all for it!
What is a Float Tank?
A float tank is a lightless and soundproof tank. Approximately eight feet long by four feet wide, one floats in roughly 10 inches of skin-temperature water, with about 800 pounds of Epsom salt mixed in. The high density of Epsom salt allows the individual to float naturally—without effort. A float tank is the only place in which ones body will experience being free of gravity (that is, of course, unless you are an astronaut.)
What are the benefits of using a Float Tank?
During early uses of float tanks, “floaters” reported that the relaxed state they felt was also a healing state for many conditions, including stress, anxiety, pain, swelling, insomnia and jet lag. Float tanks today are primarily used for stress reduction, relaxation and meditation.
My Floating Experience:
When I showed up to my floating appointment, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After getting the tour of the facilities, I was left alone, just the tank and I. I stripped down, pre-showered and approached the large white container. Slowly, I climbed into the tank and closed the trap-door behind me. I gently felt my way to a lying-down position. Immediately and effortlessly I began to float.
Using some of my Yoga Nidra skills, I began to scan my body. Bringing awareness to one body part at a time and then relaxing it, surrendering muscle by muscle. As each body part relaxed, I felt myself becoming more and more weightless.
Once I settled into my space, where I’d spend the next 90 minutes, I noticed that my breathing had become relatively shallow—as though I had just realized what I had gotten myself into. I felt as if the walls were beginning to close in on me, and there was a shortage of air. I gasped for breath.
“Get ahold of yourself,” I said to myself. Then I began to silently repeat the phrases “You are okay,” with a deep inhale and “You are safe,” on my exhale.
I had become rather acquainted with these two phases over the past few months, having used them to get through some difficult times. To my pleasant surprise it worked, and rather quickly too! I had talked myself off of the ledge of having a panic attack.
“Finally,” I thought, feeling proud of myself for not freaking out,“I can relax and bliss out.”
But then—the monkey chatter began. There must have been at least five monkeys in my head, each having simultaneous conversations and running through to-do lists and checklists. Suddenly I recalled reading about the monkey chatter from other “floaters” experiences.
“No worries,” I thought to myself,“This too will pass”.
I’d just allow it to happen without judgment, and eventually the monkeys would tire themselves…
Just as the monkeys ran out of things to mull over, something I hadn’t expected happened—I became restless and agitated.
I began to fidget with this body part and then that—I couldn’t lay still. My foot itched. My neck ached. The water felt cold. I had to use the ladies room.
This agitation triggered a thought in my head—I have been here before, in yoga class.
Whenever I get into a posture that isn’t my favorite, I feel agitated. I fidget. And yes, I have been known to even leave class to use the restroom just to get out of doing a posture.
“Not this time,” I thought,“I am going to breathe through this.”
Eventually I gave in to the agitation and went to the restroom. I checked the time on my phone. I mean I was up anyway, and I was curious as to how long I had actually been in the tank, as there is no reference of time in there. To my surprise an hour had already past, and there were only 30 minutes left.
“I can do this,” I thought, “Just get back in that tank and lie there for 30 more minutes.”
Within moments of re-entering the tank, I vanished. I’m not really sure where I went, but I wasn’t in the tank. I mean my physical body was obviously in the tank, but my mind wasn’t, and it wasn’t caught up in the monkey chatter either.
Suddenly I snapped back—I was back in the lightless, soundless tank.
What happened? Where did I go, and how long was I gone for?
All of these questions arose—for which I have no concrete answers to. For the remainder of the time I began to cycle through these stages of restlessness of mind, restlessness of body and complete relaxation.
Following my float, I had the privilege of chatting with the two men that owned and operated the tank. I was able to share my experience with them, discussing the different cycles I endured—monkey chatter, physical agitation and then relaxation. I found comfort in hearing that these seasoned floaters also experience similar cycles while floating.
Although I did not leave the tank with rays of light beaming out of me as I’d envisioned, I did feel a deep sense of relaxation in my body throughout the remainder of the day.