Imagine a place free of sound, light, and gravity. A place where you can go to simply be, relax, meditate, think, visualize, or rest without intrusion or interruption. A place where you can float effortlessly in “space.” Sounds pretty neat, right? That’s because it is, and it doesn’t require a spaceship to get there!
What used to be known as sensory deprivation tanks back in the days of Dr. John C. Lilly, the founder of this gravity-free paradise, are now commonly referred to as float tanks or float pods, and they are popping up all over the country.
So What Exactly Is It?
Floating is a researched practice where one relaxes in a floatation pod, isolation tank, or float room, each containing 10 inches of water infused with 1000 pounds of magnesium sulfate (aka, Epsom salt). This creates a natural buoyancy allowing anyone to float effortlessly. With the water matching our bodies natural temperature, it makes it difficult to perceive where our body ends and the water begins, truly reducing the sense of touch. It’s almost as if you’re drifting into outer space!
Types of Float Tanks
For the true adventurers, the Samadhi tank is the ultimate experience and remains true to John C. Lilly’s vision of sensory escape and finding peace with the Self. This is by far my favorite tank! It’s smaller than most of the other tanks and does not offer a light or music-streaming options.
But for those who are afraid of the dark or have a fear of tight spaces, the float pod may be the better choice, as these are more spacious inside and allow for light and/or sound. Music, guided meditations, podcasts, or whatever you like, can be streamed directly into the pod by simply attaching your iPhone to the audio cord in the float room. Although this doesn’t provide the same escape and truly “shut off” experience as the samadhi tank, it’s still a great way to reap the added benefits of floating in Epsom salt and being cut off from the distractions of the world for an hour.
Tip: I started with the float pod and worked my way up to the Samadhi tank after 2 sessions or so.
For those of you who still prefer a more airy environment, there are float rooms. These also provide light therapy choices and are integrated with communication controls and music streaming options.
The Benefits of Floating
In a world where we are constantly bombarded and often overstimulated with sensory information, it can be difficult to find some reprieve. By cutting us off from our senses, float pods help to reduce the sensory overload on our nervous systems, providing our brain and bodies with a much-needed break. Without sensations of touch, sight, sound, and even gravity, floating offers a number of benefits for our minds, bodies, and souls.
Here are some of my favorites:
Increased Awareness & Mindfulness: Floating helps take us off auto-pilot by creating a sensation of being completely relaxed yet intensely awake. In this state free of sensory intrusions, we are able to redirect our attention inwards, thus improving our awareness of our thoughts, mind patterns, and things that we may often overlook. Floating also increases theta brain waves responsible for a state of consciousness typically achieved after years of meditation practice. In this state, visualization techniques can be especially powerful so set those intentions!
Increased Visual Acuity: Everything feels like it’s in HD after a float and I notice sights, colors, and shapes in a different way than I did before.
Stress-Buster: Being free of the need to analyze incoming stimuli from the outside world, our brains are able to relax. Scientifically, floating helps suppress the sympathetic nervous system, which produces our fight or flight responses, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation, healing, and replenishment. This has been shown to lead to decreased blood pressure, muscle tension, and stress hormones.
Pain Relief: By creating a space where our bodies can feel truly weightless, floating can help heal muscle and joint pain and inflammation. I remember having a reoccurring kink in my neck, due to a habit of sleeping wrong and wanting to cuddle with my spouse at night, and it was completely gone after my first float. Floating has also been documented to decrease muscle tension, pain from arthritis and overall inflammation.
Total Relaxation: Being cut off from the world and my senses brought me a level of relaxation I had never felt before on a physical level. While meditation has always helped me relax my mind, I didn't know how much my body and senses could benefit from a healthy break as well. I’ve never been someone who loves massages or baths in general, but this is on another level—you’re literally weightless. There is no effort involved or any information to be processed. It’s as if you’re sleeping while your mind is fully awake. The only tricky part is getting your mind to relax enough so you’re totally lights out, but the increased endorphins released definitely help induce a state of calm.
Other reported benefits include:
- Increased creativity
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Improved sleep
- Improved energy
- Increased magnesium absorption
Why I Love It
To get away! Honestly, after the nonstop busyness of the last two years with weddings, family, and just life, I felt desperate for a space that was cut off from the world and free of intrusion. Sensory deprivation always fascinated me and I was curious to see if it would improve my meditation practice. After just one 60-minute float, I was hooked. In fact, the benefits for me personally were so profound that my husband basically told me to go every month, which of course I did not attest to!
My first session was probably the least relaxing of all as I was constantly waiting for the water to move letting me know my session was done; it’s actually quite noticeable, which I later discovered, so don’t waste your first float worrying about this. It also took me 5-10 minutes, and three attempts, before I could successfully keep the light off and be immersed in total darkness. I literally had to remind myself that there was no boogie man or ghost waiting to haunt me and that I was perfectly safe in this little pod (no joke!).
Once I was able to rise above these silly fears, the silence and weightlessness took my mind, body, and soul to a state of deep relaxation I had never quite experienced before. My ears relaxed with no sound waves to funnel. My eyes felt so light with no sights to see. My body and muscles were completely weightless and my brain was able to simply be without the constant influx of sensory information coming in at me. This feeling alone was truly priceless, even with the nonsense thoughts that continued to drift on and off in my mind.
Although I didn’t fully notice these benefits while I was in my first float, I now am able to dive right into my floats and relax more quickly. And while it can still take time to shift my focus from the nonstop ticker of thoughts racing through my mind, it’s become easier with practice and patience. Most of the time I fall asleep or think that I am sleeping, but to be honest, it’s hard to really know. I guess you’ll just have to experience it for yourself!
Is It Safe?
Absolutely! Though I do recommend researching the facility near you to make sure that they thoroughly filter and sanitize float pods/tanks between sessions. You don’t want to end up in a moldy tank!
Where to Go
There are over 300 float centers across the US and Canada. A simple google search should do the trick but if you’re from Chicago, my favorite is Float Sixty Chicago in River North. The staff here is great and the space is clean and private. They also have a nice collection of books and materials to help you tune in further in their post-float relaxation room and give you a deliciously yummy cup of tea to help you fall into an even deeper relaxed state. In fact, they’ve become so popular they’ll be opening a Grant Park location later this year.
Love + Light,