e-vaughn Tries a Sensory Deprivation Float Tank, Experiences Unique Sensations

**Stimulation, good sir, is super solid**

Having grown up primed with an exuberance of energy, training in the highly variable and physically demanding sport of gymnastics, finding joy in the fast-paced mediums of videogames and film, and pondering the tenets of experience, epistemology, and empiricism concepts through my studies in philosophy at UW, I grew to equate stimulation with progression and advancement. Exposure to a variety of languages leads to easy acquisition at a young age (certain Indian regions can have children learning up to 5 different languages simultaneously due to exposure), learning critical thinking skills can lead to adaptability and comfort in adverse environments, and education and internet access can bring prosperity to a region.

Put bluntly, sensory stimulus is what leads to growth, and a lack of stimulation leads to stagnation, withering, and even neurological damage. Brush up on the many case studies of neglected children missing their language acquisition window due to being locked away from stimulus and other people, or explore the many terrifying effects of prolonged isolation/sensory deprivation on the human psyche, and you’ll being to form a picture that a lack of stimulation can be a very dangerous thing when absent for long periods of time. In specific environments that aim to take away your sensory experience, like this negative decibel room, users can experience adverse effects in only 30 minutes before feeling queasy, uneasy, and disgruntled.

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Not everyone might be ready for a sensory deprivation experience, but in a safe environment under a willing nature, you’ll likely be alright. 

Perhaps due to a belief of these concepts, or perhaps because my stimulation-craved personality made believing these concepts more appealing, I find myself drawn to the flame of stimulus. Like true extroversion, my natural tendency is music, socialization, acrobatics, dancing, beatboxing, and escapism into digital realms. The thought of living a life out in the wilderness, off the grid, with low stimulation or sensory stroking sounds at best, is incompatible for a foo’ like me, and at worst, stagnation into an emaciated state. Yikes.

 

**The Motivation to Float**

So when I realized how heavily I coveted stimulation, I began to seek balance in my life. The year of 2015, I committed my  and a reduction of stimulus in a daily way, however brief it was. I also began to perk up an ear to the tales of the ominous “sensory deprivation tanks” that exist throughout Seattle, and started to look into what such an experience would be like. Surely a mere hour cocooned in a pitch-black, dead-silent, salt-water pool couldn’t be so bad, right?

Well, thankfully I had a variety of friends that had an interest and already took the plunge. Reports were mixed, with some folks diggin’ the hour, some finding it rather mild-mannered, some thinking it was boring and not enjoyable, but almost no one turned it into a reoccurring experience. Nonetheless, I was committed.

 

**The Pre-Float Experience**

My interest to float came about because a free opportunity scampered across my periphery, so I snagged it up. Good thing too, as the place I went was running for $90 a hour… which is much steeper than the previously seen $40 or so during Groupon weekends. Life Float across from REI had lovely décor, with a minimalistic off-white aesthetic, a variety of free teas, and a helpful front-desk fellow. Explaining the experience, he showed us the earplugs (and added that most people wear them), showed us the individual rooms which housed a shower, a toilet, towels, and around the bend was the 10×6 foot tub, about 3 feet deep. He offered up 5 different songs to choose from, with me opting to bask in a deep-water, low-bass ambient tune. My partner chose an ethereal, cosmic sound. Other song choices include monk ohm-chanting, a sparse light rain jungle theme, and a beachfront with splashing waves.

Inside the room, the lights were purple-hued and dim, which caste a soothing glow over my tub. Our host displayed a button to toggle the music off, a button to slowly fade the purple lights back on, an emergency button to flip all the lights on, and a spray bottle with fresh water to mist our faces or clear any salt that might get into the eyes. He recommended to place the earplugs into our ears before showering, as the soft-foam earplugs won’t adhere to your ear canal as well if you place them in while wet. I was given my room to myself, removed my clothing, inserted my earplugs, jumped in the shower to cleanse myself, and then stepped foot into the already filling bathwater.

 

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The actual floating area was pleasantly hued, warm, and offered enough space to stretch comfortably. Not pictured is the personal shower, toilet, sink, towels, and variety of lotions at one’s disposal. 

 

**Floating in the Dark**

The water began to cover my entire body, and the lights were still on. They hadn’t dimmed yet. I was feeling comfortable and relaxed, just as I hoped I might. I toggled off the music, electing to craft a true sensory deprivation for the first 20 minutes or so, and the lights began to fade out of existence. Pitch blackness overcame the room, and my head rested buoyantly on the salty water, half-submerged. Apart from the minor sound echoing about in my inner ear (I presume, due to the earplugs) and the occasional splashing, I felt very minimal sensation. My eyes were propped open, almost alert, and I could not see a single glimmer of light anywhere. The water was so warm and to me, I felt it matched the outer temperature perfectly. My body felt a comfort that I had no basis for relating to. The previous meditation I had tried had never warranted such a feeling of presentness or contentment

My body and mind were solely in that room. For approximately 20 minutes, my mind didn’t couldn’t wander. Not that I wanted it to, but in all previous attempts at meditative mindsets, my mind would wander triumphantly, bouncing from topic to topic rambunctiously. Here, it was with me, with my body, with the warmth. I didn’t count, I didn’t worry about the time, I didn’t move  or feel a need to flex, or stretch, or be aware of my body. Nothing existed except the darkness. I found a sort of tranquility in those first 20 minutes that immediately made me accepting and appreciative of the experience.

 

**Dozing in the Dark**

It’s hard to adequately contemplate exactly how long my empty brain floated there, staring upwards into the vastness of black. I suspect it was about twenty minutes, but I’m not sure. I do know that at one point, I chose to close my eyes and embrace even more relaxation. I think that I actually fell asleep. My mind no longer found solace in emptiness, but actually began to wander outside of the room. Distinctly and sharply, the imagery of several forms of transportation crossed my cerebral awareness. I recall vividly viewing a sleek, aerodynamic sports car, wheels spinning against cracked asphalt, and then briefly a horse and carriage… and then I stirred back awake. I reasoned that I didn’t want to spend my time dozing off, so I kept my eyes open the remaining time, and my mind attentive. I’m curious why it was that I could leave the room in my sleep, but not whilst awake. Perplexing indeed.

 

**Stirring in the Dark**

Attention rekindled and eyes propped open to soak in the black, I decided it was time to try the music for once. Fondling my fingers around the tub, I moved past the lights buttons and found the gentle release of rhythm in my ears. A single speaker above my head at the head of the tub played the soft noise, but it wasn’t music as much as it was more of a bassy, soft, aural experience. Something akin to how I imagine my life might sound as a female angler fish, I found the tune centering, deep, and slushy in the water. I wondered how it would sound without these foamy earplugs. My focus returned to my body, my sensations, and attempts to relate to my environment.

Floating there, aimless and weightless, my eyes lost their trustworthiness. A single glimmer of yellow seeped from the right side of my vision, branching out across my eyes and illuminating what I believe might be the veins in my eyes. Hesitant to acknowledge this was actually happening, a weighing of the possibility of experiencing hallucinations came over me. Could I be seeing this? What are my eyes even experiencing right now? Are they receiving any input?

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You’d be left wanting if this is your expectation while floating. My eyes and brain didn’t produce imagery in the darkness, but I began to believe I saw something. 

I placed my hands over my eyes and I could see the outline, however faint, of my hand. There it was – all five fingers, bending and flexing as I practice finger-rolls and pass-throughs of my fingers. No. It couldn’t be. I reason that my brain must have simply crafted an image where it knew there should be one. When I accepted the falseness of my senses, I once again relaxed and focused on what was real. Namely, my floating form, my body, my fingers, and the length of my body.

 

**Flexin’ in the Dark**

It didn’t take long for me to test my limits in the water. I reckon it was probably around the fortieth minute that I lost a desire to deprive myself of anything. I flexed my fingers under the water. I flipped over and floated on my stomach, head floating out of the water. I stretched my digits and popped each knuckle, exploding loud nukes in the otherwise quiet water. Each finger and toe, I cracked effectively and satisfyingly.

I found that no matter how many ways I pivoted or adjusted my shoulders, hips, or neck, my body always found a comfortable equilibrium. I relaxed backwards, criss-cross apple sauce and floating with arms above head. I curved my spine vertebrae by vertebrae, until I floated in the fetal position. I rubbed my calves, my thighs, my stomach, and rested my hand upon my heart, listening intently to the heartbeat. Soon, I began to feel the weight of an hour, and questioned how long I had been in there already. Time was difficult to identify, but it was always pleasant.

 

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There was a distinct comfort in the underwater stretching. Leaning back, muscles relaxed, no tension, and fully supported by the buoyant water, a physical equilibrium is easy to grasp. 

 

When the lights came on, I probably had three different moments near the end when I was predicting they would fade into existence, but I wasn’t correct. Feeling enlightened and free of stress, I relaxed in the dimly room bath for another five minutes. Now free to view the sights in the purple hue, the bath felt so much more spacious. Slowly moving out of the bath, I climbed into the shower and rinsed all the saltiness off me, beaming from ear to ear about the experience. Collected, confident, and mentally calculated, I must admit that I’m surprised by just how much I enjoyed the experience. The 2 or so weeks after the experience before completing this article, I found myself yearning for the darkness in the bath several times during moments of duress or chaos… so perhaps I’ve found a stability with this type of experience and slot for it in my life.

 

**TL;DR:**

You ever try this whole sensory deprivation business? Well, you should. Go in there sober, keep your eyes open, and give into the hour of darkness. See what it does for you, homie. Maybe you’ll be all about it? This sensory lover really liked being stripped of his stimulation… consensually and briefly, at least.

 

-evaughn

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