All I can hear is the sound of my own breathing. And it’s so dark that I can’t see an inch in front of my face. I’m not sure which way is up and which way is down. There’s nothing I can do. So I just put my head back, close my eyes, and try to relax.
This might sound like the start to a slasher flick (or at least an extremely dark dystopian thriller), but in reality, it’s the start of my first experience in a sensory deprivation tank. As it turned out, it wasn’t scary at all. In fact, it turned out to be one of the most relaxing experiences of my life.
As someone who writes about health, I thought I had tried every wellness fad under the sun, most of which had little long-term effect on my health or well-being. But when I heard about flotation therapy, which involves being immersed in a tiny, dark sensory deprivation tank, I was skeptical yet intrigued.
“A float tank is kind of like a perfect bathtub,” says Graham Talley, founder of Float On, a Portland, OR float center that hosts the annual Float Conference. “It’s about five feet wide, eight feet long—so about the size of a queen-size bed—and there’s only about a foot of water in there… [that’s] saturated with about a thousand pounds of Epsom salt. It’s even more buoyant than the Dead Sea.”
Floating was embraced as an alternative health treatment in the 70s and 80s (in fact, rumour has it that John Lennon used float therapy to kick his heroin habit in 1979). Float devotees include celebrities like Steph Curry and Joe Rogan, who have promoted it as a post-workout recovery tool and a way to reduce muscle soreness.