What the hell am I gonna do in a pitch black chamber for an hour with literally nothing but myself and 10 inches of water?
This is all I could think right after committing to an hour-long sensory deprivation session. I’m fine with being alone — but without my iPhone, a book, or vision? What was I going to do? How would I shut my mind off? Anytime I try to meditate, I hyperventilate, and I’m not a fan of stillness or deep breathing exercises. I found myself becoming anxious at the thought of … something that is supposed to bring me complete and utter relaxation. The irony.
What is Sensory Deprivation?
Floating, Sensory Deprivation, or Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) — same thing, different names — are scientifically proven to have both mental and physical health benefits. Research done for this alternative treatment is extremely promising.
How does floating work? Well, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate and helps us get into relaxation mode. It also lowers blood pressure as well as levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). Studies have shown that floating is a great complementary treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety sufferers in one study showed significant improvement in anxiety symptoms, mood, and sleep regulation after 12 sessions. Another study suggested floating can result in short term relief from PTSD, Agoraphobia, and social anxiety.
So, while I was admittedly a little scared to float at first, I couldn’t ignore all the science backing up the benefits of sensory deprivation. The more I read up, the more excited I became.
Starting the Session
My appointment was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon at Lift Next Level Floats in Huntington, New York. When I arrived, I was given a quick rundown by manager Adriene Passannante before I watched a short video that would tell me everything I needed to know before my float. I was pleased to hear there were buttons conveniently located on the inside of the tank to turn the lights on — just in case I freaked out. By the time I was shown to my room, I was itching to get in the tank, but I had to shower to get oils off my hair and skin first.
When I finally plopped myself into the tank, I immediately floated — no effort necessary. I couldn’t help but smile. It was a phenomenon I’d never experienced before, as I can’t float in pool or salty ocean water for the life of me. I thanked the 1000 pounds of epsom salt in the tank for keeping me up. The water felt perfect — because it’s kept right around human body temperature. They say for this reason, it becomes easy to lose track of where the body ends and the water begins, adding to the sense-free experience. Tiny lights resembling colorful stars lit up the ceiling of the tank, and zen music played at the perfect volume.