Float-Tank Therapy: Experiencing Sensory Deprivation
The surprising health benefits of sensory deprivation are just one reason why the practice is growing in popularity—and not just among new age types.
While I meet a handful of colorful characters—folks studying shamanic medicine or making claims to know how to build power generators that draw from the earth’s magnetism—I talk to just as many people who are simply looking for relaxation and the feel-good afterglow of flotation.
"VISION OF LOVELINESS" BY RAY RUM / RAYRUMART.COM
I’ve followed the simple instructions from the pamphlet Beginners’ Guide to Floating: “Don’t shave or wax before.” Check. “Eat a small meal one and a half hours prior.” All right. “Don’t drink caffeine before.” Done.
I’m on Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, Oregon, when I come to a window covered with a starburst tie-dyed tapestry. The other windowpanes are so thick with condensation they display only smudges of bright movement inside.
This must be the place. “Float On” reads the steamy door.
I’m here to begin an investigation into sensory deprivation with a 90-minute “restricted environmental stimulation technique” (REST) session in one of Float On’s four commercial flotation tanks.
In the waiting room, the humidity’s as thick as pink insulation. A turn-of-the-head survey reveals a multigenerational clientele, unified in quiet calm. This is the den of the nothing eaters. Couches and bookshelves line the public space, and clean hardwood floors—as well as tables dotted with drawing books, pastries, and teacups in various states of use—offer visual warmth.
A man behind a computer greets me by name, as if he’s known me for years. He is Christopher Messer, sensory-deprivation enthusiast for four decades and one of the owners of Float On. Messer shows me to the last in a row of private float rooms, each containing a tank, a shower, fresh towels, robes, and slippers. He explains the process: I’m to shower first, put in earplugs, turn off the light, then float calmly and effortlessly on my back, buoyed by the thrice-filtered water, which is 40 percent Epsom salt and kept at a temperature of 93.5 degrees.
Moments later I’m stepping from the shower and into the dark, black box.
I am kinda freaked out by the idea of floating. For me, the terms “sensory deprivation” and “flotation tank” are connected to ominous images of steeple-fingered scientists behind mirrored glass.
Consider a passage by E.R. Hilgard from Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation discussing early experiments with sensory deprivation: “A student could be isolated for two or three days in a soundproof compartment box with a bed in it. . . . Communications between subject and experimenter were made through a headset.” The subject wore goggles over his eyes and cardboard sleeves over his arms and hands to snuff out any outside disturbance.
The public perception of modern-day sensory deprivation and recreational float tank use is improving as more commercial float centers sprout up around the globe (with the highest concentration in Sweden). Peter Suedfeld, one of the world’s leading experts on REST, cites subjects’ overwhelmingly positive emotional response to it. And research indicates that float tanks are a viable option for treating various physical ailments and mental and emotional disorders.
Page: 1 | 2
| Next >>