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.

| May/June 2012

  • Float-Tank-Sensory-Deprivation
    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.

  • Float-Tank-Sensory-Deprivation

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.

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