I first heard about sensory deprivation tanks on Joe Rogan’s podcast. He was talking about this tank – I believe he referred to it as an isolation chamber – that helped him to disconnect from the world. Essentially, it unplugged him from all his senses.
The prospect of being unlinked from my senses is both frightening and fascinating. If you’re human and you own a smartphone, you know you’re overstimulated. Do you use it on the toilet? Do you reach for your phone first thing in the morning? Is it the source of all your entertainment? Are your best friends YouTube, Instagram and/or Twitter? Do you keep your phone next to you screen-up all the time because screen-down is simply unthinkable? Do you die a little inside when that battery dies? Do I need to go on?
A sensory deprivation tank is essentially a chamber of sorts that removes all that external stimuli. You float in approximately 600kg of Epsom salts – think Dead Sea in a tub. While floating, your body is weightless. You are not in contact with anything. Not even the tugging of clothes against your skin because ideally, you would be naked. The temperature of the water is identical to your body temperature. To quote Goldilocks: “It’s not too hot. It’s not too cold. It’s just right.” It’s also pitch black. You won’t be able to see your hand in front of your face.
What does all this mean? It means you have voluntarily given up sight, hearing, touch and smell for at least an hour. Giving up taste is a given. I don’t think anyone would want to stick their tongues in the world’s saltiest soup.
To my knowledge – most of which has been gathered from JRE, a Buzzfeed video and a multi-episode VICE documentary – there are several names for these tanks and they’re not always tanks to begin with. They can be rooms or pods. There are also several names for the experience. Apart from isolation chambers and sensory deprivation tanks, there is also the less intimidating sounding float tanks/pods. Unfortunately, I could’t find anything that showed the room types clearly.
The Float Space
I had my first float experience at Palm Avenue Float Club in Singapore. As of the time this post was written, it’s the only one in the country.
They have float times from morning to night and you can choose either a sixty or ninety-minute session. There are six pods so getting a slot shouldn’t be too difficult if you plan ahead.
I didn’t take pictures except for the actual pod but the space they have is kinda great. It was a little creepy at first because I booked an 8.30 pm slot and the building’s exterior (combined with my perpetually overacting imagination) was pretty dark and doing its best Halloween impression. But once you get into the lift and smack the right floor, the doors open into a really pretty space with views to boot.
I was shown to my room and given a perfunctory explanation of how things worked – which is basically everything I’ve said here so far. The room was pretty bare. Apart from the pod and a little shower, there was a shelf with ear plugs, a towel and a mirror.
I took a shower, unwrapped a set of ear plugs and climbed in. There’s a face towel and a bottle of clean water hanging from a hinge inside the pod. There’s a little light at the end and there’s a switch for it inside. That bottle of water saved me twice in the short time I was in there.
Don’t Do Any of This
It took we a while to settle in. I didn’t turn off the light because it was just too dark (remember that overactive imagination?) and I thought I’d ease myself into it as time passed.
A few minutes into the float, the ear plug in my left ear dislodged and my inner ear started to BURN. There must have been a tiny cut in my ear from scratching or something and the heavily concentrated salt water got in. It felt like there was an ear bud-shaped hot poker topped with sulfuric acid being shoved into my ear canal. It felt crazy. I had to get up pronto to wash it out in the shower. The thing is, when you get up hastily in a float pod, you’re sloshing about a lot and trying to figure a way to stand without breaking your ass. Salt water trickled down from my head and ran into my eyes. So now, my ear and my eyes were burning. Miraculously, I remembered that spray bottle of water and spritzed myself in the face till I felt my eyeballs slowly escape the hellfire grasp of Lucifer. I don’t think this is the usual experience for most first-time floaters. But if you’re as ungraceful as I am, floater be warned. Salt water is a jilted lover. It’ll find the smallest of weak spots and seek its revenge.
I washed my ear out as best I could and shoved a new set of ear plugs in after reading the instructions because I didn’t want to waste yet another pair unnecessarily. Climbed back into the pod – and tried my best to relax.
My mind was LOUD in that carefully curated cocoon of calm. There were images and words and thoughts and a whole lot of randomness, as if everything in my head was suddenly jostling over each other for center stage. It was all very overwhelming. Until I just remembered to breathe.
I used basic meditation tools – just your good ‘ol inhale and long exhale and slowly, the TV in mind started to blur out and I sank into just breathing. It was the first time I truly felt my whole body breathe. Not just my lungs. Not just my chest or my nose. I felt everything inhale and exhale. I could feel my legs involved in it. My toes. My fingers. Everything. Every part of me was only focused on one thing. Breathing.
I don’t think this state of mind lasted very long because I started noticing channels on the mind-TV again. Perhaps the whole experience lasted two minutes but it was incredible. It was this silence of truly just being with myself and nothing else. I had been properly disconnected for two minutes and was just being.
There was no stimuli – no texts, no work, no distracting thirst trap on IG. None of it. I felt like a regular human – not this multi-tasking millennial machine that the 21st century has turned us all into in some form or other.
The rest of the float was me trying to get back into that space but towards the end I tried to let go again and simply be.
The music played to signal the end of the hour and I sat up slowly, keeping my head tilted back to ensure no salt water ran into my eyes. Then I promptly ran my hands over face to scratch at an itchy spot and had to use the spray bottle again to save my abused eyes.
To Sum Up
One thing I definitely realized is that floating takes practice. It may be easier for some but for me, it’s something I’ll have to do a few more times to really get the hang of it. And I do intend to keep trying. Maybe once or twice a month.
Full disclosure, I had the lights on and I could see it filtering through the crack between the pod’s two halves. But that’s because I am truly afraid of the dark and it was just too much for me to handle. I do intend on going full dark next time to get the full experience but I think you can choose how you want to progress with this.
The next time you hear from me about this, I will have fully immersed myself in it and I won’t be making any more silly mistakes that cause fiery pain. Sensory deprivation tanks appeal to me because of the way it can potentially help you tap into different levels of consciousness provided you’re willing to keep trying and figure out how to still your mind.
Also, those two minutes of pure being is worth the effort. I’m excited to see what it will be like if I can duplicate and magnify the amount of time I spend just being.
Hopefully, my next few entries for this would be less about the mechanics and more about the journey into the beyond or the within – however you choose too look at it.
I invite you to give it a try. And if you do, let me know what you think! (:
Image 1: writer’s own picture
Image 2: giphy.com
Image 3: pinterest.com