Reflections From the Void

When I moved to Portland, I developed a new hobby.

Before the big move, Ben and I came up to visit our new empty house for a few days around the 4th of July to scope it out and just get a few preparation things done. I randomly encountered an ad for some chair that marketed itself as being made to feel like floating on water in a sensory deprivation tank. I found this claim to be kind of dubious and then, feeling prone to distraction, I decided I’d like to actually try out using a sensory deprivation tank. After all, sensory deprivation tanks are exactly the kind of weird thing you would expect to find in Portland, right?

And in fact, you sure can! I found a little place called Float On, not far from our house, and I decided to book myself a session.

(side note: I never did try this bean bag chair thing but I can pretty well guarantee you that it does not provide an experience comparable to using a sensory deprivation tank)

Stepping inside the building, I immediately got relaxing vibes. It was spa-like. Quiet and peaceful, with a lobby full of comfy furniture. When it was my turn, one of the staffers walked me into the room. The room was very warm and had a blue color to the lighting. The staffer walked me through what to expect and how to prepare myself, and left.

I got undressed, showered, then climbed into the tank, closed the door, and shut the light off.

For the first few minutes, my sentiment was “okay, now what?” I was literally lying in a tank of water saturated with epsom salt, kept at a temperature of about 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Initially my back muscles felt kind of tense, like when I first get into bed, but gradually my muscles felt completely relaxed. After that happened, my mind started to relax too.

I’ve come to realize that the trick to having a good float is not to try to have a good float. I had heard stories of people starting to visually hallucinate things in the tank, or getting into these deep states of relaxation or meditation, and of course I wanted to experience that too.

But you can’t just make yourself experience that. It’s meditation-like (and in fact, if you want to start a meditation practice, floating would be a perfect way to get into it since it forces all other environmental distractions out). I’ve had good float sessions and bad ones. The bad ones for me are the ones where I feel too antsy to properly relax. When I’m having a good float, my mind just gets away from me. I don’t think I’ve fallen asleep floating, but I will often end up in a state close to it. My thoughts will start to wander aimlessly and 10 or 15 minutes later I’ll catch myself.

I floated most recently last Friday. Last year I had gotten in one last float in March, then a few days later Float On announced they were closing indefinitely. When I first got my vaccine appointment, I knew one of the very first things I wanted to do once I was fully protected by the vaccine was go for a float. It was the self-care I knew I needed.

When I went to float last Friday, I resolved to not expect anything of myself while floating. I knew I’d probably be kind of excited, and I didn’t want to build up the experience in my head and then just find myself bored half way through. I told myself that if my mind kept racing the whole time, that would be just fine. If nothing else, my muscles would be getting great relaxation from a long epsom salt soak. And by not putting that pressure on myself, the float was great and I was surprised when my 90 minutes were up and the music started to gently play to indicate it was time for me to get out.

Sensory deprivation tanks are pretty popular; if you live in a decent sized city you probably have a place available near you. My local floating place has six different rooms, each with different kinds of tanks in them. If you’re the claustrophobic type, this probably isn’t going to be a good experience for you. But it’s one of my favorite things to do regularly, and when I come out of it, I feel a level of relaxation that nothing compares to.

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