Also known as a “sensory deprivation chamber” (which sounds terrifying) or an isolation tank (which isn’t much better).

I know, it seems pretty strange. Perhaps dangerous even — but it’s not. It’s amazing, and here’s why you should find one and take a test drive:

1. Why Not?

Try something new. It’s the start of a new year — make this part of your resolution. Add it to your bucket list. Get out of your comfort zone. Push away your excuses. At the very worst you’ll leave with “well that was interesting” and a story to tell.

2. It’s Just Meditation

Thanks to all the why you should meditate every day essays out there, we’re already familiar with its many benefits:

  • Emotional well-being (anxiety, self-esteem, depression)
  • Cognitive skills (memory, focus, problem-solving)
  • Physical health (immune system, energy level, blood pressure)

Floating is essentially a lengthy meditation session void of any distraction. You can’t see, hear, or feel any connections to your physical self or the world around you. So in a way, you’re forced to go inward.

3. Personal Development

Comedian/Podcaster/TV Personality Joe Rogan is perhaps the strongest advocate for float tanks:

The sensory deprivation chamber has been the most important tool that I’ve ever used for developing my mind, for thinking, for evolving.

That’s saying something (especially for him)…and I’m inclined to agree. Here’s a quick play-by-play of my experience in the tank:

Preparation: Apart from some brief online research…none. All I know is that I don’t need to bring anything with me, and I’ll spend ~70 minutes in the tank.

Setup: I drive to the [spa] and shyly sign in. The receptionist is welcoming and offers me some literature on the process, which is all pretty familiar. I sit and wait in the lobby, overhearing Japanese flute and the sound of flowing water. Soon she takes me to one of the rooms and provides a brief tutorial on the tank. I’m asked to shower and go at my own pace before being left alone. I do so…then step into the tank and close the door.

0–3 minutes: Whoa, you really do float… How can I get more comfortable? There that’s better… This salt feels kinda funny… Wait, what happens if I fall asleep? It’s an odd sensation, so the first few minutes are dedicated to observing your surroundings and leveling with the fact that you’ll be there a while. Eventually you stop moving, let things go quiet, and start focusing on the experience ahead.

3–15 minutes: This is ridiculous. Am I really just lying here for the next hour? I guess I’ll start thinking about specific problems…or things I need to do…or ideas I can build upon. […] Okay, I guess that was helpful…now what? Do I revisit all of that? Where else can I wander from here… At first, I’m far too cognizant of the situation—as though I’m a spectator. It’s all too impractical. Too foreign. It feels like a borderline waste of time.

15–30 minutes: Somewhere along the way, there is a noticeable shift. I start getting comfortable. I begin accepting the circumstances. I eventually start to get curious and let my mind wander more freely. I get more curious. I wander further. Soon I feel as though I’m peeking behind a curtain of sorts. At times, I completely forget that I’m in the tank at all… I think I’m starting to get it.

30–50 minutes: I start letting go. Letting go that I’m laying in a float tank. Letting go of the fact that I’m seeking any kind of outcome. Letting go of the fact that I’m trying to let go. Letting go more. Letting go of everything. It’s a somewhat difficult process. Occasionally I snap out of it — just a dude laying in a tank again, back in spectator mode. But eventually I achieve a controlled sense of mental exploration: recalling memories I haven’t visited in years, viewing thoughts/ideas from new perspectives, and freely zooming my focus toward anything. I begin to realize that this is an amazing tool for thinking and personal growth.

50–70 minutes: I could easily do this for another full hour… I feel as though I’m just getting the hang of it… I wish I came here with some sort of game plan… Next time I’ll do [x,y,z]… Since I know I’m nearing the end of my time in the tank, I find myself more routinely snapping out of it—evaluating the experience before it’s over. I try to stay in the moment and take advantage of the circumstances…continually exploring until I hear a gentle knock on the tank.

Upon completion: I slowly and cautiously get out of the tank…it feels as though I’ve woken up from a deep sleep and need to ease my way back into reality. I shower, shuffle back to the front desk, briefly discuss the experience with the receptionist (with a series of sighs and odd laughs), and make my way out. All the while thinking: well that was interesting…

When you have that much time alone, free of distraction, you begin thinking in new ways. You draw up memories and mental images that were presumably long forgotten. You evaluate certain aspects of your life (past/present/future; specific and high level) with total patience. You are able to completely relax—and doing so provides a refreshing environment for self-discovery.

4. Physical Benefits

Floating weightlessly…for any period of time…feels pretty great. Your body finally gets a chance to fully loosen itself. Zero gravity. No muscle strain or bodily support. Just total relaxation that seems to compound itself throughout the session. By the end, it almost feels like a full body massage.

Beyond that, Epsom salt—the key component that actually allows you to float—is proven to have many inherent health benefits. This is partly explained because it’s not actually salt…it’s a natural mix of magnesium and sulfate that responds positively with the body (much like ‘hot springs’). Reported healing properties include pain relief, reduced swelling & inflammation, eased stress, and more. Each tank holds ~800lbs (360kg) of the stuff.

5. Accessibility

Float tanks are surprisingly common and relatively cheap (typically $40–80 per session). Some spas and wellness centers simply have tanks on hand, and there are now facilities that specialize in the floating experience entirely. It definitely seems like a growing trend, and I’m sure they will become even more easily available in the future.

When I tell people about all of this, they usually respond with genuine intrigue and some level of surprise. Wait, I’ve heard of this—you really did that?? There’s a heavy curiosity (and sometimes a hint of fear) that follows the conversation along. Why? Because deep down they want to give it a shot…if only to satisfy their own curiosity. Yet so few ever do.

I hope this serves as a somewhat helpful starter guide for anyone curious about float tanks (or even meditation and mental health in general). Hopefully it helps push a few adventurous minds to step in as well.

More Resources

  • VICE: Tanks for the Memories: short documentary series that investigates the history, culture, and people involved in floatation.
  • Someone put together a really great fan video using audio clips from Joe Rogan’s podcast (where he totally sells it). 
  • Ready to go? Here’s a decent place to start your search.
  • Float Boston compiled an extensive list of related material, including introductory resources, scientific studies, news articles, and random pop culture references.

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