Floating in a space pod

Yesterday was my first float-tank experience. Remember those?

Back in the day they were sometimes called “sensory-deprivation tanks” or “isolation tanks,” which makes them sound torturey. They were popularized by John C. Lilly; I knew people who tried them in the 70s.  The 1980 film Altered States showed William Hurt regressing to a primal beastlike state under the influence of psychedelic drugs and a tank.

I underwent no such regression. Nor did I levitate, hallucinate, meditate, or have anything that could be called a cosmic or profound experience. (Promoters say, though, that after 40 minutes or so in the tank, many people enter a theta-wave state analogous to the brain-wave activity of long-time meditators during meditation.) What I did have was an utterly relaxing, very pleasant sense of timelessness and floating. Well, I was floating–in eleven inches of water saturated with about 380 pounds of epsom salts, heated to skin temperature. You lose the sense of your body and its boundaries. My only strange (but not at all unpleasant) sensations were proprioceptive: At times I felt that I was very, very slowly whirling (which would have been completely impossible inside the box) or tilting to one side, or that one hand and arm were floating a foot higher than the other, or that I was resting on a firm surface. Occasionally one foot would twitch, and I’d be surprised to feel tiny ripples moving through the tank.

My friend Bonnie and I used this place, which was great. They have a total of six rooms, two with fairly open float pools (all floats are one person only), two with enclosed float rooms, and two with completely enclosed, 100-percent dark tanks, which look like hyperspace pods–you cannot step into them upright. I chose one of the pods. Someone with even a touch of claustrophobia might not care for it, but I liked it. Bonnie chose one of the float pools.

When the soft chime sounded to tell me that my session was over, I was surprised that 90 minutes had passed. Will I do it again? Probably. I left feeling as refreshed and relaxed as after a massage, although floating leaves you salty rather than oily.