By Dom Cioffi
I did something this past week that I’ve been thinking about doing for years: I climbed inside a sensory deprivation tank for a one-hour meditation session.
For the uninformed, a sensory deprivation tank (also known as a float tank or isolation tank) is an enclosed pod or tank-like device that restricts all light and sound from entering. It generally holds about 10 inches of water (set specifically to the temperature of the human body) and upwards of 80 pounds of dissolved Epsom salt, which allows the user to float effortlessly on top of the water.
The idea is that by entering one of these tanks and closing off the majority of your senses, the user will experience a sense of peace and tranquility not found in everyday life. That always sounded interesting to me, so I added it to my bucket list and waited for the day to come when I could try it.
The isolation tank was invented in 1954 by John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuropsychiatrist who had experimented with sensory deprivation while training at the US National Institute of Mental Health. However, the use of isolation tanks didn’t really take off until 1972, when the first commercial model was released by a young man who had attended one of Dr. Lilly’s workshops.
It would take almost another decade before isolation tanks truly entered the public consciousness with the release of the film “Altered States” starring William Hurt. In that movie, Hurt, who is portraying a psychopathologist studying schizophrenia, enters an isolation tank while on psychedelic drugs and experiences profound changes to his psyche, including primordial visions of being an early hominoid.
I remember being mesmerized by this film and particularly curious about the isolation tank and what that experience might feel like (minus the hallucinatory drugs, of course).
There were very few commercial tanks available to try in the early 1980s, and of those available, most were likely found in major cities — far removed from the humble confines of small-town Vermont. So, the likelihood of my experiencing any sensory deprivation were next to zero.
Over the years, I would occasionally be reminded of isolation tanks via pop culture. The device popped up on “The Simpsons” in the late 90s and again on an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” in 2019. And some people might remember Ben Affleck sleeping in one when he portrayed Daredevil almost 20 years ago.
But what really got my interest reignited was when I heard podcaster Joe Rogan touting all the positive attributes associated with float tanks. Rogan has a tank at his home and floats in it regularly to help calm his nerves and enhance his comedy writing.
Interestingly, in recent years, many top-name athletes like Stephen Curry have admitted to utilizing float tanks to help enhance their focus and curb the stress of their demanding jobs. And apparently there is a lot of research backing up the idea that time spent inside sensory deprivation tanks can reduce stress and anxiety in people struggling with these disorders.
So, imagine my surprise and excitement when I received a special Father’s Day gift card that granted me three one-hour visits to a float spa to give sensory deprivation a try.
I’ve only experienced one float at the time of this writing, but it was fulfilling enough to have me excited to go back for more.
The float spa I visited was similar to most other spas, barring the fact that the focus was on the six private rooms that each housed a gigantic pod for floating.
After a quick run-down of the rules, plus floating suggestions from the spa attendant, I locked the door, showered, and climbed into the pod, which was roughly the size of a small electric car.
The sensation of floating on top of the salt water was initially odd, but my body quickly adjusted. Within minutes I had found my comfort zone where my arms were over my head and my legs were spread slightly apart.
I spent the next hour fluctuating between feelings of minor euphoria to my mind racing about everyday issues. The most noticeable thing in my sensory field was my heartbeat, which I tried to focused on as much as possible.
In the end, I enjoyed my first float. I wouldn’t say it was life-changing or something I would desire to do on a regular basis (mostly because it costs around $80 a session), but it did force a level of relaxation that’s difficult to reach in everyday life.
This week’s feature, “The Tomorrow War,” starring Chris Pratt, also sends the viewer into another realm, except this realm is full of homicidal aliens intent on destroying humanity.
This is the big summer blockbuster from Amazon Prime, and while it was a legit action-packed adventure, its story lacked the cohesiveness necessary to make it a true winner.
Check this one out if you love big budget, science fiction war movies, just don’t expect the story to keep you fully intrigued.
A deprived “C+” for “The Tomorrow War.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]