Having booked over forty float tank sessions within two years, clocking over seventy hours, I’d like to help demystify, clarify, and otherwise squeegee the misconceptions of what it’s like to rest in an epsom salt water bath in an occasional series. While I’d like to write objective, empirical data that can be peer-reviewed, most of this is subjective, heady stuff that’s all about what’s in your mind. Let’s start with the physical stuff you’ll encounter.
The process is to shower to wash off any grime, lay face up in the tank, and shower again to wash off any salt when it’s time.
Salt will get in everywhere. It’s a nice smell, reminding me of when I used to bathe an ingrown toenail in salt when I was younger. You’ll smell different than normal, so even after that second short spot shower to rinse off any big salt particles, you might shower again more thoroughly when you get home to use your same shampoos or body washes.
The heat is different. I like hot water baths, so it’s comfortable for me, whereas if you prefer cold showers then it will be uncomfortable at first. The temperature is intended to emulate the temperature of your body so you don’t think about it. That mostly works. It helps if you’re comfortable disengaging from sensory overload and ignoring little things otherwise it’s not an easy transition.
It’s a different world inside the tank. You can’t really recreate the same sensory deprivation sensations in a bathtub, meditating or laying in bed, though you can get close. The main difference is that all of the pressure points holding up your body are relieved. My first time in the tank, my shoulders creaked like I hadn’t stretched in years.
When I used to exercise at a gym with a personal trainer, I’d always stretch before and after my workouts. When I’m in the tank and doing those stretches, they feel much more effective, almost like preventative maintenance. I had some minor back problems years ago, which could contribute to my occasional headache, and spending time in float tanks helps that.
It gets cool after you’re comfortable with the whole process. I’ll do a process similar to the ‘body scan’ process taught in mindfulness classes where you assess every part of your body to see how it feels. I’ve added imagining my body is completely hollow except for any pain points and the beating of my heart.
Before going into my most recent float tank session that helped inspire this post, I banged my knee on something and only noticed when I felt a throbbing sensation during my “scan.” When I got out I noticed a scrape. That technique could be useful to others toward figuring out where finding problem areas are to then fix them.
Float tanks aren’t these weird torture or psyche-altering chambers. With some of the work I see people doing now to destigmatize sensory deprivation chambers, they might eventually be closer to yoga studios.