The sensory deprivation tank has been the most important tool I’ve ever used for developing my mind.”
bold statement by legendary American stand-up comedian, UFC commentator, entrepreneur and
podcast host Joe Rogan.
The Joe Rogan Experience has been the second most downloaded podcast on iTunes for two years running, and I count myself among the many who laud its host as the epitome of a successful modern human. While this is the first time I’ve heard of sensory deprivation (also known as floatation) therapy, when Rogan says something is worth doing, I take note.
The technology involved has improved dramatically since the 1950s, when John C Lilly developed the first sensory deprivation ‘tanks’ to study the nature of consciousness. His first test subjects were completely submerged in water, with a makeshift breathing mask covering their faces. Not surprisingly, the only volunteers to brave the initial trials were NASA astronauts.
Thankfully, the original tanks have since evolved into the inviting, state-of-the-art ‘floatation pods’ to which we have access today. Each pod contains roughly a foot of 34°C (approximately skin temperature) water saturated with epsom salt (magnesium sulphate).
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the modern float pod at Float Zero, Cape Town’s first dedicated ‘float lab’ with branches in Claremont and Gardens.
My only concern before entering a float pod for the first time is my claustrophobia, but the fact that I have full control of the pod’s lid and internal lighting eases my nerves.
The epsom salt creates a gentle buoyancy akin to being wrapped in a silk hammock. With the lights off, all sense of space is instantly lost. It’s so dark, the feeling of my eyes blinking is the only indication of whether they are open or closed.
The Float Zero pods offer a choice between complete darkness or the seven chakra colours in soft, fluid lighting. You can also opt for either silence or binaural beats. I find the latter to be an inspired addition to the experience, gently accompanying my transition into this rather alien world.
For me, physical relaxation in the pod is instantaneous. My body dissolves into the saltwater, dissipating any muscle and joint aches I may have brought in with me. With the loss of virtually all bodily sensation, my interoception is acutely isolated to my breath and heartbeat. My breathing slows, with my heart rate steadily following.
I keep focusing on my breath until I am quite unsuspectingly overwhelmed by a tyranny of random thoughts attempting to suck me into a supermassive black hole of negativity. Only just avoiding spaghettification (yes, it’s a thing), I manage to bring my focus back to my breath. The ‘monkey mind’ is running amok. Is this the natural state of my mind? It becomes apparent while floating just how few thoughts manage to break through the barrier of distraction created by our continual bombardment by stimuli outside this watery wonder world. These ‘unheard’ thoughts are deleterious to our psychological wellbeing and are often the source of our underlying feelings of unsatisfactoriness.
I’m suddenly aware that I’ve transitioned from one extreme environment to another. We all feel helpless in the face of the extreme sensory overload we encounter in everyday life, and the initial shock of removing these external inputs is both surprisingly unnerving and incredibly telling. I find myself drowning in thoughts at first, but after a few moments the tidal wave slows to a manageable trickle. With my brain released from the exhausting job of monitoring my countless desires, appetites and sensations (be they good or bad), it suddenly feels supercharged – malleable, flexible and capable of.
Am I treating my girlfriend with the love and kindness she deserves? My intuition is yes, but surely, I should ask her? She would know better than me. Great, I’ll speak to her about it this evening. And so, it goes.
My pod ponderings include everything from work, family, friendships, health and anxieties to the ultimate question - am I a good person?
While this last one will no doubt require many more float sessions to answer, I find a resting place in immense gratitude for a generally fortunate life and decide to hone my focus in on my relationship with my mom.
This is the person who has loved me unconditionally throughout my life. Why am I so impatient with her? Why am I always short on the phone with her, as if she’s asking probing, uncomfortable questions? Is her love too much? What a silly thought… Like most moms, she is the epitome of ‘mudita’ - the Pali word for sympathetic or vicarious joy.
The pleasure derived from the wellbeing of others. I’ve been scouring books of all sorts in search of insight into being a better. As I rest in a blissful state brimming with invaluable insights, a gentle voice informs me that my session is over.
I can hardly believe that an hour has passed by so quickly. I have an odd feeling of accomplishing so much, while not having moved a muscle. The experience reinforces my belief that we are our own best teachers and healers. As sole witnesses to our innermost thoughts, we all know best what truly ails us.
I now float twice a week, and my subjective wellbeing continues to improve. As an innate empiricist, I am encouraged by the growing body of evidence in support of my anecdotal account. I’m hoping my story will inspire you to try a float of your own - especially if you suffer, as most of us do, from some degree of anxiety, or simply crave a respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Possible side effects? Reduced anxiety, improved muscle recovery from exercise, reduced joint aches from old injuries, and an overall sense of wellbeing. Doesn’t sound like you’ve got much to lose.
GARDENS 021 224 0941 | [email protected]
CLAREMONT 021 000 3271 | [email protected] www.floatzero.co.za