My First Ever Sensory Deprivation Float – I’m Sold


Warning – Longish Blog, but if you want to know what the first time floating experience is like, you will find it interesting IMHO.

As promised in my previous blog, I am going to post a series of blogs about some of my experiences in float tanks.

September 1987

I was badly in need of relaxation and decided that the time was right. I had heard about floating previously and found a brochure at the Tourist Information Centre in Auckland’s Aotea Square.

I was very tense, there were some suspect things going on at my work (it looked like the company was being embezzled) and I was suffering from heartburn and chronic indigestion and had been constipated for three days. I feared I was becoming a candidate for an ulcer.

For some reason I felt very positive about the concept and that it could be good for me. My confidence was boosted by the fact that major sporting organizations including the Dallas Cowboys and AFL Teams owned their own tanks, for rehab of their elite athletes,  recognizing the benefits of sensory deprivation. The Cowboys apparently had TV screens in some of their tanks where players could relax on watch strategic videos.

On entering the Belleview Clinic in Eden Terrace, I was welcomed by a quietly spoken man who took one look at me and said “You haven’t floated before have you?” My disposition was obvious.

FC5He gave me a leaflet containing initial instructions. These were essentially:

  • Empty your bladder and bowels
  • Take a hot shower paying particular attention to your face so that you have no itches while you are in the tank. You don’t want to get salt water in your eyes, while scratching your face.
  • Put Vaseline (provided) on your private or sensitive parts to protect against the salt
  • Fit the supplied earplugs
  • Open the hatch in the tank, get in and close the rolling door.

Five minutes before the float ends, the underwater stereo system will pipe in quiet relaxing music. When the music ends, sit up whilst leaning your head back to avoid getting salt in your eyes, then exit and shower again to rinse of the residue Epsom Salts.

FC9Next I got a guided tour. The tank itself (a bit less modern than this one at Float Culture today) is an 8 foot by 6 foot by 4 foot fibreglass enclosure resembling a ship’s liferaft container before it is dropped in the water and opened up. It featured a rolling door through which you enter the inner spaceship which had 10-12 inches of water almost saturated with a solution of Epsom Salts.

So I had my shower, inserted the earplugs, applied the vaseline and climbed in.

The water felt warm, thick and sort of silky, almost sensuous. I closed the hatch and was suddenly in almost total darkness. I slid the hatch open again so that I wouldn’t forget where the knob was if I needed it…..

I tried to partially close the hatch but that didn’t work, so I closed it again and lay down. Then I sat up again, opened the hatch a little and closed it again just to reassure and orient myself.

Finally I lay down and tried to relax. I had been warned that my shoulder and neck muscles might start to hurt a little as they start to unknot and release their tension. The man told me to either breathe with the pain or rest my hands behind my head, flexing the muscles a little.

I tried both, but decided that a hands down version of the yoga nidra corpse position offered the most relaxing attitude for my body.

FC6So I relaxed. As my eyes adjusted there was a little light in the tank through the little indent patterns in the fibreglass.

My mind found it hard to cope with the fact that I was totally safe from external influences which might disturb the water or distract me. I kept slipping to one side as though I was balancing on a beam and for 3-4 minutes I found it hard to maintain my balance.

Eventually I achieved a level of equilibrium. I tried to keep my eyes open but found that I was easily distracted by light, sound and even nonexistent stimuli. I closed my eyes again achieving better results, however for the next 5-10 minutes I opened and closed my eyes a number of times, just to reassure myself.

Then I started to relax physically, but my mind was racing, very much the same as when I would go to sleep at night. When you are not experienced in relaxing, you can try too hard.

I felt a spinning sensation. I was hardly moving more than a cm per second and only for a tiny distance and then I’d stop by gently touching the wall with a foot or hand, but it felt like I had turned 90 degrees. This continued on and off for about 20 minutes. My sense of time was distorted.

Yes indeed, my shoulders were getting heavy and tired. Good, it seemed I was doing something right.

Now I moved into a conscious REM State. It was exactly like the first stages of sleep in which dreams that actually take  microseconds appear to take much longer. Yet I was conscious and could feel my eyeballs darting all over the place under my eyelids. It was an interesting feeling but the more I tried to analyse it, the more my consciousness started to return.

I knew that I was reaping rewards physically but mentally, because I was constantly analysing the experience, I wondered if I was wasting the opportunity.

Next thing I knew, time had passed and I was being gently roused by music from the underwater speakers which reminded me of the whale sounds on Pink Floyd’s Meddle album. It was soft and repetitious but relaxing. It only seemed to last about 20 seconds but it was actually 5 minutes.

I leaned my head back, protecting my eyes from the salt and opened the sliding door, then eased my way out and onto a wooden platform.

My shoulders and neck felt heavy and I was a little light headed but otherwise I felt normal enough.

I busied myself in the shower, washed and shampooed my hair (yes I still had hair then), making sure that all the Epsom Salts were rinsed off. Having dried myself off, I dressed and went into the pastel colored lounge, which had comfy chairs, a booktable and a selection of drinks including many herbal teas.

Floating Book

The current edition available from Amazon

Although I only felt slightly light headed, things seemed to take an awfully long time. My time sense was distorted. I sat down, which felt better and picked up a book entitled “The Book of Floating” by Michael Hutchison.

I then decided that I should have a drink to replace lost fluid and selected a Peruvian Lemon Tea which sounded refreshing.

I tried to fill the jug, which was not only full, it had a ‘cup number indicator’ on the side which said it was full. I emptied a bit out again and looked down at the floor. The opiate-like action of my natural endorphins induced an unusual effect. I was getting two independant impressions.

The left hemisphere was telling me that it was about five feet from my eyes to the ground. The right hemisphere said “I know it is only about 5 feet to the ground, but my perception tells me it is nearer to 10 feet.” Talk about a well balanced split personality!

I enjoyed a mild dose of euphoria, enhanced by the monochrome pastel room. I finished my tea and had a chat with the owner who said he could see by my eyes that the float had been beneficial.

I went to pay and found that they did not accept credit cards. I got the impression that this was a bit of a tacit protest against new technology. I found it hard to accept that they took me on trust for the cost of the float and the book which I had decided to buy.

Driving away I felt very relaxed and couldn’t stop my face from smiling. I felt a time distortion at traffic lights, it seemed they had stayed on red for too long.

That night I felt I had to waste some of the beneficial effects as I had to attend a business dinner. This was Wednesday night.

Yet, when I wrote these notes on a plane from Wellington to Auckland 2 nights later, I still felt better than I should after a very tiring day. I looked forward to greater effects from passive floating more often in the short term, and experimenting with Super Learning (now used by Navy SEALS) which I read about in the book, and other possibilities in the future.

In short, I was sold!

The floating experience is different for each person, but this should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect first time. Please remember I wrote this 31 years ago and the technology has improved dramatically although the principal’s are the same.

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Floating to Relieve Back Pain and Stress



Float TankI didn’t want to have Mental Health Week pass without posting something and this is going to become a short series on the benefits of floating in a sensory deprivation tank and my experiences with it. So ignore the next few blogs if you don’t have aches and pains or don’t suffer from stress.

I have been ‘floating’ for years and it amazes me that most people still don’t know it exists or what it does. I started a bit of a journal back in the 90’s about some of my float experiences and have always thought I would share it one day.

I’ve been off work for about 6 months due to a serious back injury and I have been taking a cornucopia of painkillers which means that I can’t drive and I’m often dopy and unable to concentrate for long. I’m doing physio and seeing a back specialist and trying my best to avoid surgery. Anyway, enough of that.

I’ve been going to a place called Float Culture where I lie in a tank like the one in this picture, which contains a solution of Epsom Salts (I think) and water at body temperature. You have a shower, climb in, float, turn off the light and relax for an hour. Typically there is music for the first few minutes while you relax and again at the end so you know your time is up. Sometimes I go into a meditative state and sometimes I fall asleep, and no you can’t roll over and drown.

Lately I have been combining it with massage and for a few hours I have been able to go from pain of around 7 out of 10 to almost nothing. Unfortunately it comes back after a while when gravity takes hold, but during that time it at the very least helps reduce inflammation and you feel like there is no gravity. Gravity is my enemy right now. Imagine having a great massage when your body is already relaxed.

The masseuse, Kim, probably doesn’t realise how much pain I am normally in, but combining her work (careful around the injury) and the float leaves me feeling so free of pain that is difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t been in chronic pain for a long time. Chronic pain and not knowing when it is going to end is extremely stressful, as is not being at work. If you have ever felt work was drudgery or you didn’t want to go, the feeling I have might be a bit foreign to you. I love my job and can’t wait to get back, but I don’t know exactly when I’ll be capable.

Another element of floating is that without any sensory input, not being able to feel where the water starts and ends, is that it is very easy to get into a trance-like state, effectively meditation. The difference is that you don’t need to know how to meditate. I often see people after they come out of their float room and they are radiating endorphins, your bodies natural opiates and often talk about having almost mystical experiences.

I have floated for lots of different reasons over the years, for relaxation, for creativity, to catch up on sleep, to alleviate jet lag (before or after a long haul trip) and, like now, when I have an injury. Whilst the pain came back, I slept all night (about half of the time I’m up for an hour around 2-3AM because of the pain) and my digestive system felt better. I also lost almost a kilo of weight over the 24 hours which is effectively a litre, even though I drank a lot. I didn’t realise I was carrying so much fluid! That helps too because a side effect of the drugs I am on is that you put on weight and more weight and a bad back is not a good mix.

On their site, Float Culture, one of the more recent additions to the floating experience in Auckland has a blog page where people share some of their experiences. I’m going to share a few experiences of my own. So if that interests you, you will find them by following this blog.

If you know anyone who is not claustrophobic and can do with a bit of inner or outer healing, or just an amazing relaxation opportunity, tell them to try it out and let them know you learned about it from me, or if you have had an experience, feel free to leave a comment. If you are not in Auckland, float tanks can be found in most cities around the world, just Google it.

They are popular with elite athletes, creatives, people with cancer and yet most people, including the health industry don’t even know they exist.

So if you’re interested in learning more of my experiences, follow this blog. If not, remember it for a friend.