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Let’s get weird. Float tanks. Sensory deprivation tanks. Isolation tanks. I’m not one to argue over nomenclature, so let’s keep it simple with float tank. Well, they’re here, and they’re taking over every hipster neighborhood in the world by storm. Facetiousness aside, this topic is exploding and for good reason.
Float tanks vary, but in general you will find a large tank filled with warm, body temperature water and around 1,000 pounds of epsom salt (here’s the Wiki). They are designed to shut out all light and sound, i.e., you are fully isolated and disconnected. You’re left with nothing but your bare naked body and your mind, all floating on top of warm water in a pitch-black tank. Interested yet?
My first experience at a float tank was well over a year ago. A very good friend of mine (who’s opinion I trust) was raving about his experience. I didn’t know much about these tanks at all. In fact, I had only heard about it once before from another float evangelist friend of mine through a couple Facebook posts.
One day my friend offered to take me with him to a place called Zazen in San Francisco. Being the overtly adventurous person I am, I made the prudent decision to say yes. Like any good friend, he gave me no other background about the adventure ahead other than to “let go”.
What to Expect from This Post:
Below you’ll get a 360 degree view of floating: what to expect, its benefits, and how to have a solid experience. My aim will be to distill this practice down to the essentials. I’ll also share my actual personal notes and give you a detailed account of my first experience. While no two experiences are ever the same, you’ll get a first-hand read on just how deep the rabbit hole can go (and this was just my first attempt). Trust me.
What to Expect When Visiting a Floatation Tank
There are a few different types of float tanks. The ones at Zazen are called the Samadhi Floatation Tank, and I like these because of their size and spacious nature. They’re very well made and quite industrial looking. The more commonly found tank is a pod style.
Many people are also building these in their homes, and there seems to be quite a cost-benefit to doing so. Joe Rogan swears by floating. If you want to get inspired, watch the short clip below. He talks about this on nearly every other episode of his Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
Your local float tank facilities should have a shower. You should shower before your float, but especially after because if you’re like me it will be one of the most relaxing showers you’ve ever taken (plus you’ll want to rinse all the salt off). After the shower you can head in the tank, close the door (all the way, don’t be scared), and lie on your back in the water.
But wait, is the water clean? Yes, after each float all the salt water in the tank is cycled through an advanced filtering process. In addition, the 1,000 lbs. of epsom salt that are dissolved into the water acts a natural disinfectant.
Okay, now you’re in. This is where the fun begins. Don’t worry about feeling claustrophobic, there is plenty of space in these tanks. At first you may have difficult relaxing, and this is a process that will take some time, around 10–20 minutes for most people. Once you relax enough, time may slow down and you can begin to finally disconnect from the outside world (and your thoughts if you let go enough).
What’s the Point of Floating?
It’s different for every person. Don’t expect anything, keep an open mind, and just let go. At best you will end up traveling through a rabbit hole to other dimensions. At worst you will have an incredibly relaxing experience so you can disconnect and let your mind and body relax.
Benefits of Floating
- Epsom salt does wonders for your body – improve your circulation, improve your body’s ability to use insulin, ease muscle pain, and regulate electrolytes.
- Promising in tackling “problems involving the autonomic nervous system, such as insomnia, stress symptoms, dysfunctions of the skeleto-muscular system, chronic headache, and the like.” – According to Dr. Peter Suedfeld in a Men’s Journal article.
- Reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels
- Manage chronic pain, injury, and illness
- Fight addiction and depression
- Elevate mood
- Improve sports performance
- Increase in the positive theta brain waves (this is the part of the brain that gets activated during meditation)
- Conditions improved: anxiety, insomnia, back pain, depression, pre-menstrual tension, and post-natal depression
How to Have an Optimal Flotation Experience
- Let go of your body and mind.
- Expect nothing.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal beforehand. Why? You may hear your stomach rumble in the incredibly quiet environment.
- Don’t shave immediately beforehand.
- Use earplugs to block out sound if you’re comfortable with them. Most floatation facilities will provide these.
- Close the door all the way to block out all light.
- Don’t be concerned about your safety or not being able to open the door. When your time is up, an attendant will knock on the door.
- Have an outcome or problem you want to solve? Feel free to use this time for that. Your thoughts will be incredibly clear.
- Want to learn something? A friend of mine listens to audiobooks on hyper-speed while floating.
- Let your body take over. You may find that your body naturally stretches or wants to move in certain directions throughout your float. Go with it.
- Optional: Some floating evangelists and patients use cannibus prior to floating to help relax and slow down the mind. Obviously, I’m not telling you to do anything illegal, this is for patients or those living in places where it is legal.
- Optional: Meditate. Here’s a video for beginners on how to do that.
- Optional: Direct your thoughts toward specific areas of your life, or let go and allow them to take you on a ride.
- Let go. Did I say that already?
Personal Notes from My First Float Tank Experience
Note: These notes are raw, and almost entirely unedited. I had no intention of ever sharing these notes. My hope is that by doing so I will be providing a glimpse into what’s possible. Please do not expect to have a similar result, it’s important to be open-minded about your experience. I transcribed my thoughts immediately after the float using my iPhone’s voice dictation. Please excuse the poor grammar and stream of consciousness style thoughts.
So first I went in and struggled for what felt like a long time. I was constantly trying to move around and find a new position that wouldn’t hurt my arms, they kept aching.
I was going through a lot of pain in general throughout the process, and could intensely feel all the spots in my body that have ever held pain before. I could pinpoint precisely where I have been holding a pain. I began to feel it in a couple different areas my of body, and realized I’ve been holding it in these spots for about a year and a half now.
I then started to relax a little more and really feel my body float. I let go more, then I started going through all these random thoughts thoughts about everything. Thoughts about family, friends, work. The first major profound thoughts I started having were about authenticity and needing to be myself. I kept focusing on this idea of why I am I’m not just being me 100% of the time.
Yes, I’m a genuine person, but I need to always be in that state and nothing less. Do I change who I am around certain people to please them? I had thoughts like this before, but actually feeling them is different. Overall, it was like someone was sitting next to me with a file cabinet and going through all the different areas of my life. Going through all the different things that they’ve learned, and just organizing all the different events in my life and connecting the dots. Showing me how X led to Y, and how it’s all tied together. Showing me how all my thoughts were actually premeditating my future.
Everything just started clicking and coming together. After my thoughts about authenticity, I started going through my different senses—the first one being my vision—my eyes. I started to imagine this huge beam of light in the shape of a triangle going in between my eyes in my head, and just bursting outwards. I saw all sorts of different shapes and colors—everything was very vibrant.
I started to focus a lot on my body and completely let go for the first time. In the beginning I was telling myself to let go physically, but it wasn’t happening completely. I knew this for sure because I had an experience where I began letting go of my body centimeter by centimeter, inch by inch, to the point where my face shape and muscles began to change as I went into a more relaxed state.
My mouth started to relax and my lips were coming together. Then my jaw started settling together. Slowly but surely my body began forcing me to let go and relax muscles I didn’t even know I was flexing or had tension in.
All of a sudden everything shutdown and this session was done. I could feel my nervous system twitch and actually felt my body twitch, and this signaled that it was the end of that episode. Crazy. Next I went through an episode where I thought about nothing but love. That love was the answer to all of the conflicts and different scenarios in my life. I could see how love was more than just an emotion and how it was an answer to many of our grandest problems—this had never occurred to me before.
I then went through very long episode where all I thought about were my fears. I went through them individually, every single one, and realized why I had built walls around each one. One of the fears (or rather should I say excuses) that I’ve been making is that it’s the not the right time to start certain projects and I need to delay because a later time will be better, even though it’s clearly a part of my vocation.
I realized that has literally been the real reason for my inaction, and felt ridiculous about it. I realized that this is because of a fear of success.
Around this time I also started to experience episodes where my body would align, and I would feel my neck expanding, my arms expanding, my body stretching out, and areas of my body that I had left cramped for years were finally letting go.
I realized that the pain I was feeling in my body was a way for my body to hold onto certain emotions [see: tension myoneural syndrome (TMS) for studies on this, and I could literally see this essence of myself trying to protect me by holding inside certain stresses and thoughts inside of my body.
I could feel the pain leaving my body, and I could also visually see it leave. It was extremely intense, I could watch and observe each area of pain being destroyed and just flowing out of my body like a toxin.
I felt degree of certainty that I’ve never felt before in my life, and it was different from other similar times I’ve felt the emotion. It’s different to study something and learn it, but to actually actually know something for the first time through physically feeling it is incredibly different. There were certain topics that didn’t make sense before, but were extremely clear while I was floating inside the tank.
The next episode was seeing me, Arman, in the best physical shape I’d ever been in, standing tall and feeling strong. I was watching myself growing and expanding into this Arman. As I felt this growth I started to also feel the energy and matter inside my body expanding. Suddenly, I could feel my body expanding and becoming one with everything all around me, throughout all of the universe. It was pure ecstasy.
The biggest episode was experiencing for the first time what many refer to as the third eye. For no reason at all my eyes started to close and went towards the back of my head. I could feel my eyes going further and further back. At first I was a little hesitant and fought it. The force was powerful, as if my eyes were going to be pulled into the back of my brain.
I finally let go again and this force pushed my eyes backwards and backwards. They started wandering and shaking a lot. My eyes were practically pointed directly upwards, and they were shaking to the point where finally this third eye started to open up. And while this is subjective I say this because I had read about the third eye before and it was the only thing I could compare it to.
All this energy that was very positive and strong. It was flowing directly in between my two eyes, through my head, and through my body. It was one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve ever had. And that brings me to another point. There was so many moments where I had to say things out loud, or laugh out loud, because of pure pleasure or brilliant ideas that hit me.
When something would suddenly make sense I would laugh or say something like:
Are you fu*king kidding me! I can’t believe I hadn’t realized that this entire time!
It was magical, mesmerizing, uplifting, and spiritual. More than anything it was just pleasurable to truly know yourself in a deeper way than you ever have before. It was like being connected to some source power again and being revitalized with fuel.
The climax was incredible. I was giddy, happy, excited, relaxed, and energized all at the same time.
[Later that day…]
It’s been three hours since the float. I am so pumped and energetic, I can barely control my energy, it’s kind of crazy. I keep laughing and getting excited about little things. There’s definitely a huge burst of energy and focus after a float.
How to Start Floating
- Find a flotation tank facility using this search tool. If there are none near you, visit when the next time you’re in a major city (like Zazen in San Francisco).
- Buy a float tank. Zen Float crowdfunded the first affordable float tank. Samadhi also sells them.
- Build one yourself.
- Buy a pre-owned one.
Floating is a unique experience unlike any other. If you have an opportunity to try it, I’d recommend giving it a shot. There are many benefits, and at the minimum it is an opportunity to relax and disconnect from the outside world.
It may not be for everyone, but from my experience I’ve found that most people do get something out of it when they are open-minded enough. My first experience was a wild one, so please don’t expect to have one like it. But know that adventures like this are possible.
Bonus: My Favorite Floatation Center in San Francisco (plus, a Discount Code!)
Being that I’m now a floating lover, I asked the owner of my go-to floatation center—Zazen—if I could send my friends (you!) to visit. He agreed, and was even kind enough to offer a discount code.
- Here is Zazen’s website.
- Make an appointment by calling directly. You may also be able to use their online booking system.
- Use discount code “member floats” and mention Arman Assadi sent you to receive a float for only $45, that’s 40% off. Floats are normally $75 for 60 minutes.
- Float Nation (full movie) – a documentary all about flotation and isolation tanks.
- Floating Away: The Science of Sensory Deprivation Therapy – an article by Discover Magazine.
- Time Out: The Rise of Sensory Deprivation Tanks – an article by The Atlantic
- Embracing the Void – an article by Slate
So, are you going to give floating a shot? 🙂