Explain, please! Imagine taking a bath. . . in pitch-black darkness and total silence . . . for an hour . . . and floating in the water. . . and the tub has a lid. That’s what happens when you take a dip in a sensory deprivation tank, available in “flotation spas” around the country.
Why would this appeal to me? Though it may sound frightening (especially to claustrophobics), the sensation of floating in a closed tank is intended to help ease anxiety — and may have beneficial effects on mood, blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, per various research studies. The anti-stress technique is good enough for celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, who has said that hydrotherapy floats her boat.
How does the process work? You don’t just walk into your local flotation spa and get tank-topped. Rookies will get a brief orientation. Then it’s shower-and-strip time, as floaters usually wear nothing other than ear-plugs. Finally, open a hatch and step into your own individualized metal pod. Yes, the hatch goes down too (though some spas offer open tanks with six-foot-high ceilings). The water is skin-temperature and filled with mounds of Epson salt, which enables you to float at the surface without any effort. Turn off your brain, recite some mantras,
daydream, zone out, whatever. The goal is to let go for a full 60 minutes — and try not to think about the fact that that it’s costing you around $70 a pop.
How will I feel after? Your body may be warm and heavy, while your mind should be clear and deeply calm. One physician reported that he felt like he had just slept for days, even hours after his experience. Roaming in the sensory-deprivation tank may also actually heighten your senses. Plus, participants in one 2014 trial reported significantly increased optimism after floating.
What are the dangers? Be honest! Practically speaking, the salt water may irritate your eyes — as well as any open wounds — so ask for a washcloth beforehand and inform a staffer of potential pain issues. (You can cover cuts and blisters with Vaseline.) Total isolation inside a dark, wet tank may not be for everyone. If you’re even a little apprehensive, consult a doctor first.