I just spent an hour floating naked in a pitch black enclosed tank in about 18” of body temperature salt water.
I’m still floating; I literally feel like I’m floating. And I’m at my desk. This floating sensation lightens my completely unnecessary worries and tension that I carry for no reason. It makes room for less mundane thinking and enables more focused tasks and bypass trivialities. That torque in my neck, my ridiculously tight glutes and calves are releasing, reminding me how absurd it is to carry tension willingly. During my soak, my breathing slowed down to a near halt, in a good way, by letting myself be supported during that hour in the tank, something that used to be called a ‘sensory deprivation tank’, from the psychedelic experimenting ages of the ‘60s. Now, more appropriately named flotation tanks, people use them to soak in the absence of gravity, temperature, and light: to feel as close to weightless as possible and engage the theta waves, a deep relaxation.
The tank experience is a huge variation from silent meditation, but both enable the theta brain waves; that state of deep relaxation, in between the consciousness and unconscious. The pitch black (light optional) tank creates stillness. Absent of gravity, sound, temperature fluctuation, you lie on your back with 300+ pounds of sodium and magnesium, head floating, and either actively visualize, meditate, focus or let go of all of that activity and ‘work’ while light and disengaged.
Alpha state at 7.5-14 Hz is the deep relaxation phase where your eyes might be closed in a daydream or light meditation. Inspiration, intuitive mind are found here. The Alpha is a “gateway to your subconscious mind and lies at the base of your conscious awareness” and this is an active place to visualize: success, future, how you want to craft your state of being. (http://www.mindvalleyacademy.com/blog/mind/brain-waves )
Theta wave, 4-7.5Hz, is a deeper meditative phase in between conscious and subconscious. This is where creativity and insight occur; here, you enter REM, the dream state. It is said a deeper spiritual connection to a broader sense of self, a universal connection is found here. The Alpha-Theta border, at 7-8 Hz, is where the rich creativity can occur. Your mind is conscious, and your sensory awareness of your body is silenced to enable less distraction. It’s a focus that provides energy to flow towards huge insights and sustained creativity. I never moved into Delta, .5-4Hz, the deep sleep mode, but the float enabled that to happen more readily later that night when I finally did sleep.
As I was floating, the word ‘deprivation’ kept coming up in my head as I shifted between various states of theta and alpha brain waves. I never moved more than a twitch, as I aimed to keep clear of activating my senses, and felt the drifting in and out of these pure silent depths of consciousness as I heard and felt my breath lift and shift my body. I didn’t choose to focus on anything. Rather, I aimed to lighten my mind, and let thoughts shift out of direction, which they did rather willingly.
The floating is not an effortless activity. You do choose how you want to experience that tank. As you have that same choice in life, every moment. Whether you want to move into the deepest state or focus on something very precise, you do want to be deliberate about what experience you’re going after. Meditation aside, you don’t go in expecting nothing to happen.
Experience in the tank can lead to more access to creative, insightful, clear places in the mind. I see eventually being able to move into deeper states of consciousness, or lucid dreaming, or more skilled ability to shift between states. We can control certain aspects of our mind easier than others. That knowledge gives me drive to keep digging into tools that open the door for a better understanding of deep consciousness. I aim to develop the tools to release anxiety, the over worked conscious, over thinking alpha waves.
On a physical sensation note….the 300+ pounds of Epsom salt in the water leaves traces of soft silky skin as you are slowly drawn out of your hour long session with obscure, background music-ish sounds and blue tone LEDs, I found myself laughing, running my hands along my legs and arms, thinking people would like to do so many things in this pod and have probably tried just about everything. I stayed within the range of expected behavior, but enjoyed the silkiness from the salts. After a hot shower, I slowly moved out, with a bit more heightened awareness. I didn’t feel drained, dizzy, but I felt lighter, more relaxed and my neck felt lifted.
I would say that knowing rudimentary meditation and being able to use tools from meditation helped me to keep the experience fluid and continuous, not anxiety ridden. I can see how people without that experience might start feeling claustrophobic or anxious.
The air is not circulating openly; as sodium and humidity feels dense breathing in. I didn’t apply Vaseline to my healed scratches, and little abrasions are irritating, itching, making any scratch feel like an open wound. I relax more, breathe, focus on something else. Water sinks deep into my eardrums, and I wonder whether the earplugs would help in any way. Most likely not. Eardrums blocked, I hear my breath like a moose breathing down my back. Technically, water blocking the ear canal is called occlusion. When sound is blocked, it’s transmitted back into the cochlea and it seems louder. So, after about 30 minutes of that, you occasionally come out of a alpha and theta states and your breath seems like that approaching moose. You check the water for sharks, and drift back into the theta state.
Me and water go way back. We continue our relationship, redirected- I spent my childhood in water; diving, swimming, sailing, canoeing, surfing. I intend to return to this unusual aquatic experience; to soak and continue experimenting with shedding more tension, stress, and mind fatigue.
My adventure into the theta state and understanding different brain waves is just beginning. By cognitively understanding the function and benefits of our brain waves, we can learn where we’re deficient, what we need to balance our brain activity, anxiety, and emotions so we can manage our energy better.
The water is a phenomenal vehicle for reducing stress. We know that. But manipulating the delivery system, and controlling so many variables, eliminates many of the potentially negative over powering elements of water to gain predominantly only soothing effects. Water is almighty dangerous and powerful. It should be respected and healthfully feared. I have so many positive experiences with water, as well as with scary (open ocean sailing, breaking a mast in the middle of the night…..getting pulled under waves breaking body surfing..)
Water; it feels so familiar from spending so much of my childhood underwater, in the water. It’s a coming home feeling that makes me feel more reset in other states, knowing how to get back into that openness, expansive calm.
The self-help, self-health movement (I can’t find the right words for what’s going on now) thrives on self-care, self-improvement, self-confidence. So much focus on the self, without as much on release, letting go of self trauma, self analysis, self fear.
In an effort to unpack how that works, it makes sense to me that understanding the mind, with whatever science we have, can assist, even if it’s disproven, to negotiate the fluxuations of consciousness, of emotion, of hormone shifts. We’re in a constant state of flux, and finding comfort level with the unknown lends itself to being more open with how our minds hold, attach, learn, obsess over things. How we create, and love- how we shift our mindset and belief systems and how we hold of for dear life to our belief systems, even if we know they're destructive. And ultimately, how we judge experiences and ourselves. Going deeper only enables more tools. Confusion and anxiety can easily settle in with information floating, without full comprehension. But, the knowledge applied, sensed and experienced is a path towards laying down superficial emotions that can lead to damage, immobilization, self-pity or anger even.
One slight caviat- I had so much energy that day, it took me longer to get to sleep. I’ve been so relaxed and focused though, not concerned about trivial challenges or stresses that I usually create effortlessly. I think after a few more, I’ll be able to push myself into that theta state more easily.