What It's Like to Spend an Hour in a Sensory Deprivation Tank
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What It’s Like to Spend an Hour in a Sensory Deprivation Tank

Am I doing this right? How relaxed is relaxed enough?

Inside a sensory deprivation tank. Photo courtesy of Float Toronto.

Inside a sensory deprivation tank. Photo courtesy of Float Toronto.

It’s October 19. At the University of Nevada, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are preparing to square off for a presidential debate—the third in a series that has set a new standard for vulgarity and ugliness in American politics.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, I’m travelling across town to spend the evening having the most different experience I could think of. I’m heading to Float Toronto at 1159 Queen Street West so that I can strip naked and spend an hour in a sensory deprivation tank.

“We’ve always taken a position of not priming people too much for what to expect from the experience,” says Jesse Ratner-Decle, co-owner of the float centre. “We always tell people to keep an open mind. Other than telling them all the things they need to prepare to have a positive experience, we usually don’t angle them in any direction.

“People are using the tank for so many different reasons,” he continues. “So for me to say, ‘Oh, it’s a meditation tool,’ that’s not really true for some people. Some people are coming in there simply for the physical relief: maybe they have chronic back pain, or they’re athletes looking for recovery. Other people are coming in for stress relief or to reset their sleep patterns. It’s actually one of my favourite things about the tank: it’s so versatile.”

I am shown to my private room, strip down, shower, and enter the tank. I lay atop the water on my back. The water is about room temperature—body temperature, I assume.

The tank. Photo courtesy of Float Toronto.

The tank. Photo courtesy of Float Toronto.

This water is thick and slimy on my stomach. My protruding stomach. Ugh, the Sloan Family Potbelly is taking shape. Better clear my mind of that. It’s time to become one with the water. Just relax… relax… relax… ahhhh…

My nose itches. Sigh. Well, I guess I’d better… GAAAAAAAAAAH! MY EEEEEEEEYYYYYYES! AAAAAAAAARRRRGH! THERE IS SALTY WATER IN MY EEEEEEEEYES! YEEEOOOOOWWWWCH… argh… better not wipe them. Should I get out and find a towel? Wait, no, that would violate the sanctity of the tank experience. Eeesh, it stings when I close my eyes, but it stings even more when I open them. In Grade 9 science class, they told us to go straight to the eyewash station if anything like this happened. Will I go blind? Well, probably not. I guess people have opened their eyes in the Atlantic Ocean, right?

Geez. Sure is dark in here. I literally can’t see my hand in front of my face. I shouldn’t put my hand in front of my face, I might get water in my eyes. Imagine what it would be like to be in here with another person. Imagine what it would be like to have sex in here. Sex. Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex. It’s only a matter of time when I’m alone in dark, quiet spaces for my mind to turn to sex. Ahhh, sex…

Am I doing this right? How relaxed is relaxed enough? How much thinking is too much thinking? Should I just let my mind wander, or should I aim to empty it? I enjoy thinking. What is transcendence? Do people experience it differently? What techniques do people use? Is this really so different from my morning shower? That’s another environment where time stands still and the outside world ceases to exist. I do all my best thinking in the shower. Well, I guess it’s pretty different. You don’t feel your body “become one” with the shower.

I wonder what’s happening in the outside world. Hopefully no emergencies. I hope there aren’t a bunch of panicked emails from Mom waiting for me. Hey, I guess the debate is starting now. I wonder how Trump is doing. Maybe I could start the article with a reference to the presidential debate, contrasting its frenzied awfulness to the quiet and solitude of… wait, I shouldn’t be thinking about the article now. Counterproductive.

GAAAAAAH! MY EYES! MY EEEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYES! Hoof. Deep breaths. Shouldn’t have leaned so far back. Gah, holy moly. This should subside in five-ish minutes. Fucking hell. I made the rookie mistake twice.

Forget about emptying my mind. Let my mind wander. My job. My childhood. My friends. Sex. What I had for lunch. Sex. What I’m going to have for lunch tomorrow. Sex. Hillary. Donald. Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize. My protruding stomach. Do I have time this week to see American Honey? How much money am I allotting for groceries? When am I going to finish writing that book? Sex. Ahhh…

The music begins, and my time is up. I stagger out of the tank. Wow, the lights are bright. I shower, put on my clothes, head out to the lobby. Everything seems slower. My feet feel heavier. My head feels lighter. The stress that I always keep in my shoulders is gone. Wow. I really do feel different. I feel… good!

I ask Ratner-Decle what he experiences in the tank.

“Depending on what’s going on in my life, or what I’m going through, or how my body’s feeling, or where my mind’s at, each experience can be just so different,” he says. “That’s part of the fun. Sometimes you’re in there and you’re working through creative problems and developing ideas related to work or your personal life or whatever. Other times, it’s like I can’t tell where the time has gone. Time is so slippery in there.”

How does he feel post-float?

“I find it really slows me down, mostly mentally. It’s basically resetting your stress hormones. There’s no stimulus in there, so there’s nothing for your brain to process, so it’s like your brain downshifts into this more regenerate mode. When you come out, you rarely want to rush out and do anything. Most people want to sit down for a little while and let the whole experience sink in.”

I take the streetcar home, lie down in my bed, and fall asleep instantly. I have the best damn sleep I’ve had in a long time.