I Floated in a Sensory Deprivation Tank for an Hour—Here's What Happened

Good things, people. Good things.
Publish date:
June 24, 2015
meditation, relaxation, Sensory Deprivation

About a month ago, after symphony chorus rehearsal, a group of my fellow singers somehow got onto the topic of sensory deprivation.

"WHAT IS THAT?" I (probably) shouted, intrigued and slightly concerned with what sounded like a torture technique.

I was promptly schooled (more later) and decided, at that second, I would find myself a dark tank of saline solution and deprive myself of as many senses as possible. And that's exactly what I did.

Before I get into the nitty gritty details, though, let's first cover some ground.

Sensory Deprivation Tank: "An isolation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank inside which subjects float in salt water at skin temperature. They were first used by John C. Lilly in 1954 to test the effects of sensory deprivation. Such tanks are now also used for meditation and relaxation and in alternative medicine." - Wiki

Remember the TV show Fringe? OF COURSE YOU DO. Olivia was all about that sensory deprivation tank, and through it all, googly-moogly science-y things were made possible in that alternate universe.

When you enter the tank, which houses about 11 inches of saline water, you feel like you're climbing into a slippery, cloud-like womb-of-a-bed. Because of the increased salt content, the water density matches your body's density. This is what causes you to be all floaty.

The water is also the same temperature as your body, as is the air in the tank, which adds to the sensory deprivation effect. Finally, the tank is completely dark, and there's no sound.

I'm not gonna lie: I was pretty nervous about doing this. There's something about shutting yourself in an enclosed tank of water for an hour that is slightly unsettling. I basically talked about it non-stop for a week, and so when the day finally arrived, my phone was a flurry with texts. There was this one, from Will:

And then there was this one (I was really crossing my fingers for at least one hallucination):

My Sensory Deprivation Experience

As you've probably surmised, my experience in the tank was actually quite good. No panic attacks (though I'm not prone to them), no freak-outs, no weird hallucinations, maybe like half of a life epiphany.

I literally just floated there for an entire 60 minutes, back and forth, up and down, gently moving around the tank and only aware that there were walls if a limb bumped against one. When my eyes were open, it was like they were closed. I was warm, encased, safe. I practiced my breathing techniques and allowed those weird blobs you sometimes see behind your eyes to morph and grow however they see fit. I dwelled on some of my most pressing personal matters; I even cried a little bit. There were lots of thoughts, but sometimes there were no thoughts.

I flipped over onto my stomach at one point, just to see what it felt like. I imagined myself a saline super hero of sorts gliding through the darkest corner of space. Every time I bumped into a wall, I was surprised.

I wiggled my toes and my fingers, unsure if they were above water or not. I ran my hands along my entire body, feeling its seemingly weightless form. It somehow made me appreciate the things that I tend to worry about most: my thighs, my stomach, my butt.

I felt almost childlike in the tank, and my forever tense muscles and near 30-year-old bones were grateful for the gravitational reprieve. It was a bizarre experience, but a good one. And to be cut off from the noisy outside world—for even an hour—created in me a sense of freedom that's hard to come by these days.

So would I recommend it? Absolutely, permitting you're OK in confined spaces. I suggest going in with an open mind and embracing every single second of your sensory-less experience. I think sometimes we forget to just stop and be, but when we finally get to that quiet place, we realize that's exactly where we need to be, if only for 60 minutes.

  • Have you ever undergone sensory deprivation?
  • Would you try this?
  • What's your preferred way to meditate and/or let go?