Take a journey with Carlen Altman as she dives into into a sensory deprivation tank for the first time…
This post comes from our dear friend, Carlen Altman.
Hi dear Free People blog readers, it’s Carlen. Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared a few newfound lifestyle changes and activities in hopes that they might “free my mind” and allow me to find calm, no matter where life takes me.
Since my last post, I’ve been back in New York City. And I have to confess — despite all my tips and tricks to manage anxiety, I continue to feel a bit overwhelmed by the non-stop movement and energy of this exciting city. A good friend of mine suggested that, to escape all of it (without actually leaving city limits), I just had to try a Sensory Deprivation Tank. “A Sensory Deprivation Tank?” I asked. My thoughts immediately conjured up an image of an old-timey prisoner, trembling in a dark-overheated-wooden locked box, with an 1800’s style prison guard on the other side, yelling “The truth?! You can’t handle the truth!” (I think I am confusing and combining a lot of time-periods and movies into one incorrect image here — sorry…)
My friend reassured me that the actual experience yielded by a Sensory Deprivation Tank was nothing like my barbaric, chronologically confusing vision, and that it was in fact very serene, involving lying in a dark tank of warm salt water and floating weightless, as if time and space didn’t exist….
The next morning, I decided to push pangs of claustrophobia aside, and booked an appointment at Lift Floats, one of the largest Sensory Deprivation tank venues in NYC. I learned from Gina, the lovely co-owner of Lift Floats, that a Sensory Deprivation Tank session entails floating alone for an hour (or more) in a small tank of warm water containing 1,000 lbs of healing Epsom Salts (comprised of a form of Magnesium, the mineral I mentioned in an earlier article, which has been extremely helpful for my anxiety). Gina explained that the benefits for floating are endless (anxiety reduction, better sleep, muscle relaxation to name a few plus many more benefits here) and that everyone’s experience in the tank is different, from total calmness to deep hallucinations. (Wow!) I was excited to “take the plunge” and see what my experience would be.
That night, as I was mentally preparing for my tank experience, I accidentally went into a Youtube wormhole and ended up watching a documentary about a coal mine collapse which led me to have second thoughts about getting in the tank (what if I somehow get trapped in the tank for days and then the pods shut down and I am forgotten about forever and turn into a wrinkly-prune mummy in a boho headscarf?) but quickly reminded myself a) not to think negatively and b) that in a way, everything I have been doing in my quest for “Freeing My Mind” has been tip-toeing along the goal of “sensory deprivation” (and specifically, curbing information overload, something which seems to be common especially in big cities like New York, but also for almost everyone I know who can’t seem to step away from their smartphones!)
For example, my practice of daily meditation comes from a desire to manage the endless thoughts in my mind, while my newly recent (somewhat succesful) attempt at an Internet Sabbath (avoiding unnecessary texting, internet and social media from Friday to Monday) comes from my attempt at lessening the intake of new information, while my recent attempt at decluttering and purging 90% of my belongings (except for any of my Free People clothing, of course) comes from an attempt at lessening the amount of physical stimulation in my life (PS. read about decluttering and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on the FP blog here!) It isn’t that I want to be an uninformed fool in a clean empty room, but the never-ending stream of stuff and information I’d been consuming on an hourly basis wasn’t good for my well-being (and I’m obviously not alone to question this…)
The next day, I arrived to Lift Floats’ Brooklyn location with a decidedly positive attitude, and was immediately greeted by Gina, who connected my head to a futuristic headband which measured my brainwave activity and pre-float “calm”, and scientifically quantify whether the Sensory Deprivation Tank was successful at “Freeing My Mind” from anxiety.
The headband (which uses a brainwave-measuring app called Muse) determined my “Calmness Level” at apparently “38%” (more on this measurement here). After my headband reading, I was told I could choose between 2 types of deprivation tanks; an Evolution Pod Float (a very groovy 1960’s looking pod) and The Ocean Float Room, a more spacious sauna-looking room with glow-in-the-dark star lights above.
Since I am trying to face my fears, I went for the smaller Evolution Pod, quickly showered (it’s a requirement), said my prayers, lied down in the pod and closed the sleek, white lid. Without any effort I began to float! It was a truly magical feeling. I could hear nothing and see nothing. All that existed was my body, which felt like a silky puddle of flesh (the Epsom Salts make everything slippery). It’s very rare to be completely alone, especially in New York City, so I took advantage of this moment by singing out loud and doing my worst Cher imitation. (The pods are soundproof, luckily…) But then I remembered this experience was about calmness and decided to be quiet….
Minutes passed. I tried to meditate. For the first 20 minutes or so, after I stopped serenading myself (terribly) and overcame the initial fright/thrill, I became bored and fidgety. Although effortless floating was very exciting, I mostly wished that I could check my watch — when would the hour would be up? My feelings then turned from boredom to guilt for feeling this way, since the woman who owns Float Tank was so nice to me, and I worried I was going to have to write a different version of this article, essentially saying, “DEAR FREE PEOPLE BLOG, I WAS BORED IN THE FLOAT TANK AND NOTHING HAPPENED! LOVE, CARLEN” But then, to my delight and surprise, 40 minutes into it, something happened which I could truly have never expected.
I felt like I disappeared.
I felt as if I didn’t have a body. It was the weirdest feeling I’ve ever encountered, like a brain floating in darkness. I honestly can’t remember any thoughts. Did I enter another dimension of outer space (or inner space)? It felt as though there was nothing outside or inside me. I then woke up 20 minutes later to the calming sound of music which emanated from the pod, gently alerting me that my hour was up. I stood up, feeling a bit wobbly, took another quick shower to remove the salt from my skin, and put the brainwave measuring headband equipment back on for another reading. My calmness had risen to 56%.
I am not sure exactly what happened in there, but I left Lift Floats that night with a clear, grateful head and ache-free body and, as I skipped along the streets of Brooklyn, my phone still on Airplane mode, the summer breeze blowing against my non-pruney body, I can honestly say I felt wonderful and free.