Shea Evans visits the Newcastle Float Centre and discovers what sensory deprivation tanks are all about.
The first time I heard of floating in sensory deprivation tanks was on The Simpsons. You know, the episode where Homer and Lisa try floating, and Homer’s tank ends up in the ocean? The idea of doing that in real life – closing yourself off from all sensory input by floating in total darkness – is something that has appealed to me since I first saw that episode. I had assumed it was only available in obscure places, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I could float in my own backyard (not literally). The following is a brief account of my first float, which was more wonderful than I can explain.
After you slide the lid shut and enter the darkness, it’s easy to convince yourself that you are floating in the vacuum of space, or bobbing dreamily in the pre-birth amniotic fluid of some gigantic womb.
Music plays for the first ten minutes, soft and tranquil, and you can’t help but give yourself in to the experience. The water inside is heated to the same temperature as your skin, allowing you to forget that it’s there at all, and the 350kgs of Epsom salts that are dissolved and floating with you keep your body suspended on a surface-less cloud of Zen-like bliss. Your thoughts begin to run over each other and blur together, shrinking and dissolving like the salt in the water that surrounds you. When the music fades out, what is left behind is less than silence.
At this point, you realise how strange this type of isolation is. It’s not just an isolation of your physical self, but of each of the senses that you usually depend so heavily on. It’s an isolation of your own mind. This might sound uncomfortable and disturbing, but it really feels like the most natural thing in the world. I imagine that it has something to do with being in such a natal environment. Your mind seems to tell you: We remember this.
As the hour floats away beside you, your thoughts run in two veins; excitement, or vivid and silent introspection. Having no lights to see, no sounds to hear, no surface to feel, and no smells or tastes, the space within your skull feels just like the distances between nebulae and galaxies. Your consciousness drifts through long stretches of nothing where you delve deep into yourself, until the stunning darkness becomes a mirror focused on your own life. Then, when you remember where you are, you smile to yourself and gently push away from the wall behind your head. Unable to note the speed or length of your progress, or whether you’re moving at all, you sail for what feels like a mile before your toes finally kiss the boundary at the far edge of the chamber.
The music comes back at the end of the hour to signify that the float has almost finished, and you feel disappointment. In the last ten minutes, you now feel completely at home in the void. A vague but warm glow appears above you, at the barest edge of visual perception. It dances a little to the music, but that’s all. A voice speaks, ever so gently, informing you that the float is finished and that it’s time to shower. You slide the door back and blink against the light. Now re-entering your world, it all seems soft but feels quite strong, and when you step outside, you realise that you are smiling.
In the shower afterwards, you feel as though you’re still floating. You giggle lightly to yourself as the salt leaves your skin. Later, in the reception room, there is a pot of green tea steaming on a stool for you. You know that you don’t like it, but you go with the flow anyway and pour yourself a cup, and are only a little surprised to discover that you actually do like it – a lot. The man behind the desk, Jason, asks how it went. You think about it and try to reply to him, but you just giggle some more because you feel so relaxed and his beard is so lovely and so is everything else in the world. Eventually, you tell him that it was good, very relaxing. What more can you say? He looks back and says I know, without saying anything, and then you pay the man and walk out, still smiling into the night. That evening your sleep is much better than usual, and you’re sure you’ll go again.
I don’t mean to say that it was the greatest thing of my life, but it was easily the most relaxing and soothing. Did it change my worldview? I like green tea now, but my mind is still the same. The day after my float I felt more relaxed than usual, which was fantastic, but no permanent alterations were made. Apparently, the benefits of sensory deprivation are compounding, meaning that they are greater and longer-lasting each time. Further expeditions will be necessary.
If you want to try this for yourself, (which you should because it’s amazing), head to the Newcastle Float Centre on Tyrrell St in Wallsend.
Float on people, it’s good.
Feature Image: Isaac Thomson