Let’s face it, between television, the internet and the million (or so it seems) notifications from all the apps on the average smartphone, it’s almost impossible to find a properly solitary moment for oneself. And try as I might with meditation techniques, I can never quite find the balance between struggling to put myself in a truly relaxed position, and simply getting comfortable enough to fall asleep.
And then I first heard about the floatation tank (also called a sensory deprivation tank) from a most unlikely source – the popular animation comedy “The Simpsons”. In one episode of the show, Homer takes Lisa to a new-age spirituality centre in an effort to bond with her and the two spend a couple of hours in sensory deprivation tanks. While Homer just gets bored, Lisa has a spectacular out of body episode, getting a glimpse of life first as the family cat and then as her father.
Comically necessary exaggeration aside, something about the idea of a sensory deprivation tank stayed with me. So when the possibility came up of experiencing a floatation tank at first hand, I jumped at the chance.
For those who came in late, a floatation tank is basically like an oversized bathtub with a lid. What makes it such a radically different experience from your everday swim is that the water (filled to a depth of 10 inches) is saturated with Epsom salts (Magnesium sulphate), so that your body floats effortlessly at the surface. The water is also heated to about 35.5 degrees Celsius, or roughly your average body temperature, so that the water itself doesn’t give any sensation of heat or cold.
What this means is that once you’ve settled down in the water, and shut your eyes, your body isn’t quite sure if you’re floating on water or hovering suspended on nothing but thin air. And once the lid of the floatation tank is closed, with your ears plugged and submerged in the water, there is no sensation from the outside world to intervene on your running mind.
The whole experience is quite akin to a waking dream. When my float session initially starts, the experience is quite disorienting. Without actually being able to feel the water under me, I can’t quite tell if I’m lying still in a single position or spinning off into space much like hapless astronauts in any one of a half dozen films in outer space. This is especially unnerving since I know that the floatation tank is only about a foot longer and wider than my frame, and quite securely anchored to the earth.
It takes me a while to finally embrace the directionless floating feeling, but when I finally do, it also does fascinating things to the thoughts running through my mind. Even as I try to keep them focused in a single direction – composing this descriptive review alongside my unfolding experience – I find my mind gently spiraling out to pull random other associations into the chain. Until finally, I end up at quite a different place from where I began.
I never quite manage the complete out-of-body experience that so much online literature promises. I can’t help but come wave a hand periodically, or stretch out a leg just to get the feeling of muscles working again. But, I tell myself, that’s just me being too attached to my physical presence. And certainly, it feels quite unnecessary the next time I float back out to other tangents of thought.
At the end of the 90-minute session, I may not have had my great cosmic journey (epiphanies not guaranteed). But there is something immensely relaxing and satisfying about meandering away from myself and the tension I hold myself in every day. When I do finally climb out of the floatation tank, and gravity reasserts its full hold on me, I find my step lighter than I’d have expected. And a welcome feeling it is!
Unfortunately, a float session comes with a slightly heavy price tag. But given that floatation tanks aren’t dime-a-dozen in Bengaluru, the occasional indulgence doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.
(I floated at 1000 Petals in Bengaluru. Check out 1000petals.in)