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What It's Like to Try a Sensory-Deprivation Flotation Tank

I Floated Away Back Pain and Stress in a Sensory-Deprivation Float Tank — and Loved It

Unsplash/Haley Phelps

When a new mom friend told me about her experience at a sensory-deprivation float tank spa and how relaxed and awesome she felt afterward, I didn't need any convincing. I jumped on the idea and booked my first appointment for 60 minutes and $70. What did I have to lose? I've suffered from back pain for as long as I can remember, have anxiety and tend not to handle stress very well, and, on the top of my list, I've suffered from exhaustion for about five years now — easy math for me, as it's how old my first child is.

Floating in silence and in the dark offers your brain a break from stimulus, decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress levels. The salt water also helps joint and muscle pain, as it relaxes muscles.

Before going into the appointment, I read about the benefits of float tanks on the internet, and the more research I did, the more getting inside a chamber filled with Epsom salts and water sounded just like what my body and mind needed. Research backs my friend's joyful full night of sleep after only one 90-minute session in the tank, since floating in silence and in the dark offers your brain a break from stimulus, decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress levels. The salt water also helps joint and muscle pain, as it relaxes muscles.

My appointment day came, and as I was excitedly checking in, the owner of the spa told me other visitors described the hour of floating I reserved as "a three-hour nap." I wanted to kiss this man! I'm pretty sure I haven't had anything resembling restorative sleep since before my children were born.

He led me to my float room, which had a little door leading to the small tank, a changing area, and a shower, and he explained I could wear my bathing suit or choose to go naked. He showed me where to step into the tank, where to lie down inside (head at one end, feet at the other), and how to shut the door, then told me that when my 60 minutes were coming to an end, I would hear light music to signal my time was over.

I peeked at the tank, and there was about a foot of water in there and a solid metal door to shut behind me. My heart started racing a bit, thinking about being in the tiny space for an hour in the dark. I think the owner saw the concern on my face, because he reassured me by saying some people choose to leave the door open and mentioning I could get out of the tank at any time if I felt uncomfortable or claustrophobic. He also said that, more often than not, once people get in, their nerves go away. My heart rate slowed, and I talked myself into the full experience — no open door for me.

I laid back as my whole body began to float . . . I closed my eyes and let the sound of only my heartbeat lull me into a deep relaxation.

I undressed completely, put my hair up (as suggested, so it wouldn't float on the water, touch my body, and distract me), stepped into the warm water (water is kept around body temperature, a range of 94-96 degrees), and shut the door behind me. There was a very soft glow of blue light reflecting off the water, and I reminded myself to breathe slowly. I laid back as my whole body began to float. I smiled, thinking this felt really cool. I focused on relaxing each vertebrae in my lower back, where I have chronic pain, and relished in the weightlessness the water provided. I closed my eyes and let the sound of only my heartbeat lull me into a deep relaxation.

Before I knew it, I heard light music begin to play, and I opened my eyes to the same blue glow I saw before I shut them. I didn't want to get out. I felt so awesome — truly like I had just had a long nap. I stretched in the water and slowly began to come back to my senses before opening the door and climbing out. I felt a little euphoric as I stepped into the shower and washed the salt water off my body and out of my hair with the sweet-smelling soaps and shampoo provided by the spa. All my movements felt looser, my body moving with more fluidity, and I hoped the void of lower-back pain would last at least a little longer. I took my time in the shower and slowly got dressed before leaving the room and immediately booking my next float.

I can't say my back pain stayed away permanently or that I don't still falter in the face of a stressful situation, but having a float gives me back that little bit of euphoria every time. I suggest it to anyone who will listen, explaining how I never felt claustrophobic or anxious while in the tank, and how sometimes just thinking about floating helps me relax. A moment to relax while doing something good for my health and well-being? That is enough for me to keep going back.

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