The Sound of Silence

Fads sweep through the “wellness” industry like nobody’s business. If you paid attention to all the spruikers, you’d be drinking your shake while squirting water up your bum, popping some pills, sweating it out in a sauna, wrapping yourself in plastic…oh no wait, plastic’s toxic, let’s try clay instead, juice fasting (or if you’re really hardcore…water fasting!), meditating, practicing mindfulness, acupuncture, chiropractic, detox tea, yoga, pilates, running (it’s good for you), not running (it’s bad for your joints)…you get the gist. The thing is, there’s validity in every single one of these things for someone, at some point in their life but does that mean any one of these things is THE thing? Hell, of course not! For some reason though, the wellness industry turns some people (you know the ones, we all have ‘that friend’ ;-)) into evangelistic fanatics who so strongly believe that their way is the only way that it literally becomes the only thing they talk about!

Me? I’m a bit of a trier. I’ll try pretty much anything! No, I’m not looking for a magic pill or the one thing that will solve all my worldly problems…  it’s more that I’m curious. I have this strange philosophy that I’m not really entitled to an opinion on something unless I’ve tried it. Strange, I know! So, with that in mind, when the latest resurging fad: Sensory Deprivation Floatation Tanks started hitting my Facebook newsfeed with a vengeance, well, I figured I’d give it a try!

If you haven’t heard of Float Tanks, give it a little google time. This is a little excerpt from the website of the float centre that I went to, (HIGHLY recommend if you’re in Melbourne or Perth!!)

“The tank was created by neurophysicist Dr John C Lilly 60 year ago when he was doing research on brain waves and altered states of consciousness. The float tanks look like a large, enclosed bathtub. They are usually built from fibreglass and are designed to block out all external distractions, such as sights, sounds, tactile sensations and gravity. The floatation tank contains a super-saturated Epsom salt solution, which is about 25cm deep. This creates an environment similar to that of the Dead Sea, letting you float effortlessly on the surface of the water and enjoy a feeling of weightlessness! Once you are settled, it is almost impossible to tell which parts of your body are in the water and which aren’t. This will trick your brain into thinking that you’re floating in the air. The buoyancy created by the Epsom salt solution effectively removes the effects of gravity on the body. This will make you feel weightless, letting every single muscle in your body fully relax. With earplugs in and (if you choose) the tank’s interior lights switched off, the quietness and darkness will allow your mind to drift into a deep state of relaxation, creating a disconnection from today’s busy environment. Outside distractions such as sight, sound, tactile sensations, and gravity fade away, so you feel like you’re floating in space, losing track of where your body ends and the water begins. Noise from the outside doesn’t get to you. This is achieved by water and air being heated to your body temperature so you cannot distinguish between the air and water thus giving you the floating feeling.

“We had a Zen master who visited my lab once, and he asked to go in the tank for an hour. Most of his life he had meditated every day for four or five hours or more. And he thought the depth of meditation he reached in the tank was on par with a level he reached maybe once a year in his normal meditation environment—which was not exactly the middle of Times Square. He was amazed.” – Peter Suedfeld PHD

The reduced stimulation encountered in the floatation tank refocuses the your attention to internal stimuli. At first this includes the novel sensations of floating effortlessly in darkness and quiet. The sensations of the body become more salient, making the flotation tank a walk-in biofeedback device. This natural biofeedback initiates a self-regulation process that encourages relaxation. This relaxation is augmented by the full body absorption of magnesium that elicits the release of muscle tension. As physical sensations become less noticeable, mental activity can come to the fore. For those not used to being alone with their thoughts this can be difficult. However, even unpleasant thoughts become more pleasant as the body descends into a more deeply relaxed state. Eventually even the parade of thoughts subsides and the mind enters a meditative state. Flotation therapy has been academically studied in the USA and in Sweden with published results showing reduction of both pain and stress. At the moment there have been 80+ studies done on the benefits of floating.”

I booked an introductory special of 3 x 1 hour floats. I chose to do my floats on Friday evenings, at the end of the work week…kind of an extreme wind down theory! It definitely worked. The centre in Prahran is beautifully designed with a sacred geometry theme. I was led to a private room with the tank and a shower etc and left to prepare and enter the tank. Once showered and prepped with earplugs in, I stepped into the tank and pulled the lid closed behind me. The light stays on in the tank for about 5 minutes, giving you time to adjust and settle yourself before you are in complete darkness. Soft, meditative-style music plays, seemingly through the water for the first 10 minutes. So, essentially, it’s in the tank with lights and music, then dark and music, then dark and silence. For the next 45 minutes I was alone with my thoughts and enhanced awareness of my body. Initially, I became very aware of the twitching in my body as it settled into the magnesium saturated water where you float quite saliently, the magnesium making the water almost solid feeling. It seemed to highlight any injuries I was nursing, drawing the mind’s attention to these areas in almost an alerting manner. As my mind quieted and I slipped into a meditative state, I found myself moving through various states. Initially my thoughts were of recent events and challenges, then they deftly moved to specific areas of life. Health. Relationships. Family. Whilst I wasn’t consciously focusing on any particular thing, it was almost like watching a movie moving from one area to the next. At about the 3/4 mark, I felt a rush of endorphins and found myself giggling to myself in the tank. Not at anything in particular either. Weirdo. Before I knew it, the music started back up, signalling the last 10 minutes of tank time, then the lights were on and it was time to get out! Carefully extracting myself from the tank so as not to get any water in my eyes (this is the most crucial part…it stings like a mofo!!), I hopped back in the shower and stood under the warm water in a dazed state of bliss. Once out, I found my way to the designated chill out space where there was warm herbal tea and friendly conversation waiting for me. This was a really important part of the experience…the opportunity to debrief, ask a few questions and just generally sit with your post-float glow for a bit before heading back out into reality was amazing.

I have to say, once home, I was out cold almost as soon as I hit the pillow and had one of the best sleeps of my life! Seriously vivid dreams! I’m naturally an early riser too so to wake up and look at the clock the next day and see 11am was a serious shock! But I felt amazing. I think I had that post-float glow for the next 2 or 3 days :)

Of all the wellness fads I’ve tried, this one is definitely up there as a ‘must do’. My subsequent 2 floats only got better and I’m definitely going back for more! You do need to be prepared to be alone with your own thoughts though and, if you’re someone that doesn’t spend much time with yourself, it can be quite confronting! Lucky I think I’m pretty good company 😉

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