To Be Weightless Without Your Senses

By Joe Bailey, Staff Writer–

While the idea of sensing nothing for 90 minutes might initially sound pointless or unappealing to some, people all over the world are constantly finding new reasons to use sensory deprivation tanks.

Lucidity is a company in Chattanooga that specializes in providing these sensory deprivation experiences. The sealed tanks that create these experiences are filled with about 10 inches of water and nearly 1000 pounds of dissolved epsom salts, so those using them are able to float effortlessly. Users are provided earplugs and are told to lie face-up in the water, which is heated to approximate the temperature of human skin. These elements combined with the complete darkness of the tanks creates an experience where all outside stimuli are eliminated.

While sensory deprivation has been used by athletes like Stephen Curry to improve focus or by those suffering aches and pains to recover, Lucidity owner and experienced floater Angela McAllister said she uses the tank for meditation.

McAllister said that with normal meditation, she can usually hear noises or feel sensations that take her out of her inward focus.

“In the tank, you don’t have any of that, and so it’s 90 minutes of pure, uninterrupted quiet time. It just gives your brain a chance to fully chill out and just calm down and not be bombarded by stuff all the time,” she explained.

Mindfulness and meditation are all about awareness and being in the moment. Many people struggle to flush out thoughts that distract them from the present moment, but McAllister said that she thinks the tank can serve as training wheels for those who struggle with this aspect of meditation, especially. Without any sensory information coming in, those inside the tank can focus on their body and mind.

“So what I usually do is I think of my mind as a faucet. I just turn it on and let it run down whatever weird little rabbit hole it wants to go down. I don’t try to stop it. I don’t try to direct it. I don’t judge the thoughts that come up. You don’t have to look at that session as a time to answer all of life’s issues,” McAllister said.

According to McAllister, this process is the easiest way to slip into that meditative state; being alone with your mind in this way might actually represent purest form of meditation.  

Wherever your thoughts happens to go, McAllister believes that a few things are guaranteed. Since users are essentially weightless, all the muscles in the body are able to relax, and as a result, the mind tends to follow suit. In this way, sensory deprivation can act as an all-purpose stress reliever.

As for how it could help college students, she said, “[Sensory deprivation] can definitely help around stressful times, like during exams. It’s just simply pulling you out of that whole fight or flight mode. If you’re constantly on and constantly stressed, then it wears on your body in a really horrible way. Stress really and truly is a killer.”

McAllister also said that sensory deprivation can provide a kind of reset that allows a one to perform at a higher capacity. Even beyond relaxation, this reset allows people to do some introspection and, in some cases, peel back the layers of their subconscious to find out what they really want in life.

Many report to have had auditory and visual hallucinations or vivid, dreamlike memories while floating.

“You can kind of be transported back to like a childhood memory that’s so real to the point that you can smell and feel things. I went back to when I was a kid and I was looking for a piece of fool’s gold that I had gotten on a field trip and I had lost it in the carpet in my bedroom. I could smell the carpet and I could remember that panicked feeling that I was never going to find it again.” McAllister said.

She said that she hadn’t thought about that experience since it happened, but that it reappeared in the tank.

After sessions at Lucidity, a gentle piano rendition of “Where Is My Mind” by Pixies will play to signal that it’s time to get out of the tank. In the lounge area is a journal where people can write about their experience after floating or read about the experiences of others. After the isolation and the feeling of being reduced to a bodiless consciousness, users get to reacquaint themselves with the outside world and their senses.

In the words of Pixies, “Where is my mind / Way out in the water / See it swimmin’.”

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