5 Surprising Takeaways from Sensory Deprivation

My children and I spent the Christmas holidays in Asheville, North Carolina.  My daughter gifted me a Salt Water Floatation experience at a spa in downtown Asheville. I was apprehensive but excited to try it out.  I’m not sure exactly what I expected in retrospect but the experience was different than I imagined.

Here are my 5 surprising takeaways from my sensory deprivation experience:

Get naked

In anticipation of this experience, I brought my bathing suit.  I imagined someone sliding me into a bathtub and I’m modest. In reality, the attendant showed me to a private suite of sorts with a toilet, sink, shower, and flotation tank.  He showed me around the suite and then advised to lock the door behind him as he left. He had advised against the bathing suit, and I took his advice.  When you realize how much salt is in the water and that you are truly alone, it seems ludicrous to wear a bathing suit.  I followed the instructions and took a shower first before entering the tank. My advice is to get naked.

Fumbling in the dark

The tank itself can best be described as a walk-in refrigerator size room that has a six-inch-thick door that seals you into complete and utter darkness and is covered in a coating similar to a swimming pool.  I sat on the door frame,wet from the shower, naked, holding a ring to support my head, mashing ear plugs into my ears, my legs in the shallow body temperature water and feeling for the hand towel dangling by the door so I could navigate myself out again (if need be). It was a lot to keep track of. I took the “plunge” and closed the door. There I was fumbling in the dark, trying to center myself in the tank, put the ring to support my head and leaned back into the experience.  My advice is to accept the fumbling.

Relax into the experience

Initially, I was trying to set my boundaries and figure out where the edges of the tank were. I guess I imagined having a panic attack and trying to find my way-out in hysteria.  I was a floating island.  My big right toe would feel a wall so I’d tap off it and next my left pinky would feel a different wall.  Once I had settled in, I was in the middle of the tank (I assume) with no body parts touching any walls.  I don’t know if the ring behind my head was needed but I kept my head rested on it for the entire experience. I realized that I had all this tension in my neck and shoulders, probably imagining that I would sink in the water. There is so much salt in the tank that sinking would not happen, I finally, and consciously, released the tension. My advice is to relax into the experience.

Floating in extreme consciousness

I became hyper aware of everything going on in my body.  The banana I ate about an hour before the float making its way through my digestive track. What felt like a droplet by my nose most likely from the extreme humidity in the tank that made me lift my hand to scratch my nose and upset the equilibrium of my floating body.  The sound of my breath in the hollowness of the room.  My heartbeat assuring me of my existence. I repositioned my arms from facing up to face down. I started bending to the right and left from my waist. I suddenly felt a pain in my jaw that dissipated in about a minute. I was alarmed when I felt something floating in the water. I felt my left ear and realized my ear plug had fallen out. I was acutely aware of everything on planet Cathy. My advice is to accept the floating in extreme consciousness.

Infinite time and darkness

The float lasted for 60 minutes. I had no idea what time it was. No phone to refer to.  No clock on the wall. No music or sound intervals to punctuate the experience. I had my eyes closed for probably the first fifteen minutes.  I’m not sure why.  I guess I thought I might sleep. I opened my eyes and there was absolutely no difference.  It was pitch black. I wonder if perhaps I thought keeping my eyes closed meant, to me, that I could open them to light at any moment. The attendant had told me that at the end of the float, music would come on and a blue light. I started imaging a slight blue cast to the darkness.  I imagined that this is what it was like in my mother’s womb, unaware of time and light, but utterly supported by warm fluid.  My advice is let go of the distraction of time and light.

When the blue light shattered the darkness of the tank, I got out quickly.  I was anxious to shower and get the film of salt off my body.  I shampooed my hair twice trying to get what felt like a syrup of salt out of my hair.  In the end, much like the silent retreat I went to some four years ago, I recommend the experience.  I feel like I was reintroduced to planet Cathy in all her stripped down, conscious, imperfect, authentic glory.

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