I first read about the borderline-crazy invention of an ‘Isolation Tank‘ in a book called ‘The Centre of the Cyclone’ by a very interesting chap named John C. Lilly. That was a few years back and I’d never forgotten about the possibility that one day, I too would climb into a pitch black box filled with salty water to try and trip my balls off.
Since listening to a podcast called The Joe Rogan Experience (highly recommended) I discovered that the host had a tank installed in his house and I became exposed to floating, yet again. Joe clearly was a massive fan of the float tank, as he had his own wizard build him one (spicy pricey). Check it out;
Recently, I finally had the opportunity to try it for myself, after a good few years of wanting to but never having enough disposable income etc. Floating isn’t really expensive but it’s kind of categorised in the ‘Pamper Yourself’ category which meant I found it difficult to justify spending that much cash on little ol’ me.
Koan Float, in Amsterdam, was the location, and wow what a place it was! Super friendly staff and a decent 80 euros for a 45 minute float, followed by a 45 minute soft tissue massage, (this was a legit wellbeing venue so no happy endings here). Somehow when you’re on holiday, it’s easier to justify spending money on yourself.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but didn’t really care about that. I was far more eager just to try it, see if I liked it and if I got anything from it at all. And I tell you what, for those of you who have experienced meditation, practiced it more than once or are even remotely interested in exploring your own psyche, mind or learning just how to switch it off and relax, then you need to try floating. Really.
This is the exact tank I used, bit like a spaceship. Music plays inside if you wish and you can also bring your own USB stick with your choice of tunes. I chose silence, predominantly but did switch their music on for a laugh. There’s a light inside which you can choose to switch on or off and the staff can communicate with you via a telecom system inside, too, giving you a nice, gentle warning when your time is up.
The main thing I discovered was how much easier it was to switch off my mind and thoughts when my sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling senses were muted. It was like a fast track to a single-point focused state of mind, very, very similar to slacklining just without the wobbly Elvis legs.
I can’t prove this but my intuition would say that beginners could get more of a benefit starting their journey of meditation practicing on a slackline or in a float tank, compared to trying to learn how to meditate on a cushion with their eyes shut. Technology has evolved beyond the cushion now, and I would go as far as saying that meditating, cushion-stylee, is actually more of an intermediate technique than beginner.
Another fascinating discovery was the kinaesthetic confusion, if you could call it that, that my body discovered when inside. The temperature of the water felt exactly the same as the temperature of the air, so after a while you didn’t know which parts of your body were submerged and which weren’t. The only thing you could feel was the meniscus of the water itself; an illusive, silky film of a form that could not be grasped. Very cool and a very unique feeling.
The salts in the tank really do force you to float and it’s quite hilarious trying to resist it. The first time I went in to the tank, I forgot to put in my earplugs and seeing as the lady said I should wear them because it would stop all the salt clogging up my ears (which I understood as brain tissue) I freaked out and felt like I had to get them. I tried to sit myself up and stand but I was so buoyant that I could not get my feet to the bottom of the tank to stand up. Perhaps I’m not doing this part much justice but I found it hilarious. Imagine trying to right yourself in a swimming pool whilst lying on your back in a horizontal position with an inflatable donut around your waist and you’ll get what I mean!
Freaking out whilst in the tank and rushing to find the light switch was a pretty common experience, apparently, from talking to other buoyant virgins. Floating is probably a challenge for the claustrophobic community out there but for the rest of us, after the first few minutes, you settle right in.
Possibly the most notable feeling from my first experience was felt once I had finished the session and it was unexpected. The effect of gravity on your body, day in, day out, seems to eventually go unnoticed, slipping under the radar. The floating had a profound decompression effect on my body. So much so, I felt I could handle another 3 days in Amsterdam, and that never happens! Anyone who’s had the pleasure of surviving a trip to the Dam knows about the seemingly endless amounts of walking, the ache in your feet that only comes around as a result from hours of accumulated stompage. To reach the last day of your trip with a feeling of rejuvination and a second wind was a revelation in itself!
Weightlessness is not really a phenonmenon we get to experience legitimately in day-to-day life. Other than inversion tables, which aim to harness the power of decompression but do not escape the forces of gravity, there’s not really any accessible options to experience weightlessness other than the float tank. I’m sure the folks at N.A.S.A. go through some wild shit with their anti-grav training methods but for average joes like us, those feelings are reserved for the atmospheric elite. I’d be interested in learning more about the facts behind this decompression effect that I felt in the tank because my joints loved it!
Soaking it all up was the aim of my first float session. No real intention, just absorption and enjoyment. However, I can see how going into a tank with a set of mental objectives would be a very powerful endeavour, much like that of a structured vision quest or introspective psychonautic exploration. The beauty of the tank is that you can choose; relax and just float, or go deeper inside your own mind and see what you find.
Overall, I highly recommend floating to any of you that are remotely interested in meditation, introspective enquiry or recovery protocols. I’ve booked my second session already.
John C Lily, you sir, are a legend.
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