It’s so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your eyes, or the lashes on your eyelids. It’s the kind of darkness that makes you see things that can’t really be there, like random shocks of red light, or an incomprehensible low throb of light pulsing in the edges of your vision.
It’s silent, but you can hear– hear isn’t the right word– you can loudly feel every movement inside your body– the crack of your spine, the pulse of your organs, the click of your fingers.
You are so in tune to every movement your body makes, both externally and internally, that the sensory deprivation almost feels like the opposite of what you’re feeling.
It’s like your senses are on fire, a state of hyper-awareness of your body and its place within the float tank. This type of sensory steroids on top of the darkness makes it the perfect recipe for a place where your mind will wander as if in a hallucinogenic state.
It’s calming, and focusing on your breath is easy because you can feel every stretch, expansion and contraction of your lungs.
The experience is hypnotic.
Only when you move, do you feel and hear the splashes of the water that remind you that you’re in a sensory deprivation float tank.
That is Float Sixty.
Recently, for my birthday, my incredible friends, who not only know about my inability to chill, but also know about my anxiety and sleep issues, bought me a package to Float Sixty. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what Float Sixty is. I had never heard of it before, and my first thought was—is it that floating waterpark thing on the Indiana side of Lake Michigan? No. Lazy river cruise? No, but closer. Boozy root beer float bar? No, but that’s an awesome bar idea.
According to their website, Float Sixty is spa that provides float therapy as a tool for muscle recovery, deeper sleep, and mental clarity. You can float effortlessly for 60 to 90 minutes, in ten inches of water that contains 1000 pounds of pharmaceutical grade epsom salts. Some of the off label uses of Float Therapy liken the experience to taking psychedelic drugs. The idea is that taking away all sensations reduces stress, rewires brain patterns, and can even allow alternative states of consciousness to emerge.
I don’t know if I experienced an alternative state of being, but it was definitely trippy, and definitely an experience.
I made my online reservation for a Friday afternoon for the Chicago River North location. The studio is located in the basement of a brick loft-type building, and the space feels like a mix between a spa and a boutique gym offering mood enhancing supplements, color therapy glasses, and sleepy time chocolates. The lobby is gorgeous, and also does triple duty as a check-in, gift shop, and open space beauty bar for people to do their hair and freshen up after their float session.
At the Chicago River North location, there are five float suites that have three different style of float tanks as well as a meditation space for people to process whatever shit comes up for people after spending 60-90 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank. You can check out each of the rooms on their website.
Each room is a little different. The wave cabin and super wave cabins are basically personal pools, the samadhi tank is the ultimate sensory deprivation tank that offers the maximum sensory deprivation of empty nothingness in which the floater is supported in entering a space of total darkness and silence. I’m going to try that one next time. The float pod, the one I chose, is a spacious pod that looks like it fell out of a spaceship. There are controls for lights, sound, and jets.
If it’s your first time, the nice host will take you to the room you reserved and show you what’s what. Each room comes equipped with everything you need– shower, ear plugs, cotton swabs, towels, petroleum jelly–think of it like a pay by the hour hotel room, only instead of a bed, you get a floating space.
The rooms don’t have flip flops for the shower, so bring your own if that freaks you out. You float in the nude, so no need for swimsuits. If you have contacts, bring solution and a case because you won’t want to get salt water in your eye with your contacts.
On the wall was a little timer that turned on precisely twelve minutes after the host left the room. They give you twelve minutes to shower, but if you don’t take that long, you can use the extra minutes for extra float time. To avoid irritation and also cut out any and all sensations, Float Sixty provides you with wax, waterproof ear plugs that block out any and all sound.
The float pod was a little intimidating and looked like a mix between a spaceship sleeping pod, and a souped up, futuristic tanning bed. The front hatch opened and closed with a swooosh type of sound that you would expect, and the lighted mirror on the wall was motion activated so that once I got settled into the pod– total darkness ensued.
Total darkness, paired with a weightlessness provided by the salt water, was a new experience for me. It immediately made me tired, but the new experience of floating kept me conscious.
At first, I tried to get a feel for the tank, and let my fingers run along the edges of the pod. It was a weird pear shape, and I wanted, obsessively, to float right in the middle of the tank. My hair floated up and out around me, and no matter how hard I tried to sink myself, the water kept me up. After getting my bearings, I tried to lay there and clear my mind as much as possible by doing some breathing exercises.
And that’s when I noticed. My lungs. I could hear my lungs. I could hear the effort it takes to breathe in deeply and the counter breath out. I could imagine the movement of my lungs so precisely that it felt as if my senses had not been shut out– but instead pulled inward. Try it now.
Try plugging your ears, and focusing on your breath. Focus on your lungs. That, what you hear and what you feel, is a dull representation of the sounds and feels you experience in a float session. The heightened awareness of my lungs allowed me to zone into myself, and focus solely on my breath for a sustained period of time. The only distractions came when the focus on my breath was interrupted by the clear sounds of my body moving– the crick of my back, the pop of my fingers, the slow movement of my insides digesting my lunch. It was incredible– and trippy to say the least.
I thought I’d be one of those floaters that falls asleep almost immediately on impact. I was so relaxed and able to notice when my shoulders were tensing or when some ounce of tension remained in places that I could release. And for the first thirty minutes, I hovered somewhere between asleep and awake.
And then I got antsy.
After about 20-30 minutes, I started fidgeting around and testing the buoyancy of the water– floating up and down and side to side. I could feel the tightness in my hips so I tried to do a few hip opening yoga moves in the salt water (unsuccessfully), and then a few side stretches to see what I’d be able to hear pop. And as I raised my hands above my head, my fingers entwined with the fanned out strands of my hair.
And that’s when I had a thought that ruined it all.
My hair feels like the Ring Girl. I bet it looks like the girl from the Ring too. What if the Ring Girl is in here? What If I open my float tank, and BOOM there she is in the corner just watching me and ready to pounce? Holy shit. Stop. Stop thinking about the ring girl. Oh my god. That would be so scary. You’re being ridiculous. But what if??
For the next 30-40 minutes my mind circulated around– Ring girl attacking me, me telling myself to calm the fuck down and stop being so illogical, and then brief moments of total calm.
There were a few moments in the calm where I’d open my eyes and see these strange flashes of lights– Lights isn’t even the right word. Changes in color outside of just straight blackness. It was the type of thing you’d see if you had your eyes closed tightly, and stared hard at your closed eyelids. And while you’re doing that, somewhere in a distance, someone flickers a faint light in your periphery.
In the last ten minutes of the float, my panic over the Ring Girl had gotten me worked up enough to take a break and see how much time I had left. I was surprised to see that I had been floating for almost an hour, and only had ten more minutes left. In those last ten minutes, I was able to refocus (double check that the Ring Girl was INDEED not in my float pod) and keep going.
It was weird stepping back into gravity.
The jets turned on in the pod to indicate that my time was up, and as I raised the hovercraft’s door, the motion activated lighting turned on. The salt water left a silky, slimy coating all over by body, and standing felt similar to how it feels to step off of a treadmill after a long walk.
Post float, I showered, grabbed my things, and sat in one of the meditation rooms as I got ready. I had ridden my bike to the studio, and riding home felt like pushing dead weight up a hill. I felt completely spent, like I could fall asleep and not wake up for twelve hours, and that night I slept like a rock.
Overall, I really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to going back. Floating is definitely new wave hippy experience, but I am all about finding new things to manage the effects of everyday bullshit like stress, back pain, traffic, and anxiety. I’m excited to try it again, and curious to see what round two will feel like. I think it’s an awesome experience if you’re actually trying to get out of your head– which may seem counterintuitive since you’re so keenly aware of your inner workings. For me, it felt like re-rooting myself in the present and sitting with my feelings and the sensations within my own self instead of all the things happening around me.
As for tripping? I’m slightly disappointed I didn’t have a more psychedelic experience, but I’ll let you know if that changes for round 2 or 3.
In other news, life is going really, really well. I’m working on a post to talk about some tough things– like how EMDR therapy is going, and the difference between talk process oriented therapy and EMDR or CBT. It’s been quite the year, only six months in, and I’m feeling really excited, hopeful, and good about what’s to come.
Curious to learn more about the in’s and outs of float therapy? Feel free to comment below, message me or connect with me on Facebook!