Here are questions that we might be hearing in casual conversation over the next year:
“Do you float?” “Are you a floater?” Or, as I was asked the other day, by early isolation tank builder Glen Perry: “Have you floated?”
For those who haven’t floated since their water wings days, Perry was asking me if I had climbed into a larger-than-human-size tank filled with 11 inches of 93.5-degree water mixed with 750 to 800 pounds of Epsom salts.
Indeed I had. I’d clambered inside and closed the hatch. Then, because of the heavily salted water, floated horizontally, as if in a pool, only raftless — I experienced the zero-gravity, zero-light, nearly silent “treatment.” Which is kind of like meditation, only at zero gravity and on your back in salty water. And, arguably, better.
Scheduled sensory deprivation seems to be on the upswing.
I was hooked.
Peace and quiet is so elusive today that I, like many others, have become a floater, scheduling 50 to 70 minutes of it a week and paying roughly $1 per minute. Yet another example of silence as a luxury product.
Scheduled sensory deprivation seems to be on the upswing. Although “floating” was started back in the 1970s by Dr. John C. Lilly, its popularity has surged recently. Perry has followed the rise in interest since the beginning. His company, Samadhi, was the first to build tanks in 1972, with Lilly as a mentor. Tank orders have tripled in the past five years. He’s shipped one to Kazakhstan. And tank center owners are seeing rising interest.
But the clearest sign that we’re going to hear more about floating is that it was recently Oprah-approved.
Floating is billed as a sensory-deprivation experience. Perry’s take is different. “When I’m in the tank, I hear my heart beating. I hear myself blinking. I prefer to think of it as sensory enhancement.”
I would agree. The only noises I was deprived of when I floated in a Samadhi tank named “Bucky” at Oakland Floats were those chattery invaders: tweets, rings, text chirps, bus brakes, yakkers, screamers, music, honks, decisions, directives, my loudly obtrusive mind.
It is so dark that you are often surprised to realize your eyes are open, not shut.
“Out here,” Perry says, “we are so busy. We don’t have time to process. We have a conversation with someone, and we don’t process it. Maybe something came up that bothers us, and we don’t take the time to deal with it. Our minds are racing a mile a minute.”
But then you go into the void (i.e., the tank). “There’s nothing going on in there. Finally, we’re able to process,” he explains. “Pretty soon the mental chatter subsides.” Eye blinks are audible. There is no sense of touch, because the water temp is identical to your skin’s. It is so dark that you are often surprised to realize your eyes are open, not shut.
Floating is often compared to meditation. Perry believes floating is more powerful: “I think you can get further faster with floating,” he says. When you enter a tank that is designed correctly, “everything else disappears,” he says. It is a distraction-free environment. Zero-gravity floating can offer relief to people who suffer from chronic pain. And, like meditation, it is believed to create theta waves in the brain. In this state, people are said to experience insight and creativity.
Float centers are cropping up in the U.S. and Australia, with approximately 10 opening in the Bay Area over the past few years. Perry is also seeing more interest in the south but, oddly, he says, no interest from New York City. A Portland spot, Float On, barters time in the tank for creative output. They ask artists for work inspired during their floats. This approach has produced the book Artwork from the Void, the Float Dance Project and even a soundtrack (soon to be released), and recipes are in progress through a chef program. And, yes, this very OZY post was inspired by floating.
When’s the last time you stopped to hear yourself blink?
Float your boat at one of these floatation locations.