Since most of the adventures that I do have an outward adrenaline rush, I thought it might be nice to challenge myself to do what most people are frightened to do the most: face themselves – naked and in pure darkness, devoid of light and sound. To do this, I chose to try a flotation tank, also known as a sensory deprivation tank or isolation tank. In this tank you have nothing but your thoughts, and they say in the stillness of the dark you learn your true self.
What the heck is a Sensory Deprivation tank?,
I first tried a “Sensory Deprivation Tank” 20 years ago, when my friend Keith told me about it.
“Fran! I have this cool adventure for us to try. You get in this enclosed soundproof tank, it’s filled with 10 inches of skin temperature water (94 degrees F) and 1,000 pounds of Epsom Salt and is rich in magnesium, which gets into your skin and relaxes you. They literally can’t put any more salt into that water. And because of the salt content you can’t sink so you just float. It’s like swimming in the Dead Sea only more intense because you are in this tank but in total darkness for about an hour, with no sound. You can have music played if you want to but it’s better if you don’t and are just left with your thoughts. Some people even fall asleep in there, although it’s better if you meditate. The tanks were first used by this guy John C. Lilly in 1954 to test the effects of sensory deprivation. Now people use them for mediation and relaxation, and in alternative medicine. You are in the tank naked and alone. Do you want to try it?”
The only tank that existed at the time was in this guy, Sam Zieger’s Manhattan apartment. Sam ran a company called, “Blue Light Flotation” located at 148 W 23rd street. He had his tank since 1985, making it the longest (and only) operating floatation service in the New York City. It had been featured on Live at Five, Eye on New York, and the Evening News. It was written about in The Village Voice, New York Magazine, The New Yorker and GQ Magazine. One of my best friends, 6 time Emmy award winning producer Janette Barber, went to Sam for years, so I felt totally safe going.
While I have to admit that I felt safe, strange was another story. Outside of a doctor’s office, I didn’t usually strip down in an man’s apartment. So being a true New Yorker, I first checked for hidden cameras and peep holes. Once satisfied, I stripped down, took a shower as instructed, then peed for the hundredth time to make sure I didn’t pee in the tank.
The tank was 7 feet high, 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, it looked like a tub for Shrek. After I was sure my bladder was drained, I slowly slid into the tank. I wanted to make sure I couldn’t sink so I kept trying to push myself down and I kept popping up like a cork. Finally I could relax knowing it could support my weight. Then I checked the perimeters to make sure I knew how big the tank was. That way I would have some some perception of space in the darkness.
I made sure I knew the location of the fresh water bottle just in case salt water got in my eyes. Then I finally turned the lights out. There was an emergency button in case I panicked and wanted the lights back on. Otherwise after an hour Sam would turn them tgo signal that the session was over.
How Clean is the Sensory Deprivation Tank?
I had to get over trusting that the tank was really clean, I mean after all, the clients all used the same tank. Sam assured me that no microorganism could survive that high intensity salt; not bacteria, virus, yeast, mold, nothing! In addition to the life killing salt, the entire volume of tank water was filtered and injected with ozone at the end of each session. Suddenly I felt the need to rush home and clean my tub.
Relaxing in the Sensory Deprivation Tank
I laid back and tried to relax, but my thoughts were everywhere. What if the boys went out to lunch and forgot about me and I was stuck in that room? Would salt get into my ears and stay lodged there? What were those guys talking about out there in the living room anyway? How could I relax when I knew my friend was waiting for my session to be over so he could relax next?
I kept chanting…free your mind Capo, free it, free it. But the more I tried to force my relaxation, the more I would think of other things. I tried humming to see if I’d feel the vibrations in the water. I wanted to relax, but the time warp was odd, how long had I been in there? An hour? Ten minutes?
Sam told me that the tanks enhances creativity and that fellow comedians, Robin Williams and George Carlin loved tanks. In fact, Carlin had his own tank and called it “Our Lady of Salt.”
Forget it, my mind was all over the place. I started to think of comedy bits, and wanted to get out and write them. Boy this relaxing thing was harder than I thought. I did wind up relaxing for a bit. But then towards the end it was really hard to relax because I had to pee and I was concentrating on holding it. I came out silky smooth on the outside, but not so relaxed on the inside. But I still loved that I tried it.
A Bonding Experience
Fast forward ten years. My fiancée (now husband), Steve, calls me from his office. “Fran, a friend of mine thought of the greatest adventure for you to try: an isolation tank! I mean imagine you having to keep quiet in total darkness with no one to talk to but yourself! Now that’s an adventure I’d like to tape!”
I laughed, “Yeah right, I already tried it. But I’m game to do it again if you and your friend are willing to go buck naked and do the same.” Silence was all I heard then…“Nope!”
But I was curious. Would a decade of time change my experience in the tank? I drafted my 14 year old son, Spencer to go with me, to which he replied, “Mom are you ever going to suggest something normal like the movies?”
He agreed to go as long as he could keep his bathing suit on in the tank, “I’m not getting naked in some guy’s apartment, how do I know he doesn’t have a peephole or some night vision lens set up?” Like mother, like son.
Sensory Deprivation, Take 2
With that settled, I called Sam and made an appointment for us. We were instructed to eat light, not to drink coffee, tea or soda prior to coming. Not to shave as the salt in the tank would burn the skin, to make sure we didn’t have any open wounds as the salt would burn, and to bring a towel and bathing suit if we liked. There was also the added female component: Not to have died our hair in the last 24 hours or come if it was “that time of month.”
Sam was excited to have Spencer there because being 14 he was his youngest floater to date. I let Spencer go first. There was a audio monitor that Sam had to make sure clients are OK. It took Spencer a good 10 minutes to settle down. Then it went silent, but then a wall monitor showed the lights came back on. Apparently, Spencer had gotten salt in his eyes and had to rinse them out. Then the light went back off. For the next 30 minutes he was silent and relaxed. Spencer came out so relaxed that he laid down on Sam’s couch and fell asleep!
Then it was my turn again. I followed the protocol, and again my mind was racing, and I had no clue why. I wasn’t scared of the dark, I had meditated before, I knew I wouldn’t drown, what was my problem? I wanted to yell, “SHUT YOUR BRAIN OFF, CAPO.” But I couldn’t seem to find the switch for my brain. I took deep breaths, tried counting sharks, but the more I forced myself to relax, the less I was able to do it. I tried to just let go, but couldn’t. My mind was racing, not relaxing.
I talked to Sam about the experience. He explained, “Sometimes it just takes time to trust yourself and let go.” It’s strange how we as humans just live our lives and don’t realize how much stress we carry around until we have the stillness to amplify it. Then it’s as if you are scared of the stillness so you fill it with your thoughts. It was a great learning experience and I really liked Sam.
Third Times the Charm
Fast forward another 13 years. The idea of a sensory deprivation tank came up again, by the same friend of Steve’s, who still had not tried it!
This time when I looked up floatation tanks (which was much easier since we now have Google) there were a couple of them in New York State and several across the country. I decided to try one called “Rise Above Floatation” located at 111 E Main Street in Mount Kisco. It’s the only floatation place in Westchester County, plus it was close to home, had free parking and was newly opened and owned by a wonderful husband and wife team, named Micah and Katie Saccomanno. And it was at a facility not someone’s home. I wanted to see if that made a difference.
What if you’re Claustrophobic?
Right away I liked Rise Above Floatation, because it had 3 options of float rooms; An “Extra Wide Float Cabin,” which is wide enough for two people (but only one is allowed), an “Open Float Room” that caters to Claustrophobes, and “The Womb Room” for those who like the feeling of being embraced. Plus I loved the hours listed, Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. One could go after church if they wanted!
Benefits of Floatation Tanks
The website lists all the mental and physical benefits of flotation therapy; from improving sleep to creating mental clarity to shifting brain waves, to increased production of endorphins, to speeding up rehabilitation and recovery time. I also learned that pro sports teams like the NFL Seahawks, use it as a regular part of their training.
Because the tanks’ buoyancy puts the body into a zero gravity environment, it allows the muscles and bones to relax and your spine to decompress, thus reducing stress. (Hey maybe even with a decompressed spine you can grow a few inches taller…I’m just sayin’.) The website also tells you exactly what to expect when you are floating and how to get the best experience. There’s even an internship program.
Rise Above Atmosphere
This time I enlisted my step-daughter Jamie to be my fellow floater.
As soon as we walked in the place we loved it. The lobby was charming with soft brown earth tones surrounded with old worldly like furniture. The aroma of relaxing lavender incense filled the air. There were tea and drink options for before and after your floats. Soft music was playing. It was so inviting.
Micah greeted us with a warm smile, and tranquil demeanor. He showed us around telling us how many people use pods for a wide array of things, and how celebrities like the cast of “Orange is the New Black,” use flotation tanks to enhance creativity and focus.
I, of course, was impressed with how IMMACULATE the place was. I also liked how each of the three rooms had all the things you could need to totally enjoy the experience: towels, organic shampoo and soaps, content lens solution and case, bungee ties for long hair, hairdryer, ring holders, organic makeup remover wipes, etc. You only needed to bring yourself.
I chose “the womb” tank and Jamie chose the “Extra Wide Float Cabin.” Micah suggested we to go in there with an intention; an intention of creativity, or of relaxation, or of visualization. He said, “It helps to know what you want to get out of this.” My intention was to relax and not have my brain kidnap my relaxation. If it did, I decided not to get frustrated but to accept that and just go with the flow.
Being in the Moment
If decided if I could slow down my mind and just be in the “here and now”…I’d be happy. I was hoping 20 years of life had taught me how to finally do this.
Since there were three tanks, Jamie and I were able to have our experiences simultaneously.
We each went to our chambers. As I showered I said, “OK Capo. No pressure. Just let your thoughts flow like in a river. Don’t’ fight them. Just go with them. Be HERE and NOW…here and now…”
I got into my pod, snuggled and turned out the lights. Lo and behold, I found out going in without judgment kept the mental chatter to a minimum. I was happy. With my ears submerged, and even though the ear plugs were in, I could hear my heart beat. Then suddenly everything went silent. I started seeing an array of swirling colors and then…I fell asleep. The next thing I knew music was playing and the session was over.
I came out totally relaxed. Jamie came out energized having seen multicolored dots floating all around the place.
Micah smiled. He could see we were both peaceful. As with any spa or detoxification experience, Micah reminded us to drink lots of water through out the day as the flotation tanks tend to dehydrate you. He also told us to watch how we see the world differently. Sure enough when we walked outside every action was more perceptible. It was as if we were floating and everyone else was rushing and walking around us. It was like the windshield wipers of our eyes had been cleared.
Finally, Getting the Knack
I’ve been back to Rise Above Flotation several times now each time bringing someone new. I’ve tried each tank, and realized I like “The Womb” tank the best. I have a tendency to want to play in the bigger tanks, pushing myself around trying to figure out where I am in the chamber, and pretending I’m out in the big ocean floating to a desert island.
It took me three tries to learn how to let my mind flow and relax. For some it happens immediately. The tanks are an excellent way to shut out the world if you let them. I learned just because a physical door is closed, you still have to let your mental door close on the outside world, but open it up up to the vastness within. (Yeah, that sounds very Zen-like. )
Sometimes the challenges in life come not in how high you jump or how fast you go, but how deep you are willing to go into yourself to find the truth. Once I relaxed, my whole being benefited, and that is an adventure that I will keep exploring for all the days of my life.
For more information on Rise Above Floatation:
Rise Above Floatation is a brand new facility at 111 East Main St., Mount Kisco, New York. For booking, call: (914) 241-1900
Note: In the early part of 2001, Sam’s place in Manhattan, “Blue Light Flotation” was completely renovated and now features an improved, state-of-the-art flotation environment.