Water has always played a massive role in the way I live. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, a stone’s throw from the ocean. Not the Jersey shore that Snooki and the rest of those fist-pumping clowns tarnished, but the Jersey shore where we surfed and played games like “swim ’til you can’t see land,” the rules of which were pretty self explanatory and often got us free rides back home from the Coast Guard.
As I grew older, the ocean was where I went to wash my stresses and sins away — whether it was the teenage angst of high school, or the brutal hangovers of my early twenties. A quick hop in the Atlantic fixed everything. Which explains why the idea of a sensory deprivation tank always seemed so appealing to me. Sitting in a tub of warm, super-salty water? That was already basically my summer-month relaxation technique, except the spray tanned meatheads would be replaced with…silence.
Pair that with the rumored psychedelic potential of the whole thing and I became all the more eager to sign up. Before long, the salty, skin-temperature, silent, coffin-shaped pool went from “Oh, cool,” to “It probably isn’t life changing, but I’m very intrigued.” So I got in touch with Tao Spa in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
When I sat down with Vivian, the owner and operator of Tao, she seemed happy to sooth the shaky nerves of a deprivation first-timer. She asked completely reasonable questions like, “Why are you interested in floating?” and made completely reasonable requests like “Please don’t pee in our tank.”
I explained to her that, although I have an absurdly tiny bladder, I wouldn’t pee in the tank; then I admitted that I didn’t really buy the idea that a float could be the solution to all my problems. I liked floats, I assured her. Loved them. But I had a hard time justifying the money for a few minutes in a dark tepid bath. Vivian laughed and told me that I’d hit on the number one excuse for not floating: the perceived value against cost. It seemed to disappoint her tremendously. She worries about living in a world where we’ll spend thousands on cosmetic car damage but cringe at the thought of spending $90 on personal wellness. Which seems like a fair point.
After our interview, Vivian pointed out the tank — which didn’t look at all like a tool for life-changing revelations, but more like a white box, fancied up a bit with Himalayan pink stones and soft lighting.
“In this day and age our senses are constantly buzzing with input from every direction,” Vivian said, as I fought the urge to check my phone. She must have picked up on my restlessness because she unpacked the point even further, “Imagine your brain is a computer. With a massive amount of programs running and tabs open, that computer is going to run terribly. When you close those programs and focus on one task, everything runs more efficiently.”
Which made perfect sense but also begged the question: what would my one task be? “Let your body decide,” Vivian explained, “if you need to sleep, you’ll sleep in there and feel rested when it’s over. If something hurts, your body will by hyper-focused on repairing it. If you’re thinking of a project, your brain will be free to create.”
Okay cool, but…Sorry, I’m a broke millennial, I was thinking about money again. My new soaking guru headed me off, explaining that money put toward health insurance was just in case something were to go wrong. Money put toward floating was to ensure wellness and mindfulness. “How is one any more important than the other?”
She was making a whole lot of sense. Somehow, before I left, I had not one, but three appointments on the books. Vivian felt like one would “Barely scratch the surface.”
Day 1: Shedding the Excitement
I arrived at the spa fifteen minutes early, hydrated, well-rested, and a little overly excited. I felt soothed as soon as I walked down the hall — what with the mellow sounds of new-age music and the fuzzy mood lighting. The receptionist brought me to the float room and pointed out the tools handy for a successful float. The towels, clip-on lights, and a spray bottle (in case I had to scratch my face and wanted to rinse the salt water off my hand first).
It was right here where I began to think, This might be a complete waste of time. I know how to relax. I can zone out with the best of em’. But since I hadn’t really read up on the spa-cancellation policy, I showered off, eased into the pool, and closed the hatch.
Contrary to what I hoped, the psychedelic-state did not kick in as soon as the hatch closed. Vivian’s words rang in my head. I recounted our conversation where she justified three sessions, “The first one is to shed the excitement of floating.” That was my only job this go-round. To zone-out and try to forget I was in a tank.
It wasn’t long before I found myself in the weird liminal space between fully asleep and kind of awake. I couldn’t tell where my mind was but it seemed… distant. The water, being heated to my skin’s exact temperature, was completely forgotten. I was zoned out. That is, until I began to focus on my heartbeat. Each *THUMP* seemed to reverberate through every inch of my body. Then the water came back as I grew slowly aware of the vibrations of my heart making ripples in the saline solution that surrounded me.
For minutes at a time, I’d forget where I was entirely, afloat with no sense of place. Until my fingers graced the side of the tank and I was drawn back into reality. I refocused. I could feel it. I was on the verge of a big revelation. I’d tunneled deeper into my own psyche than I’d ever been before. All I had to do was scratch an itch on my forehead and something big was bound to happen. I reached up to scratch, as if I was touching the lid of my third eye, on the cusp of opening. Unfortunately, my third eye was situated just above my normal eye and a drop of 90% salt water went directly into that eye.
F*ck psychedelic rebirths, it hurt like hell. I flung the hatch open, danced naked back into the shower and rinsed my eye, as if I was washing the hopes and dreams of a massive spiritual revelation into the drain below. After a few minutes, I returned to the tub, prepared to get back into my zone, just as the music began to play. The music the nice woman at the counter told me she’d play to signal when it was time to get out.
I knew I was on the edge of something big, so as I put my shoes on in the lobby I discussed my experience with the receptionist. She laughed. “You forgot the spray bottle. Happens all the time…”
Day 2: Trial and Error
After a semi-successful first day, I got way too comfortable going into my second float. I’d had a few too many drinks the night before, and I woke up on the morning of my second float unprepared for 90 minutes in a salty bath.
I chugged three bottles of water on my way to Tao, in order to fight off the impending hangover — temporarily forgetting that those same bottles were going to push the limits of my loyalty to the “no pee rule.”
I showered, stripped, and floated. I felt the restless lethargy of a good hangover settling. Apparently a dark tube full of water, is not a good place to dry out. Once again, Vivian’s words rang true, “Your body will work on whatever it needs to while in the tank.” So, I breathed a few deep breaths and passed the hell out, letting my body take the reigns.
I drifted immediately into a surprisingly restful sleep, which was only disturbed by my urge to pee three different times over the next hour and a half. And so, on three separate occasions I hopped up, rinsed off in the shower, wrapped myself in a robe and walked down the hall to the bathroom. Probably not the recipe for float tank-induced enlightenment.
I left that day feeling like an idiot for wasting the experience, but as I made my way to the car, I realized that my hangover had subsided. I was still a bit lethargic, but the restlessness and exhaustion were gone. The tank caters to what is needed and, apparently, what my body needed was to make a few laps to the bathroom between dark salty naps.
Day 3: To Float is to…Float
On my third day, I was out to make Vivian proud. I wanted to have an experience worth raving about. I wanted to truly crack why floating had become the health trend of the moment. So I got plenty of sleep the night before, drank the perfect amount of water, ate a very light breakfast, and headed to Tao.
Upon arriving, I rinsed and mentally prepared myself. I could feel it. This was going to be big. I stepped into the tank for the last time — breathing slow, mindful breaths and pondering what I wanted to achieve on my last day. Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? And why aren’t I tripping yet?
After a few minutes, this initial chatter subsided and I found my rhythm. I was left in absolute silence, complete darkness, and fully alone. Which, I realized, was a rarity. My big revelation began to set in, though it wasn’t exactly what I’d expected: Being alone is something so simple, so basic; and we never allow time for it. In fact, we seem afraid of it.
I let my mind wander a little further afield, wanting to take full advantage of the lack of distractions. Maybe I had another revelation in me. Any inkling of a thought could run free. Any thread of an idea could be tugged on. I may not have been tripping or journey of psychedelic self-discovery, but I did think, I wonder if this is what it’s like to be in space? So how you like me now?
By the time the music played, I’d realized that thinking differently doesn’t have to happen on a grand scale and isolation can be a beautifully freeing process. Which, all things considered, felt like enough. I left the spa and walked out into the streets of Jersey feeling…new. Rejuvenated and refreshed. I wasn’t upset about anything or overly elated about anything, I’d just taken a moment to breathe. It doesn’t take a guru to recognize that those quiet, cloistered moments can add to one’s sense of clarity.
The tank may not have been a radical reset button on my life, but it was a much appreciated pause button and that’s important too. Salt water, once again, proved its rejuvenating powers but it was the isolation, the stillness, that sparked the true calm.
And Vivian, in case you’re reading this, I didn’t pee in the tank.