Over the last year, I had been hearing more and more about sensory deprivation tanks, also known as isolation tanks or floatation tanks, and I wanted to try one out for myself. A sensory deprivation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with salt water at skin temperature, in which you float. There are numerous health benefits, including psychological effects like increasing concentration and focus and reducing anxiety, as well as benefits for athletes such as speeding up recovery after strenuous physical training by decreasing blood lactate.
Since I would be running the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Delaware as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I checked to see if there was a place that offered flotation tanks near the race so that I could try it out as a form of recovery. Sure enough, I found Urban Float in Lewes, Delaware, part of a chain with a handful of locations in Ohio, Texas, and Washington. I booked a reservation online for the day after my half marathon and looked forward to my Mother’s Day appointment.
The day of my appointment, which was the day after the Seashore Classic Half Marathon, I woke with a sore core and sore legs. When I arrived at Urban Float, I filled out the usual personal information (name, address, phone number) and watched a short video on what to expect. I was taken to a private room (there were six private rooms with tanks here) that contained a sensory deprivation tank, a bench to put my clothes on, a shower with shampoo, body wash, and conditioner, and a basket full of earplugs and small packs of petroleum jelly (to cover any small cuts). There was also a pool noodle you could prop under your neck or knees and a small halo-looking flotation device you could put under your head if you felt like you wanted a little something to assure you your head wasn’t going to go under the water.
I was told to shower beforehand, using only body wash and shampoo (no conditioner), finishing off with cool water to make the transition easier, and enter the pod naked (although you can wear a bathing suit if you want but it’s all completely private). I had chosen there to be music for the first ten minutes inside the tank, followed by silence, then music again for the last five minutes. I chose which type of music I wanted and was told it would be followed by an announcement that my time was over.
There was a button inside the tank to control the lights. You had the option to have them cycle through different colors, choose just one color, or have no lights and be in complete darkness. There was also a panic button on the right-hand side, which I was told to hold and push several times if necessary, since they “tend to ignore the first couple of times the alarm goes off” because people apparently sometimes accidentally hit the panic button and they want to make sure you truly meant to hit it. There was also a small spray bottle of water in case you got any salt water in your eyes.
So, after showering, I grabbed the halo floatation device and entered the tank. Per the instructions and personal preferences of the people who work there given to me at the beginning, I didn’t put in ear plugs. I pulled the tank completely closed (you can prop it open but I was told you would feel a draft from the room since it was slightly cooler than the water and tank temperature) and eased into the water. Immediately, I began to play around with the lights, finally choosing a nice green hue to stay on.
I found it was actually pretty difficult to not float in the water when I tried pushing down my legs to the bottom. The tank had about 10 inches of water filled with 1200 pounds of epsom salt so it’s even more buoyant than the Dead Sea. As suggested, I moved around, trying different positions, until I finally settled on the typical arms out at my sides and legs splayed out, kind of like a star. I did wish I had put ear plugs in my ears because I didn’t really like my ears filling up with water and I found myself lifting up my head to let the water drain out of them several times. The halo helped a tiny bit with keeping water out of my ears but not much.
Once the music stopped, I didn’t have any trouble staying relaxed. I practice yoga and am pretty good at meditation and relaxing my mind. However, after some time, even I had trouble focusing and relaxing. I got a bit bored and was ready for my session to end about 5 or so minutes before the music came on again at the end. When it was time to get out of the tank, I once again showered with body wash and shampoo, and also used conditioner and put a few drops of vinegar in each ear. I dried off and got dressed and headed up to the front again.
There was a relaxation room off the side of the main check-in area, where you could get water or tea or just relax in front of the fake fireplace. I decided to skip that on my way out and just went to check out. I knew I would have a long drive back home and wanted to get back to pack up and head home.
Afterwards, my muscles definitely felt more relaxed. My core wasn’t sore at all and my legs weren’t nearly as sore as they were previously. I’ve always been a huge believer in the power of epsom salts to relieve sore muscles, and these tanks are basically giant epsom salt baths.
The sensory deprivation part of these tanks is more complicated, in my opinion. Since you’re completely in control of the lights inside the pod and you can have some music at the beginning and end, music throughout, or no music at all, or you can go for more of a quasi-sensory deprivation, where I feel like you get the best of both. You can have total darkness and no sounds for say 15 minutes, to ease into it, especially the first time or two you experience it, or you can choose to jump right in and go for total sensory deprivation with no lights or music. On the other hand, you can choose to leave the tank open a little if you’re concerned about feeling claustrophobic, and leave the lights on inside the tank along with music playing the entire time. In other words, you’re in control of your experience.
So would I do it again? Absolutely, without hesitation, especially after a hard race, like a marathon or half marathon. I’m not and have never been claustrophobic, either, so that’s not a factor for me but I could see where it would be with other people. I can’t say I really felt that much more relaxed mentally, but if you floated at a place regularly, I can see that being a benefit for sure.
Have you ever tried a sensory deprivation tank? Would you ever try one if given the opportunity?