This episode I give my senses a break to have a mental and spiritual breakthrough by giving isolation tanks a try.
Spirituality and me
I care a lot about mental health and am a proponent of self-improvement. A significant part of self-improvement to me is a deep understanding of human psychology and the human condition. Why do we make the choices we do? What internal and external factors cause us to behave the way we do? How can I understand other people better?
By the way – the best resource I have found to understand human psychology better is the Hidden Brain podcast. Every episode is a gem.
It takes effort to try to analyze why we think they way we think, if I’m aware of my decision making and how it may be shaped by outside influences. I like the feeling of control and I can only control what I understand.
I also don’t like the feeling of missing out on something in life. It’s one of the reasons I have tried so many hobbies. Spirituality is one of things that may be missing out on.
If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you I’m not a very spiritual person. I have been compared to an alien and specifically Spock: I’m overly logical and sometimes emotionless when most people aren’t.
I do understand the power that spiritual experiences have for a lot of people. There is the famous story of Steve Jobs and his experience in India forming the basis for his methodology at Apple.
I want some of that! What is “that”? I don’t really know but meditation seems like a good start.
The easiest to achieve mental breakthroughs is seemingly meditation. It’s backed by science to have all sorts of positive effects, including better focus, concentration, stress reduction, and self-awareness.
I care about the self-awareness one.
I’ve tried all sorts of apps but nothing stuck. I know meditation takes practice, time, and repetition. I wanted a shortcut. It’s why I never finished my Hikaru Dorodango Japanese mud ball.
That’s where sensory deprivation tanks, floatation tanks, or isolation tanks enter the picture.
I remember reading about them being a “meditation hack”.
History of isolation tanks
An isolation tank is simple – it’s a tank that is filled with water that’s the same temperature as your skin and with enough epson salts to create a “no gravity” or floating feeling. It closes so that it’s pitch black and so that it’s sound proof.
The idea is that there are no stimuli for any of your senses so that you’re left with your thoughts and only your thoughts.
It was invented in 1954 by neuropsychiatris, a practice that precedes psychiatry and neurology, which are now split.
In 1974, it was sold commercially by, not surprisingly, a computer systems programmer.
1980, due to the movie “Altered States”, isolation tanks gained more popularity.
By 2013, it became popular in the Bay Area and most personal-growth trends from there tend to leak into the rest of the world.
There are some notable users:
- Carl Lewis, track and field athlete, used in-tank visualization techniques to prepare himself for his gold medal long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
- Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist
- Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry reportedly uses an isolation tank every two weeks.
- During Super Bowl XLIX, both NFL teams (the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks) rented out a local float spa during the week of the event. One team would float in the morning and the other would float in the afternoon.
- Joe Rogan has stated in his podcast on numerous occasions that he owns an isolation tank and credits it for allowing a state of deeper meditation.
I heard about isolation tanks first on Joe Rogan, the leader of dude-bro personal improvement.
I’m a difficult person to shop for because I tend to get myself everything I want. I also don’t like getting gifts. But my wife is usually up for the challenge and succeed when she bought me a gift card for an isolation tank spa.
I put it off for a while. I think for the same reason some people put off doctor visits, I kind of didn’t want to learn the truth – if there was a level of spiritually I was missing out on, would that actually make me happier or would I feel like I had wasted time? If I didn’t feel anything, would I be let down and give up on this search?
When I got a reminder from the Spa months later that I had an unused gift card, I finally booked a session.
The spa was a typical spa:
- I was greeted at the door and given water with a vegetable in it.
- I was taken to an isolation tank room, which was tiled, had more vegetable water, a shower, and the tank.
- The tank looked like a marshmallow and it looked bigger than I thought.
- The room was pleasantly warm.
What about the tank itself?
- The tank had lights and ocean noises. They were used to get you and out of the isolation state.
- The best position is to put your arms above your head similar to the body scanners at airports.
- Some people fall asleep, that’s ok. If you don’t wake up with the noise cue, they had an intercom system to speak to me.
- The lid on the tank seals completely closes to make it pitch black. I could leave it slightly open if darkness made me uncomfortable.
- Because of the very high salt content of the tank, any cuts or scratched would hurt so don’t shave the day before or of.
I was left to get in and was told everything was on a timer for an hour.
I undressed and got in.
The water was warm and thick feeling. It was pretty easy to lie down but it took effort to relax. I kept expecting to go under.
I tried to have my arms by my side but I could feel strain in my shoulders so I put my arms above my head.
When I felt anything, I adjusted until the feeling disappeared.
Once I was able to achieve stillness and the ocean sounds disappeared, I felt nothing.
I physically felt nothing. The only time I felt anything was if I adjusted slightly or if I brushed against the side of the tanks, I could feel the water line against my skin. I couldn’t feel a difference below or above the water.
Then I was left with just my thoughts, the first being “now what”.
I remembered some of the things I had learned about meditation. It’s not so much about clearing your mind, it’s about letting yourself have a thought, acknowledging it, and moving on. Being aware that you’re thinking is the goal. Then you can address it.
I can’t tell you what I thought about. It was very similar to the feeling and thoughts you have when you’re falling asleep. They rarely make sense or have a common thread. It’s like your mind wandering.
I do remember asking myself if I was asleep. I didn’t want to ruin the stillness so I didn’t try to move to check.
Time neither passed quickly nor slowly.
A wave crashing against a shore woke me from that state.
I took my time getting out. I actually didn’t want it to end. I felt that I was close to…something.
My skin was rough with the salt. I showered and got dressed.
The after feeling was a bit like a massage. I felt relaxed and kind of sleepy.
Did I have a breakthrough?
I don’t know. It’s kind of good news, I guess – I do feel I experienced something but was basically relaxation and a cool experience to talk about.
Is that a good enough reason to keep doing it? Because I still have 2 more sessions on my gift card, it is. I don’t think I’d pay for another experience like that.
Ultimately, I’ve grouped with traditional meditation – it may provide more value or effect if I keep doing it. Or I could just continue getting the same feeling of weightlessness and wandering thoughts every night as I fall asleep.