Ever since I watched Stranger Things (in a matter of just a few days, may I add), I was intrigued by the idea of a sensory deprivation tank. While the measures Eleven went through in order to cross over to the Upside Down were somewhat terrifying—being forcefully submerged into a giant chamber surrounded by presumedly evil scientists—a quick Google search taught me that not only is sensory deprivation a wellness practice that has existed for quite some time, it’s a lot different than how it was depicted on the Netflix series.
Sensory deprivation, also commonly referred to as floatation, is a method believed to reap many benefits, such as resetting the body’s biological clock, improving blood circulation, detoxing the body of heavy metals, decreasing stress hormone levels, and balancing the body’s pH levels and electrolytes. I had to try it out for myself.
I did a little research via Yelp on the best places for floatation in NYC and stumbled upon La Casa Spa and Wellness Center, a quaint little space tucked away in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood that specializes in holistic wellness and natural cleansing. Their floatation room is described as being equivalent to “our very first human environment, the womb, as well as the primordial ocean from which all life derives.” Hmm.
By the time my appointment came, I was feeling both excited and nervous about the whole thing. I had gotten some mixed reviews on the matter. My boyfriend told me that his friends that had tried floatation in the past have had some really “psychedelic experiences,” while my older sister responded to my Facebook status with something along the lines of: “Erm, call me afterward. I’ve done this before, and it’s weird.”
When I arrived, I was taken into a tiny room to get undressed, so that I could then enter a small shower to rinse myself off before heading into the tub-sized room through a sliding door.
“So, are you claustrophobic?” the spa attendee asked me before giving me a spiel on the entire process. I laughed nervously in response.
I had never really thought of myself as claustrophobic until I was shown the tiny space in which I would soon be floating, thanks to the addition of 750 pounds of Epsom salts (that’s a shit-ton of salt if you ask me) to the water, in absolute darkness. Thank god for the high ceilings, I thought to myself.
The experience in itself was pretty nuts. I floated naked in what could be considered an extra large bathtub (and you really float—there’s literally no way you can sink in that much salt) in absolute silence, absolute darkness, and absolute relaxation.
After the first 10 minutes or so, as my skin temperature adjusted to match the room and water temperature, which stays steady between 92 and 94 degrees, I began to somewhat lose my sense of feeling. I couldn’t tell which part of my body was submerged in the water and which was floating above, giving me the illusion that I was suspended in midair, which is a pretty crazy and confusing feeling.
Living in a city, I tend to forget what pitch-black actually looks like (which: absolute nothingness). It had been a long time since I'd been able to open and close my eyes, unable to tell the difference. In fact, there were moments when I was so relaxed and at ease, I actually couldn’t tell if my eyes were closed or partially open. My sister was right—this was super weird.
Over the course of an hour, I tried and tried to shut down my brain, something I discovered was impossible for me. However, even though my brain wouldn’t stop going (and going) in my super-relaxed state, I managed to work through some mental blocks and anxieties that had been affecting me at the time. I thought through some issues and repeated positive affirmations over and over, eventually putting myself at ease.
All in all, I didn’t have a “psychedelic experience” or even slip into full-on meditation mode. I didn’t get the sense of being back in my mother’s womb (though I’m not sure I would know what that would feel like, anyway). However, I must say, it was probably the most relaxing hour I’ve had in quite some time.
I emerged from the tub a little lightheaded (the detox is said to have the cleansing effect of a three-day fast), but feeling refreshed and renewed.
I left the spa to find that in the time since I had walked in, the sun had gone down and it had begun to snow, which was quite a dreamy end to my day. My mellowed-out feeling lasted as I basically floated home through the winter wonderland Flatiron became, and for the few following days until the realities of life put me back where I started. While the effects weren’t lasting, the overall end result is worth repeating every time I feel the need for a reset.
Try floatation if you have the chance, especially if you’re better versed with meditation than I am. Even if meditation isn’t your thing, though, it’s certainly worth the hour of true relaxation.