Time Out: The Rise of Sensory Deprivation Tanks

As it gets harder to live in the moment, without distraction, some swear by a forced shutdown.

flotation tank jm3 615.jpg
jm3 / Flickr

It's an environment entirely stripped of stimuli. Even gravity feels nonexistent, inside a tank filled with nearly a foot of water and just about 800 pounds of Epsom salt. Like the Dead Sea. You climb inside and lie floating in the darkness. 

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To experience complete sensory deprivation is, ideally, to delve into one's psyche. It forces contemplation of facets of life, that -- similar to less "heavy" types of meditation -- is meant to leave us healthier and happier. The theory is that removing yourself from all external stimulation allows your mind to suddenly dial down the RPMs, resulting in heightened in-the-moment awareness, creativity, and clarity.

Comedian and Fear Factor host Joe Rogan has been effusive in his praise of the tank. "I think it's one of the most incredible pieces of equipment for self-help and introspective thought that you could ever find," he told me. "It's been one of the most important tools for me in personal growth for understanding myself, how I am, and what effect I do have on other people."

Rogan got into sensory deprivation in hopes of achieving psychedelic experiences without taking actual drugs. He's attained that, and, in the process, gained innumerable reasons to keep floating. "People don't realize how much everything is a distraction," he says.

The experience in the tank, though, can be "brutal and unflinching in its portrayal of you and your reality," said Rogan. "That's a terrifying thing to a lot of people -- the fact that you're alone with your unconscious thoughts, with everything that's truly troubling you. It's the only time that you are untethered from your body."

He's not alone in describing that untethered feeling as a potentially intense emotional experience. Your mind begins to run rampant. With nowhere else for thoughts to go, whatever problems, worries, or guilt sits in the back of your brain has to be confronted. As it's been put before, inside that tank, you have to face yourself

"It can be uncomfortable in the sense that you really can't run away from any of the things that are subconsciously troubling you, but I love that," Rogan said. "I'm not a big fan of running away from reality. I like handling all of the issues that bother me in order to go through life truly happy. There's a lot of people out there with ghosts, a lot of demons haunting their mind. In my opinion, this is your chance to face it head on and try to come up with a better path."

But a fear of facing oneself shouldn't be a deterrent to any type of therapy. Sensory deprivation has become a popular exercise throughout the world, with validated positive results that extend into everyday life. Namely stress and anxiety reduction, but also as an adjunct for chronic physical pain.

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Kyle Dowling is a writer based in New York City. His work has also appeared in PlayboyCOED Magazine, Psychology Tomorrow, and The Smoking Jacket, among others. 

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