The quick-fire description of floating is something along the lines of ‘voluntarily spending an hour or more in a tank where all your senses are stripped away’. Sensory deprivation, also called REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy). Before I ever did my first float this sounded incredibly intimidating – I’d never spent that much time in the company of my own mind, with nothing to distract me… And that’s the point. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself :).
What is this and why do you call it ‘floating’?
You climb into a pod/tank and lie down in 25cm of body temperature water, saturated with about 360kg of Epsom salt – this combination means you float on the water, not touching the ground below, neither do you feel where the water makes contact with your skin, once your skin has acclimated to the water’s exact temperature. As long as you don’t stir the water, all tactile sense is effectively neutralised. Another strange thing happens: as you relax into the water and find that your head relaxes completely (don’t worry, you won’t go under) it finds a completely natural position; your neck suddenly doesn’t need to support your head’s weight and this relaxation & “letting go” softly drifts throughout your entire body, seeps out of every limb, every muscle, every joint. The natural tension that keeps your body upright and balanced melts away until it feels like you are suspended in space, weightless and free even from gravity…
Sight and sound are done away with when the pod’s lid seals you in; fresh air is circulated through the tank and the lid/door is pretty easy to open from both inside and outside. Now you are deprived of your major senses and left with your mind, unhindered by interruptions, even of your own body. (*use the WC before you get in;)
On the one hand people float for the physical benefits of total relaxation achieved in the tank, relief of chronic pain , lowered blood pressure  and as a treatment for insomnia . On the other hand, rich opportunities exist to turn your attention inward: a meditative state comes more easily, self-awareness and self-exploration can be very intense; some people even achieve states of altered consciousness with relative ease. “Altered state of consciousness” (ASC) simply means there’s a temporary change in normal brain activity while not unconscious; dreams are a temporary change, but you’re unconscious, so it doesn’t fall into the category of ASC. Unintended examples of altered consciousness is when you are delirious with fever, in fight-or-flight panic mode or in a state of sleep deprivation . These are not the most exciting ways to experience ASC! Thank goodness there are better ways to get there (in this post I only consider Floatation therapy, but in my next posts I’ll discuss other ways to have fun inducing ASC as well). In the case of floatation therapy, something special happens in the brain… Our normal state of consciousness happens on beta frequency brain waves (as is explained expertly and concisely in this Youtube video by BrainWaveCollege), but while in the float tank, it’s easier for the brain to switch to theta frequency , which is associated with creativity, problem-solving and more intuitive thinking. ‘So… I should do a float when I’m stuck on a problem / studying for exams / designing / creating content…?’ Absolutely!
The experience of floating is different for everyone, though, and ASC can manifest in many different ways, from subtle brain wave frequency changes, to auditory or visual hallucinations. In fact, if you stay awake and keep yourself aware, you can have a different experience every time & learn to drive your time in the tank in new directions. In the case of my first couple of floats at Dream Waters in Taipei, Taiwan, the first was purely a come-what-may experiment, after which I took more care to be aware and use the time actively and constructively.
Now that you’ve dipped your toes into floating, check out what the experts are saying in the next post and where technology is going. 🙂
 Stevenson, S. (2013) Embracing the Void Retrieved 8 August 2014 from Slate online magazine
 Zen Float (2013) Entering the Floating Zone. Retrieved on August 9 2014 from Zen Float Co blog
 Kjellgren, A. (2003) The experience of flotation REST: Consciousness, Creativity, Subjective Stress and Pain. Retrieved 9 August from Academic Archive Online
 Turner, J., Gerard, W., et al (1993) Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environment Stimulation. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4684-8583-7_25
 Suedfeld, P., Bow, R. A. (1999) Health and therapeutic applications of chamber and flotation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) DOI: DOI: 10.1080/08870449908407346
 Lavoie, S. Altered States of Consciousness. Retrieved 5 August from Education Portal
 Brain Waves Retrieved 5 August from Where to Float