For quite some time, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of a sensory deprivation experience. My interest started long ago when I saw the sci-fi movie Altered States, starring William Hurt as a psychologist who becomes curious about different states of consciousness and the means of achieving them. It’s a pretty goofy but entertaining movie of the science fiction/horror genre. Things start to go completely off the rails as- SPOILER ALERT- William Hurt’s character actually starts to devolve into a pre-modern Homo sapien as a result of his experiments with a sensory deprivation float tank (combined with some hallucinogenic-inducing drugs, of course). Other weird stuff happens, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find how the character’s journey ends….
Now, I’ve heard of many of the benefits associated with salt floats. Some of these include stress reduction, improved focus, and concentration, pain reduction, improved sleep, and as one study from 2014 found, increased creativity and intuition. Some participants in salt float tanks have also reported hallucinations and mind-altering experiences.
John C. Lilly, the creator of the first sensory deprivation tank in 1954, was a physician and neuroscientist who- much like William Hurt’s character in Altered States– was fascinated by the study of human conciousness in response in the absences of all exernal stimuli.
Healthline explains what happened next:
“His research took a controversial turn in the 1960s. That’s when he began experimenting with sensory deprivation while under the effects of LSD, a hallucinogenic, and ketamine, a fast-acting anesthetic that is known for its ability to sedate and create a trance-like state.”
(Pssst..if you want to go down the John C. Lilly rabbit hole, start here. Things get a little bizarre-FYI….)
I decided to bite the bullet and make an appointment with Durango’s own Salt 360 Float. After an introduction with Patty, one of the owners, and a brief explanatory video, I was ready to shower-up and enter my very own sensory deprivation chamber of secrets. I entered into a spacious, private room with a small table, a showering space level with the floor, and a door similar to those found on a meat locker.
Patty explained the process to me, including stripping down and the obligatory shower (no conditioner in the hair!) before entering the chamber and putting in the provided earplugs to prevent saltwater from entering the ear canals during the float. The chamber was much more spacious than I envisioned. I guess I was expecting more of a pod. In reality, it was an ample, rectangular-shaped space similar to a small soaking pool.
Patty explained that there were options if I preferred gradually easing into the pitch blackness of the chamber. They offer a calming blue light within the space, which may stay on for the first few minutes of the float as you adjust to the dark and weightless environment. She also mentioned leaving a small towel in the door to allow a little light within the chamber. I opted to go for it. As a caver, I’m used to complete darkness; however, the effortless floating took some getting used to.
The water was slightly cooler than I initially expected, but as I immersed myself in the salty water, I realized it was the perfect temperature. The chamber is kept somewhat humid, and that helped with overall warmth. Fresh air is also pumped through as you soak. A small floatable headrest, provided for use during the float, was helpful for neck relaxation, particularly in light of how odd it felt to float! My body was not familiar with the sensation of effortless buoyancy, so my neck and shoulders tensed up reflexively. I would say the first ten minutes of the float involved my body adjusting to this foreign state. After becoming more familiar with this new state, I was eventually able to release into the sensation and melt into the float. And that’s when the real relaxation began.
There’s really no reason to close your eyes since the whole chamber is pitch black, but I found it did help with relaxation. It was fun to play around with opening my eyes periodically while changing the position of my arms and legs. As mentioned, some people have reported hallucinations during a float, though that was not my experience this first time.
All in all, it felt like a deeply relaxing meditation session. Afterward, I definitely felt pleasantly vibed out, some of which may have been due to the therapeutic effects of magnesium sulfate-containing Epsom salt.
Was the experience initially a bit creepy? Yes.
Would I do it again? Absolutely.