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Total Zen

So I checked out the Total Zen Float chamber last week. Its a big flotation tank designed to create a sensory-deprivation relaxation experience that is beneficial for stress, pain, and healing mental and emotional issues. The brochure touts that in the tank:

Your mind is free to mull things over without distraction, your brain pumps out dopamine and endorphins, and your body gets to rest, de-stress and heal.

The tank looks like this:

It is filled with 850 pounds of Epsom salt water so that you are super-bouyant. Also, the water is kept at 93.5 degrees. The Total Zen brochure says that this temperature “is skin-receptor neutral, which means you lose track of where your body ends and the water begins.”

I met one of the owners, Will. He and his friend built the first tank (there are now two) in a garage and realized that the experience was so amazing, they had to share it. Will’s passion and enthusiasm about floating were palpable and added to the experience.

Inside the tank, it is pitch black. I could find no discernible difference between having my eyes open or closed. You float half-submerged so that water fills your ears (earplugs are also available). All that you can hear is your breath and heartbeat; outside noise is mostly drowned out. Although at one point I thought I heard a rumbling outside and for a minute my brain imagined that it was an atom bomb signaling the start of a world-wide apocalypse that was transpiring all around me while I laid oblivious in my tank. When I came out would everyone be gone except zombies? Would I have to find the only other humans still alive (probably in other flotation tanks) and start a new civilization and order?

My brain was having all sorts of fun when I first got in the tank. Since I felt weightless, there was not a lot of body sensation. Add to that that I couldn’t see or really hear and there was really nothing to do but think and examine my thoughts.

My first thoughts upon submerging were, “what the fuck did I do?” “How am I going to lay in here for an hour?”

I was anxious and not relaxed. It took a few minutes for me to settle into it. At first the part of my body not submerged felt cold. I thought, “The air too cold, I’m going to freeze in here” Several minutes later, I noticed the air I was breathing was warm. I thought, “The air is too warm, I won’t be able to breathe.” Then I noticed how quickly my mind flip-flopped between the air being too cold or too warm, when nothing had changed about the air except for my thoughts about it. Funny. After that the air felt extremely comfortable.

After totally relaxing, maybe five or ten minutes in, my body started to do a self-scan. I started to get pain sensations in certain areas of my body that wanted attention. First there was a slight pain in my knee. I lay there with it, felt it, and it went away. Then my neck. Same thing, I put attention on it and really went into the feeling until it went away. It was almost like my body was showing me different areas that needed energy and attention. The “body scan” lasted maybe ten minutes, though my sense of time was definitely off in the chamber.

Before my float, I was worried about feeling claustrophobic. Some good advice I was given prior to my float was to connect with the sense of expanding into infinity if I started to feel closed in. Since it is pitch-black, it is impossible to tell the difference between being in a tight space and being in an infinitely open space. I tried to feel like there were vast stretches of infinite space all around me.

It brings to mind a story Ram Dass told about a meditation experience:

Many years ago I spent time with a Tibetan teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche. In an interview he suggested a meditation technique in which one expands one’s awareness outward. He suggested we do it together. So we sat facing each other and he said, “Just expand outward.” And I started to expand outward. After about twenty seconds he said “Ram Dass, are you trying?” And I said, indignantly, “Yes!” He said, “Don’t try, just expand outward.” And it absolutely blew my mind. Really.

Another piece of advice I was given prior to the experience was to bring into the tank any life issues I was having, so that I could mentally work on them while during my session. I decided to give it a go about halfway through my experience.

I brought into my field of attention my life issues – two of them – one at a time. They both seemed completely trivial while in the vast infinite peace of the tank. The resounding answer I got to each issue was the same – everything is fine, everything will always be fine, just relax and stay in the flow – no need to worry over anything. There is nothing to do but to just be.

I had a few visual experiences in the chamber lasting several minutes each and fading as quickly and unpredictably as they came. I saw beautiful ambient light with hues of purple, blue and green. It was almost like the experience of seeing light through closed eyes. The light swirled around. I opened and closed my eyes and the light didn’t stop moving or change in anyway. The light was indifferent to whether my eyes were open or closed.

Later Will asked me about my experience and I told him about the light. He said that some people experience it and that he could explain it in spiritual terms, if I liked. Yes, I like spiritual terms!

He said that some consider the ambient light visualization to be a “kundalini” experience. I told him I had seen something similar before while meditating, but only ever with my eyes closed. I said, “its never happened to me with my eyes open.”

He responded, “all three of your eyes were open.”

Pretty cool, Will.

After my hour was up, I felt a blissful, peaceful feeling. Like I had just meditated and juice-fasted and practiced yoga and smoked weed all at the same time. 

I think the tank is like meditation on steroids. In other words, it helps us to more easily connect to those theta and alpha brain wave states that can be induced through deep, prolonged meditation.

It’s been several days since my experience and I feel like I am still carrying some of that “Zen” feeling with me. I’ve noticed that it is easier to connect to my breath and to bring myself to that deep state of peace within. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

I highly recommend it and plan to do it again. Check them out:

*Update* I went again! (More than once!) Check out my update here.

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