As amazing as the last few months of travel have been, they haven’t exactly been “easy.” I’ve been stressed AF and not sleeping, and just can’t seem to calm down for long enough to figure my life out. So, when I had the opportunity to test out a “Float Tank” in Bangkok, which is meant to help you feel more centered, I figured it would be worth a shot. After all, how bad could it be?
Otherwise known as “sensory deprivation pods,” float tanks involve floating inside of a pitch black, totally silent, circular “pod” filled with salt water. The idea is that having no sights, sounds or feelings (aka being “deprived” of your senses) will chill you out, because there’s nothing else to focus on but being #present. Knowing the way my brain works, though, my expectations were low.
Being alone with my thoughts usually gives me horrible anxiety (See: My attempt at solo travel for proof), so I’ve never quite gotten the hang of meditation. I’ve tried everything from guided apps to breathing exercises to “moving meditation,” and none of it seems to work — I either end up bored and giving up, or more stressed out than when I started. But I’d heard about the benefits associated with float tanks, which include everything from spiritual awake-ness to mental clarity to enhanced relaxation, and assumed it was the best chance I’d ever have at getting my zen on.
“You can think about anything you want,” the spa manager assured me during my pre-float briefing. ”
“Well, fuck,” was my initial thought as I smiled and nodded politely while he showed me how to turn on the system.
My second thought, which I did voice out loud: “What if I fall asleep and drown??” He assured me it was impossible because the 2,000 pounds of salt would keep me afloat, but I wasn’t convinced.
From the minute I saw the pod, which looked straight out of Stranger Things, I was terrified. I didn’t understand how I was expected to lie in a 3 foot by 6 foot enclosed space without having a complete panic attack, let alone actually use the experience to “relax.” It seemed more like an episode of Fear Factor than a spa treatment, but if the reviews online were to be believed it was going to be “better than being on ecstasy,” so I willed myself not to chicken out.
Before my treatment, I was asked to get naked, scrub myself clean in the shower (you’re asked to take a shower before every spa treatment in Asia, which is amazing), and rub vaseline on any open wounds. Then, I took out my contacts and popped in a set of ear plugs so I wouldn’t get water in any uncomfortable places.
Finally, it was time to float.
For the first five minutes after I pulled the lid closed, there were soft neon lights and gentle music playing around me, mainly for the purpose of easing me into the experience. It didn’t work, because the minute things went dark (and the real “sensory deprivation” experience started), I freaked.
My first thought when the lights went out was “is this what it feels like to be dead?” which freaked me the eff out and I demanded my brain to take itself in literally any other direction. So, some of the not-at-all relaxing, but slightly less panic-inducing thoughts that popped up while I laid there: “I still owe money on my taxes.” “I need to call my grandmother.” “I haven’t texted my therapist back in two weeks.” “I wonder if that birthmark on my left boob is really a cancerous mole.”
To make matters worse, I could not get my body to stay still. I kept accidentally rolling over and hitting the sides of the tank, which made it pretty much impossible to relax.
Still, though, I stuck it out for the full 60-minutes, mainly because I wanted to see if I would emerge with Eleven-esque magical powers. Spoiler alert: I did not.
At some point, I think I either fell asleep or blacked out in fear, because when the music came back on to signify the end of the session I was totally rattled. I had no idea where I was and whether or not I was still alive, and had somehow completely lost track of time. If this is what meditation is supposed to feel like, than I guess the float tank actually worked.
…. And no, it didn’t help me sleep better that night. Or for a week afterwards. In fact, I think I’m cool with not being “centered” after all.