Float Tanks: What They Are and Why You Should Be Using One

Float tank at Theta Wave Float Spa in Sebastopol, California

Some years ago, and I don’t quite recall when exactly, I first read about sensory deprivation tanks. The idea immediately struck a chord with me because I found it fascinating that a modern-day person would willingly lock themselves into a chamber that was devoid of all light, sound, and tactile sensation. In my mind’s eye, this seemed like something a low-budget horror flick would be made about. Hell, I’d probably watch that movie on Netflix late one night while I should be sleeping.

The more I learned about these tanks – which have become known as “float tanks” and is definitely a much more friendly label – the more I realized that there are a number of benefits, the least of which is that they supposedly will help put your mind into a zen-like state, as if you were a meditation practitioner.

After I saw some social media posts from my buddy, Dai Manuel, about his recent experiences trying float tanks for the first time up in Vancouver, I decided to resurrect my search for a float tank center near by. Little did I know that since my last attempt about a year ago, that a local place – Theta Wave Float Spa – had opened up in Sebastopol, California, one town west of where I live.

The Theta Wave Float Spa Experience

I made an appointment at Theta Wave Float Spa for a 60-minute float, and also scheduled a 60-minute massage for my wife at the same time, just down the hall from my float room. When we arrived for our appointments we were greeted by the owner, Andrew, and I was surprised to find that Theta Wave had a very welcoming, relaxed, spa-like atmosphere. After a long day at work, I already felt like this was going to be a good experience.

Andrew gave us a tour around the place, showing us where the after-treatment “chill out” room was. The chill out room had a number of chairs, soft lighting, light snacks, hot water for tea, and some reading materials. Andrew told us that many people enjoy using the chill out room as a sort of transitional space between their float or massage treatments and returning to the real world. He said there was no rush and we were welcome to stay as long as we wanted.

Next, he introduced my wife to her massage therapist and when she was off being pampered, Andrew showed me the float room that I would be using. Theta Wave Float Spa has two private float rooms and each one has the float tank (or “pod” as they’re sometimes referred to) and a very nice shower. The basic idea is you shower to remove any residual hair product, cologne, perfume, and so forth, to avoid those products leaving a film in the tank. I was super excited to experience my first float, but I took a super short video of the room, which you can see on Instagram!

After showering, you turn off the room lights (you can still see from the light inside the tank), put in a disposable ear plugs provided to you, step into the tank, close the lid behind you, and lay back in the water and float. Here’s where things get fun! Each float tank has approximately 10 inches of water, which is mixed with around 850 pounds of Epsom salt. This high salt content is what actually makes it so that you can float without even trying to. You simply lay back in the water and float.

The tank had easy-to-find buttons on the inside right wall to turn the tank light on or of, as well as a button to turn music on and off. Some people who feel claustrophobic find that keeping the tank lid and light on make them feel less enclosed. Some people prefer to plug in their iPod or smart phone into the auxiliary jack outside the tank to pipe in their own music. Andrew said he can control music from the front desk and offered to play what he thought I would enjoy, so I went with his offer.

I turned the tank light off right away because I wanted as immersive of an experience as possible. After what felt like 10 minutes, I personally found that the soft bass of the ambient music that was playing was too distracting for me me, so I reached over in the dark and pushed the large button to shut off the music. And then I floated in the dark. Because the water of the tank is heated to approximately 93 degrees Fahrenheit – the surface temperature of the average person’s skin – after a few minutes, your body adjusts to the sensation and it begins to feel like you are floating freely. You don’t even feel the water unless you move!

Even in the dark, with no sound, not feeling any tactile sensation, I could feel that I was slowly floating back and forth, from left to right. I would notice this just as the little toe on my right foot would brush the side of the tank. I’d push off gently with the toe and after what felt like a few minutes, I’d feel the left wall of the tank with the little toe on my left foot.

I’m 5 foot, 10 inches tall and I was able to float with my arms extended above my head and my legs fully extended, and never once did I feel like the tank was too small. While I went in to the experience hoping to have some sort of mental clarity or epiphany, I didn’t experience any of that. From what I understand, a lot of people find that it can take a few floats for their brain to learn to quiet down in the dark and function on a theta wave mode, similar to deep REM sleep.

Give a listen to Joe Rogan’s talk about float therapy a listen/watch. Just to warn you, his talk contains profanity.

Tank Cleanliness and Safety

A lot of people are concerned about how they’ll react when the lid of the tank closes shut and you’re left alone for 60 minutes to float with only your thoughts. What about safety? Are they clean? How does fresh air come into the tank? At Theta Wave Float Spa, the float tanks have the following features, which seem to be an industry standard:

  • Large Float Area 84in x 58in
  • 24/7 Filtration/Treatment when not in use
  • Ozone Purification
  • UV Treatment
  • Fresh Air Vent
  • Multi Colored LED (at your control)
  • iphone/android/MP3 hook up (music/binaural beats is preferred by some)
  • Lobby Intercom System

If you have any concerns about your first float or any specific questions, reach out to your local float tank establishment and I’m sure they’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Benefits of Floating

The benefits of float therapy are the subject of many studies over the years but what seems to be widely acknowledged and reported by those who have used float therapy, is that they’ve seen improvements in:

  • Improves left/right brain synchronization
  • Improves mental clarity
  • Enhanced blood circulation and oxygen distribution
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • Facilitates self-hypnosis and motivation
  • Higher quality sleep – Insomnia treatment
  • Eliminates fatigue
  • Migraine treatment
  • Successful treatment of addictive behaviors
  • Pain Management of All Types
  • Loosens muscles
  • PTSD
  • Stress hormones reduced (cortisol, ATCH and epinephrine)
  • Super learning – Studies show that students using this technique didn’t change the way they absorbed the information, it changed their state of mind through Beta, Alpha then Theta, which greatly improved their cognition, learning and creative abilities, all while staying in a relaxed state.
  • Sports training (before) and the accelerated recovery process (after)

I lost track of time in the tank and what I found was that at just about the 60-minute mark, my brain was finally beginning to let go and stop analyzing the experience, so I personally didn’t feel any sort of breakthrough, so to speak. I did, however, emerge from the tank feeling much more relaxed than I can remember ever feeling.

Your mileage may vary but you’ll never know how float therapy may benefit you until you try! If you’re in northern California and want to give Theta Wave Float Spa in Sebastopol, CA, a try, when you book your appointment tell them Daniel De Guia referred you.

Want to Learn More About Float Therapy?

Check out what other people have said about their experience with float tanks!

Daniel De Guia

I'm a dad, Certified Personal Trainer, Youth Fitness Specialist, 3-time end of the world survivor, geek, writer, and gamer from Santa Rosa, California. The posts on this blog will chronicle my personal fitness journey, which I hope will motivate other fathers to take charge of their own health and fitness.

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