My life is noisy. I work on the internet - sometimes I think I live here actually - and in social media at that, so there is information coming at me constantly. I'm a freelancer, and I have the usual assortment of life and time demands that any adult has, all playing out amid the traffic and general rush of living in a large metropolitan area.
After a health scare a few years ago, I got pretty serious about seeking some sanity amid the chaos. I will do just about anything these days to calm down.
When I was looking to start a meditation practice and a friend told me I should try flotation therapy, I wasn't excited about it. Climbing into a tank full of salt water, closing the door to all light and sound, closing my eyes, and lying down for an hour in water with 800 pounds of Epsom salt in it sounded like an exercise in claustrophobia and oh, I don't know, maybe passing out and drowning.
But I was going through a stressful period and I believed that meditation would help. My attempts to do it at home listening to white noise or gurus chanting weren't working out, so I floated.
Now? An hour of floaty sensory deprivation is one of my favorite things, and I wish I had a tank in my house. I would shut the door and float every day just like I would float every day in the ocean if I could. I am a person prone to anxiety and the occasional panic attack who does not feel claustrophobic in the tank at all.
I have chronic back and neck pain from sitting hunched over a laptop all the time. The salt water supports my muscles and allows them to completely relax, relieved of gravity. This can cause me some pain in the tank depending on how tight they are, but in the days after I am completely unclenched and pain-free.
As far as meditation goes, the tank is a perfect place for me to check out and then back in on different levels. One of my best memories and frequent meditation visualizations is of floating on my back in the ocean in South Carolina.
I've done this many times, and when I try to settle my mind on land, whether it's my yoga mat for final meditation or in bed when I'm having trouble falling asleep, I always go back to the summer golden hour of 6 p.m., when it's not too hot, and the water is calm, with enough wave movement to wash over me without overpowering me. The closest I've come to this feeling – definitely one of the best I've ever had and would repeat every day if I could – outside of the ocean is in a flotation tank.
I chalk the calm I feel when I get out of the tank to the love my brain waves get from an hour of isolation from text message dings, high importance e-mails, Netflixing and not really chilling: All of the noise that I'm currently conditioned to respond to at varying levels of urgency these days.
The science behind floating is limited but promising so far. The Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy, or REST, says that what you get in the tank has stress relieving benefits, in addition to some benefits to hypertension, headaches, insomnia, and stress-related pain.
All I know is that when I float I feel calmer overall, I sleep better, and I hurt less. I don't do it as much as I'd like, but like yoga and continued attempts at traditional meditation, it's better for my brain and my life when I do.