The powers that be say you should do something every day that scares you. Today (8/22/2015), I had my first experience in an isolation tank. Have you heard of isolation tanks or float centers before?
Float centers or isolation tanks are coffin like tanks where you lie down completely naked on about 10 inches of water full of 800 pounds of Epsom salt. You lean your head back towards the back of the tank and your whole body floats on top of the water. When you close the door to the tank (the door doesn’t lock), it’s completely dark so all sensory stimulation is cut off with nothing but your own thoughts and anxiety for company. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?
This was a new concept for me. While browsing the internet for things to do in Tokyo, I came across an article about detoxing that didn’t include demanding diets or juice cleanses. Isolation tanks were a featured method along with a list of recommended centers throughout Tokyo. I was intrigued. Unsure of what to expect and uninfluenced by outside opinions, I booked my appointment online and simply chose to look forward to a new experience. Here’s what went down…
As a human, my mind is well trained in resorting to the worst possible outcome in order to avoid disappointment. The Float Center is based out of a middle-aged man’s home in Meguro, Tokyo, located in a residential area a few streets off the main road. Prior to going inside, I questioned whether this place looked legitimate enough to be called a business. Though the surrounding neighborhood homes looked welcoming and safe from the outside, my mind couldn’t help from thinking that this was where people go to die and if I did make it out alive, I hoped to have a great story to tell. When the owner, Harada-san, answered the door, I was met with a warm, gentle smile, standard polite Japanese, and a very clean space. My safety didn’t feel threatened, and I was immediately put at ease.
Now, small, narrow, enclosed areas aren’t the worst thing in the world for me, but it’s not a space I would normally voluntarily choose to put myself in. Yet here I was putting myself in a completely vulnerable position. For 1 hour, I would be naked, floating in a dark isolation tank filled with 10 inches of water and about 800 pounds of epsom salts with nothing but my own thoughts for company. Needlessly to say, I was setting myself up for an interesting challenge.
After a brief explanation of the floating experience, I was escorted down to the first floor of the building and left alone for a pre-tank rinse/shower for which I was allotted 10 minutes followed by my one hour session. As it was explained to me, I stepped into the tank, closed the door, and turned to lay my head down towards the back end of the tank. I tilted my neck back so that my ears were underwater and my neck was free from any strain. From there, all I could do was let time work its magic to allow me to relax and loosen my muscles.
In the Isolation Tank
As it was pitch black in the tank, I felt like I was in a coffin and naturally began thinking about death. Eventually, my thoughts progressed to how happy I’ve been, how much I’ve grown, and how amazing the last 3 years have been despite any hardships. I’ve reached a point where I can’t imagine how life could get any better, and if I died tomorrow, I’d die without regrets.
Slowly, I took note of how the salt water felt against my skin. Soft and unnoticeable in that it didn’t sting anywhere. The water was lukewarm, the air dry and a bit stale but easy to breathe. At the beginning I could hear my heartbeat through my ears and I could hear myself breathing. Once my mind started to wander, however, they became background noise.
My thoughts began drifting towards family and memories of my old house in Michigan. One memory seamlessly guided me to another like a bedtime story. My mind floated back through the past year’s events prior to moving to Japan and in doing so, I was acknowledging how radically different my life was now. Then, in a non-morbid way, I thought to myself that this wouldn’t be a terrible way to die. “Here in this isolation tank, I feel completely relaxed, happy, and at peace, and if all my inners failed me now, I’d be OK.”
I started talking to myself in my head about fear and how rotten it feels to be owned by fear. Just floating in the dark, I felt like I was winning against fear. And every time I heard an unusual noise (which was only twice and nothing particularly alarming) I rerouted my mind back to this unwillingness to be afraid. It was a good mental exercise in being conscious of my thoughts.
With all visual and audible stimulation cut off, I had a very distorted sense of time. What’s more, I felt like the noise from the outside world couldn’t reach me, influence me, or try to wear me out/down. I felt like nothing could hurt me. My muscles moved about as if they were free from tension or gravity. As a child, I never used to be able to float on top of water so I moved my limbs around as if I were experimenting with a new superpower. I loved it, and by the end, I had an overwhelming desire to stay longer to see where else my mind could wander.
Though nervous at first, this experience allowed me to stop and access the parts of my mind that I’ve neglected. I was able to entertain any thoughts, ideas or memories that surfaced without judgement, and it was completely liberating.
I remain truly impressed with how smoothly Harada-san runs the place by himself, and I appreciate his kindness and professionalism. After I finished, he was telling me about how his business mainly attracts middle aged men in their 30s. To me, that makes sense as I assume this is the most stressed out demographic in Tokyo. Anyway, if you asked me whether or not I would do this again, I would 110% say yes. It’s great to have found another resource that offers a sort of meditation. In a city that moves at light speed all day long, it’s more vital than ever to have the tools to reset and rebalance the body and mind.