Floating in a Sensory Deprivation Chamber: Personal Recollection.

Strange

Float Tank Path FinderAfter watching The Perfect Storm1Other materials had primed me, this was just the tipping point. I had previously loved Richard Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast and Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man. I became a commercial fishing deckhand in Alaska for a summer.2I was a salmon set-net commercial deckhand in Ninilchik. This is not nearly as dangerous as the scenarios portrayed in The Perfect Storm or Deadliest Catch.

After watching some episodes of Fringe (see also Amazonand Altered States (see also Amazon) I decided I wanted to experience a sensory deprivation chamber.

What do these two scenarios have in common? My interest was sparked by the stories – stories which, to many, cause fear or aversion.

I have theories as to why I am this way (attracted to, rather than repelled by), but I’ll leave those for another time…

Sensory Deprivation

The cultural knowledge of sensory deprivation chambers / isolation tanks is generally sourced in their portrayal on the recent TV show Fringe, a pseudo-X-Files.3I had hoped Fringe would be a satisfactory replacement to the X-Files (also Amazon) and at the get-go it appeared to be…but once it became evident that the story arc was becoming one dimensional by focusing on a mega-arc of parallel dimensions, I became disappointed and stopped watching. Monsters of the week episodes had always been my favorite part of the X-Files – which managed to keep an overarching myth without succumbing to it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an image or a clip which does justice to the horrifying nature of the lead character’s (Olivia) experience in the chamber.

Luckily, the 1980 classic Altered States‘ trailer4The depiction in Fringe was at least in part inspired by Altered States portrayal. is quite adequate in portraying the horror common in media depictions:

But what is it like to actually be in a sensory deprivation chamber?

Serene Dreams

These days you can find sensory deprivation chambers in stand-alone businesses or at spas spread around the country.  You’ll rarely hear them referred to as sensory deprivation chambers, instead you’ll hear of flotation therapy, or perhaps in medical or academic circles Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST).

I went to a stand-alone (no other services like massage, facials, etc. offered) in Kearny (northern) NJ called Serene Dreams. It wasn’t a big building and (I think) there were two entrance doors. I tried the first, I have no idea what the second led to. This brought me into their waiting/reception area. It was cramped – a single couch and two bar chairs provided the seating. I was handed a small stack of papers to read and sign. The papers were the usual disclaimers regarding liability for bodily harm but they also included the somewhat unusual disclaimer for psychological injury.

After a few minutes I was led through a door into a long, wide hallway. There were two rooms on my left along the hallway, but these were both occupied, so I was led around the corner into their third (and last) room. The room looks like a high-end bathroom. There is a beautiful large shower with a gazillion different settings, a sink, and then a large white pod with water inside and a lid that closes.

Unfortunately these rooms do not include a toilet, which would seem ideal seeing one is about to spend an extended period of time floating in water and having a full bladder would be most unpleasant.

The door was shut and I was left alone. The procedure indicates that one first shower so as not to bring anything into the pod with you (the water is purified between each consumer), one can use provided vaseline to cover over any cuts, and there are ear plugs – which you’ll really want to use.

Once the shower is over you can enter the pod. Inside the pod you have a few items. First there is a large button that allows you to control the lighting. These pods aren’t strictly for sensory deprivation, apparently many use them with the lights on.  Secondly there is a help call button that you can press if you are in need of assistance. Finally, there is a bottle of fresh water to use if you get the pod’s water in your eyes.

Why would one need regular water while laying in a body of water? Because the water in the pod is loaded with epsom salt – so much that it causes your body to float. Get that into your eyes and it will sting (yes, I know from firsthand experience).

I climbed into the pod and closed the lid on top of me.5If you are claustrophobic, this may not be for you – luckily, if you aren’t going for sensory deprivation, you would just leave the lid open. I laid down and began to float in the water and then I turned off the lights. It was pitch black. I couldn’t see anything, I knew I was inside a pod, resting in a body of water – but there was nothing to feel, nothing to see.

As I laid there I became aware of some of my bodily problem spots. My right knee was aching, one of my fingers on my right hand as well. The lack of external sensory input was causing me to feel more intensely my aches and pains. Over time these pains faded away and I floated.

They played soft music for the first ten minutes, so I knew when ten minutes had passed – but after that all was silence – there was no way to know the time. So, I laid there, and laid there, and laid there some more.

My brain wasn’t busy – somewhat surprisingly. Nor did I feel tired, I just floated. The water was body temperature, but half my body was above the surface and every once in a while it would feel a little chilly. As time passed the air became stuffy. It hadn’t occurred to me beforehand, but I realized in order not to cause sensation, they wouldn’t be able to pump fresh air into the pod (or if they did, it wasn’t at a speed that could replace the old air with new). I wondered how long one could stay in the pod before suffocating – obviously much longer than the hour I was scheduled for.6After some further research, I’m fairly certain that the pod was circulating air, it just wasn’t enough to prevent the staleness.

Sometimes it felt like time was dragging on. “How much longer?” I would wonder. At the end of the hour the music started again, informing me that there was only ten minutes remaining. I was surprised – could that much time have passed already? It is a weird feeling to be in the absolute dark with no reference to time – one feels almost simultaneously that a dreadfully long period of time is passing and at the same time that it has been only a few brief moments.

When the music stopped I turned on the light, opened the pod, and took another shower. The second shower is to wash all the epsom salt off your body. If you didn’t take a shower you’d look like you were covered with chalk dust after drying for a minute or two…not to mention that if you got the water in your ears there is the small possibility that they could form into crystals and cause ear pain.

I made my way down the long hallway back to the waiting area7The lights were dampened and it was a somewhat more foreboding environment, if I had been coming in instead of going out, I might have felt a spooked.. Plunked down my credit card and had a nice chat with the receptionist who informed me about how Mugwort’s Tea before bed has helped her to remember her dreams. Hmmm, I might have to try that.

Not That Scary?

No, it wasn’t that scary. So are the portrayals in film completely unreal? Not exactly. In the film portrayals the individuals are almost always dosed with psychoactive drugs such as LSD or mescaline. In addition the individuals tend to spend a much more extended period of time within the sensory deprivation tank.

Was I Happy?

Sure, I was happy. I had done something I’d wanted to do for some years now and I hadn’t panicked or grown so bored I quit. I had spent an hour alone with my own brain and hadn’t gone crazy – which is something of an achievement.

I’ll admit, I hoped for more. I hoped I would fall asleep and have a vivid dream I could process.8I’m not a fan of DREAM INTERPRETATION but I am a fan of dream interpretation. I mean, I believe that sometimes there are overarching themes which spread across dreams which can be insightful to us, but I’m not a fan of attempting to deconstruct every portion of the dream and assign it meaning. I assume that if my brain really wants to tell me something, it will say it repeatedly (and this has been my experience). I didn’t think I had fallen asleep, but when I got home I had a pain in my tongue and it was a little bloody. I have bruxism, which means I grind my teeth in my sleep. Unfortunately, this also means I bite my tongue in my sleep9I wear a bruxism guard most nights to prevent this so it seems I may have fallen asleep at least briefly. Still, the sleep wasn’t what I was after – it was the dream.

That said, if I want more out of it I will have to do it for a more extended period of time. Will I do it again for a more extended period? I’m unsure. I’m ADD10ADD not ADHD. I don’t have the hyperactive component. and laying still for an hour is a challenge for me, laying still for longer seems at the least extremely boring and perhaps edging into torture…but I might.

There is some science indicating that flotation therapy is helpful in chronic pain and muscle relaxation – and I felt some of that. Portions of my body stopped aching, but I think I’d need to be a regular to see any lasting results.

Minor Positive Criticism

I have only a few minor criticisms of the location I utilized (Serene Dreams in Kearny NJ).

  • It would have been really great to have a toilet in the room.
  • The pod wasn’t quite big enough for me. I would occasionally drift into the walls. This wasn’t a major issue, but it did decrease the sensory deprivation experience.
  • I think I may have gone into the pod backwards (feet where my head should have been). This is probably a me problem…

Concluding Thoughts

Flotation therapy isn’t scary at all. Sensory Deprivation is a bit more testing – the pitch blackness and silence may get to some – probably would get to me over a longer period of time. To experience a more interesting psychological experience once would probably have to increase the length of the session significantly or, as the forefathers of this technology did (see Dr. John C. Lilly for example), utilize psychoactive drugs…ummm, okay, scratch that second idea.

Fluidstance and the Thief

Occasionally folks reach out to me with a product or service they would like for me to review – Fluidstance was one of said companies. They told me they were shipping me The Level so I could put it through its paces. I eagerly anticipated its arrival…and I waited for it…and I waited some more.

As time passed I figured they must have decided not to send me The Level after all…maybe they decided my blog wasn’t getting enough traffic, maybe they had run out of units to send out to bloggers. I was giving up hope.

Then I received a followup email asking how things were going with The Level. I was confused. Wait, you sent me The Level? When? FedEx delivery confirmation shows that the package was successfully left on my doorstep nearly a month ago. Gahh!

Photo of legs standing on Fluidstance The Level

This is the first time I have ever had mail stolen off my front porch (at least that I am aware of) and it sucks. I was really looking forward to giving The Level a try.

I find my knees begin to hurt after a period of standing at my desk and I have to revert to sitting and I hoped that using The Level might allow me to spend longer periods at a time standing.

So, it sucks for me, but it also sucks for Fluidstance, since they sent me a moderately expensive product for review and I can’t review it because someone stole it.

As a poor substitute, I’ve compiled some resources together below to help those who are interested in learning more about The Level do so.

Gahhh! I just went through the first forty results in Google for “fluidstance” to garner the above reviews and now I am even more disappointed than before. Without exception, every one of the reviews I found in those first forty results where positive!

“But Dave, you should have Google ‘fluidstance review’, that would have given you better results.” You are so right, so I did and found the following:

Well, no, those additional reviews don’t make me feel any better about having mine stolen before I ever laid eyes on it.

Soylent 2.0: A Better Meal Replacement?

A Little Background

I enjoy eating sometimes but oftentimes it is more of a chore. Unfortunately, eating is a necessity if I want to be healthy, energetic, productive.

Soylent 2.0 being poured into a glass.
Photo of Soylent 2.0 from official Soylent site.

I’ve written about Soylent, a meal replacement drink, in the past here and here. I’ve tried other meal replacement drinks like RAW Meal and Shakeology (also here and there, and up there and down here).

I’ve written about and regularly consume Ensure, I don’t care that I’m not the target audience.

When Soylent started out (and when I first began consuming it) it was a powder which one mixed with water and then added some bottled oils to. It only took two or three minutes to make a days worth and I thought it tasted decent – much less grainy than either RAW Meal or Shakeology – but much more grainy than Ensure.

I Try 2.0

Recently Soylent announced and then began shipping Soylent 2.0 – which comes bottled similar to Ensure. Now there is no prep time, just take a bottle out of the fridge. I purchased my first twelve pack and have consumed them all. I’ve now upped my order to 24 monthly, which will cover almost one meal a day. I expect, if I continue to like it, I will up my order to perhaps 48 bottles/mo., which would make almost two a day.

While I didn’t have a problem with the old Soylent’s taste, the new Soylent is significantly better. It tastes and has the texture of almond milk.

At first I thought I would need to mix something with it to drink it with great consistency and I tried some chocolate syrup as well as some V8 juice – the latter worked rather well. But as I have continued to drink it I find my taste buds developing more and more of a liking for it and I don’t see myself needing to mix anything else into it.

Why Else I Like Soylent

Besides Soylent providing me an alternative to meals there are a number of other techie reasons I like them.

First, their recipe is open source and this has resulted in a cottage industry producing similar products. I’m a huge fan of open source.

Second, they provide release notes with each version as well as providing detailed blog posts about why they do what they do and when problems arise. I am especially fond of the latter.

Third, they are constantly iterating on Soylent. 2.0 is great, but I’m sure 2.1 will be better!

But Dave…

“But Dave, this can’t be as good for you as eating real, organic food for meals.”

You are absolutely correct – thing is, I don’t eat real, organic food for meals. Soylent is a healthier alternative to a lot of the standard American diet / standard Dave diet. So, while not perfection, it is a step in the right direction…

And I won’t stop eating real food altogether. In fact, I may eat healthier the rest of the time b/c I am drinking Soylent. I always feel so time constricted – so much more I want to accomplish in a day than I can – if I feel a little less time constricted I may be more willing to invest in a meal (no promises, but hey, it’s possible!).