It's completely dark; so dark there's no difference if your eyes are opened or closed. You can't hear anything but your own breath and you're alone with nothing but your thoughts. You're naked, floating in shallow salt water for one whole hour. In essence, this is what you pay to do at Float Seattle
"It's not as scary as you think," says founder Sean McCormick. "It's unusual, for sure. But it's not spooky. You're in control the entire process. There's not a simpler way to get mind and body benefits."
When Sean invited me to experience his deprivation tanks, I said no. He asked many times and I always refused. I didn't think I could handle being in a small, dark space for an hour.
"It's not like an MRI. That doughnut thing is a half an inch away from your face. This is not like that. There's a couple of feet between you and the top of the tank and so you can stick your arms way up and you won't touch the ceiling of the tank. The other thing is, you're in control of the situation. So if you don't feel good, if you are feeling tense, just get out. Just open the door and pop out. It's not like you committed to this full hour and it's going to be torturous. If you want to crack the door open, if you want to float with the door open the whole time, that's totally your prerogative."
So I agreed, since Sean is convinced that it's a life changing experience.
"I've meditated since I was about 12 years old and throughout my life I've experimented with Buddhist breathing techniques to transcendental meditation and I found that floating is a shortcut to that. It's a cheat to mediation because you don't have to do anything. All you do is lie there in the stillness and the meditative sorts of revery come on its own. It's awesome."
Plus, the weightlessness is supposed to be great for posture, sore muscles and joints and the experience is supposed to help freshen up people who don't sleep enough.
"There is study upon study upon study that show this decreases stress. It lowers your heart rate, decreases cortisol, which is a stress hormone, epinephrine, all that stuff decreases because you're not dealing with stimuli. When you're not dealing with stimuli your stress levels go down. It's really kind of simple."
Sean brought me into my room, which contains a shower and the float tank. My tank was tall enough for me to stand in, not claustrophobic at all.
"What you're going to do is put the ear plugs in first, before you get in the shower, because they stick better in dry ears. You'll shower off. If you have any cuts or scratches you can put a little bit of Bag Balm on a cut or scratch. It will sting in the salt water."
Then he told me how to get into the tank.
"Get in and sit down and then sort of scoot your body into place and then slowly lay back. As soon as you start to lean back your feet come up. It feels amazing. What I would suggest is to float with your arms up. It elongates your spine and takes tension off of your back. You're actually an inch taller when you float because of the decompression in your vertebrae."
When Sean left I showered and lowered myself into the tub. I dimmed the light instead of turning them all the way off all the way because I'm a chicken. Soon enough, an irrational fear of sharks crept in. Instead of calmly floating I kept touching the bottom and sides of the tank to remind myself that I was floating in two feet of water and not in the ocean.
Then I sat up and opened the door. Then I laid back down. Then I realized I'm simply a spazz who cannot lay still and meditate. But after a while I finally relaxed, and floated, and soon after it was finished.
"At the end of the hour music comes on. It's piped in through the tank. It's subtle. So when the music comes on you probably won't want to get out because it's going to feel so awesome. But there are people after you so please get out! Shower off again and you're on your way."
Our buddy Sean De Tore also floated that day.
"To say the least it was very relaxing and it was also kind of a trip. It felt like I was just floating in space. I did find myself thinking a lot. Then I would think about thinking and I would try to shut that off. I'd say that was one of the most challenging things being in the floatation device. I was trying to let everything go but I couldn't quite stop thinking completely."
Sean McCormick said when he opened Float Seattle, he floated every day for 94 days. He said he started seeing people's auras and energies and he generally felt amazing. And he never once had an irrational fear of sharks.