Floating for HSPs
Sensory Deprivation Tank Floating or 'Floating' for short. Have you tried it? Such a fascinating concept. The reported health benefits of floating seem like a perfect match for an overextended highly sensitive person, especially for those battling chronic fatigue and pain, so I had been considering adding this to my self-care routine for a while. But the high hourly rate gave me pause. Could silence and darkness really be worth the price? Reboot recently opened a location near me, in San Francisco's Mission District. They had some grand opening offers, followed by a few special discounts that made it super attractive to give it a really solid try.
Ideally, floating allows for deep, restorative meditation, with extremely limited sensory distractions. The pods and the rooms they are housed within are rigorously sound, light and vibration proofed. The water is a highly concentrated solution of epsom salts, heated to body temperature so that it is barely noticeable. Epsom salts help your body detoxify and can be soothing for sore muscles and joints.
As much as floating seems like the ideal restorative environment for an HSP, which it really can be, there is a considerable learning curve for those of us on the far end of the sensitivity spectrum. I definitely found ways to leave feeling more anxious and overwhelmed than when I came in. That being said, I would absolutely recommend it, deepening your meditation practice has endless benefits, and this is really the ultimate way to get present. Hopefully revealing my missteps can prevent you from having a negative experience and you can quickly get to enjoying the benefits.
It is expected that it will take the average person a few sessions for their mind and body to acclimate to the experience of deprivation tank floating. It's not comparable to much else in our modern lives (except, perhaps, being in the womb?), so it will take some getting used to. Full benefits are not anticipated until after a few floats. As usual, the Highly Sensitive Person will need to adjust expectations. It will probably take quite a few more sessions than average to get comfortable. So definitely look into memberships and package rates if you're thinking about adding this to your self-care regimen.
For anyone fearing claustrophobia, as I was, the pods are larger than you might expect, with plenty of room for even a tall person to have space to sit up and move freely while lying in the water. It's such a soothing environment that during my very first float I allowed myself to attempt to freak out about being trapped, and amazingly I couldn't get worked up about it. My brain asked the question, "What if there were an earth quake and the ceiling fell in on top?" My chillaxed answer: "There are so many worse places to be trapped, and this thing could withstand a lot of rubble piled on top." I was basically un-panic-able.
The incredible thing about sensory deprivation is that it allows you to more fully experience the capacity of your senses. For HSPs this is a very exciting concept. We spend a lot of energy trying to tone down our senses in order to feel comfortable in a world built for people less sensitive. In the pod, you can let go and just feel it all. It's a full-body physical experience to listen to music in the pod; the sound waves create a euphoric sensation that ripples through your body, magnified by the salts in the water, the shape of the pod, and the lack of competing noise. I feel the vibrations of the surrounding neighborhood, people walking in the building, doors softly opening and closing. All this is buffered through the many absorbent and isolating layers they use to insulate the pod from the external world. The downside of feeling more than you're expected to here is that it's unnerving when you don't know the source of some of the vibrations. I'm still learning how to let go of my 'need to know' and during a recent float anxiety got the better of me; the waves of unknown origin felt like they were rocking and jostling my body so much that I got nauseous and had to exit the pod early. Sea sickness from vibrations that I usually wouldn't even notice! There really is only so much they can do to isolate all the vibrations in the world from entering the pod. So, I think the lesson here is to learn how to ride the waves, identify your discomfort and figure out how to let go even further. Lessons like these could fast track your meditation practice to higher levels.
Another really positive aspect of floating is the pain relief. While floating, there are no pressure points! Muscles relax easily without resistance, my body falls quickly into a position of maximum comfort. I do find that I usually need the aid of a foam ring supporting my head to relieve some excessive neck tension, but otherwise it is a state of full body relaxation as I've never previously experienced. The mega dose of magnesium in the epsom salts offers pain relief for days. The release of muscles that rarely relax can also lead to some weird side effects. Muscle twitches, ones I can feel happening and phantom ones that I truly don't feel happening (!?!) cause unexpected ripples and even splashes in the water that can be startling at first. This can really mess with your zen moment until you get used to it (and trust that the splashing really is just caused by some twitching your body is doing but you don't know is happening...😳). I'm told the muscle twitches go away, that it's a sign your body is detoxing.
Some tips and tricks for an HSP's First float:
1. Enter the tub with a dry face
Otherwise, the salts will climb up the water on your skin and get into your eyes. It stings a bit for a few minutes but rinsing or spraying with fresh water is all that's needed to help flush the salts out. Reboot has a spray bottle and clean towel prepared and within arms reach in the pod, so, not too big of a deal if it happens, but far from pleasant.
2. Bring your own:
Earplugs. I found that the supplied silicone putty ear plugs hurt my sensitive ears. They created air pressure that left me with a double ear ache for six weeks. Experiments with going without ear plugs went ok, though I was even more distracted by ambient noises. I'm now using flanged re-usable silicone earplugs that have a cord to connect them in case they pop out while floating. Best practices to keep them in while floating: Carefully wipe away any excess oil or wax from the opening and put in the earplugs into dry ears before showering. More on ear care in a bit.
Music. Reboot gives you the option to plug in your own music, or they can set up their music to play at the beginning, end or throughout the duration. You can also, of course, go fully silent if you're hardcore 🧘♀️🏆. The reverberation of sound in the pod is so fun though, I recommend setting up your own music to play while you get settled in the pod, and then have their music come on at the end to gently bring you back into the world and to let you know it's .
Bath products. Sensitives tend to have sensitivities. So don't risk messing up your system with Other People's Products unless you're up for the experiment. BYOP for the shower before, the shower after and for emerging back into your day.
3. Thoroughly rinse your ears afterwards
Even if you're using earplugs. The salts can crystalize on your eardrum and cause significant imbalance and discomfort. If this happens though, don't suffer it! There are plenty of non-toxic ear drop solutions that can clear this up easily (a couple drops of diluted hydrogen peroxide held for about 10 minutes on each side did the trick for me, but lots of blogs recommend variations on this DIY recipe).
4. Strategize a gentle re-entry
Emerging back into regular life can be a shock to your senses. In order to hold onto your "post-float-glow" you'll want to be careful not to surface too fast. I try to sit down and check in physically and emotionally at each tiny stage of the process: end of float, before showering, after getting dressed, before leaving the room, etc. I visualize what's coming next: cool air, a splash of cold water, sounds, lights, interaction with people, how to answer the ritual question, "How was your float?" There have been numerous occasions that my startle reflex activated at one or more of these obviously predictable moments, tightening up all the muscles that had twitched themselves into long overdue relaxation. I recommend scheduling in some time to process your experience, to reinforce anything learned, and to plan for your next float. My favorite way to process is sitting with some water or tea in one of Reboot's big puffy lounge chairs, ideally writing it all down in my journal. Aside from brilliant insights into the nature of humankind, I keep notes on the nitty gritty to enhance future experiences. What worked and what didn't. It's a log that has helped me figure out my favorite rooms to book (avoiding ones that might be near a door that opens and closes a lot, any slight technical variances with the pod, etc.), which music to try, the most effective mind chatter cessation tactics and to track what positions worked best for my body over time (pro tip: try arms up by your head to ease neck discomfort).
I do hope you'll get a chance to try floating too, that this information will not only help you prepare but that you'll feel supported in your highly sensitive experience of it. You absolutely aren't alone.
I'd love to hear how it goes! Please consider sharing your wisdom, missteps and stories in the comments below.