Ernest Semerda next to the classic design of a Isolation Tank

Altered States: Just add water. And a lot of salt.

If you solve problems using code you understand the storm that is within. It’s Tron meets The Matrix. Everything in your head is fighting for resources, algorithms crunching numbers, pointers going astray in your stack and the garbage collector nowhere in sight to clean the mess up!

Monkey Brain

There are solutions to this madness. The process is called calming your monkey brain typically through Meditation. But Meditation isn’t for everyone. Many have tried and failed because let’s face it, the classic method of Meditation sucks. It is a pain in the back side to sit there for an extended period of time trying to cut out all the distractions of the growing pain in your back to the ~70db pollution hitting your auditory sensors. Why do we still encourage meditation the old school way when there are far easier and more effective methods to calm the monkey mind?

John C. Lilly

In 1950s we knew little about sensory isolation. Many great minds speculated that insanity would follow any attempts to turn off our core senses — visual, auditory and kinesthetic. All with the exception of 1 badass scientist, John C Lilly. He proposed that if one could isolate the mind from external stimuli one could experience heightened sensory perception. He devised the first isolation tank, a dark soundproof tank of warm salt water in which subjects could float for long periods in sensory isolation. He proved his hypothesis right. And the rest is history. Google John C. Lilly to learn more about his work.

John C. Lilly built a modern day version of a meditation tank.

The Architecture of an actual Isolation Tank aka Floatation Tank

The Architecture of an actual Isolation Tank aka Floatation Tank

Today, such isolation tanks (aka floatation tanks) are found all around the world. From spa centers using it to relax the body to sport centers to expedite recovery (eg. Australian Institute of Sports) and to private use to explore the mind like John C. Lilly and myself do. Yet very few people know about it. So let me tell you more.

Where it all began for me

I have been “floating” starting in Australia since 2008 and later in the US. I was inspired by the 1st episode of Fringe. Dr Bishop used an Isolation Tank (also known as sensory deprivation tank) to connect Olivia and Agent Scott’s mind to tap into the dead agent’s mind to retrieve information related to the case. Low level protocol stuff. Yeah pretty insane utility but what if. So I took the red pill and went down the rabbit hole.

You may hear the word “floating” being used. This reference is more rosey but means the same thing; isolation tank experience. You float inside the isolation tank like a cork on water due to the high concentrate of epsom salt. If you have been to the Dead Sea you will know what I mean. A secondary benefit of the salt is muscle relaxation. Epsom salt has been used for centuries for muscle aches.

The Apollo ELV Float Tank — #1 Floatation Tank

The Apollo ELV Float Tank — #1 Floatation Tank

As you can see from the pictures, the cause creates an effect ~20mins into the journey you will feel like a brain floating in space. Disconnected from your auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses. This heightens the mind’s processing ability so you can begin exploring your private sea, your mind, in a conscious state.

At the end of a 1 hour floatation session you will feel like your body and your mind got a massage.

The Theta State

The goal with both meditation and floatation is to reach the theta state. This is a state where you can consciously listen to your subconscious mind. Or let’s put it a different way, experience hallucinations without drugs, insanity or sleep. Monks train years to do this through meditation while staying consciously awake. Your body does this naturally every night but you consciously switch off aka fall asleep. Recall those auditory or visual flashes you get before your off switch kicks in and you fall asleep? That’s a glimpse into theta state. In an isolation tank you are consciously awake observing your subconscious mind. Most of the time. No years of training required. For me it turned out after 3 floatation sessions I was hallucinating baby!

Supercomputer

Our subconscious mind is a powerful supercomputer (no surprises there) which constantly gathers, calculates, builds patterns & connections faster than we can consciously observe (process). I think this is a natural safe measure so we don’t go insane. Now imagine being able to tap into this wealth of stored info for a bit. You know when you sometimes get a gut feeling — I believe that is the output from all the processing bubbling their way to your conscious mind. I use the isolation tank to tap into this and get my answers faster then waiting for them to bubble to the top.

Why isn’t this a Company benefit yet?

Floating should be a company benefit. Heck, even more.. a company policy. If an employee is having a hard day for whatever reason (personal or business) just send them to an isolation tank for 1 hour.

That’s empathy right there;

  1. Identifying your employee is experiencing some distress and
  2. Do something about it that will have a far reaching impact on their emotional state than a 1:1 talk or sending them home.

We are human creatures with emotions. Fact. Ignoring this fact in my opinion is narcissism. If you have empathy do something constructive and help your colleague.

Finished a big project? Scrap the default lunch mode celebrations — take the team to a Zen center and have them all float. Afterwards you can all reflect on the achievement while sipping camellia tea. Better?

Run an experiment

There are float centers up and down the Bay Area and all around the world. Google it. Run an experiment with your team or yourself floating at least 5 times — 1 every week. That’s a tad over a month. Measure the experiment so you can quantify it and remove any cognitive bias. Then reflect on your calmness, clear head, relaxed nature and more empathy. Let me know what you find. There’s nothing more powerful than experiencing the power of this amazing mind and body hack for yourself.

Float already!

Few final snippets before I wrap this up.

Be vigilant about the tank

The Tank you choose needs a good ventilation system. High temperatures will race your heart just like a steam room does. It will become extremely unpleasant. I had it happen to me. Reached 144bpm and it was the worst experience ever. The Apollo ELV Float Tank is the best tank I have ever experienced. It is the Tesla of Tanks!

If its important, don’t sleep on it

Float. You will get more insights.

Tired?

Float. The Epsom salt does wonders to your skin and muscles. Afterwards, you will feel super relaxed. And if you fall asleep from exhaustion inside the tank you will be fine floating like a cort. Should you tip over, the high concentrate of salt will burn a hole in your head *j/k*. It will sting tho.

At a minimum, start with 3 float sessions

It will take some time for you to learn how to fully let go and relax your body while suspended like a cork. Only then will the mind let go.

Installing a tank at your company?

If you were inspired by what you learnt here and decided to install a tank at your company then please invite me over for a float session. Or if you need help or have questions please reach out.

More juice on Isolation Tanks & Sensory Deprivation

Happy Floating!

PS. This article also appears on https://medium.com/the-road-to-silicon-valley/a-better-way-to-meditate-in-a-sensory-deprivation-tank-6b61d360f5d0#.1ppvk69af

~ Ernest

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