Stepping outside I felt a rush of exhilaration as bright sunlight beamed on my face. A smile formed from my mouth and it remained the duration of my drive home. I popped a CD into my ancient stereo system and danced while driving on the way home.
This feeling of incredible presence came from a sensory deprivation chamber and despite occurring over 4 years ago, I still vividly remember laughing and smiling for no apparent reason.
When I heard Dr. Dan Engle on the Tim Ferriss podcast discussing a flotation tank and sensory deprivation therapy, I realized the medical connection and applications for enhancing mental performance .
Dr. Engle, who has a medical degree in psychiatry and neurology, suggests well-prepared flotation tank sessions can be equivalent to psychedelic experiences.
However, they may be even better for those who don’t want to jump on the microdosing bandwagon or lose control during a full-blown psychedelic trip.
What is a Sensory Deprivation Tank?
The purpose of a sensory deprivation tank is to create an environment where external stimuli are no longer being processed by your brain.
You might initially think this is along the lines of meditation, but it is actually one step further. Even when you are sitting on the ground, in a chair, or any other place, you have stimulation in the form of pressure on your butt (from the seat) or temperature on your skin.
The only real way to deprive your brain of all senses is to hop into a flotation tank, which is standardized to the human body. First, the water that surrounds you is around 98.6 degrees F to ensure your surroundings feel the same temperature as you.
Depending on the tank, there is 900 – 1200 pounds of epsom salt in the water to make you float to the surface (hence: float tank). Most sensory deprivation therapy also adequately removes sound and light as well.
Sensory Deprivation Chamber Best Practices
After being introduced to sensory deprivation therapy from the Joe Rogan Experience , I looked into Austin, Texas flotation therapy and was blessed to find the Zero Gravity Institute. It seems this is one of the best places to do sensory deprivation in the country and where you experience this does matter.
Once you have found a nearby sensory deprivation center that has high quality tanks, it is time to get floating. Here are some best practices:
#1. Do 2 – 3 float sessions within 1 month – this is a recommendation directly from Dr. Dan Engle, who recommends putting flotation sessions closer together for an amplified effect.
In my experience, this is a good idea. My first flotation tank experience (explained in more depth below) was not positive and I needed another round within the same week to give me the “lift off” experience I described earlier.
#2. Do 2 hours instead of 1 – with a similar concept as the first rule, it is better to do 2 hours instead of the basic 1 hour float. According to Engle, a 2 consecutive hour float is more beneficial than two separate 1 hour floats.
Even though I did a 90 minute float, this sounds reasonable to me as well from my experience. I doubt I would have gotten enough out of a 60 minute float.
#3. Nootropics can help – I’m always curious how nootropics can be integrated and with sensory deprivation therapy, this can be the case. I used a simple combination of caffeine and L-theanine in a 1:2 ratio during my float.
This prevented me from falling asleep or becoming drowsy (which it is easy to do) and also helped me focus on my breath in and out. Which leads me too…
#4. Breathing – some people let their mind wander during a flotation tank experience and there is a lot of value in that. For a different approach, I tried essentially meditating during the whole float by practicing on following my breaths in and out.
By focusing on my breath I was obviously doing a form of meditation, which was amplified by the lack of sensory input around me. This is why in both my and Dan Engles’ words “...it’s essentially like meditation on steroids.” 
The Psychedelic Alternative: Flotation Tanks
The brain is constantly scanning and sifting through information. Your brain filters what is important and what isn’t or else you’d probably go crazy.
In a sensory deprivation tank, all of these sensors are downregulated and your brain operates at a different level than usual. The parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) starts to take over, and there are a host of benefits for reducing anxiety and stress and increased sleep quality . Even markers, such as memory and logic, can be increased with sensory deprivation .
However, one of the most novel uses for sensory deprivation is as a low-level replacement for psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin.
While some people experience similar (though I’d argue less intense) visual stimuli and mental states, it’s always possible to stop the discomfort by opening the door and walking out.
With psychedelics this isn’t always the case. As Tim Ferriss’ recounts “I can start the music, but I can’t make it stop” With sensory deprivation, there is always the opportunity to stop.
Step it Up a Notch
For those who already have a level of comfort with psychedelic experiences, sensory deprivation and psychedelics might be a step up. Obviously there is no science to support the benefits (and most float centers would suggest you do otherwise), but it may be an powerful combination.
When Joe Rogan has mentioned doing this in the past, it is usually with marijuana or psilocybin. If someone did this, it might be best to begin with a microdose instead.
NOTE: We do not advocate using any illegal substances or suggest you do anything stupid to harm yourself or others. Please use common sense.
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