Ever since seeing "Altered States" back in the day, we've held off on trying sensory deprivation tanks. Watching Willam Hurt's character devolve into a primitive man through repeated psychedelic experiments seemed like a red flag for curious newcomers. A recent trip to Portland's Float On has changed all that. The supremely chilled-out center invites visitors to come and enjoy the health benefits of a good float, which run from dopamine rushes to skin rejuvenation.
With four tanks, Float On holds the distinction of being the largest tank center on the West Coast. We opted to try one of the two "ocean" tanks, which are built with six feet of head room for anyone with claustrophobic tendencies. The team behind the center, Quinn Zepeda, Graham Talley and Christopher Messer have created a haven of calm with an inclusive ethos—cash-strapped customers may work shifts to earn float time, and artists are allowed to float free of charge.
After stripping down and showering, you enter the tank, where the water is warmed to match the ambient air at 93.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The 40% salt content makes the water extremely buoyant, keeping you afloat in a mere 14 inches of water. The environment is pitch black and silent, thanks to wax over-ear earplugs. You are encouraged to lay in whatever position feels most comfortable for the 90-minute sessions and, if the tank isn't booked, they'll let you stay in for as long as you please.
After a little more than an hour in suspended gravity—which they claim releases enough pressure on your spine to lengthen your body by an inch—the mind gives over to theta brainwaves, oscillating between consciousness and unconsciousness. It is in this state that practitioners report mental breakthroughs of a creative and psychedelic nature due to decreased level of cortisol, the chemical in the brain that causes stress. Once the initial "What the hell am I doing?" feeling passes, all sense of time and environment gives over to pleasant calm as the loss of sensation shuts down most survival-related brain functions. Sensory deprivation makes the body lose track of time, too, so the float seems to last just a few minutes.
The session ends when music pipes into the tank to wake you if you've fallen asleep (I didn't), although you are encouraged to take your time when re-entering reality. While I didn't have what I would call a mental breakthrough during the float, it seemed to clear the way for my creativity to take a jump in the days to follow.
4530 Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97215