As the mental health crisis continues to plague college students, universities across the country are investing more resources into addressing mental health concerns, according to Inside Higher Ed. The University of Kansas in particular moved appointments through Counseling and Psychological Services over the phone to remain accessible to students despite campus being closed due to the new coronavirus outbreak. But beyond the University's services, students can look to the Lawrence community for alternative care as the state begins to reopen. One unique practice offered in town, for example, is sensory deprivation.
Sensory deprivation therapy, also known as flotation therapy, is the process of spending time completely nude in a soundproof tank floating in about one foot of salt water. According to Healthline, the first sensory deprivation tank was designed in the 1950s to explore the effects on the brain by isolating stimuli, and research has since explored ways in which sensory deprivation therapy can benefit one’s mental, physical and emotional state.
Lawrence has various massage parlors and meditation centers that offer flotation therapy.
Evan Thompson, a University senior from Kansas City, Missouri, says he has cleaned float tanks for Elevate Arts of Wellness Massage and Float Spa, located at 1407 Massachusetts St. He says he discussed meditative practices with his coworkers before ever entering the tanks.
“With any meditative practice, you have to fully focus on what’s within, and things you can’t explain manifest themselves,” he says. “Inside the tanks, all your senses are taken away … You have to look deep inside what’s in the brain.”
Thompson, a photography major who began to take interest in sensory deprivation tanks through research, advice and Joe Rogan podcasts, says he’s had transformative experiences while floating.
“Visually I was able to see the spectrum of the transfers of energy in different levels and intensities,” he says. “It was beautiful to really be by yourself.”
And Thompson’s not alone in reaping the introspective benefits from sensory deprivation.
Sarah Hofmeyer, a second-year graduate student from Orange City, Iowa, also says the sensory deprivation is a relaxing, grounding experience that can evoke memories and stimulate meditative imagery.
“The first time I floated, the water felt very vast,” she says. “I’ve been in large bodies of water before, and [the tank] felt similar to being surrounded by waves even in this tiny pod.”
Hofmeyer, who studies urban planning, says she’s floated around three or four times since last spring, and as time accumulates, the impacts of the sessions feel more powerful.
I booked an appointment at The Bodhi Tree Holistic Healing center, located in downtown Lawrence at 15 E. Seventh St., Suite #201. The first float is $40 for an hour session. However, due to stay-at-home orders, the center will remain closed until at least May 18, according to an email newsletter. The appointment schedule reopens on May 19 with “no more than 10 clients allowed in for services at any given time.”
The tank room is private with a locked door to the changing, showering and tank area. Since it was my first float, owner and massage therapist Ally Goodman gave me a rundown of what to expect. We discussed the size and features of the tank — where the light switch is, the salt water, the optional neck pillow, the weight of the door and the speaker that plays music to signal when the session is over.
I got undressed, showered, tied my hair up and climbed into the tank.
Immediately, the salt irritated my pores, so in the first five minutes of stinging pain I thought, “OK, I’m done now.” But I stuck it out, tried not to think about it and let my body spread completely relaxed. At some points, I’d somehow bump into the walls of the tank, and this reminder of space felt a little claustrophobic. Overall though, I wasn’t horribly aware of the confinement.
Once I’d gotten acclimated, time and reality seemed to stop. Being in the tank felt like being in a vacuum of space — the air is still, there is no sound, and the water, which is neither cold nor warm, only moved when I did.
What I found most effective was clearing my mind and meditating on my breathing. It was freeing in its core. The tank felt like a safe space I could be completely MIA, where I didn’t have to think about anything or anyone. It was a place to unify with my surroundings and be as still and calm as the water, and as the pod deprived me of physical clutter around me, I could let go of the mental stresses within.
The music signaled the end of the session, and I opened the door.
Light and open space poured in as I gathered myself, washed the salt off and left with an appreciation for the solemnity of taking time to just be.
What a humbling feeling it was to simply exist.