Claustrophobia is the extreme or irrational fear of confined spaces.
I think everyone has claustrophobia to some extent. No one wants to be trapped in the DeathStar garbage compactor while the walls are closing in. The most common aversion to the tank is “I’m claustrophobic I could never get in there”, and yet only 3-5% of the population truly suffers from the phobia. Almost the same number of people are afraid of wide open spaces. So why is it that so many people’s initial reaction is that of fear? Sometimes claustrophobia is brought on by a traumatic experience, but often it’s because it’s biologically built into us to avoid danger, and confined spaces have the potential for danger. Same as when you see a snake you recoil, even though the snake may only be on your television and poses no risk. We are programmed to react, but once our body and mind surmise that there is no actual danger our stress responders relax and our heart rate regulates.
Most people who are weary of small spaces find that once they are in the tank and can actualize the space it’s much roomier than they had imagined. It’s usually reported that once in the tank the space is very comfortable and more like a hug than a threat. I’m a big fan of Doctor Who. If you’re not familiar, he’s a time lord that travels through space and time taking on nasty aliens with his cunning wit and non-violent nature. The vessel that allows him to travel to various times is called the TARDIS, which is a blue police telephone box. When a new companion is invited into the TARDIS the Doctor assures them that ‘It’s bigger on the inside” – and it sure is! I use this statement all the time when I’m talking about the tank.
It’s bigger on the inside!
This statement works on different levels. Physically it truly does feel larger when you experience it from the inside, but floating also promotes mind exploration and on a metaphysical level the tank is unbelievably expansive. For many, the weightless environment can bring about imagery of floating through space which is a very expanding feeling.
There are some tips and tricks to help you get over your fear and allow you to experience all the benefits float therapy can offer. Studies have shown that float therapy is just as effective with the lights on, so leave the light on for as long as you’d like. Remember that the door is operated by a simple hinge, there is no lock and you are always the only person in the room. You are in complete control of your surroundings and your float experience. You may exit the tank whenever you wish. For additional comfort, you may place a hand towel in the door jam to allow more light and air into the tank, or simply leave the door wide open if you need. Some tanks are equipped with an emergency call button.
There are a variety of styles of float basins available, but all of them have the same goal – eliminating sensory input. The traditional style tank might be the most likely to cause a pause, but for many avid floaters these offer the tried and true sensory reduced experience. A float tank is at least 7 feet long, almost 4 feet wide, and 3 and a half feet tall. Float cabins are generally larger, and have a height of 7 feet, so you can stand up. They are essentially a large bathtub with walls around it. Float pod’s resemble a clam shell and have a larger door opening which may provide comfort; but the trade off is that their doors are controlled by hydraulic arms which may cause more concern than a simple hinge. Pod’s are generally a bit wider than a traditional tank, but not as long, and comparable in height. Open float rooms are becoming more available to appeal to a wider audience. Open float rooms also provide the greatest accessibility for those with mobility issues.
The goal of a float tank is to eliminate all sensory input; sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. As you can imagine this gets harder and harder to accomplish the more open the tank. Float tanks, cabins and pods have walls making it easier to control the variables. Open float rooms are fantastic, but require tremendous attention to detail to eliminate light, sound, and maintain a steady temperature.
I once spoke to a lady who was absolutely terrified of water after a traumatizing childhood experience. She was intrigued with the idea of floating, but needed some help getting over her fears. When she emerged, she was in tears; she had overcome her phobia and said the experience had changed her life forever. I’ve heard other reports of people going into a float centre and just sitting beside the tank, sometimes taking 3 tries before they could muster enough courage to get in, but once they did they were absolved of the paralyzing fear. When people are given the right information, and allowed to take things at their own pace, floating can provide the perfect environment to overcome fears, especially the fear of water and confined spaces.
Just like everything else in life floating is not for everybody, but the tank holds so much potential that I think everyone should at least consider it. The only way to know if floating is right for you is to try it! And maybe not just once, but at least 3 times. Most avid floaters do not recount their first float as their best float. Claustrophobic or not, it takes time to get comfortable in this completely new environment, and to truly relax comfort is a must. Take whatever steps you need to RELAX HARDER!!
-By our friends at OGO Float! Visit them next time you’re in the great white north of Canada!