Reporter’s notebook: I spent an hour inside a sensory deprivation tank — and survived!

Reporter’s notebook: I spent an hour inside a sensory deprivation tank — and survived!
Photo by Jason Speakman

I’ve done deep-dive reporting before, but this was ridiculous!

Last Friday, I went out on a straight-forward assignment to write about a new local business, and half an hour later, I was stuck wet and naked inside a pitch-black, sound-proof box, contemplating my own mortality.

No, Mayor DeBlasio’s security team hadn’t caught me trailing him outside the Park Slope YMCA again and stuffed me inside the trunk of an idling sport utility vehicle — not yet, anyway. My editor had sent me out to interview the owners of Lift Next Level Floats, a recently-opened flotation therapy center in Carroll Gardens, where customers pay to ensconce themselves inside sensory deprivation tanks — a practice the proprietors told me heals physical ailments and helps the mind deal with anxiety, insomnia, and everyday stress.

More importantly, mixed martial arts commentator Joe Rogan says it is trippier than the Coney Island Pink Floyd Laser Show. So when the store’s owners asked if I wanted to have a soak in one of their space-age isolation pods (gratis, I should disclose for ethical reasons), I was out of my clothes faster than you can say, “Wait, remember what happened to William Hurt in that freaky Ken Russell movie…”

That very thought finally occurred to me as I prepared for my cocooning, but once I had climbed inside the gaping maw of the Hungry, Hungry, Hippo-like contraption and pulled the lid closed, my fears floated away.

The water was saltier than a bag of potato chips, keeping me effortlessly buoyant, and the same temperature as my body, making it difficult to work out where my limbs ended and the water began. The only reminder that I was, in fact, confined inside a tepid bath above a German beer hall was when my ponderous bobbing occasionally brought one of my toes into contact with the wall of the tank. Otherwise, I may as well have been floating weightlessly in outer space.

In the first few minutes of my session, I played around with the novelty of sensory deprivation. Was it really possible that I could see absolutely nothing, that I was in true pitch darkness? Yep — waving my hands an inch in front of my eyes did nothing more confuse my brain. But as my time in the vast nothingness of the pod wore on, I settled in and embraced the trip. Did I even have hands anymore? Do my eyes cease to exist if I can no longer use them to read zoning documents? These questions drifted through my mind like Zen koans. The owners recommended floating for at least an hour, and this was the perfect amount of time for me to stop counting the minutes and sink into myself.

I will spare you the more sincere self-reflection that went on in that tank. But I assure you, tongue momentarily removed from cheek, that a one-hour vacation from the incessant noise of Downtown and from the relentless grind of community board meetings and chasing down police blotters afforded me a rare chance to take calm my brain and peer inward.

In the end I escaped the pod with my mind intact, and while I must report a disappointing lack of visual tricks — thanks for nothing, Joe Rogan — I walked back into the Carroll Gardens sun feeling more well-rested and stress-free than any time in recent memory, ready to face another day of community news reporting with a smile on my face.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro[email protected]cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Altered state: A bleary-eyed Noah Hurowitz emerges a new man after an hour-long float in the sensory deprivation pod.
Photo by David Leventhal