Me, myself and I

By Yang Lan Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-27 16:28:02

Isolation therapy offers an introspective escape

Getting some time to yourself can be tough in a 24/7 town like Shanghai. However, a new service is offering its customers the ultimate in escapism - although rather than sending them out of the city, it takes them deep within themselves.

Floatessence (96 Ronghua Road East, 5292-1009) houses a number of isolation tanks (one of which is pictured right) that, as their name suggests, are designed to completely isolate people from the outside world for a period of time. They are filled with warm water containing Epsom salts in which the user floats, fully immersed apart from their face.

Isolation tanks offer people the ultimate in escapism. Photos: Courtesy of


Isolation tanks offer people the ultimate in escapism. Photos: Courtesy of

The tanks are lightproof, and users wear earplugs to block out sounds.

The experience, which is also known as restricted environmental stimulation therapy, was created by American psychiatrist John C. Lilly in the 1950s to explore the effects of sensory deprivation.

While the experience is meant to be therapeutic, different people react in different ways. For some, it is a blissful, almost transcendent experience. For others, the total lack of external stimuli can be disorientating, uncomfortable or even scary.

The tanks have internal lighting and sound systems that can be set to gradually ease their inhabitants into total darkness and silence, and even come equipped with panic buttons should the experience become too much.

The service has proved hugely popular in Shanghai, with a two-month waiting list.

Shanghai-based psychologist Dr Cao Xuemin has visited Floatessence several times. She has experimented with sleeping and practicing yoga in the tanks.

"The temperature, humidity, light and music encourages the individual to relax and calm down," Cao told the Global Times. "People have a lot of pressure because they have a lot of social roles: friends, lovers, and employees. Sensory deprivation can help one return to their original self."

She added that the "womb-like experience" can help treat insomnia and anxiety. She said she encourages people who feel like they have no time to themselves to give the process a try.

Zhao Zhi, an American-born Chinese who works in Shanghai, has tried using isolation tanks two times. "My first experience was quite warm and comfortable. It felt like therapy," he said. "My body was extremely relaxed, but my brain was wide-awake."

Zhao said he had also tried other methods of relaxation such as yoga and meditation, but felt that sensory deprivation went deeper.

While some experienced users have visions when in the tank, this is unlikely for first timers. Many report feeling dizzy, while others can not fully relax.

Tips on relaxing in the tanks

Choose your tank wisely. At Floatessence, there are two types of isolation tanks. The basic tanks look like bath tubs. For those trying sensory deprivation for the first time, floating in an open-topped space will be less intimidating. The other type of tank is an enclosed capsule, and offers a more intense experience that is recommended for experienced users.

Don't eat or drink too much beforehand. Hydrating drinks are fine, but avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they will make relaxation more difficult.

Make sure you don't have any cuts or abrasions. You will be naked in a tank full of Epsom salts, which will irritate any wounds or rashes. You will be required to shower before and after the experience. There are lockers for clothes and personal belongings.

Don't be scared. There is no danger of drowning as you will float in the water. There are also floating pillows available, and a panic button. You can also customize light and sound levels.

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, About Town

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