Float tanks or sensory deprivation tanks have been around since the 50s and Europe has used them off-and-on since the 70s.
Deprivation therapy works by diminishing nearly all sights, sounds, smells, and touch. This has been shown to naturally ease many ailments including insomnia, chronic pain, depression, and even addiction.
The best part about this? You don't need a doctor's visit to float.
According to sources in the industry, the 1980s rise of AIDS scared many and reduced the demand for float centers. By 2013, floating was more popular in Europe than the US. Tanks cost about $10,000 and an hour-long session would cost you about $70.
Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) gained popularity in the 70s thanks to Dr. John Lilly, a neuroscientist who worked for the National Institutes of Health. Lilly specialized in cognition and brain activity and helped pioneer the research of float tanks at the time.
So What Is a Sensory Deprivation Float Tank?
Despite the lack of scientific support, people have come to float to treat many conditions including muscle tension, chronic pain, hypertension, and even rheumatoid arthritis.
Float tanks are simply a temperature-regulated, Epsom salt water filled, a lightproof tank that isolates you from most of your sensory inputs.
So basically, you are in a quiet dark tank and left alone for a while.
John C. Lilly dared to question things like what would happen to your mind if you deprived it of as many external stimuli as possible.
In the original float tank, 160 gallons of water would suspend you with everything but the top of your head completely submerged.
You wore a "blackout" mask which looks like it came straight from a horror movie which supplied you with air. The water temperature was kept at the same temperature as your skin.
After complaints of having your head wrapped in latex as being distracting, they did away with the masks. Also, they went from a total body submersion to saturating the water with 800 pounds of Epsom salt which made the water so dense you would float.
So, you have a tank of water with no light, it's so quiet you can hear your muscles tense, and you are in a near zero-gravity environment. Is this real life?
More About John C. Lilly
Known for developing the first isolation tank, Lilly is no stranger to thinking outside of the box.
Lilly was a pioneer in electronic brain stimulation. He was the first person to successfully map pain and pleasure pathways in the brain.
He then founded an entire branch of science that explored interspecies communication between us, dolphins, and whales.
Lilly liked to experiment with mind-altering drugs like LSD and spent prolonged periods in the tank exploring human consciousness.
Drug use aside, I think it's pretty cool how Lilly did not stay confined to the science of that time. Lilly claimed that while in the tank, he could make contact with creatures from other dimensions, and even civilizations far more advanced than ours.
How Do Float Tanks Work?
Float tanks are basically a tank full of temperature controlled water with a bunch of Epsom salt, they are soundproof and lightproof. Oh, and there are vents for air so that you don't die.
The reason floating makes you feel like you are in zero gravity is because generally, a float tank will hold 200 gallons of water with 850 pounds of Epsom salt.
Who Should Use a Float Tank?
I believe everyone should at least try floating once.
High-Profile Float Tank Users
Don't believe me that everyone should try floating? Check out some of these high-profile advocates of floating.
Joe Rogan is a UFC Commentator, a podcaster, and comedian. I've personally followed Joe for a few years now and he is the one who opened my eyes to floating.
According to Rogan, floating will show you the different issues in your life that you don't like, things that are bothering you, and things about your behavior that need to change.
Rogan also says "I think it's one of the most incredible pieces of equipment for self-help and introspective thought you can ever find."
Actress and comedian Kristen Wiig has gone onto the Late Show with David Letterman, saying:
"You come out and everything is great! And your skin feels really good."
Actor Jeff Bridges meditates daily and a pretty close friend to the inventor, John C. Lilly. Bridges was a test dummy for some of Lilly's initial experiments in the 1970s.
He's been noted as saying "well, it's true that when you can't see out, you start looking in."
If you know anything about track and field, you know Carl Lewis. Lewis used extensive in-tank visualization techniques to prepare for his gold medal performances at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
One of the most iconic singer/songwriters ever, John Lennon credits the float tank to help him kick his heroin habit in 1979.
He says the sensation of floating reminded him of getting high without the use of dangerous drugs.
Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss has been a human guinea pig for many experiments. He has experimented with floating to excel his learning of new languages as well as reduce stress and anxiety.
Tim is an extremely smart and entertaining guy. He holds a Guinness World Record in Argentine tango, he raises money for philanthropic causes, and I believe he knows 5 languages - one being Mandarin Chinese.
Ferriss says that "I found it to be one of the most anxiety reducing experiences I've ever had."
Top 10 Sensory Deprivation Tank Benefits
While I'm not sure why I need to keep trying to show you how great floating is for your mental and physical health, here are 10 benefits of floating.
#1 - Floating Can Help With Those Tension Headaches
Do you always seem to get that headache in the back of your head towards the end of your work shift?
What about after a long hard day of doing nothing and you just can't get rid of your headache?
Floating can help with tension headaches due to the relief of complete relaxation. If your shoulders and neck are tight and causing the headaches, you are one float away from relief.
#2 - Floating Can Reduce Your Blood Pressure
You may think this is great for those with high blood pressure (which it is), but those of us that do not have high blood pressure can benefit, too.
Lowering your blood pressure significantly reduces your risk of stroke and heart attacks.
#3 - Floating Can Cure Insomnia
Floating has been shown to improve insomnia symptoms for up to 12 weeks by floating 2 hours per week for 2 weeks.
So, along with the other benefits, floating once per week can change your life.
#4 - Floating Will Reduce Your Stress Levels
In a 2005 meta-analysis, it was confirmed that floating is just as effective, if not more effective, than relaxation exercises and some types of meditation.
A study in 1999 showed an increase in Theta waves during floating. These are the same waves found in REM sleep and in meditation. From this study, they found that:
"Plasma and urinary cortisol, ACTH [adrenocorticotropic hormone], aldosterone, renin activity, epinephrine, heart rate, and blood pressure, all directly associated with stress, consistently decrease."
This means that even if you don't feel stressed to the max, floating will lower stress hormones. As you know, this will impact your overall quality of life in a great way.
#5 - Floating Improves Muscle Recovery Times
Floating reduces lactic acid buildup and kills your perceived pain levels after athletic training.
The faster you can recover, the harder you can train.
#6 - Floating Improves Creativity
Floating invokes creativity and increases your ability to solve problems.
Along with enhanced creativity, you'll have more energy and you will perform better at work.
#7 - Floating Can Improve Your Connection With Others
While there aren't many studies that can quantify that you can improve your connection with others, there are many anecdotes mentioned throughout literature about floating.
Since floating reduces your stress, increases your feeling of well-being and increases your awareness, you will be more sensitive and have more positive interactions.
#8 - Floating Can Help You Change Bad Habits
Are you a smoker, drinker, or binge eat?
Floating can help you slay your demons. Studies have found there is an improved connection between your physiology and consciousness when you float.
This means they are more aware of their choices and their outcomes. These choices ultimately affect how they physically feel.
#9 - Floating Gives the Same Benefits as Meditation
Since it seems the majority of us can't sit still for more than 30 seconds without some stimulation, floating is a mediation alternative.
Floaters find that they get many of the same benefits as meditation without as much effort.
#10 - Floating Can Increase Circulation
Something that I know many who sit all day deal with is circulation. Poor circulation to our lower extremities from sitting all of the time can wreck our bodies.
Here are 3 ways how floating lowers your blood pressure naturally:
- Since you are suspended in liquid, your body has no contact pressure. Since there's no pressure, your blood vessels can fully dilate which instantly reduces blood pressure. This maximizes your blood flow, oxygen, and red blood cells in your body.
- Epsom salts are absorbed through your skin while floating. This encourages increased dopamine production. This is why Lennon said he felt like he was high.
- Your body goes into a state of equilibrium. Since you are physically not moving a muscle and there are no sensory inputs to process, your body goes into a state of minimal energy output. Your body uses less oxygen, your heart won't work as hard, and your blood pressure is lowered.
Should You Have Any Precautions Before Jumping Into a Float Tank?
While the benefits of floating are apparent, the scientific research behind it has been, well, imperfect.
For instance, the studies are generally small, there's not much of an experimental control, and the mysticism and recreational drug use has slowed research on the technique.
I've not had the chance to float yet, but I plan on making a visit sometime this year.
If you are open-minded and try floating to solve your inner conflicts and are seeking answers, I believe you will find them.