Sensory Deprivation Tank Floating: An Intro

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By Jocelin Higgins

Sensory Deprivation Tank Floating- What is it?

What is it like floating in a sensory deprivation tank? Perhaps you are wondering what it’s all about and why people do it. Or, rather how does it benefit you?

Sensory Deprivation Tank

A woman floats in a sensory deprivation tank with the lid open. You  can float either way.

I became interested in floating in a sensory deprivation (otherwise known as reduction) tank about seven years ago. A wellness center where I was practicing hypnosis had a couple of the Samadhi sensory deprivation tanks (also known as isolation tanks) in the basement. I became curious about them and so I began floating in the tanks to see what it was like.  I had heard it was a type of meditation in water and quite a healing experience. Later, I would bring in hypnosis audio programs to listen to while I delved deep in the darkness resting my body by slightly submerging it in the 800-1,000 pounds of ebsom salt saturated water. I found it highly rewarding for not only feeling better emotionally, but physically and spiritually as well.

The Origins of Sensory Deprivation Therapy

In the 1950’s, scientists were experimenting in order to find out what would happen to a person when all environmental stimuli from the outside world disappeared. Dr. John Lilly is one of the most well-known of these scientists, along side Dr. Jay Shurley, that first created an isolation tank in 1954 at The National Institutes of Mental Health Lab in the Virgin Islands. They wanted to learn how people responded by eliminating contact with other people, light, gravity, sound, but yet heating the water to about 93 degrees Fahrenheit to remove the extremes in temperature.

They learned many important discoveries from these experiments. They found that when they removed all external sensations, that there was still a mechanism that generated internal experiences. A person’s mind does not go unconscious, but the brain is still active. It constructs experiences out of memories and stored impressions. If one does not fall asleep in an isolation tank, then there is a great opportunity to reprogram the mind for desired change-to consciously construct more positive thoughts and discard deeply held limiting beliefs. It is similar to being in a state of hypnosis as brain waves are slowing down to theta levels.

Yet, he also discovered that the mind fostered creativity while in the sensory deprivation tank, thus allowing people to present a problem when in the tank and retrieve answers quickly after coming out of submersion from the isolation tank. He goes into these discoveries in the book, The Deep Self: Consciousness Exploration in the Isolation Tank or Programming and Meta-programming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments (if you are more scientifically inclined).

Since then, many others have studied the effects of floating in an isolation tank. John Turner and Tom Fine developed the more modern floatation R.E.S. T. technique, which stands for Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy. Michael Hutchison published a ground breaking book in 1984, The Book of Floating. I’ll outline some of this research and current findings later in this post. Dr. Oz even tried it and recommends it. There is a fantastic documentary made in 2014 called Float Nation that answers many questions people have about floating and gives more insights into float therapy. Recently, in November, Time magazine reported that the United States opened its first float clinic in Tulsa, Oklahoma: the Float Clinic and Research at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research.  This is a huge move in studying the science behind floating and its effect particularly, on neuroscience.

The Health Benefits to Floating in a Sensory Deprivation Tank

Floaters have reported numerous benefits floating. Depression lifts, anxiety  decreases. Whereas Dr. Lilly focused on the brain and the psychological aspects, there are many physical ones too. These include, a heightened state of relaxation from the deep rest your body undergoes and a release of dopamine and endorphins that go with this relaxed state. It’s the complete opposite of how you feel when your body tenses up from too much stress, adrenaline and cortisol buildup in your system! Consequently, relief from chronic pain often subsides after a few floats. A person can recover from jet lag quicker by floating after crossing time zones.  Athletes, artists and musicians float to enhance performance and relieve muscle pain and students find their memories improve and super learning occurs.

Most importantly, the metaphysical aspects are fascinating to note. I’ve often felt that I was “lost in space” as the weightlessness of floating makes me unaware of my body. On a recent session, I saw bright lights come and go in my mind’s eye and stars appeared on the ceiling inside the float tank. I had to ask afterwards whether they painted stars on the ceiling. “Nope. But, others have also mentioned seeing them,”a staff member at Float On responded. Hmm. Some mind expanding adventures here within this inner world. Many experts even believe that if more people took up floating, there would be less violent crimes committed. If there is a negative to floating, it would be a little salt getting in your eyes or it can sting if you have a scratch on your skin. However, you can dab some Vaseline on any scratches to prevent this from occurring.

How and Where to Float

sensory deprivation tank

Bird’s eye view of man floating in a sensory deprivation tank with lid open.

It’s really a simple, passive activity that just about anyone can partake in. You just need the physical mobility to get into a tank and lay down in salt water, which is so highly concentrated that you become very buoyant. Locate a local spa or sensory deprivation tank center to visit. If you are near or plan on visiting Portland, Oregon, you will find a few great options. We have the USA’s largest float tank center, Float On, (which is a colorful, creative and innovative place). Additionally, there are three different types of tanks at The Float Shoppe (whose owners are super friendly and generous.) I spoke with co-founder, Sandra Calm and she states that they have plans for an additional tank soon. There are two tanks at The Everett House Healing Center (where I stepped into my first tank), and Mudra Massage clinic has a tank as well. The combination of massage before or after floating is an added health benefit. Receive a massage before a float session if you desire mainly the psychological benefit, but if you’d rather focus on physical healing, float first and then get the massage after your muscles soften in the tank, stated Sandra from The Float Shoppe.

If you are a seasoned floater, did you know that a national float conference is held in August in Portland, Oregon each year? Come visit. Additionally, Portland Float Shoppe owner, Dylan Schmidt has started a podcast called The Art of Floating for people who want to open a float center and need support to keep it running smoothly.

How Much Does It Cost to Float?

It costs anywhere from $60 on up for a 90 minutes session (which is the least recommended at a time for best experience). You can sometimes find discounts for first time floats if you check Groupon or Living Social coupons in your area.  It can add up if you are not flush in the pocketbook, so I wanted to let you know about a new company that has created and built home tanks. Commercial ones begin at $8,000 and go on up, however the Zen Float company is manufacturing float tents for only $1,850 to give more people an affordable option.

Well, I hope this post is helpful in giving you an introduction to the fine art of floating in a sensory deprivation (reduction) tank. Give it time, you really need to partake in a few sessions to know what it’s really all about! Please feel free to share a comment below. I’d love to hear more about your experiences floating.

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Works Cited

Bynum, Brad. “Altered States Is a Session in a Sensory Deprivation Tank as Surreal, Dangerous and Psychedelic as It Is in the Movies?” Www.newsreview.com. News Review, 03 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. <https://www.newsreview.com/reno/altered-states/content?oid=18187527>.

Float Nation. Dir. Jory & Carl Piglowski & Jessee. Perf. Various. Kickstarter, 2014. 27 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. .
Float Nation. Dir. Jory & Carl Piglowski & Jessee. Perf. Various. Kickstarter, 2014. 27 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. .
Hutchison, Michael. The Book of Floating: Exploring the Private Sea. New York: Morrow, 1984. Print.
Oaklander, Mandy. “Behind the Strange New Science of Floating.” Time. Time, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.
Stevenson, Seth. “I Floated Naked in a Sensory Deprivation Tank. You’ve Got to Try It.” Anything Once. Slate.com, 15 May 2013. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Stevenson, Seth. “I Slept All Night in a Sensory Deprivation Tank. Here Is My Story.” The Drift: A Blog About Sleep. Slate.com, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Unknown. “Float Science – The Float Shoppe.” Float Shoppe. The Float Shoppe, 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. <http://www.floatshoppe.com/floating/float-science/>.
Unknown. “Floating Overview – Float On.” Floating Overview. Float On Center, 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. <http://floathq.com/learn/floating-overview/>.
Unknown. “More Information.” Samadhi Tank Co., Inc. First Manufacturer of the Floatation Tank ( Flotation Tank ), Sensory Deprivation Tank, Float Tank, John Lilly Isolation Tank. Samadhi Tank Co., Inc., 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. <http://samadhitank.com/moreinfo.html>.
Williams, Brittany. “I Floated In A Sensory Deprivation Tank; Here’s What Happened – Healthcare Industry Today – EIN News.” The Grapevine, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015. <http://health.einnews.com/article/287759735/-O_E6uyT8FLJceRX>.

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