A Beginner’s Guide to Flotation Therapy

Updated on October 11th, 2020
flotation therapy

A flotation tank, also called a sensory deprivation tank, or an isolation tank is used for REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy). It is a soundproof, dark tank that is filled with less saltwater or a foot.

John C. Lilly developed the initial tank in 1954, an American neuroscientist and physician. He created the tank to know about the beginnings of consciousness by breaking away all external stimuli.

His study took a controversial bend in the 1960s. That’s when he started experimenting with sensory deprivation while under the effects of Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), a hallucinogenic, and ketamine, a fast-acting anesthetic that is known for its ability to create a trance-like state and sedate.

In the 1970s, commercial float tanks were made and began being researched for possible health advantages.

Float spa treatment

These days, getting a sensory deprivation tank is simple, with spas and float centers offering float therapy worldwide.

Flotation Therapy Benefits

Their increase in acceptance may be due in part to the scientific proof. Studies suggest that time spent floating in a sensory deprivation tank can benefit healthy people, such as better sleep, muscle relaxation, decreased pain, and decreased anxiety and stress.

Sensory Deprivation Effects

The flotation tank’s [1] water is heated to skin temperature and almost saturated with magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt), providing buoyancy, so you float more comfortably.

You enter the tank nude and are disconnected from all outside stimulation, including sight, sound,  and gravity, when the tank’s door or lid is closed.

As you float around weightlessly in the darkness and silence, the brain is supposed to enter into a deeply relaxed state. Sensory deprivation tank therapy produces several effects on the brain, ranging from enhanced creativity to hallucinations.

Do you have hallucinations in a flotation tank?

Many individuals have reported having hallucinations in a flotation tank. Over the decades, studies have shown that sensory deprivation does trigger psychosis-like experiences.

A 2015 study divided 46 people into 2 groups based on how vulnerable they were to hallucinations. Scientists found that sensory deprivation-induced similar experiences in both the low- and high -prone groups, and it spiked the frequency of hallucinations in those in the high-prone zone.

Will it make me more creative?

According to a paper presented in 2014 in the EJIM (European Journal of Integrative Medicine), floating in a sensory deprivation tank has been found in a handful of studies to increase imagination, originality, and intuition, which can all lead to improved creativity.

Can it improve concentration and focus?

Though most of the studies that exist are older, there is some evidence that sensory deprivation can enhance concentration and focus and lead to more precise and clearer thinking. This has been linked to enhanced performance and improved learning in school and multiple career groups.

Does it improve athletic performance?

The several effects of sensory deprivation tank therapy on athletic performance are well documented. It has been found useful in speeding up recovery after exhausting physical training by reducing blood lactate in a study of twenty-four college students.

A study of 60 elite athletes in 2016 also noted it improved psychological recovery following intense competition and training.

Sensory deprivation tank benefits

There are various medical and psychological benefits of a sensory deprivation tank on conditions such as stress, anxiety disorders,  and chronic pain.

Does a sensory deprivation tank treat anxiety?

Flotation-REST has been noted to be effective in minimizing anxiety. A 2018 study showed that a single 60-minute session in a sensory deprivation tank could significantly improve mood and reduce anxiety in the 50 participants with anxiety and stress- and -related disorders.

A  study of 46 people in  2016 who self-reported GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) found that it minimized GAD symptoms, such as sleep difficulties, depression, irritability, and fatigue.

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Can it relieve pain?

Several studies have confirmed the effect of sensory deprivation tank therapy on chronic pain. It is shown to help treat headaches, tension,  pain, and muscle tension. A small research of 7 participants found it effective in treating whiplash-associated disorders, such as neck stiffness and pain and reduced motion range. It has also been shown to reduce stress-induced pain.

Can it improve cardiovascular health?

Flotation-REST therapy can improve your cardiovascular health by inducing deep relaxation that improves sleep and reduces stress levels, according to a study. Sleep deprivation and chronic stress have been linked to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.  

Will it make you happier?

There are multiple claims about flotation-REST causing feelings of overwhelming euphoria and happiness. People have reported mild euphoria, increased well-being, and more optimistic following therapy using a flotation tank.

Others have reported deep inner peace, spiritual experiences, sudden spiritual insight, and feeling like they were born again.

Sensory deprivation tank cost

Your own home flotation tank can cost between $9,000 and $32,000. The cost for a 60-minute float session at a float spa or flotation center ranges from about $60 to $110, depending on the place.

Sensory deprivation tank process

Though the process may vary somewhat  based on the flotation center, a session in a flotation tank generally goes as follows:

  1. You arrive at the spa or flotation center, showing up early if it’s your initial visit.
  2. Remove all of your jewelry and clothing.
  3. Shower before getting into the tank.
  4. Enter the tank and close the lid or door.
  5. Gently lie back and let the buoyancy of the water support you float.
  6. Music plays for 15 minutes at the beginning of your session to help you relax.
  7. Float for 60 minutes.
  8. Music plays for the last 5 minutes of the session.
  9. Come out of the tank once your session has completed.
  10. Shower again, and dress up.

To help you unwind and get the best out of your session, it is suggested that you eat something approximately half an hour before your session. It’s also helpful to avoid caffeine for 4 hours in advance.

Waxing or shaving before a session is not suggested, as the salt in the water may irritate the skin. Women who are menstruating should postpone their session for once their period has completed.

Bottom Line

When used correctly, a sensory deprivation tank may help relieve stress and ease muscle pain and tension. It can also help enhance your mood. Flotation tanks are generally safe, but it may be a good idea to speak to a physician before using one if you have any concerns or medical conditions.

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