Sensory deprivation tanks, also referred to as isolation tanks or flotation (also spelled floatation) tanks consist of three key components:
- Super saturated salt water. Epson salt or magnesium sulfate to be precise.
- Water and air that are both matched to around 95º F which is the average person’s external body temperature.
- An elimination of light and sound.
This combination allows the user to float effortlessly on top of the water with the goal being that they lose touch with their outside world. This is achieved by reducing or eliminating external stimulation. To do successfully, it’s tricky because of all the variables such as street noise, air or water temperatures that are either too warm, too cold or any other distracting sensation must be thoughtfully worked out. However, when everything comes together, float therapy can facilitate profound benefits such as relaxation, vision/goal setting, problem solving, even relief of chronic pain.
When visiting a float spa you may read or watch a video that references restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST). Today’s sensory deprivation tank experience has its beginnings in the work that was pioneered by American physician and neuroscientist, John C. Lilly in the 1950’s. Initially, his tanks were fresh water and required a breathing apparatus, but the thought was still to place the floater in an environment free of external stimuli.
Dr. Lilli later used floatation therapy while under the effects with LSD and ketamine in hopes of exploring capabilities of the mind and what could be altered through changed thought. These days most float spas have understand that you’re visiting to find your mental retreat and there’s no need to ingest anything to get you to a state of being.
Speaking of ‘altered’, remember the movie Altered States? It’s a trippy movie from 1980 featuring floatation therapy and starring William Hurt. More recently, floatation was featured in the Netflix hit series Stranger Things where Eleven uses it to travel to the Upside Down. Anyway, let’s stay focused on the science versus science fiction.