What is an isolation tank, a float tank, or a sensory deprivation tank?
Although a ‘sensory deprivation tank’ may sound like a hip, fancy, science-y new term, you would be surprised to learn that the neuroscientist John C. Lilly dared to experiment with the idea of limiting the mind of as much external stimuli as possible back in 1954.
Sensory deprivation tanks, or float tanks are exactly that – an invention that is designed to achieve as much isolation as possible from noise, sounds, colors, and ultimately also ceasing the internal chatter in an attempt to achieve a deep state of relaxation, complete muscle tension relief, and finally – assist in the healing of various conditions, including depression and anxiety.
The very first sensory deprivation tanks,
which required one to be fully submerged into water, wearing a breathing apparatus and tight clothing are now replaced with spaceship-like, fancy-looking float tanks, which are soundproof, lightproof, filled with a soothing mix of water and Epsom salts, heated to skin temperature. The new float tank design and the brilliant idea to increase water density, allowing the body to float, made the nightmarish-looking masks used back in the old days void.
In a float tank the sensation of a body boundary slowly fades
as the air and water are the same temperature, ears submerged (using ear plugs to protect them from the salts), arms floating by the sides to entirely reduce skin sensation. The external stimuli of smells is also being eliminated, especially if the water is not treated with chemicals. The amount of Epson salts is just right to prevent you from rolling over, splashing your face into the water, even if you fall asleep (which is not an unlikely occurrence at all).
So what does a float tank actually do to your brain?
To answer this question, some background on Lilly’s research and findings will certainly shed light. One of his main reasons to create the sensory deprivation tank was the idea to challenge the dominant psychological paradigm of the time – behaviorism. The behaviorism model suggests that the mind is a simplified mechanism based on stimulus and response, thus giving little to no room for exploration of the conscious and subconscious mind. Behaviorism claims that ‘consciousness is neither a definite nor a usable subject.’
The dozens of hours Lilly spent in the isolation tank proved the behaviorist theory wrong
Rather than completely switching off, his mind was able to create new, extremely exciting and even unexpected experiences when deprived of external stimuli. These experiences were borderline supernatural, but entirely vivid and reality-like. Lilly slowly perfected the skill to consciously craft any world he desired and enrich it with the very specifics and details of a real physical occurrence. He came to the realization that the only limit to expanding and forming these inner worlds was his own mind. He also came to the conclusion that his expectations were determining what would happen, therefore realizing that
It was his own beliefs that could prevent him from experiencing a wider array of possible realities
He summed up his findings in the following statement:
“In the province of the mind what one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits. These limits are to be found experimentally and experientially. When so found these limits turn out to be further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind there are no limits.”
Based on this alone, we can safely say that a sensory deprivation tank is a powerful tool for gaining self-knowledge, breaking limiting beliefs, and stretching the limits of our own mind. And this is not all..
Recent studies on the use of sensory deprivation tanks have confirmed the following brain boosting benefits
Flotation enhances creativity
A small study on enhancing scientific creativity was held by a group of university professors, which confirmed that float tank sessions allowed them to significantly improve creative ideas concerning their research studies. Six 90-minute floating sessions were held, each one followed by a brainstorming session which they recorded. There was a significant increase in free imagery and remote associations after each ‘rest’ session. Furthermore, mood tests proved that float tank sessions were directly associated with decreased levels of tension, anger, fatigue, depression, and confusion, as opposed to a higher level of vigor and enthusiasm.
Floatation boosts performance in a variety of disciplines
One of the most thoroughly researched effects of floatation is its ability to drastically improve performance in a wide array of activities that call for heightened levels of concentration and visual-motor coordination. These include jazz improvisations, archery, basketball, tennis and others. For example, the technical performance of a group of jazz students was noticeably enhanced after just four sessions in a float tank. This not only proves its effectiveness, but also suggests long-term benefits.
Floatation empowers you to effortlessly reap the benefits of meditation
Further research has indicated that floating sessions have the same brain boosting effects of sleep and meditation. However, as opposed to meditation, these brain states are much more easily reached during a floating session – no prior training or conscious effort is required. During such resting states (namely, decreased alpha waves and increased theta waves), the brain continually hones the skills it has acquired, while reinforcing recently gained knowledge for long-term storage. Furthermore, the ability of the brain to synthesize ‘resources’ from all brain areas, enabling it to solve ‘unsolvable’ tasks and problems is also immensely improved.
We have only scratched the surface here, but we will keep exploring the subject in Float Tank Whiz’s resource section. Let’s take a look at some of the even more noticeable
Sensory Deprivation Physical Effects
Complete relaxation and easing muscle tension are some of the most noticeable effects everyone who has experienced floating will report. A float tank session makes it surprisingly easy to be entirely still – something hard to otherwise achieve without a significant amount of conscious effort. Things don’t stop here, though.
A number of experiments reported a drop in blood pressure and stress-related hormones
during a float tank session. What is more important to note is that these effects were sustainable – they lasted for a long time after the last flotation experience had taken place. Further studies, held in 2005 confirmed that
Float tank sessions actually produce better and more long-lasting results than similar methods, including biofeedback, visualizations, and relaxation exercises.
These findings encouraged the researchers to better analyze whether floating can be an aid in healing stress-related disorders such as insomnia, hypertension, headaches, and even rheumatoid arthritis. All of the studies proved that float tank sessions lead to an improvement in each of these conditions.
The experiments demonstrated that floating sessions were particularly beneficial for chronic pain patients
who reported significant pain relief, a drop in anxiety, and a newly found feeling of happiness. An ongoing project has also confirmed preliminary positive results in the treating of fibromyalgia with the use of float tank sessions.
For a fuller list of benefits, see The 10 Science-Backed Benefits Of Floating And How To Amplify Them
This is a subject we will surely explore in much greater detail here on Float Tank Whiz, but a short answer to this would be – the value and benefits of having regular access to your own sensory deprivation tank greatly outweigh its costs (plus the costs you would incur if you were to regularly visit a float tank center).
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What is the value of 2-3 extra hours of creative productivity you gain each day, due to heightened concentration levels, boosted energy, and improved sleep patterns?
In monetary terms, at 5 working days per week, this turns into 720 extra hours per year; at just $10 per hour (and you likely earn more than that), this is a minimum of $7200 you could earn, most likely from an activity you enjoy and feel inspired about (as you’ve just gained the energy to tap into your hidden strengths and brain resources).
What are the savings you will make from energy boosting supplements, painkillers, sleep pills, medication and other methods you are using to improve your productivity and fight stress?
Can you put value on the lengthened life expectancy which results from replacing chemical substances and other invasive methods with a holistic approach to dealing with stress, anxiety, headaches, pain, and more?
This is some food for thought. There are of course the obvious practical benefits of owning your own sensory deprivation tank, such as the ability to float whenever you want. No need to drive, book sessions, and add another ‘task’ to your schedule.
Owning your own float tank gives you unrestricted access to a powerful tool for daily relaxation, stress relief, pain relief, and most importantly – to an unlimited number of sensationally unique experiences of self-knowledge and exploration!