What are float tanks?

What happens to the brain when you cut off all sensory input? In 1954 John C. Lilly created the first isolation tank to investigate a hypothesis in neurophysiology that centered around the thought that if the brain is not stimulated from environmental factors it would simply go to sleep.

From that initial experimental task, the isolation tank has evolved into its present day form which can take on many shapes or names, but contain universally constant characteristics.

Float Tank Diagram

Let’s start with the names: Float Tanks, Isolation Tanks, Sensory Deprivation Tank, REST Tank. If you knew nothing more than these various labels what would you picture? This is a fun exercise when speaking with someone who has never heard of a floating. Have them describe what comes to mind before divulging any additional information. Some get very close, while others think you are discussing dunk tanks at carnivals that drop you in the water when a target is hit with a ball (A FloatTanks.net favorite response). Regardless of personal visions, curiosity is always peaked and the conversation typically ends with, “I want to try that.” (This is your key to send them to FloatTanks.net)

The actual description of a float tank at a facility can range from coffin size tanks with lids to entire rooms containing a large open air bathtub. The shape and size of a float tank really does not matter, as long as it contains all of the elements needed to serve its purpose of attempting to disable our 5 senses.

1. Sight: Floating is done in a pitch-black environment. This is either achieved by adding a lid that fully closes around the tank or sealing off the room so no light can enter.

2. Sound: Float tank facilities strive for a quiet environment. To ensure silence can be achieved, earplugs are generally worn when floating.

3. Touch: Several aspects of touch are considered during a float. First, a weightless sensation is manufactured through the use of Epsom salts. Espsom salt increases the water density making anyone’s ability to float effortless. Second, the temperature of the water is adjusted to match temperature of the body allowing for unnoticeable transitions. In addition, float tanks are large enough and deep enough that no part of your body should ever touch the tank.  Although some are more comfortable in a bathing suit, to further reduce outside factors it is recommended that you float nude.

4. Taste: Nothing is altered to adjust for taste, just don’t forget to throw away your gum before entering.

5. Smell: No chemicals, like chlorine, are added to the water, minimizing any smells that may occur and become a distraction.

These sensory deprivation techniques are commonly used across all float tanks. The experience inside the tank can vary greatly among individuals. To get a sense of what you might undergo during your float check out Why Float?