Breaking the Surface: The Phenomenon of Float Tanks

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It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when humans discovered that they could temporarily shift their own consciousness just by depriving some of their senses for an hour or two.

Buddhist monks have been limiting their environmental surroundings for hundreds of years in order to meditate. Athlete’s will remove themselves from all distractions before a big event in order to center themselves and improve their focus.

Artist’s will separate from society for days, months and even years in order to increase their creativity and productivity. Sensory deprivation has been used for introspection, focus and inspiration since the beginning of recorded history. The flotation tank is designed to fast track this process.

From the outside a flotation tank resembles a giant futuristic cocoon. Inside the tank is a dark chamber filled with roughly twenty centimeters of water, set to body temperature and accompanied by an assortment of dissolved salts and magnesium. Sinking is impossible in the dense water.

There’s no light, sound, smell or taste and the sense of touch quickly dissolves when the body recognizes that it doesn’t have to regulate heat.

In a matter of minutes the main five senses are gone and there is only the mind and oblivion in every direction. From that point onwards it is a journey within oneself.

The flotation tank was first designed and built by John C. Lily in 1954, a neuro-psychiatrist and medical practitioner. Lily researched and conducted experiments on sensory deprivation in order to understand the origins of human consciousness.

When participants initially tested the floatation tank, counter to the anticipated, the majority of people stayed conscious and experienced an unexpectedly pleasant sensation. It wasn’t long until flotation tanks began appearing in day spas and therapy centers.

For most people, a sensory deprivation tank is a tool that gives them a break from their psychical body. The salts and magnesium in the water seep into the skin and relieve muscles of any tension and allows the body to utterly relax.Leaving one feeling refreshed and nimble for hours afterwards.

Chronic pain sufferers frequently attest to the physical benefits of floating.  John Bathersby, manager of Brisbane Float and Massage, is one such person. After a debilitating car accident that left him in a state of chronic pain and trying many methods of pain relief, he received a gift card for flotation therapy which changed his life. Consistent floats brought about immediate results and he now lives a pain-free life.

Besides anecdotal evidence, there have been dozens of controlled studies done over the years proving the long term effects of floating. A recent study conducted at the Human Performance Laboratory at Karistad University found that of the 140 participants who began regularly floating, more than three quarters felt their ailments alleviated.

 The study concluded that “through relaxing in floating tanks, people with long-term fibromyalgia, for instance, or depression and anxiety felt substantially better after only 12 treatments.”

 Another study conducted at the Medical College of Ohio found that regular flotation therapy reduces cortisol, the chemical released in response to stress.

 For others, floating is a guide for an introspective journey that no mind-altering substances can offer. It’s this aspect of float tanks that make them difficult to market to the public.

 Despite flotation therapy becoming commercial available for well over thirty years, it still remains a ‘new age’ phenomenon. The idea that the mind could react in anyway to sensory deprivation causes most people to hesitate before entering the dark abyss of the tank.

“Everybody is going to experience something different at every float session”, says Terri Griffin, owner of Fountain of Youth and Float Centre.

She continued on saying that the mind can go through hallucinations, forgotten memories, emotions, dream sequences while in the tank. It leads towards stripping away the ego and processing the subconscious.

“It can either be the shortest sixty minutes of your life or the longest.”

By William Purcell

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