Sensory deprivation tanks, flotation therapy tanks, isolation tanks or float tanks. These are some of the modern names for what neuroscientist John C. Lilly made in the mid-1950s.
Typically, float tanks consist of a closed-off room or pod roughly the size of a small shed that is both sound and light proof. It is filled with 10-12 inches of water and nearly 1,200 pounds of epsom salt, allowing people to float effortlessly on their backs.
If the tank does its job, one should be able to relax, meditate, reflect or maybe even fall asleep. Teagan Lybrand, an employee of Float State in Corona, Calif., said the possibilities of what can happen are different for each person.
“It is like a beginner’s meditation that allows you to be in a state of mind to think about one thought or no thoughts,” Lybrand said.
Sensory deprivation tanks have changed quite a bit since Lilly first invented and popularized them. Before, float tanks did not exactly incorporate floating. They required people to wear wetsuits and blacked-out face masks to breath and block out light while fully submerged in water.
Float tanks were not used to induce special mental abilities, as seen in “Stranger Things” (2016), either. Initially, Lilly was curious about where consciousness originated and wondered what would happen to the brain if it were not busy thinking about all the sounds, sights, smells and burdens of everyday life. Some thought Lilly’s practices would leave people in endless dream-like states or comas, but that never happened. This kind of speculation led to many of the rumors that still linger in the public’s understanding of floating today.
When Lilly’s participants finished struggling to take off their outfits, they reported feelings of profound relaxation, reductions in stress and anxiety and realizations of self-discovery. This feedback encouraged Lilly to perfect and study float tanks for the next two decades. However, the benefits and the popularity of float tanks sank to the bottom of a sea of panic during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
In the 1980s, little was known about AIDS and how it was contracted, so people boycotted float tanks to avoid any possibility of contracting the syndrome. Thus, trends such as yoga and other self-betterment practices flourished in the United States while float tanks simply floated away.
As medical knowledge has advanced, float tanks and their benefits have returned, now endorsed by celebrities such as Joe Rogan, Steph Curry and Jeff Bridges.
The tanks have gained popularity throughout California cities such as Redlands, Corona, Huntington Beach, Orange, and Palm Springs, with float tanks that are now complete with Bluetooth speakers, ambient lights, filtration systems and heaters to adjust the temperature of both the water and the air to that of one’s skin, which is close to 95 degrees.
Kenan Karabas, freshman civil engineering major, and Benjamin Woost, junior biomedical sciences major, have tried two different float tank businesses.
Prior to floating, Woost had no experience meditating or sitting in any lightless, soundproof rooms, but as a person who said he tends to overthink things, the pod was a necessary break from his thoughts.
“Having your senses deprived from you for an hour or so felt good,” Woost said.
Woost said he was able to let his thoughts float by him and eventually fall asleep, later waking up refreshed.
Karabas, unlike Woost, had floated before and had a regimen to carry out once in the float tank.
“When I get in the float tank I list all of the things that are stressing me out or bothering me and start letting go of them in my mind. It really helps me relax and come out of the tank feeling less anxious for the next couple of days,” Karabas said.
Floating at a business such as Float Evolution in Redlands typically costs $70 per hour with the average float time ranging from one hour to one and a half hours.
However, many businesses offer first time customer discounts and accept coupons. Economic memberships are offered as well.
People may be afraid to go float, but to this Lilly would say, “My philosophy: Don’t get caught with a fixed philosophy, a set of safe beliefs, a particular way of life.” In other words, go out and float.