A floatation tank, or isolation tank, is a soundproofed, light deprived tank in which a subject or patient floats in salt enriched water, which is heated to body temperature. The first variation of the isolation tank was envisioned and created in 1954, by neuro-psychiatrist John C. Lilley. Some decades later, the advancement and eventual appropriation of the technique is the primary causation behind its rise into prominence within the field of alternative medicine.
The deliberate removal of stimuli from multiple sensory receptors has been under careful experimentation for some time and the field has produced definitive results. Initially, Lilley’s experiments delved into floatation in the pursuit of psychoanalytical research. Hoping to advance and contribute to the expansive field of neuroscience, he created the tank as an environment that completely perceptually isolated an individual from any external stimulation.
Within sensory deprivation there exists a division in methodology — chamber isolation, where the subject is restricted by a set of instructions and commences sensory deprivation on a bed, and floatation. Whilst chamber isolation became a platform for experimentation into the physiological necessity for external stimulation, floatation has become a powerful therapeutic tool and has been welcomed by practitioners of alternative medicine.
The floatation tank has evolved to be an effective method of therapeutic treatment. It has come to be used for several different ailments including stress related disorders, chronic pain, habitual disorders, infertility, substance abuse and insomnia. It has more positively been associated with conscious analytical thinking and health and well-being in terms of both physiology and cognition.
The salt increases the density of the water allowing the subject to float and has a therapeutic effect on hypertonic muscles, promoting muscular relaxation. Inclusive to providing a sterile environment, it has been suggested that the salt also contributes to an increase in the often deficient mineral of magnesium.
The action of floating, weightlessness, temperature of the water and sensory deprivation causes a dilation of the blood vessels, maximising blood flow and reducing blood pressure. Natural endorphins are released, which makes the tank an ideal treatment for patients with cardiovascular or physiological issues. An increase in the lymphatic system has also been noted amongst patients.
Most dramatic is the adaption of the brain into a “Theta state”, which is the brainwave frequency emitted before falling asleep. This “Theta state” has been associated with access to unconscious information, intellectual fantasy, creative inspiration and self-analytical and explorative thought. The research into sensory deprivation and floatation tanks is increasing and we can only hope accessibility to the treatment expands accordingly.