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What is Flotation Therapy? (AKA Sensory Deprivation Tank)

Flotation therapy might sound like the next fleeting ‘woo woo’ entry of the New Age, but the surge in its popularity suggests that this therapeutic treatment could be living up to its hype.

You may or may not have heard of floatation tank therapy and there’s every bit of chance you’ve heard about it because of comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan, who is constantly preaching the perks of floating therapy, which is also referred to as an isolation tank, or a sensory deprivation tank.

I distinctly remember raised eyebrows and cheeky digs from friends and family members when I told them that my old method of winding down from stress (drinking wine) was being replaced by lying in the dark, in a closed pod of salty water… and that I was even paying for the privilege.

Floatation therapy is the ultimate in deep relaxation, with no effort on your part.

Have you ever had a moment where you wished you could just shut out the world entirely? Where you would have the freedom to just ‘be,’ with no interruptions, no demands upon you? Where you could recapture that relaxing feeling of floating in the womb, safe from everything?

Enter floatation therapy: the modern answer to shut out the stresses of the world and experience mental and physical peace.

Because the water is at body temperature, you feel neither hot nor cold. No sound can come in, so there’s nothing to hear. You’re in darkness, so there are no lights or shapes to distract you.

You feel nothing; you see nothing, you hear nothing. You just float, relax, and simply be.

We are a big fan of “different strokes for different folks” here at Almost Fearless, so read on to see if sensory deprivation tanks may float your boat (or not.)

Float Tank Experience

  • Arrive at your floatation centre/spa and fill in the necessary questions regarding medical history
  • Staff will show you around your float room and answer any questions you may have (be sure to ask where the buttons are for control of the lights)
  • Remove your jewellery
  • Shower before entering the tank
  • Make sure you cover up any wounds (or the salt will get inside and you’ll have an uncomfortable float
  • Get inside the pod and close it when you are comfortable close the lid
  • Gentle music will start to help you relax and will go off in ten minutes
  • Turn off the lights when you’re ready and lie back in the water (you can turn them back on whenever you like)
  • You will start floating, do not fight against it (wear goggles so the salt water doesn’t get in your eye)
  • Music will play 5 minutes before the end of your float session
  • Shower again and get dressed and ready for a good sleep (hopefully)

Float Therapy Benefits 

Floatation therapy has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, as well as improve the quality of sleep, and overall feelings of optimism. You can read about the details here.

Floatation therapy has also been linked to increased creativity in music, as well as improved motor skills in sports, just by floating for one hour a week over 4 weeks.

Many top athletes use floatation therapy both for visualisation of their goals and for its recuperative powers.

Other chronic pain sufferers have found relief for conditions such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

Here is a list of additional benefits that people have attributed to floatation therapy:

  • Improved mental clarity and focus
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Help with pregnancy pain and other forms of pain
  • Help with phobias and addictions
  • Help with PTSD
  • Improved immune system
  • Rejuvenated mind and body
  • Faster healing and recovery

Benefits of floating in Epsom Salts

Epsom salt, or magnesium sulphate, may look like table salt but is quite different.

Although the benefits of Epsom salts have not been well-researched, many people claim that Epsom salts are useful for relaxing the muscles when used in a bath of warm water.

Epsom salt is perfect for float tanks because they provide not only the relaxing properties of magnesium, but they ensure buoyancy so that you can float effortlessly.

Float tank tips for first-timers

  • Leave your expectations at the door. The experience of floating is different for everyone, and this is about relaxing, not putting pressure on yourself to have the same out-of-body or mind-blowing experience as someone else. Whatever happens will be perfect for you
  • Bring an eye mask if you don’t like closing your eyes
  • Come as relaxed as possible – so no mugs of coffee right beforehand
  • You don’t need a bathing suit. Floating naked is optimum, but if that isn’t comfortable for you, by all means, bring a bathing suit. Better to float in a suit than not float at all
  • Eat lightly. You don’t want your body to be focusing on digesting a heavy meal instead of relaxing
  • Don’t drink a lot of fluids, and make sure you go to the toilet beforehand. This is pretty self-explanatory: you don’t want to spoil your float with anything in the tank but water
  • If you have any fears around floatation therapy, address them full-on, and then let them go. Staff can help you here: they’ve seen and heard it all before. Most people find that whatever they’re afraid of tends to recede once they’re in the tank, and they laugh that they were so worried
  • Some people find themselves moving around the tank without wanting to. When you first get into the water, stretch your arms out to the side for 20-30 seconds. This gives your body and the water time to settle
  • Let your thoughts flow without judgment. Your first float will be about you getting used to just being with yourself, so accept everything. However you show up is perfect. You’ll get the physical benefits no matter what!
  • Ensure you’ll be able to have some downtime afterward to fully integrate your experience. Even if it’s only 5 minutes! Many venues have a relaxation salon, so make the most of what’s on offer and treat yourself. It’s about self-care

Float Therapy FAQs

How much does float therapy cost?

At the time of this writing, float therapy sessions in the US average from $50 to $100 per session, with many places offering discounts for multiple sessions.

How long has float therapy been around?

Float therapy is believed to have started in 1954 by a man named John C. Lilly, as part of studies he conducted using sensory deprivation to determine the origin of human consciousness.

Float tanks began to be used for therapeutic purposes in the US in the late 1970s and early 1980s until AIDS hit in the 1980s, and many spas were closed.

With European centres leading the way, float tanks are making a comeback, with more and more people attesting to their benefits.

Are float tanks clean?

Yes. Float tanks are cleaned between visits, and the water is usually micro-filtered with bromine or chlorine, sometimes in combination with ultraviolet light. Also, the high levels of Epsom salts make the water inhospitable to bacteria.

Who should avoid float therapy?

If you have open wounds, an infectious disease, uncontrolled epilepsy, are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or if you have a severe psychological condition that makes you prone to psychotic episodes, you should avoid float therapy.

Is Epsom salt safe during pregnancy?

Absolutely. Not only is Epsom salt safe, but pregnant women need more magnesium, as magnesium levels tend to drop during pregnancy.

Many women report benefits of using Epsom salts during pregnancy to help with aches and pains, itching skin, and stress reduction. However, these benefits are anecdotal as they have not yet been properly documented.

Will the salt dry out or damage my hair?

Your hair will be fine as long as you wash it with shampoo afterward. The magnesium in the Epsom salts can help strengthen your scalp and hair.

What do you wear in a float tank?

Nothing at all – or your birthday suit, as some would say. You want to be unencumbered, unfettered, free to float, naked as you were in the womb.

When is the best time of day to float?

  • You can float at any time, depending on your personal preference:
  • If you want to start your day with a clear head, float in the morning
  • If you enjoy relaxing or napping in the afternoon to break up your day, float in the afternoon
  • If you prefer unwinding at the end of a busy day, or if you want help to get a good night’s sleep, float in the evening

Experiment with different times of day to see what works best for you.

How long should I float?

Your first session will usually be about an hour. As you get more accustomed to floating, you may want to increase the time to 90 minutes or 2 hours.

Some floaters book double sessions, with many places offering a longer overall session as they don’t need to clean the tank in between. Double sessions of 90 minutes can enable you to float for up to 4 hours.

How often should you do float therapy?

There are no hard and fast rules, as it depends on your needs. Most people like to float once a week if they can, or at the very least twice a month. You could float every day if you wanted to.

Here are some ideas for what frequency might suit you:

  • If you have no chronic pain and you’re on a budget, once a month can be great to enjoy a regular ‘battery recharge’.
  • If you have any kind of chronic pain or inflammation, or you are sitting for a large part of the day, you may want to float twice a month.
  • If you are experiencing high levels of stress, have insomnia, or have significant mental health challenges, you may want to opt for once a week if you can.

The good news is that the benefits of float therapy can last for weeks or even months.

Can you drown in a float tank?

No. The water is typically only 10 inches deep, and you float easily, thanks to the Epsom salts. It’s like laying in bed but with no pressure points, therefore no need to turn over or adjust your position: you just relax.

Can you fall asleep in a float tank?

Yes, and it’s perfectly safe if you do. You’ll just continue to float.

Don’t try it in a swimming pool, though. You won’t stay awake for long!

If you do fall asleep, don’t consider it wasted time. Many people equate an hour in a float tank as the equivalent of 4-6 hours of profoundly restful sleep.

A float tank session can also help with jet lag by assisting your body in adjusting its circadian rhythms to the new time zone.

What does floatation therapy do to the brain?

In the blissful state of relaxation, while floating, your brain will produce theta brain waves. The theta state is produced naturally right before we fall asleep, and in that ‘in-between’ state of sleep and wakefulness when we first wake up.

We can also produce theta waves when we are in prolonged states of deep meditation.

The theta state is associated with memory recall, insights, inspiration, relaxation, and creativity.

Can you hallucinate in a float tank?

If you incorporate mindful practices into your daily life, you are more likely to experience deeper states of relaxation, and possibly altered or heightened states of consciousness, as stated in this article.

If, however, you are prone to psychotic episodes, you should avoid float tanks, as there is a link between sensory deprivation and hallucinations. For guidance, see this article.

Can you die in a float tank?

To die in a float tank, you would have to turn over and have someone hold you under the water while ignoring the sharp sting in your eyes from the Epsom salt. So no, it’s not easily done.

The few cases of people dying in a tank have been when those individuals have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

I’m claustrophobic. Can I float?

Float pods are much larger than people think: you could stretch your arms out and still not touch the sides of the tank.

You remain in control at all times: you can exit any time. Some locations have floatation tanks with high ceilings.

Where can I find a float session?

You can search for float sessions near you here.

How much does a float tank cost?

If you want to own a float tank, expect to pay (at the time of writing) between $10,000 and $30,000.

Where can I find a sensory deprivation tank?

If you want to purchase a float tank for yourself, you can find a selection here.

Now that you’ve got all the facts, I hope I’ve turned you into a fan of floatation therapy!