Sensory deprivation tanks today are featured on popular media and are being used more frequently by average people looking to relieve stress, pain, and other chronic ailments. How did floatation therapy come into being? How does it work?
The first sensory deprivation tank was created by neuroscientist John C. Lilly. He was curious about what the effects the elimination of external stimulus would have on the mind. An LSD enthusiastic who believed in creatures from other dimensions, he had some particular expectations on the effects the tank would yield. This first tank had 160 gallons of water, and participants were submerged completely from the neck down. They wore a “blackout” mask to eliminate any light pollution. The temperature of the air and the water were tightly controlled to be the same as average skin at 34 degrees Celsius.
The tanks eventually morphed to become more like what they are today. The masks were done away with, and rather than facilitating complete submersion, newer tanks contained a high concentration of dissolved Epsom salts, allowing participants to float easily.
Today, flotation therapy is often known as REST, which stands for “restricted environment stimulation technique.” John C. Lilly imagined REST as a method of breaking down the barriers of the subconscious. Its effects are perhaps not exactly what he hoped for, but significant nonetheless. REST simulates a zero-gravity environment. The darkness, the temperature of the water, and the feeling of weightlessness create a state of extreme relaxation. There are not many opportunities in life for the brain to enter this state, as there are always things in our environments to respond to and assess. Even when you are relaxing, your brain is active, observing potential threats and thinking about the next step.
REST eliminates this sensory input. With nothing to react to, the brain enters a state called Theta. This is similar to a dream state, but you are still awake, with full control over your body and mind. The effects of REST are far-reaching, though not necessarily what Lilly expected. Some participants do report mild hallucinatory effects, similar to dreaming, but the primary effects of REST are health related. REST alleviates physical pain, lifts depression, significantly reduces stress, and increases concentration ability long past when you exit the float tank.
REST facilitates the body healing itself, by creating a safe, intensely relaxing environment. REST can help you, too. If you’re interested in the benefits of floatation therapy, contact the Northwest Float Center today to find out more.