The History of Flotation Therapy, From 1954 to Today

Kriss BrooksFlotation TherapyLeave a Comment

You may be used to flotation therapy occurring in small health centers or spas, but flotation therapy actually got its start in a surprising place. Beginning in a lab run by John C. Lilly, the first flotation tank was designed for studies on sensory deprivation. You may have at some point heard flotation tanks referred to as sensory deprivation tanks, and now you know why. When John C. Lilly designed his tank, his goal was to examine the origins of consciousness by cutting the brain off from all stimuli. Consciousness, he found during these 1954 studies, doesn’t depend on this external information to remain lively.

The Transition to Health Treatment

The flotation tank’s original use in the science lab does not immediately lend itself to use in the field of alternative healthcare. It wasn’t until the 1970s that flotation began to make this switch over.

In the early 70’s, a couple from California were experimenting with their own float tank designs with the aid of Dr. John Lilly.  After a few initial concepts with the help of Lilly, Glenn and Lee Perry had designed a self sustaining float tank for commercial use called the Samadhi.   The Samadhi found it’s way into may celebrities homes  like John Lennon, Kris Kristofferson and Robin Williams and a new industry was born.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, flotation therapy centers began popping up around the United States, but the AIDS scare in the 80’s gave a big hit to the spa industry as a whole, as it was unknown at the time how some diseases were spread. It has only been recently that flotation therapy has begun to make a comeback in the United States, but over seas float centers are more common and relied upon.

How it Works

Flotation therapy has made a comeback in recent years because this therapy works. Floating relaxes the muscles, increases blood flow, and improves mood through the release of endorphins.

There are a few key underlying principles to flotation therapy. First, flotation therapy works by shutting down the normal responses the brain must have for dealing with stimuli in the world. By super-saturating the water with Epsom salts and heating the water to skin temperature, the user, who typically enters the sound- and light-proof tank nude, is cut off from all normal sensory input, including the pressures of gravity.

Second, this lack of input allows the brain to slow down, re-synchronizing itself, and entering a deeply relaxed state. From the perspective of the original researchers, it is this state of brain relaxation which is the most interesting effect of flotation therapy. The brain shifts from beta state to alpha state and releases waves with a slower frequency. This state of deep relaxation is paralleled to deep meditation.

Flotation therapy has come a long way from the lab and its modern incarnation is far more luxurious than the original tanks, but the effects are the same. Legions of the relaxed agree that flotation therapy is worth trying.

For more information about the history of flotation therapy, check out our What is Floating? page or contact us for more info.


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