A sensory deprivation tank also called an isolation tank or flotation tank is used for restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST). It is a dark, soundproof tank that is filled with a foot or less of saltwater. The water in a sensory deprivation tank is heated to skin temperature and nearly saturated with Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate), providing buoyancy so you float more easily. Think of the salinity in the Dead Sea and then times it by 10.
The first tanks were created in the 1970s although the original design for an isolation tank was drawn up by American neuroscientist and physician John Lilly in 1954. Research into possible health benefits gained momentum in the 1970s after Lilly’s research took a controversial turn in the 1960s after experimenting with LSD and ketamine inside the tanks.
These days, finding a sensory deprivation tank is easy, with float centres and spas offering float therapy all over the world. The Haven in Byron Bay and numerous float centres and spas on the Gold Coast offer this experience.
You are cut off from all outside stimulation, including sound, sight, and gravity when the tank’s lid or door is closed. As you float weightlessly in the silence and darkness, the brain is supposed to enter into a deeply relaxed state.
Sensory deprivation tank therapy is said to produce several effects on the brain, ranging from hallucinations to enhanced creativity.
There have been numerous studies done that can’t conclusively say that it will benefit areas of health such as muscle relaxation, creativity, concentration and athletic performance. However, people who have used isolation tanks have claimed that they felt their experience enhanced their performance in at least one of these areas.
Though the process may vary slightly depending on the flotation centre, a session in a sensory deprivation tank usually goes as follows:
- You arrive at the flotation centre or spa,
- Remove all of your clothing and jewellery.
- Shower before entering the tank.
- Enter the tank and close the door or lid.
- Gently lie back and let the buoyancy of the water help you float.
- Music plays for 10 minutes at the start of your session to help you relax.
- Float for an hour.
- Music plays for the last five minutes of your session.
- Get out of the tank once your session has ended.
- Shower again and get dressed.
To help you relax and get the most out of your session, most spas recommend that you eat something approximately 30 minutes before your session. It’s also helpful to avoid caffeine for four hours beforehand.