What are flotation tanks and how can they help you?

What is a flotation tank?

Flotation tanks are an enclosed pod-like bathtub, which block out light and sound. The tank is filled with Epsom salt which is dissolved in water, and then heated to skin temperature (35.5°C). The aim of the tanks is to allow you to 'floatˈ without any sensory distractions, meaning that no sounds, lights or smells are able to disturb you. The water mimics body temperature so it can trick your brain into believing there is no water and you are simply ˈfloatingˈ in the tank.

Many people who have gone into the tanks have expressed feelings of weightlessness, which in turn allowed all the muscles in their body to relax. It is often named REST, which stands for Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy.

The history behind ˈfloatingˈ

The neurophysiologist, Professor Dr John C Lilly, developed the first floating tank in the 1950s. He wanted to know how much our brains needed external stimulations (eg lights and sounds) to keep conscious activity in the brain functioning. He worked for many years fixing and changing the design until he perfected it in the 1970s. Many years have passed since then but the general functions and design of the flotation tanks have changed very little.

What are the benefits?

Flotation tanks have started popping up all over the country as well as in America, with many spas now offering floatation tank therapy treatments. A prominent reason why people are using them is because of the deep relaxation and escapism the floating tanks provide. People have to focus on themselves when laid down in the tanks for an hour, which can prove to be a healing mental journey that we often neglect in the outside world. However, for other the experience is upsetting and uncomfortable. No matter how it makes people feel, the tanks do offer a place to step back from the world of sensory overload we live in.

The benefits of the floating therapy can be wide and varied, with people seeing different effects. It is advised that those with serious health conditions consult their doctor before using the flotation tanks.

Mental benefits

- Stress relief

- Decreased feelings of anxiety and depression

- A deep sense of relaxation

- Improves sleeping conditions and insomnia.

Studies have looked into the increased creativity that comes from being in the tank. One study showed how one-hour sessions in the tanks increased creativity as opposed to one sitting in an office environment for the same amount of time, although the sample size for this study was a very small. [i]

Dr Sarah Jarvis says " Although there are not obvious physical benefits, for healthy individuals they can have positive psychological effects." 

Physical benefits

- Decreased chronic pain

- Reduced blood pressure