What is the difference between float tanks and an isolation tanks?

Float, isolation and sensory deprivation tanks are all different words for the same thing. However, they come in different shapes, sizes and price ranges. Some are better than others but in essence, they all are names for things that are trying to achieve the same result. Float tanks are probably the most common name used

Isn’t sensory deprivation tortuous?

Sensory deprivation can have a negative connotation attached. Mention it to people and you’re likely to get either a blank stare or a confused comment about such things being used as a form of torture in times of war.

Now, these stories are confused. Usually, it is true that prisoners of war are isolated. However they are not sensory deprived, in fact, they are overstimulated by constant white noise or bright lights, whilst being in isolation. Horrifying stuff and definitely not to be confused with choosing to be in an isolated sensory deprived environment such as in a float tank.

Flotation tanks are built for comfort and you know you can open the door at any time, most people float for an hour and usually no more than 3 to 4 hours.  In fact, many 1000s of people are reporting quite remarkable benefits from floating in isolation for a short period of time.

Strange beginnings.

A neuroscientist by the name of John Lilly pioneered the first research into sensory deprivation in the 1950’s. He had a very interesting past, from hypothesizing how the brain would react without stimulation, to designing the first isolation tanks, and then with some mind blowing research into human to dolphin communication (I know it sounds crazy).

However, his results with the later have been proven hard to replicate, which has somewhat discredited him in the eyes of some. Albeit, a very interesting man who we won’t go into further here in this post.

Access to something more….

It is theorized that the brain is a receiver of consciousness, while also constantly computing the environment in which the body is in, via the 5 senses. It is argued that if you can eliminate the incoming data processing of the senses, then all you are left with is your own or perhaps even a deeper unifying consciousness.

People often report having deep philosophical thoughts about their lives, and sometimes these are not all that easy to process. However, you are always in control and your mind will only wonder as far as you let it.

Although it’s not possible for the tank to eliminate 100% of sensory input, good tanks get pretty damn close. Let’s look at how the tank deprives each specific sense.

 

1.Sight:

You are lying in complete darkness, there is no noticeable difference between having your eyes open or closed. You can have your hand a millimeter from your face and you’re not able to see it. Tanks can sometimes be situated in business that don’t have blackout rooms and light leaks. Avoid these!

 

2.Sound:

Your ears fall under the waterline in the tank, and you have good fitting ear plugs. You can’t hear much, although if you move around a lot you can still hear the water splashing around. Most float businesses also offer light music that can be played into the tank while you float. However, this can distract you from sinking deep into your thoughts, I would recommend no music.

Another added benefit of the earplugs is having the sound of yourself breathing being quite pronounced. This can aid in reaching a more meditative state of mind. Most float businesses don’t have sound proof rooms so the location of the business is crucial, some business have been sunk (excuse the pun) due to not being able to control noise!

3.Touch:

This is an interesting one, as it’s a difficult sense to deprive. Unless you’re floating naked in an anti-gravity vacuum, you’re always touching something. However, flotation tanks do a pretty good job at keeping this sense to a minimum.

Firstly the tank and water are temperature controlled. The idea is to have the water and air match your body temperature. In a good tank, it’s hard to tell where your body ends and the water begins. So you don’t really lose the sense of touch per say, but more of a touch confusion. As you loose track of where your body is actually located, it’s easy to forget if you are lying down or standing up.

 

4&5. Smell and Taste:

No need to write too much here, as these two senses don’t really come into play. The tank is filled with 350- 500 kilos of epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) so there is no chemical smell.

The salt saturation is what makes you float! The only taste sensation comes from any small amount of water that happens to make its way into your mouth. It can also be very uncomfortable to get into your eyes, most tanks hang a moist towel inside the tank in case you touch your eyes by accident.

 

Benefits:

The list is actually much larger than this, but in the quest to simplify below is arguably the most noteworthy benefits.  The body is complex and interconnected improving one thing usually, improves many others.

 

  • Deep relaxation, sometimes sleep. Reaching a meditative-like state is the most common and the most desirable outcome. Obtain in one float, what can take years of meditative and mindfulness practice.

 

  • Absorption of magnesium sulfate, (epsom salts). Taking in magnesium sulfate through the skin is one of the most effective transport mechanism for magnesium and for sulfates. Magnesium has many benefits blog post here.  While sulfates also help generate brain tissue, joint proteins and the mucin proteins that line the wall of the digestive tract.  Studies also show that sulfates stimulate the pancreas to generate digestive enzymes that help the body clear many residual toxins (medication and environmental.)

 

  • Creativity! One study of 5 university professors found that a 90-minute float was able to help them generate more “creative” ideas.
  • Another similar study found that 40 university students scored higher on standardized tests after 1 hour of floating.

 

  • Becoming weightless! Floating allows you to relax every muscle in your body. Once you learn to trust the tank and completely let go, this is when all the benefits begin to manifest. A 2005 study showed that floating was the best relaxer, better than relaxation exercises, biofeedback or chilling on the couch. With flotation having much lower physiological stress markers, like cortisol and blood pressure.
 
  • Pain reduction! Many professional athletes report floating is having a noticeable effect on pain relief. Any drug-free pain relief is a welcome benefit to athletes, and anyone looking for more natural pain solutions.

 

Cautions:

 

  • You only have your thoughts!   To be left with only your thoughts is something we don’t usually do in the modern day. If you don’t practice meditation or mindfulness, or just plain find it hard to not look at your phone every 30secs, you may find the tank can throw you into a mental state that you’re not entirely ready for.
  • It’s important to remember you can open the tank at any time, and it’s only YOUR thoughts and YOUR mind. This is something to learn to embrace rather than run from. This article has an interesting take on a first float and the effect on the writer’s mind.

 

  • Claustrophobics be warned! I probably don’t need to warn a claustrophobic that floating is probably not for them. If you are claustrophobic you have probably already stopped reading this post a while back now. If you’re still here, good job! What I can say, is there is probably no safer or relaxing way to try and conquer that fear. Maybe start with the lights on!

 

  • Give it a chance. It can take a beginner a few floats to become comfortable enough to relax.  While others can dive deep into their own consciousness and have an out of body experience on their first float.

 

In summary.

Floating in a tank of salty water may sound strange and frankly a little dull. However, this “dullness” is exactly the point. Having an environment void of sensory input is something that cannot even be replicated by sleeping in our beds at night.

Floating in a well-made tank in a business that cares will eliminate as much of the outside world as possible, leaving behind just you and your thoughts. However, being alone with oneself is not always enjoyable for everyone. It can take some time and practice to learn to quiet the mind, but while it refuses to be quite, why not listen?