Have you ever experienced a feeling of weightlessness, or even just nothingness? I’m a big fan of experiences. For my birthdays, I’d rather do something than receive gifts or throw a party. This year I was deciding between skydiving and this thing called a “flotation tank.”
Flotation therapy involves lying in complete darkness in a tank of lukewarm, shallow water. The water is supersaturated with Epsom salt, allowing your body to float and feel completely weightless. The effect of this being, according to a local flotation tank facility:
“Once you are settled, it is almost impossible to tell which parts of your body are in the water and which aren’t.”
Given the darkness of the tank as well, the tanks are actually designed to block out all external distractions, like sight, sounds, tactile sensations, and even gravity.
People receive this therapy for many reasons. Primarily because flotation alleviates stress in your body and mind, putting you into a relaxed state. Floating removes all sensory inputs, therefore allowing your brain to take a break. During the float, the brain releases endorphins and reduces levels of cortisol (a stress chemical). The experience causes your brain to produce theta waves, placing you in a dream-like state and therefore reduces anxiety, stress, insomnia, and nervousness. This state is also said to be good for triggering creative inspiration and free association.
Interestingly, flotation therapy does not have its origins in wellness therapy. Rather, the father of the therapy, John Cunningham Lilly, invented what was then called, “isolation tanks” to explore consciousness in a sensory-deprived environment.
Although flotation therapy is now wellness-centric, psychonauts like Lilly still exist today. Hamilton Morris discusses flotation psychonauts in a VICE docuseries. After speaking to psychonauts, trialing different tanks, and even spending five hours floating in a single session. He discusses the importance of the sensory-deprivation element for psychonauts as well as the usage of mind-altering drugs during a float. He takes up podcaster and comedian, Joe Rogan’s advice of taking marijuana for a more effective experience. Joe Rogan is heralded by many as being instrumental in sparking the current “flotation renaissance,” according to flotation facilities.
Even the inventor of flotation tanks was quite famous for his usage of psychedelic substances, like LSD and ketamine. Far less extremely, Joe Rogan regards how floats have aided in his self-development:
“The sensory deprivation chamber is the most important tool I’ve ever used for developing my mind, for thinking, for evolving.”
So I ended up visiting a flotation facility for my birthday. I chose to float sober because I didn’t want to freak out too much. I ended up freaking out nonetheless. As soon as I stepped inside the tank my heart was racing and it took me a while to settle, getting used to the complete darkness and weightlessness. I began hallucinating and then fell asleep. It was crazy that my 90 minute float felt like nothing more than 15 minutes. This made me understand why in VICE’s documentary, Morris floated for five hours because I sure could have.
Immediately after the float, I was, as my mum said, “completely out of it.” My sense of awareness was skewed, but I felt so relaxed and elated. Like a strange rebirthing. But, as I had been cautioned, I became really nauseous. Which is really normal and passes short after. But, overall, it was an incredible experience that I would do again. So if you’re like me and into psychonautic experiences, this is pretty bucket list-worthy. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something to alleviate physical or mental stress, this is a therapy worth considering.
Float Culture. https://floatculture.co.nz/.
Floating At Home. https://www.floatingathome.com/7-accomplished-athletes-who-regularly-float/.
Infinity Float. https://www.infinityfloat.co.nz/.
The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast #40. https://youtu.be/KeqmKwsvM58.
Lilly, John C. (1977) The Deep Self: The Tank Method of Physical Isolation. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Lilly, John Cunningham (1978). The Scientist: A Novel Autobiography (1 ed.). Lippincott; 1st edition.
Salt Float Studio. https://saltfloatstudio.com.au/.
“Tanks for the Memories.” Hamilton Morris. VICE. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/dp4n7a/tanks-for-the-memories-part-3.
White Spa. https://www.whitespa.co.nz/.