Float tanks are all the rage these days and one can find a float center in nearly every city around the United States with more popping up regularly in various other countries around the world.
We examine why this once relatively unknown alternative therapy has gained such popularity along with how and if you should try it out.
What Are Float Tanks?
Before being renamed as float tanks, they were called sensory deprivations tanks and were created more than 60 years ago by American neurologist John C. Lilly to test the effects of hallucinogens in creating a meditative state of mind.
Not long after, scientists began experimenting with these tanks to find out if they were any health benefits that these tanks can provide and sure enough, experiments conducted showed numerous positive effects being reported by participants in various studies.
These positive effects range from having clearer thoughts to healing the physical body to achieving the highest form of mediation while being confined in a tank filled with tons of Epsom salt.
Never heard of Epsom salt? Epsom salt is basically salt from the a town in England called Epsom and that is how its name was derived. These salts are most commonly used in baths as it can help the body relax and aids in pain relief.
How Do Float Tanks Work?
The basic premise of a modern float tank is simple – it is a slightly larger than human-size tank filled with water and lots of Epsom salt. You spend some time inside the tank – usually in complete silence and darkness – for a set period of time before exiting the tank and going about your daily life.
The Flotation Process
You will usually be provided with the following when you start your float session:
- Towels for wiping water off from your body
- Ear plugs to prevent the saltwater from getting inside your ears
- A pair of goggles to shield your eyes from the saltwater (some float centers do not provide this)
- A water spray bottle inside the float tank to remove saltwater from your eyes should they get irritated
- An inflatable headrest for those who require neck support
Note: some people could feel claustrophobic inside a float tank and if you are one of them, please consult with your doctor to determine if floating is something that is right for you before you begin. You can also choose to leave the lid open to alleviate the feeling of claustrophobia.
Step 1: As float tanks are shared with multiple people throughout the day, you will be asked to wash yourself thoroughly at the float center before getting inside the tank even though the contents are usually sanitized using UV rays and hydrogen peroxide. Soaps and shampoos are usually provided for this purpose.
You will usually be allowed a few minutes for washing up before your session officially begins.
If you are new to floating, someone from the float center will brief you on the whole process to ensure that you will reap maximum benefits from your time inside the tank.
Step 2: Make sure to clear your bladder before stepping inside the float tank because you do not want your session to be interrupted mid-way due to nature’s calling. Again, wash yourself thoroughly after using the toilet prior to entering the tank.
Remember to put on the ear plugs/goggles before entering.
Step 3: Take one or more deep breaths and carefully make your way inside the tank. Once inside, take a few moments to get familiar with your surroundings by making mental notes of where the water spray bottle and any other tools/buttons are located.
Step 4: Gently close the tank’s cover so that you are ‘isolated’ inside the tank. There will usually be a colored light inside the tank so you can still see what you are doing.
Now, lay yourself down on your back and get comfortable (begin adjusting the headrest if you have or need it) before turning off the light inside the float tank.
Step 5: Close your eyes and bring your focus to whatever it is that you happen to feel in the present moment. Soothing music will usually be played during the first 5 to 10 minutes of your session in order to help you relax and get into the mood.
You may or may not fall asleep while inside the float tank.
Step 6: Once your session is nearly over, music will once again play inside the float tank to remind you of such. You will still have a few minutes of float time remaining and can spend this time realigning your mind and body.
Step 7: When you hear water flushing inside the float tank, it is your cue that your session is over. Gently push the tank’s cover open with your hands and step outside, taking care to hold onto the side of the tank should you feel disorientated.
Get yourself into a shower and use the provided soaps and shampoos to wash off the Epsom salt from your body. Afterwards, dry yourself and get dressed before heading back outside.
What Happens When I’m Inside a Float Tank?
Either everything or nothing. These tanks were not originally called sensory deprivation tanks for no reason. You will likely experience one or more of the following while floating:
- Being aware of the sound of your heart beating
- The Epsom saltwater gently massaging your body
- Isolation from the outside world
- Hallucinations (in a good way)
- Deep sleep
Each person’s experience will differ so there is no one-size-fits-all list of what to expect during a floating session. Keep in mind that it may take more than one session for some to get truly comfortable with floating or to fully reap its benefits.
How Often Should I Float and for How Long?
The frequency of going for a float depends on individual wants and needs but know that a float session can be costly even if you purchase discounted membership packages.
If you are unsure, we suggest that you commit for a single session before deciding on whether to spend more.
For most people, it is recommended that you find time to float at least once per week (again, depending on how affordable it is to you) although once every 10 to 14 days is fine too.
We also recommend that you go for 90 minutes sessions but if this is not available or not possible, 60 minutes should be the minimum.
What Are the Health Benefits of Floating?
Many have reported that a session of floating is equivalent to a few hours of deep meditation and there are also claims that the body feels as if it has been rejuvenated after even a single session inside a float tank.
There have also been reports that people sleep better after a float session and that this effect can last for days before wearing off.
Lastly, floating can also help relief any physical pain that your body may be experiencing.
Should I Even Bother with Float Tanks?
As we mentioned above, one of the main obstacles to floating inside a float tank happens is the cost which can be prohibitive to some.
It is entirely up to you to decide if the value that you get from floating is equal to or outweighs the cost.
If cost is not a factor to you, we strongly recommend that you give floating two to three attempts before deciding whether it is something that you enjoy and can benefit from mentally and physically.
Floating Too Costly? Here Are Some Alternatives
If you have a space at home, you can check out Zen Float Co. for an affordable home setup. You will of course need to install the float tank yourself in addition to finding a quiet place as the tank is not soundproof.
You can also check out this Facebook page for used float tanks for sale to save yourself some money.
The other option is to make your own float tanks. There are numerous DIY float tanks tutorials that you can find online providing instructions on how to make your own float tank. This approach is recommended only if you value saving money over saving time and also if you are comfortable constructing the tank on your own.