The history of floatation therapy

The history of floatation therapy

Floatation thank, isolation tank, Samadhi tank, and sensory deprivation tank are all used for the therapy discovered by neurophysiologist John C. Lilly in the 1950s. The question asked by his contemporaries in the world of psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy is: “What will happen to the mind and body if we reduce the stimulation of the senses to a minimal level? 


John C. Lilly — an MD, practicing physician, and neuropsychiatrist, also known as the father of the floatation tank, invented the first isolation chamber in 1954. It was a 2.40 m high cube filled with ocean water. Fully submerged underwater using an oxygen mask, John Lilly used this prototype to take a step forward in his research beyond the limits of human consciousness. 


In the late 1960s, Dr. Lilly came up with the idea of floating in a solution with a high concentration of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). This solution was suitable because it didn’t irritate the skin and was dense enough to keep the body above the surface of the water, eliminating the need for an oxygen mask. By keeping the water temperature close to the temperature of the body, Lilly manages to create a unique environment for meditation and scientific research. 


“ The reduction of vision, hearing, and proprioceptive senses, as well as floating on the surface so that the influence of gravity is minimized, allow the complete relaxation of every single muscle. Even the muscles in your ears, neck, arms, palms, back, etc. The environment allows you to feel the areas where you are holding unnecessary tension and release it. After going through this experience and being able to track it and make it happen, after reducing the information in your brain to a minimum, you suddenly realize that all of this has been significantly dragging you down and weighing you down in reality, and now you can move forward with more freedom.


The first thing that happens to you is a psychological test. Suddenly you’re free of gravity, you don’t have to do all the calculations associated with it that are constantly going on. 90% of neural activity goes into calculations about where gravity is, in what direction it acts, and how to move so that we don’t fall. Once you break free from gravity, you have a large part of your own mechanism that you can now use entirely for your own purposes. For example, you may suddenly feel as if you’re in an anti-gravity field — as if you’re somewhere between the moon and the earth, floating in space, with nothing pulling on you. As soon as you move, of course, you will know where you are, but if you don’t move, your environment will disappear, and sometimes even your body itself can disappear.” 


(John Lilly from “Tanks for the memories: Floatation tank talks.” Lilly, J. C., Gold, E. J., Perry, L., & Bray, F. (1995))



Yes. In the late 1970s, Peter Südfeld and Roderick Borrier also experimented with sensory deprivation. They call their technique “Restricted Environment Stimulation Therapy” or R.E.S.T. for short. In 1982, the Internationa REST Investigators Society (IRIS) was formed, which allows scientific researchers to share their discoveries in this field. Since the 1950s, many scientists around the world have experimented with sensory deprivation to aid in couples therapy, for autistic children, visualization to improve physical/athletic performance, trauma recovery, and rehabilitation. Since the 1990a, more and more scientists have continued their research on the effects of sensory deprivation on conditions such as anxiety, depression, burnout, and many others. 


You can find more information about floatation and how to book an appointment at metta here.