The History of Floating


The floatation tank was initially developed by Dr. John C. Lilly in 1954 while working for the National Institute of Mental Health. The first tank was simply an 8 foot cube filled with ocean water, in which you were completely submerged, wearing a mask with oxygen. Dr. Lilly used this prototypical tank to further his exploration of the limits of human consciousness.

By the late 1960′s, Dr. Lilly had the idea of floating in a supersaturated solution of Epsom salts. This solution was found to be buoyant enough to keep the body naturally at the surface of the water, eliminating the need to wear an oxygen mask. By completely enclosing the water, maintained at skin temperature, Dr. Lilly was able to create a unique environment for meditation and scientific research.

“By attenuating vision, hearing and the proprioceptive sense, and floating at the surface so that the gravitational field is reduced to the minimum, you can relax every single muscle. Even your ear muscles, your neck muscles, your hands, your arms, your back, and so on. You can find the areas where you are holding needlessly, and you can let go. Once you do this, and go through all this, and get the inputs to the brain down to the minimum possible, you suddenly realize that that is what has tied you to consensus reality, and now you’re free to go.”

“The first thing you get is physiological rest. You’re free of gravity; you don’t have any more of those gravity computations that you do all day long. Finding where gravity is, and in what direction, and computing how you can move and not fall takes up about 90% of your neural activity. As soon as you start floating you’re freed of all the gravity computations you’ve been doing all the time, so you find you have a vast piece of machinery that was being used for something else and you can now use it for your own purposes. For example, you can instantly feel that you are in a gravity-free field. It’s as if you are somewhere between the moon and the earth, floating, and there’s no pull on you. As soon as you move, of course, you know where you are, but if you don’t move, your environment disappears and, in fact, your body can disappear.”

(John Lilly, from Tanks for the Memories; Floatation Tank Talks, by Dr. John C. Lilly & E.J. Gold.)plain-separator

In the late 1970′s Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie performed experiments with sensory deprivation. They named their technique “Restricted Environment Stimulation Therapy” a.k.a. – R.E.S.T. In 1982 the International REST Investigators Society (IRIS) was formed which gave scientific researchers the network to share their findings.

Peter Suedfeld, a pioneer in the field, spent over 30 years researching R.E.S.T. and its effects. A professor emeritus of psychology at UBC, Suedfeld’s extensive writing was critical in changing attitudes toward the practice within the scientific community.

Since the 1950’s, scientists around the globe have experimented with sensory deprivation to aid in couples counseling, children with autism, visualization for improved athletic performance, recovery from injuries, and rehabilitation.

Floating has been around for over 50 years and has plenty of research to back it up. “The Book of Floating” by Michael Hutchinson is a great resource on floating.

Here are some links where you can find studies and scientific articles related with the benefits of floatation:

Other resources:

  • Borrie, Roderick: A and Peter Duedfeld. REST Therapy in a Weight Reduction Program; Journal of Behavioural Medicine vol3 1980 pp 147-161
  • Patel, Chandra: Reduction of Serum Cholesterol and Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Patients by Behavioural Modification; Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners vol 26 (1976)
  • Suedfeld, P and Borrie, R A: Health and Therapeutic Applications of Chamber and Flotation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST)”; (1999) 14 545-56   This site has a list of scientific research papers from 1950 to present