When I was in college, I worked every weekend in West Hollywood at a relaxation center called the Altered States MindGym, where I would train people how to use the sensory deprivation tanks, biofeedback monitors, and brain entrainment devices that they had there.
It was a great job. I got to teach actress Carrie Fisher how to use the mind-altering tanks there, and I logged hundreds of hours in the tanks myself. I found the sensory deprivation tanks to be truly amazing, as they provided the deepest levels of relaxation that I’ve ever experienced, as well as the most powerful psychedelic experiences that I’ve ever had without using any pharmacological assistance.
Sensory deprivation tanks--also sometimes called “isolation tanks” or “flotation tanks”--were invented by the late neuroscientist John C. Lilly in 1954, while he was a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health. At the time that Lilly invented the tank, many scientists believed that if all stimuli were cut off from the nervous system, then our brains would simply fall asleep.
Lilly demonstrated that this wasn’t so. When our brains are separated from channels of sensory stimuli, whole new vistas open up within our minds, and many people have experiences that are similar to lucid dreams or psychedelic journeys.
The tank provides a soundproof, light-proof environment, where one floats in warm pool of water, so densely saturated with epson salt (800 pounds in 11 inches of water), that one buoyantly rests on the surface of the water without sinking, like visitors to the Dead Sea. The water and air temperature inside the tank are precisely controlled, so that they are maintained at exactly skin surface temperature (93.5 degrees Fahrenheit).
As one floats in the tank, all physical boundaries begin to blur, the body relaxes profoundly, and the mind expands into new dimensions. It feels as if one is floating in zero-gravity, and after floating for awhile, all sensation of the body vanishes. The tanks are used for relaxation, meditation, health improvement, and for the exploration of altered states of consciousness.
Many people who float regularly have discovered that the relaxed state of mind that it creates can be healing for a number of stress-related medical conditions, such as insomnia and chronic anxiety. It helps some people with pain, swelling, and even jet lag.
A number of scientific studies have confirmed the health benefits of floating in an isolation tank.
Research conducted in 2007 by Sven-Åke Bood at the Human Performance Laboratory at Karlstad University found that regular flotation tank sessions can provide significant relief from chronic stress-related ailments. The study followed 140 people with long-term health problems--such as anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and fibromyalgia--and found that more than seventy-five percent of the subjects experienced noticeable improvements.
A study in 1990 at Ohio State University showed that floating regularly in an isolation tank not only provided stress relief, it could actually improve focus before academic examinations, creativity in jazz musicians, and accuracy in rifle shooting.
Personally, I don’t know of anything more relaxing than floating in an isolation tank, and the benefits from doing this can last for several days. Massage therapy, hot tubs, and valium don’t even come close to the deep levels of relaxation that an hour in an isolation tank can provide.
I was thrilled to learn that there is a beautiful flotation tank center in the Santa Cruz mountains, where I live. Cloud 9 offers hourly sessions (and longer) in their state-of-the-art flotation tank, and discount packages are available. They are located at 301 Kessler Drive in Ben Lomond, and can be reached at: (408) 691-7188
To learn more about Cloud 9 see: http://cloud9x.com/
To find a flotation tank center near you see: http://flotation.biz/floatfinder
To learn more about isolation tanks, I highly recommend Michael Hutchison’s The Book of Floating, and John C. Lilly’s The Deep Self.
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