Think Tanks: Experience the world of sensory deprivation


Ryan Hewlett guides you through the world of the sensory deprivation tank – a place of escape, relaxation, meditation, and even out of body experience.

“Body and water become one, the lines of the physical are distorted”

Isolation, sensory deprivation, or flotation tanks are fibreglass pods filled with salt water that are temperature regulated and entirely sound and light proof; the idea being that you are entirely cocooned from the outside world.

Inside the tank there is no light, no sense of vision and no sound. With no external stimuli you will begin to experience the kind of quiet that allows you to hear your muscles tensing and your heart beating. You become very aware of your breathing, and with no distractions, it’s easy to reach a deeply relaxed state.

The water is filled with Epsom salts allowing your body to float easily, and the extreme buoyancy creates a feeling of weightlessness that has an almost zero-gravity quality. The water is heated to 35.5 C – the same temperature as human skin. This makes it virtually impossible to distinguish between parts of the body that are in contact with the water, and those that aren’t.

FrontIn effect, body and water become one, the lines of the physical are distorted as a complete feeling of weightlessness fools the brain into believing that the person is floating in mid-air. When all of this is combined, the effect can be extraordinarily powerful.

Neurophysiologist Dr John C. Lilly developed the first tank in 1954 in order to explore the origins of conscious activity within the brain. Lily was a pioneer in the field of electronic brain stimulation and went on to found an entire branch of scientific research exploring interspecies communication between humans, dolphins, and whales.

Lily spent prolonged periods of time exploring human consciousness in the isolation tank and claimed that it allowed him to make contact with creatures from other dimensions and civilizations in what he called “the first conference of three beings.”

floatation tank picture i-sopodOther users have reported similar experiences. Even renowned physicist Richard Feynman described having hallucinations and out-of-body experiences while using sensory deprivation tanks. It is widely accepted that when your mind is stripped of all sensory input, it begins to create its own pictures and sounds, which are experienced as hallucinations.

The worth of such experiences is difficult to quantify. However studies have shown mental and physical benefits such as improving mindfulness, creativity and sports performance, reducing stress, managing chronic pain, and fighting depression.

In lives filled with noise, deadlines, Twitter and Angry Birds, sometimes we all need that moment of quiet, that chance to remove ourselves from the world and meditate. So lie back, explore where the currents take you, and let your troubles quite literally float away.