Floatation: Sensory Deprivation for Engineers by Scientists

I have blogged about Floatation Tanks, also known as Float Tanks, Isolation Tanks, Sensory Deprivation Tank et al before here and here. To get the detail, read those 2 posts first. Alternatively here is the skinny version. Floatation in a Floatation Tank was first invented and used by John C. Lilly (scientist) in 1954 for Sensory Deprivation experiments to “switch off” our senses. The goal was so our mind free of external stimuli could light up brighter and tap into the void… temporarily. Today, such floatation tanks are used mainly for meditation, relaxation and as alternative medicine to help Athletes (by Australian Institute of Sports) with faster recovery.

Where it all began for me

My wife and I have been floating in floatation tanks since 2008. It all started back when I saw a floatation tank being used in the 1st episode of Fringe. In Fringe Dr Bishop uses his flotation tank/sensory deprivation tank (sounds more scientific) to connect Olivia and Agent Scott’s mind. That was super cool. Being a body hacker I got interested in the perceived ability and started my research into floatation tanks. I took the red pill and went down the rabbit hole. And here we are today.

Floatation Tank in Fringe - notice the Isolation Tank behind Olivia
Floatation Tank in Fringe – notice the isolation tank behind Olivia

Now, “Floating” is the term commonly used when referring to an isolation tank experience, you float. You float inside the floatation tank like a cork. The high concentrate of epsom salt creates this effect. If you have been to the Dead Sea in Jordan you will know what I mean.

Are you a Software engineer? If so, you should float!

I use the floatation tank to turn off the noise from my primary senses (visual, auditory & kinesthetic) and accelerate the transition from beta brain waves (normal state) to alpha (learning state) and ultimately theta (dream state). This is the same process as meditation, but a lot faster. Way faster. It is like forced meditation without the pains of sitting up right and trying to detune the world around you.

The goal with both meditation and floatation is to reach the theta state. This is a powerful state where you can consciously listen to your subconscious mind. Usually through a series of what appears to be auditory or visual hallucinations. Monks train years to do this through meditation while staying consciously awake. Your body does this naturally every night but you switch off, fall asleep. Recall those auditory or visual flashes you get before you off switch kicks in and you fall asleep. That’s a glimpse into theta state. In an isolation tank you are consciously awake observing your subconscious mind. Most of the time. No years of training required. For me it was 3 floatation sessions and I was hallucinating baby!

Our subconscious is a powerful supercomputer (no surprises there) which constantly gathers, calculates, builds patterns & connections faster than we can consciously observe (process). I think this is a natural safe measure so we don’t go insane. However imagine having the power to tap into this wealth of stored info. You know when you sometimes get a gut feeling? I believe that is the output from all the processing making their way to your conscious mind.  I use the floatation tank to tap into this and get my answers faster then waiting for them to bubble to the top.

The body and mind are a very busy and noisy place.

Especially if you are a software engineer you will know all about the noise and how distracting it can be to productivity. Hence why you like working nights pounding away at code, right. I know the feeling. But health wise, this is not sustainable. The answer is the floatation tank to help you calm down both mentally & physically and tap into your mind, the supercomputer.

The flotation tank immediately cuts out your auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses creating an environment similar to a womb. Allowing your mind to start exploring the inner self. Looking for answers to your questions. Tapping into the hidden recesses of the mind that are usually outside the reach of your conscious awareness.

Want answers to your software engineering challenges? don’t just sleep on it… Float!

Floating in an Isolation Tank

You may recall from my last post on how many of us get “cubed” and spiral down into learning helplessness. I needed some answers to some recent questions and thus decided to step up a notch and not only use the standard John C. Lilly isolation tank but also a Sensory Exaltation from Be and Be Well based out of Shanti & Jai’s house in Santa Cruz, California. If you went to Burning Man 2011 then you would have seen the Sensory Exaltation tank.

Floating in an Isolation Tank - The Apollo ELV Float Tank. The Best Flotation Tank I have Floated in.
Floating in an Isolation Tank – The Apollo ELV Float Tank. The Best Flotation Tank I have Floated in.

There are many scientifically proven natural ways of tapping into our brain, the super computer. Floating is the best one I have found in years of searching without going into the extreme of substance abuse. An alternative exists but you would need to spend few years with the Monks in Tibet and learn how to consciously be awake while your brain is in the Theta state. Same state that turns your conscious mind off and starts the dreaming process at night. However inside the isolation tank you are conscious when this change to Theta happens and thus get to observe interesting insights coming from your subconscious.

The 2 x Tanks at Be and Be Well

This is what you can expect from Be and Be Well down in Santa Cruz, California.

Sensory Deprivation Tank

The key to your mind. This tank is more advanced than the ones I have mentioned in my previous posts. Pictured below, the light inside can be switched on and off by pressing the black button next to it. So no need to freak out in pure darkness when the lid is closed. It also has great heating to keep a constant skin temperature as you float. You never get cold and is big enough so you do not feel claustrophobic.

Sensory Deprivation Tank @ BeAndBeWell
Sensory Deprivation Tank @ BeAndBeWell

Sensory Exaltation Tank

This is a dry tank. A pod with a sac filled with foam for comfort. You put on audio speakers to hear binaural beats and glasses with synchronized strobe lights over the eyes. This is often refered to as Photic Driving. Designer brain waves. This technique was invented in 1930s. It basically changes your brain waves to follow and pulse at the same frequency as the light strobes creating different conciousness states. Different strobes & beats affect your brain differently hence the designer brain waves analogy.

FYI, The design on the Be and Be Well Exaltation Tank (pictured below) is of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “Vitruvian Man”.

Sensory Exaltation Tank @ BeAndBeWell
Sensory Exaltation Tank @ BeAndBeWell

In conclusion

  • Float tanks rock! Note to newbies; you need about 3 sessions to really get into it and learn to let go faster.
  • Forget sitting meditation. Flotation therapy is the easiest way to get a brain and body massage. Don’t forget the heath benefits from the Epsom Salt used inside the tank to make you float.
  • If you code then you must try this!

The benefits

  • Relaxation (mental & physical) from the daily stresses of running your own business or writing ton of code,
  • Learning a new skill – play audio while you float to accelerate the learning process,
  • Get answers to questions faster – you’ve heard of sleep on it right and that it works. Well this is better because your conscious and you get more answers.
  • Better understand yourself – some call it enlightenment,
  • Faster healing – used by athletes in recovery and
  • At Stanford scientifically proved by studying monks concluding that “Essentially when you spend a lot of time meditating, the brain shows a pattern of feeling safe in the world and more comfortable in approaching people and situations, and less vigilant and afraid, which is more associated with the right hemisphere,” she said.

I floated last weekend and I got what I wanted from that session. The answers to questions that were lurking inside me. The answers now sync with the gut feeling I was getting and I feel mentally at peace.

Float like I did

Get in touch with Be and Be Well down in Santa Cruz, California.

Road from Mountain View to Be and Be Well.
Road from Mountain View to Be and Be Well.

Have you floated before? Share you experiences before in the comments below.

Also don’t forget to check out my previous posts on Isolation tanks:

~ Ernest

Floatation (isolation) Tank – indepth and upclose

Welcome back for more juice on Flotation Tanks. If you have not read my previous post “Floatation (isolation) Tank – fringe science?” then I highly recommend you go there first and read the introduction to understand what they are, the benefits of the experience and see some screenshots of tanks I’ve been in, in Sydney (Australia) and San Francisco (USA).

Let’s delve inside – how to temporarily turn off your 3 senses

Isolation Tank specs

  • The tank is not airtight – it is designed to let air in via the roof.
  • It’s pitch black inside. Used to disassociate your visual senses from the environment.
  • The tank environment is humid – 37° celcius (99° Fahrenheit) – your body’s temperature. Helps with disassociating your kinestatic senses from the environment.
  • Around 10 inches of water in the tank with 800 lbs. of Epsom Salt dissolved in it. When you lie back you will float like a cork. Your ears will be under water. All places I’ve been to provide you earplugs. Use them to cut out all remnants of noise. That’s how your auditory senses are disassociated from the environment.
  • Keep the salt out of your eyes. Once inside do not rub your eyes or touch your face – the salt is very strong and even a small drop will sting. Make sure you have a towel near the tank to dry your hands before touching your face / eyes. The same goes for any cuts you have on your body. Make sure you cover them up with Vaseline or similar to stop the salt from entering the wound.
  • At the beginning of each float set an intention for what you would like to accomplish during your float. Then enjoy the float – the rest of the journey your mind will take you through.

What to expect during a float

The following is based on my experience. Each experience varies but they all share similar stories.

  1. First 20 minutes is calming down your mind and relaxing your body. First timers will find it strange to let go at first because being buoyant is a strange feeling and letting go of tension without touching anything in the tank is even stranger – yes you do float in the tank without touching the bottom or the side walls. When the tension pain is gone that’s when you have fully let go (especially neck muscles).
  2. Concentrate on your breathing – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try this approach, 4 seconds in, hold for another 4 seconds and 2 seconds out (I will cover breathing techniques in a future post and why doing it correctly is super important). Also try to resist moving or scratching an itch. During the start of a meditation session when your senses are slowly being turned off, your brain will send signals to your body to try to awaken them – this will come through as an itch or a muscle twitch. Resist it for couple of minutes and it will pass. Concentrating on your breathing will also help you with the fight against the “monkey mind”. The monkey mind are random distracting thoughts which rush in and out of your mind.
  3. After 20 (or so) minutes have passed you will find yourself in an open minded state. Your mind should feel clear & open, your body free of tension. This is the relaxed state. Your mind will be in a frequency state called Alpha. A state which you can also use for accelerated learning.
  4. After another 20 minutes (40 minutes into the float) you will enter Theta state. You will be conscious in this state and know when it comes. In this state your subconscious mind awakens and your concious mind will experience auditory and visual hallucinations. You will feel as though you have separated from your physical body and are pure energy, a part of something  greater. Monks practice years to reach Theta in a concious state. Do not resist. Do not get frightened. This state gives you access to insights, bursts of creative ideas – a key state for “reality creation” through vivid imagery.
  5. After 1 hour of floating, soft music will start playing inside the tank. This is your queue that the journey for now has came to an end and it’s time to go back to the reality we call society.


With time you will want to float for longer and longer. I have floated for 2 hours before and even though it may sound like a long time there is no sense of time during a good float. John C. Lilly was known to float for up to 6 hours and trained himself to reach such high states that his experiences are what some people would call out of this world.

I would love to hear your experience in the tank. Please use the comments section below to share your journey in the tank.

Common questions & answers

  1. Q: Will I drown if I fall asleep in the tank?
    A: No. You are always buoyant, floating on top of the water like a cork. Same as the dead seas. If you did roll over, the strong Epsom Salt in the water would instantly wake you up.
  2. Q: I have a fear of being alone in the dark, drowning, not having enough air, claustrophobia, and others
    A: For some the first time might be a bit overwhelming. You can go in and out of the tank as you please. You can use the tank with the door completely open, you can keep it partially open, or you can close it. There is no particular way to use the tank that is more correct than another. Any way you use it, that is comfortable for you, is correct. But once you relax and let go you will experience peace and tranquility and want to come back for more.
  3. Q: I did what you said to do and nothing happened. What gives.
    A: Practice makes perfect. Like anything in life you need to immerse yourself in it and embrace the offering. I recommend you give it a go at least 3 times and each time be open and willing to let go.

Joe Rogan on Floatation Tank

Floatation (isolation) Tank – fringe science?

This is my personal favorite – Floatation Tank. I have been floating from early 2008 and enjoy every session. 1 hour of floating is about the average you need to get the same as 6 hours of sleep. This 1 hour passes quickly, time doesn’t exist in the tank, and when you finish your session you will feel as though you just had a brain & body massage. The feeling is amazing and lasts for most of the day.

What is an Floatation (isolation) Tank?

A floatation tank (also known as isolation tank or sensory deprivation tank) is an enclosed chamber filled with approximately ten inches of warm saturated solution of Epsom Salt. A solution so dense that even the thinnest person floats supine with the entire body at or near the surface of the water like a cork.

Isolation Tank "Classic" model with Ernest Semerda
Isolation Tank "Classic" model with Ernest Semerda

The buoyancy counteracts the effects of gravity, giving the floater a sensation of weightlessness. The chamber is pitch-black and silent. In the absence of sensory input to the logical side of the brain, the left side of the brain synchronises with the creative side (right side) and creates a free state, at peace. In this state, the brain releases vast amounts of endorphins. Most floaters report enhanced mental powers. Virtually everyone finds the experience immensely pleasant.

While the state of relaxation may be deep and profound, the individual’s brain stays dreamily alert. To get technical, the brain gradually shifts from its usual “alpha” state to generate theta waves, the state-of-mind that Buddhist monks try to reach through hours of meditation and years of training. You can achieve this in a matter of minutes just by floating! Best of all, the effects of floatation are cumulative – the more regularly you float, the better it gets.

Why float – the benefits

  • Meditation
  • Reduces stress & anxiety
  • Reduces heart rate & blood pressure
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Stimulates endorphin production (providing relief from chronic pain)
  • Stimulates Alpha & Theta brain waves (associated with creative insights and meditative states).
  • Relaxation
  • Rest and Recovery – one hour of floating is equivalent to 6 hours sleep. Great for Jet Lag recovery!
  • and in alternative medicine.

In more detail…

Promotes total calm & peaceful relaxation; eliminates fatigue and jet lagimproves sleep; alleviates stress (mental and physical); energises, rejuvenates andrevitalises.

Stimulates left/right brain synchronisation; shifts brain waves from Beta to lower frequency Alpha, Theta and even Delta; creates mental clarity, alertness;increases creativity, problem solving; heightens visualization; deepens meditation; expands awareness, intensifies acuteness of all the senses, accelerates learning.

Enhances hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis; increasesmotivation, diminishes depression, anxiety and fear; facilitates freedom from habits, phobias and addictions.

Improves athletic performance and helps prevent sports injuries, speeds healing process.

Decreases the production of Cortisol, ACTH, Lactic Acid and Adrenaline; increases production of endorphins; quickens rehabilitation and recovery; relieves pain – arthritis, migraines, injuries etc.; boosts immune function. 
Improves circulation and distribution of oxygen and nutrients; reduces blood pressure, pulse, heart rate and oxygen consumption.

The safe sensory isolated environment is naturally conducive to relaxation and peace of mind. Released to float in suspension without the body experiencing the effects of gravity and outside distractions, your entire being achieves levels of rest and higher state much deeper than you have ever previously experienced.


The man behind the magic – Dr John C. Lilly

The first floatation tank was developed in 1950 by the American neurophysiologist Professor Dr John C. Lilly while working at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Together with his associate Dr. Jay Shirley, Dr. Lilly became intrigued by the question of the origins of conscious activity within the brain. The question was whether the brain needed external stimuli to keep its conscious states active. Lilly and his associate set to work trying to devise a system that would restrict environmental stimulation as much as was practical and feasible. Lilly’s first tank was one in which the floater was suspended upright, entirely underwater, head completely covered by an underwater breathing apparatus and mask (now you know where the producers of “Altered States” got their ideas!). Over the years Lilly continued his experiments with floatation, simplifying and improving the general design of the tank. Dr. Lilly found that he could float in a more relaxing supine position, rather than suspended feet downward in fresh water, if more buoyant salt water was used. Other refinements, such as water heaters with thermostats sensitive enough to keep the water at perfect temperature, an air pump to keep the air in the tank fresh, and a water filter for the re-use of the Epsom salts, were added over the years. By the early 1970’s, Lilly had perfected the floatation tank in much the design used today.

Dr Lilly is also famous for the historical work with Dolphins which has allowed Dolphins to be treated as intelligent & protected creatures.

If you want to read more about Dr Lilly, his amazing journeys into the subconscious & work with Dolphins, check out his books:

  1. The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography
  2. Center of the Cyclone: Looking into Inner Space

Places to float / experience the magic

Here are my 2 favorite floatation centres.

Sydney, NSW, Australia: Bondi Junction Massage and Float Centre – Flotation
Level 1 Royal Arcade, 175-181 Oxford Street
Bondi Junction, NSW, Australia, 1355
Email: info@massagefloat.com.au
Website: http://massagefloat.com.au/
Phone: 93877355

Isolation Tank Sydney
Isolation Tank Sydney

San Francisco, California, USA: Atha Floatation
San Francisco, Sunset District,
California, USA
Website: http://www.athafloatation.com/

Isolation Tank "Classic" model
Isolation Tank "Classic" model San Francisco

Where else will you find flotation tanks

In the Community: The Australian Institute of Sport, Hayman Island resort, Victoria University of Technology and many more.

In the Movies: Altered States, Fringe: The Complete First Season

Hungry for more? keep reading Part 2 – Floatation (isolation) Tank – indepth and upclose.