Isolation tank

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A modern isolation tank

An isolation tank, usually called a sensory deprivation tank (also known as float tank, flotation tank, or sensory attenuation tank) is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with salt water at skin temperature, in which individuals float. They were first used in 1954 to test the effects of sensory deprivation. Flotation tanks are widely advertised as a form of alternative medicine but beneficial health effects are unproven.


The isolation tank was developed in 1954 by John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuropsychiatrist.[1][2][3] During his training in psychoanalysis at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Lilly experimented with sensory deprivation.

In 1981, there were about $4 million in sales and rentals in the industry, and expectations were that the market would grow, spurred by the movie Altered States (a film starring William Hurt as a psychopathologist experimenting with a flotation tank) which came out in 1980.[4] According to one source in the industry, in the 1980s the rise of AIDS and the fear of shared water reduced demand for flotation centers.[5] By 2013, flotation was more popular in Europe than the US, but had undergone some growth in the area around San Francisco; at that time a low-end tank costs about $10,000 and an hour-long flotation session cost about $70.[5]

Notable users[edit]

  • Carl Lewis, track and field athlete, used in-tank visualization techniques to prepare himself for his gold medal long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympics[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Black, David (December 10, 1979). "Lie down in darkness". New York Magazine. 12 (48): 60. ISSN 0028-7369.
  2. ^ Gelb, Michael; Sarah Miller Caldicott (2007). Innovate Like Edison. Dutton. p. 140. ISBN 0-525-95031-1.
  3. ^ Lilly, John Cunningham (1996). The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography (3 ed.). Ronin Publishing. p. 102. ISBN 0-914171-72-0.
  4. ^ "Relaxation Tanks: A Market Develops". The New York Times. 21 November 1981.
  5. ^ a b Efrati, Amir. "Float Centers Gaining Steam". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
  6. ^ "Flotation Tanks, Three Powerful Healing Therapies in One!". CNN iReport. Retrieved 2016-09-23.
  7. ^ Cole, K.C. (January 27, 1985). "Book Review: Surely you're joking Mr Feynman". The New York Times:.
  8. ^ Alipour, Sam (8 December 2015). "Stephen Curry on copying the Warriors' way: 'You won't have the personnel'". ESPN. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  9. ^ "Biohacker Aaron Traywick found dead in a spa". BBC. 2 May 2018. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  10. ^