The first floatation tank was developed in 1950 by 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 state going. Scientists and doctors could not agree. Some thought the brain would continue to generate experiences similar to the dream state, but others believed the brain would shut down into a dreamless state of doing nothing, similar to a coma. 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. Tanks of those days would be very intimidating to the average person. Over the years Lilly continued his experiments with floatation, simplifying and improving the general design of the tank. Dr. Lilly found that rather than float suspended, feet downward in fresh water, he was more buoyant and could float in a more relaxing supine position, if salt water was used.
Today, most tanks have water that is only ten inches deep with 800 lbs of Epsom salts dissolved in the water. Other refinements, such as water heaters with thermostats sensitive enough to keep the water at perfect temperature, air pump to keep the air in the tank fresh, and a water filter were added over the years. By the early 1970s, Lilly had perfected the floatation tank into a design very similar to that used today. Some of today’s newer float centers have float “rooms” instead of tanks. However, it may be more difficult to keep the air in the room consistent at the proper temperature.
The Float Tank has been used by neurologists at university medical faculties. Scientists in other fields of research have also shown increasing interest in the float tank and its effects on the human body and mind.
For many years float tanks were mostly used by researchers in university laboratories. The 80s and 90s showed the rise and fall in float centers. Celebrities started to use and buy float tanks; they were becoming extremely popular. In 1983 floating increased in popularity as more became known about the benefits of floating. Float centers were popping up and tanks could be found in health spas, hospitals, fitness centers, professional sport centers, bio-fitness institutes. They are also used for “super learning” courses by universities. Then they suddenly dropped away and all but disappeared.
Today, there is a tremendous surge of popularity in floating. One reason is probably because the public now understands that most illnesses do not spread as easily as what might have been originally thought. Also, there is better understanding of the Epsom salt solution in the tank. Some compare it to the Dead Sea. Because the intensity of the salt content in the water, nothing can grow or live in it. In fact, the intensity of the salt in float tanks is even greater than the level found in that famous body of water. The list of benefits of soaking in Epsom salts is quite long.
Another reason for the recent popularity of floating, is that through the internet, it is easier for people to learn how amazing floating is for stress relief, higher consciousness and better health, and the ease of how it all happens.