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Floating dates back to the 1950’s when physician, neuroscientist, and psychoanalyst Dr. John C. Lilly, author of multiple books on floating, devised the concept for the ‘isolation tank’ as part of his research at the National Institute of Mental Health.

history and future of floatation therapy

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Dr. Lilly’s groundbreaking research on sensory deprivation challenged the prevailing assumption that the brain would shut down without external stimuli. Instead, he found that floating in a sensory-deprived environment not only induced deep relaxation but also awakened previously dormant parts of the brain. By the 1970s, commercial float tanks became available, incorporating the use of Epsom salt to create a buoyant environment where users can float weightlessly. With the tanks’ lightproof and soundproof construction, floating has become a widespread practice for those seeking an sensory-deprived climate to facilitate creativity and mental clarity.

Growing pains

With a growing body of research supporting its benefits, floating has become a widespread practice for improving physical and mental health. In the 1970s, float centers began to emerge in California, and by the 1980s, they were gaining popularity around the world. However, the AIDS epidemic and fear of shared water facilities caused many to become skeptical of float tanks. Despite this setback, the floating industry persisted, and today, float centers can be found worldwide, offering a safe and effective way for people to reduce stress and physical pain and improve athletic performance, as well as aid in addiction recovery.
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The Resurgence

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In the 2000s, floating made a comeback as research showed its various benefits and tanks improved in quality. The internet played a significant role in its re-emergence, with popular figures like Joe Rogan discussing their use of float tanks on a podcast with a large audience. This led to increased awareness and curiosity about float therapy, and events, conferences, and associations began to be organized to promote it. With more people experiencing the benefits of floating, the industry is expected to grow as health and wellness practitioners increasingly recommend it and high-quality float tanks become more accessible and affordable.