John Lilly float tank inventor

HISTORY OF Float Tanks

Like many other fascinating and revolutionary ideas, float tanks were pioneered by an academic asking a question. In 1954, John C. Lilly began experimenting with the mind’s response to “sensory deprivation,” a subject that had grasped the interest of the contemporary fields of neurology and psychology. There was debate about what would happen if the brain, the center of consciousness, was deprived of all sensory information. Would we fall into a dreamless, comatose state? Would our thoughts continue going even without any new incoming information?

Lilly wanted to find out. He built a large floatation chamber which he filled with water. With the use of a diving suit (the facemask painted black to block out all light), he submerged his study participants into the floatation chamber. His results showed that there was no comatose state, and, once his participants came out of the chamber, they reported feelings of intense relaxation and calm, with some even reporting epiphanies of personal discovery and self-realization.

Lilly’s interest was sparked, and he continued his research over the next two decades, refining his laboratory’s chamber and building other similar floatation chambers to perform more experiments, and his new research showed similar results. The next real step in the evolution of float tanks came in the early 1970s, when the floatation chamber changed from a laboratory behemoth into the tanks we know and love today.


Researchers into REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) and float tank users report many different beneficial effects from floatation, from general well-being through to mental and physical benefits. Here are just a few:

General well-being

  • Promotes total calm and peaceful relaxation
  • Eliminates fatigue and jet lag
  • Improves sleep
  • Alleviates stress (mental and physical)
  • Energises, rejuvenates and revitalises
  • Increases motivation, diminishes depression, anxiety and fear
  • Facilitates freedom from habits, phobias and addictions

Mental benefits of floatation

  • Stimulates left/right brain synchronization
  • 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

Physical benefits of floatation

  • Decreases the production of cortisol, ACTH, lactic acid and adrenaline
  • Increases production of endorphins
  • Speeds up rehabilitation and recovery
  • Relieves pain (arthritis, migraines, injuries and so on)
  • Boosts immune function
  • Improves circulation and distribution of oxygen and nutrients
  • Reduces blood pressure, pulse, heart rate and oxygen consumption
  • Improves athletic performance
  • Helps prevent sports injuries, speeds healing process



Theta Waves

With modern science, we’re able to record the activity in the brain, including the production of different types of waves. There are four types of waves detected:

  • Beta Waves

    When the brain is generating beta waves (13-30 Hz), it is dealing with actual tasks and problems.

  • Alpha Waves

    When the brain is generating alpha waves (8-12 Hz), the person is usually alert but unfocused. These are associated with relaxation and calmness.

  • Theta Waves

    We produce theta waves (4-7 Hz) twice per day: as we’re falling asleep and as we wake up. In these times, we’re presented with unpredictable, dreamlike (yet still vivid) images. Theta waves offer access to unconscious material, sudden insight, and creative material. It is a mysterious, elusive state that’s quite difficult to study because as soon as someone produces theta waves, they start to fall asleep.

  • Delta Waves

    These occur at 0.5 to 4 Hz when a person is deeply asleep or unconscious

Producing Theta Waves

As you probably guessed, the most exciting type of brain activity is theta waves. This is the ultimate goal for practitioners of meditation and other methods of relaxation. Most must dedicate endless hours of studying, dedication, and practice to achieve this type of state. Users of flotation tanks are able to achieve theta wave production quite easily, while still allowing the person to be alert and awake.

What do Theta Waves mean?

When the brain produces these waves, we are at our most creative and imaginative state. Throughout studies, as users start producing theta waves, they often report integrative experiences leading to feelings of psychological well-being. These same people reported improvements in personal relationships. Many started recalling long-lost childhood memories. Researches report that those whom experience high levels of theta waves, “experience a new kind of body consciousness very much related to their total well-being.” They also found that those people “manifested improved relationships with other people as well as great tolerance, understanding, and love of oneself and one’s world.” The users also had “new and valid ideas or synthesis of ideas, not primarily by deduction, but springing by intuition from unconscious sources.”


The production of theta waves may not lead to each of us coming up with the world’s next greatest idea, but research does indicate that those of us who float will experience an increase in creativity as well as an improved sense of purpose and love of life