Isolation tanks are guaranteed make you crazy, reckless, violent and eventually break down your genetic material. That’s the philosophy put forth by Altered States. The 1980 film stars William Hurt as Eddie Jessup, who studies and experiments with different states of consciousness using an isolation tank. At first these floating sessions only produce hallucinations. Over time, and with the aid of hallucinatory drugs, Jessup experiences escalating side effects from the hours he spends inside the isolation tank. He begins to experience altered states of consciousness both inside and outside the tank. It starts with waking hallucinations and eventually turns into physical manifestations of his altered states of consciousness. Jessop undergoes genetic regression at the same time as a direct result of his floating sessions in the tank. First, he regresses to a sub-human hominid and then finally morphs into an unborn state of cellular ooze. At this point, Jessop barely survives his final session in the isolation tank. Even after being rescued from the isolation tank, he still experiences the waking hallucinations that plagued him before. He is only saved from his hallucinations and ultimately cured by the love and support of his wife. This film of course is a completely fictional account, but Hollywood gets isolation tanks all wrong. Isolation tanks do not have the negative and horrific impact that movies like Altered States want you to believe. Far from creating dangerous hallucinations, floating actually helps clear a cloudy mind and increase focus. Floating eases pain and aids in recovery from injuries. It frees the body and mind from the stress and trials of daily living. Floating is neither a calm nor tranquil experience for Jessup. He finds himself in a waking nightmare from his time in the tank. This is just nonsense. Floating in an isolation tank will not cause people violently hallucinate outside of it. Jessup experiences a physical change that breaks his body down and erases his humanity. The physical changes found using an isolation tank are positive. Salt water offers benefits to the human body and floating relaxes muscles. The weightless of floating eases stress on joints. Floating is one of the best ways to relax body, mind and spirit. If you are want to enjoy some rather strange entertainment on a Friday night, Altered States may be your answer. If you want a true depiction of floating, look elsewhere. The ideas presented here are foreign to anyone who spends time in an isolation tank.
Each person enjoys a different experience when they float in an isolation tank for the first time. The Simpsons offers a satirical take on isolation tanks when Homer Simpson gets to experience being in one for the first time in the 10th season episode “Make Room For Lisa.” Homer takes Lisa to a new age store to find natural remedies for stress-induced stomach aches. She is experiencing these stomach aches after her room is converted into a communication tower by a local cell-phone company. While in the new age store, the clerk offers time in the isolation tanks as a method for reducing Lisa’s stress and ridding her stomach ache. The experiences of Lisa and Homer in their respective isolation tanks are as different as night and day. Lisa undergoes a spiritual and mystical journey typical of what some people who float regularly report when they come out of a floatation tank. She sees an assortment of images and experiences life from the point of view of her cat Snowball and then Homer. Lisa learns to forgive his uncouth behavior and appreciate his efforts to bond with her by doing activities he doesn’t always enjoy. Homer, on the other hand, seems only concerned on whether he can pee in the tank before staring his floating session. Once inside, his isolation tank is seized by repo men and falls out of the back of their truck on a sharp turn. It is found on the road by Ned Flanders and he mistakes it for a coffin. Ned buries the isolation tank and it breaks through the top of an underground water pipe. The isolation tank washes ashore on a local beach and is returned to the new age store. Homer leaves the tank feeling impressed by his “journey.” Both experiences — one spiritual and the other comical — have positive effects on the relationship between Homer and Lisa. The same is true with others who float. They feel better about themselves and their loved ones.
Are you running low on funds, but you still want to build an isolation tank? Here is a creative way to get your tank built. Artists have always had a fascination with sensory deprivation and for good reason. Great art is created through focus and concentration, two abilities a floatation tank enables the user to harness with uncommon strength. However, due the cost of building a tank and the extra cost of having somewhere to store it, many people who would love to have a floatation tank simply cannot. This is where a bit of ingenuity comes in. (by the way, I know this works because I did it) Try contacting your local art gallery and propose an exhibit of work inspired by time spent inside a sensory deprivation tank. Trust me, they will jump on it. Galleries are always looking for some kind of hook to snag new visitors and nothing garners interest like a floatation tank. This idea first came to me from Float On, a brilliant float centre in Portland, who put together an exhibit and eventually published a book of floatation inspired art, “Artwork from the Void.” Check it out on Amazon. So how do you get the gallery to pay for the tank? Galleries often have funds put aside for exhibits and artists. Ask them to pay for the materials and tell them you will document the construction phase. This documentation, video and photos, can then be used for introducing your exhibit. If the gallery is strapped for funds, there is also the possibility of making the exhibit into a silent auction. As long as the art is tangible (sorry musicians) you can auction off the work to highest bidder. Artists are surprisingly open to this idea. Most are just excited about getting in the tank and don’t really mind what happens to their paintings. You can then use the funds from the sale of the art to pay for the construction of the tank. Or, if the thought of paying for the tank before you have sold any art makes you nervous, you can sell the art first by setting up a campaign on indiegogo or by advertising the idea to art gallery goers. Make a promise that donors to the project will receive a piece of art after the exhibit closes. The wonderful byproduct of this method is that everyone who sees the exhibit will want to get inside the tank. If and when you take the tank home, you will have a line up of potential clients for your float centre.
Many people have heard of a floatation tank, but the word usually conjures up thoughts of a huge iron lung looking contraption and William Hurt turning into a chimp. However, floatation tanks and the practice of floating have come a long way since the first time professor John Lilly proposed separating the mind from the body by suspending it upright in isolation chamber filled with warm salt water. Today’s tanks, although fundamentally similar, are comfortable and soothing and are used primarily for relaxation and healing. The float tank experience is increasingly marketed as a way to escape the sensory overload of the outside world. There is literally nothing on earth quite like floating in an enclosed, soundproof, and completely dark tank filled with ten inches of a water and Epsom salt solution. The buoyancy of this solution allows the user to easily float, removing any sensation of gravity. Proper float tanks removes almost all physical and sensory stimulation, resulting in a very interesting and relaxing experience. A therapeutic session typically lasts an hour. For the first half of the float, participants relax and allow their mind to wander, often organizing thoughts and memories. The last twenty or thirty minutes often end with a transition from beta or alpha brainwaves to theta, which typically occurs briefly before sleep and again at waking. In a float tank, the theta state can last for several minutes without the subject losing consciousness. Many use the extended theta state as a tool for enhanced creativity and problem-solving or for “super learning”. The more often the tank is used, the longer the theta period becomes. More experienced floaters attempt to extend this theta or waking dream like experience by floating for increasingly longer periods of time. Floatation therapy also offers numerous benefits by stimulating the body’s own power of healing and regeneration, strengthening the body’s resistance to the effects of stress, illness and injury. Blood vessels dilate, increasing cardiovascular efficiency and supply of oxygen and nutrients to each cell in the body. The effects are immediate and remain measurable for days or weeks after a float. Floatation is also cumulative – every time you float in a floatation tank you strengthen your body’s resistance. Participants experience intense relaxation, enhanced concentration, and a state of mental rest equivalent to a much longer period time spent sleeping.