Poster Garrett Frandsen
Garrett Frandsen

Isolation tanks making a comeback

Isolation tanks were invented in the 1950s for scientific experiments on sensory deprivation. They became a standby of science fiction stories like Twilight Zone episodes and the 1980 movie Altered States. As recently as 2012, The Awl claimed to have found "New York's last sensory deprivation tank."

Now, isolation tanks are back — with a holistic twist. Centers for "floatation therapy" are popping up in cities around the world, promising virtually every possible beneficial effect. As Wikipedia puts it, "floating has been shown to improve creativity in Jazz musicians, accuracy in rifle shooting, focus before academic examinations and stress relief, among others."

One benefit often touted by floatation advocates is the achievement of an extended "theta state," in which brainwaves achieve the state they normally transition through between sleeping and waking. Extended theta states without actual sleep is said to facilitate "super learning."

The theta state doesn't kick in right away, of course. The Hope Floats spa in Bethesda, Md. admits that "for the first 40 minutes, it is reportedly possible to experience itching in various parts of the body." When TODAY's Meena Hart Duerson tried a clam-shell tank, she found that "I couldn't stop worrying about wasting my precious time in the tank, imagining how it would be over and how I would have spent the whole time stressing out about how much time I had left."

To climb in a clam shell at your local floatation center, you can expect to pay a little less than you'd pay for a decent massage. In Bethesda, an hour in the tank runs $75. In Columbus, Ohio, it's $59. If you want to take a time-out in Manhattan, you'll have to budget at least $90.

What's the recommended soundtrack? Duerson reports that "while you can listen to music in the tank (they pipe in a very New Age soundtrack), they recommend you go full sensory deprivation, turning the lights off, closing your eyes, and donning ear plugs to block out any noise (and keep the salt out of your ears)."

Food for thought. While you consider whether to take the plunge yourself, we suggest clicking on YourClassical's Relax stream. You might even go theta.

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