Is Flotation Therapy New Age?

LG asks: “I recently was told about spa that offers Float Therapy. Is this New Age?”

Float therapy in itself is not New Age, although it is considered to be a form of alternative medicine.

For those who never heard of it, the float therapy (aka flotation therapy, float tank, deprivation tank) gaining popularity today consists of a temperature-controlled salt water tank that can be made soundproof and even lightproof if desired in order to provide the maximum escape from sensory input.

Some establishments offer pod-like tanks for customers and give them the option to have lights on or off. Large quantities of Epsom salt added to the water makes the body float effortlessly on the surface which is supposed to be relaxing. Proponents say it offers a variety of benefits from improved sleep to pain reduction and even enhanced creativity although there is little scientific evidence to support these claims.

Where the New Age enters into the picture is in the man who created float therapy. This device was the brainchild of John C. Lilly (1915-2001), a neuroscientist, psychoanalyst, philosopher and inventor who was very interested in the nature of consciousness, dolphin communication and psychedelic drugs.

A highly educated man, he became interested in sensory deprivation research in order to determine what would happen if the mind was deprived of nearly all stimulation. The first tank he developed was dark and soundproof and full of warm salt water that was kept at the same temperature as the skin. In the original device, people wore a “black-out” mask which provided air but blocked any light from reaching the eyes. Not surprisingly, people often left the tank feeling anxious and stressed.

In the 1960’s, his intense interest in altered states of consciousness found him dabbling in psychedelic drugs. He also became a student of yoga and Oscar Ichazo, the Bolivian-born occultist who pioneered the Enneagram.

From there, he went even further off the rails and began to believe that he was making contact with other species as well as with creatures from other dimensions and civilizations who were more advanced than our own.

Lilly was obviously very much involved in the early days of the New Age, but the flotation tanks he designed – and the tanks so popular today – were never based on New Age philosophies.

However, it should be noted that these tanks are frequently located in spas where customers could be introduced to other New Age alternatives so caution is advised when seeking this kind of relaxation therapy.

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