Float tanks making waves to improve wellness, physical, and mental health

A person in a swimsuit flaoting peacefully in a float tank

Nicola Dowse

Posted July 18, 2022

Studies are confirming anecdotal evidence that float tanks help reduce everything from muscle aches to anxiety. Here’s what you need to know about the increasingly popular spa treatment. 

Imagine floating in a dark, endless ocean. Pitch black, silent, and weightless. Soft music plays as you drift effortlessly in a salty pool, unable to distinguish where your body ends and the water begins.

This is what many people say it feels like to be in a float tank.

Float tanks, also known isolation tanks, or sensory deprivation tanks, have surfaced in a big way in the last decade. Between 2011 and 2015 there was an estimated 253 per cent increase in businesses offering floatation services in the United States, and Australia is quickly adopting the trend.

“There’s a lot of places that do floats now,” says Kirsty Vardis, One Spa Manager at RACV Torquay Resort, where they have their own floatation tank. “It is really, really popular.” 

What is a float tank? 

A floatation tank is a pool of body-temperature water filled with salts (usually Epsom salts) until it is so buoyant you can float without effort. “When you're in there, your body's completely weightless,” Vardis says. “It’s almost like being in the Dead Sea.” 

Often floatation tanks are built as sound-proof capsules that can be shut completely around the floater, depriving them of their sight and hearing. Combined with the tepid water (which aims to break down the distinction between your body and the liquid), float tanks offer the ultimate in relaxation. 

“We do have clients that fall asleep in there,” says Vardis. “They can actually just forget where they are.” 

The first float tanks were created in 1954 by American doctor, psychoanalyst and neuroscientist, John C. Lilly, who used the tanks to further his research on sensory deprivation and how it could potentially be used to explore the depths of human consciousness.


A woman leaning on one side in a float tank

Float tanks can help with various ailments, from muscle aches to stress and anxiety.

Float tank health benefits 

For a long time, floatation tank therapy sat on the fringes of alternative therapeutic practices, flirting briefly with popularity during the 1970s, but never gaining the empirical evidence needed to back up purported benefits.  

That’s changed in recent years, with some studies leading the practice further towards the mainstream. Clinical research out of the United States indicates that floatation tanks have the potential to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.  

Speaking from a place of experience, Vardis agrees that floatation tanks have the potential to induce relaxation. “I do struggle to relax somewhat. But I hopped in there and in took me a good ten minutes and then I was gone.” 

“I could find my mind just switching off while I was in there.” 

But the potential benefits of floating are more than just psychological. “Because the body does feel weightless, you kind of forget all the aches and pains in the body,” Vardis says, noting that people who have neck or back pain, or even arthritis, can benefit from a float. 

Similar studies from Sweden back the idea that floating can be used to reduce pain and improve sleep quality.  If you go to a doctor in Sweden, they might even prescribe that you try floating as a treatment, with the Nordic country boasting the highest number of float tank centres per capita.  

Float tanks have even been used as a recovery method for elite athletes, including the Carlton Football Club.    


Two people in fluffy white bathrobes walking in a timber lined spa

A therapist will introduce you to how your float tank works, but usually you'll enter the tank solo.

Float tank first-timers 

Every centre is different, but floating usually involves being introduced to the tank and how it works by a therapist before being left to enter the tank by themselves.  

That’s because it’s recommended that you float nude. While guests can wear bathers if that’s what they’re comfortable with, floating naked is recommended if you really want to feel weightless and one with the water.  

What you do in the while floating is up to you.  

At the Torquay One Spa, guests also have the option of having a massage after their float, which Vardis says can, “further intensify the induced relaxation for them.” 

Keep in mind floatation tanks aren’t for everyone. Those with claustrophobia are unlikely to enjoy the experience (centres often allow you to keep the tank lid open, but it can detract from the experience), and it’s important you consult with your doctor before floating if you have any medical conditions.  

But if you are teetering on the edge of whether float tanks are for you or not, Vardis has some advice: “try it,” she says. “I think everyone needs a little bit of relaxation at the moment.” 

Treat yourself to some rest and relaxation
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