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This study examines the phenomena that occurs inside a Floatation-REST tank as described by a non-clinical, English-speaking population, based in Hong Kong. The research project was conducted through semi-structured interviews to understand the essence of the Floating-REST experience inside the tank. To date of publication, much of the prior research regarding Floatation-REST has focused on the after-effects of floating. The interviews found the experience to be a meditative and reflective hour that allows participants to escape current demands and provides clarity of thought.While in the tank, participants were able to slow down their thoughts and gain transferable insight to their daily life after the floating experience was over.
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What is the Lived Experience of Floatation-REST Inside A Tank?
Dissertation presented to the Faculty of the
California School of Professional Psychology
Alliant International University
Hong Kong
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Psychology
by
Kimberley Jade Sackett Carder
2018
Approved by:
Liang Tien, Psy.D., ABPP Chairperson
Julii Green, Ph.D.
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© Kimberley Carder, 2018
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Dedication
This body of work is dedicated to my mother, Eleanor Sackett, for all that she is and all
that she continues to push me to be.
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Acknowledgements
Special acknowledgement must be given to my dissertation team; Avis, Roy and Dr.
Liang Tien who worked tirelessly over the past three years in supporting this research process
both personally and professionally. In particular my dissertation chairman, Dr. Liang Tien, for
developing my research skills beyond what I thought I was capable of.
I would like to acknowledge the float community both in Hong Kong and globally. In
particular the fantastic team at Float On, Hong Kong – Dee Cheung, Ciaran Hussey, Twinnie
Lam and Angela Law for supporting me in this journey and making this research possible.
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Abstract
This study examines the phenomena that occurs inside a Floatation-REST tank as described by a
non-clinical, English-speaking population, based in Hong Kong. The research project was
conducted through semi-structured interviews to understand the essence of the Floating-REST
experience inside the tank. To date of publication, much of the prior research regarding
Floatation-REST has focused on the after-effects of floating. The interviews found the
experience to be a meditative and reflective hour that allows participants to escape current
demands and provides clarity of thought. While in the tank, participants were able to slow down
their thoughts and gain transferable insight to their daily life after the floating experience was
over.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Dedication iii
Acknowledgements iv
Abstract v
List of Tables xi
CHAPTER I: Introduction 1
History of Sensory Deprivation 1
Floatation-REST 2
Growth in Alternative Therapy 3
Current Project 4
CHAPTER II: Literature Review 5
Early Findings on Sensory Deprivation 6
Effects on Performance 7
Creative 7
Athletic 8
Cognitive 9
Effects on Behavioural Health 10
Smoking and Alcohol Reduction 11
Dosage 12
Therapeutic Application 12
Reduced Pain 13
Improved Muscle Range, Tone and Control 15
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Reduced Stress and Tension 15
Mitigating Elements 17
Neuroimaging 17
Research Implications 18
Summary 18
Clinical Application 19
CHAPTER III: Methodology 20
Research Design 20
Branches of Phenomenology 20
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis 21
Analysis 21
Participants 22
Inclusion Criteria 22
Exclusion Criteria 23
Materials 23
Measures 23
Procedure 23
Data collection 24
Subject Checking 24
Ethical Considerations 24
Informed Consent 25
Confidentiality 26
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Protection of Participants 26
Researcher Safety 26
Limitations 27
CHAPTER IV: Results 28
Analysis Process 28
Description of Participants 29
Participant Demographics 30
Question One 30
Theme 1: Wanted to Experience Something Different 30
Subtheme A: “The Sensation of Weightlessness” 31
Subtheme B: “Explore My Mind” 31
Subtheme C: “I felt a bit stuck and wasn’t sure what to do” 31
Theme 2: Escape 32
Subtheme A: “Escape from Current Demands” 32
Summary of Question One 32
Question Two 33
Theme 1: Something Big 33
Subtheme A: “ You don’t know where your body ends and where the
outside world begins” 33
Subtheme B: “Possibly a psychedelic experience” 34
Subtheme C: “A moment of epiphany” 34
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Summary of Question Two 34
Question Three 35
Theme 1: Relaxing 36
Subtheme A: “No Interruptions” 36
Subtheme B: “Distant from my thoughts” 37
Subtheme C: “Subconscious” 37
Subtheme D: “Clear in my Mind” 37
Theme 2: Meditation. 37
Subtheme A: “Focus on Breathing” 38
Subtheme B: “You Don’t Have a Body” 38
Theme 3: Thinking 38
Subtheme A: “Mental activity goes down” 39
Subtheme B: “Clearer about a Decision” 39
Subtheme C: “Reflect in your Brain Activity” 40
Theme 4: Sleep. 40
Summary of Question Three 41
Question Four 42
Theme 1: Recommendation. 43
Theme 2: Beneficial. 43
Subtheme A: “ Physically I feel better” 43
Subtheme B: “More Clarity with my Thinking” 43
Subtheme C: “More Energized” 44
Subtheme D: “There’s Nothing but the Present” 44
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Theme 3: Meditative Hour. 44
Subtheme A: “Useful Supplement” 45
Subtheme B: “Reflecting on Life” 45
Subtheme C: “Alone with yourself” 45
Summary of Question Four 46
Summary of Research Questions 46
CHAPTER V: Discussion 48
Trajectory of Sensory Deprivation 48
Limitations of the Study 51
Implications of Study 52
Connecting to Psychotherapy 52
Connecting to Past Literature. 52
Relaxation and Well-being 52
Cognitive Experience 53
Training Aid 53
Meditation. 54
Future Studies 54
Conclusions 55
Phenomenological Summary of Research Questions 55
References 56
Appendix A – Participant Consent Forms 67
Appendix B –Interview Sheet 71
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List of Tables
Table 1. Participant Demographics 29
Table 2. Question One Themes 30
Table 3. Question Two Themes 33
Table 4. Question Three Themes 35
Table 5. Question Four Themes 42
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CHAPTER I
Introduction
History of Sensory Deprivation
Research on sensory deprivation first started as an inquiry into the effect of sensory
isolation on human behavior. Initial inquiries were conducted by placing people in sensory
deprivation chambers for extended periods of time (Suedfeld, 1999). The research transitioned to
an attempt to gain in-depth understanding of consciousness without external stimuli
predominantly through the work of John C. Lilly at The National Institute of Mental Health in
the 1950s (Lilly, 1977). Lilly created the first sensory deprivation tank in 1954.
Sensory deprivation tanks have since been termed Floatation- Restricted Environmental
Stimulation Technique (REST) tanks. Today the float process is similar to Lily’s first
conception. Float tanks contain approximately five hundred kilograms of magnesium sulphate in
water creating complete buoyancy for the user. In a float session participants float in a large,
lightproof chamber filled with surface skin temperature (35-36 degrees Celsius) salt water
(magnesium sulphate) wearing earplugs. As the use of floatation tanks has shifted from scientific
inquiry to commercial use, music is now played at the beginning and end of floats. Floatation-
REST sessions typically last for 60 minutes (Borrie, 1990).
While Lily was researching the effects of sensory deprivation though deep-water
immersion, Donald Hebb was researching the effects of Dry REST, commonly known as
Chamber-REST (Suedfeld, 1999). Chamber-REST occurs in a soundproof and lightproof room.
The participant lies on a bed and is encouraged to limit movement. Sessions last for prolonged
periods of time. Although participants are allowed to leave at any point, most stay for the
complete 24-hour period (Suedfeld, 1999).
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Hebb employed the use of soundproof rooms whereas Lily approached sensory isolation
through deep-water immersion (Zubek, 1973). The initial response to both approaches was
negative. Hebb’s research had hypothesized that people were more easily influenced after being
in the sensory deprivation chamber, and thus created a psychological damage liability waiver and
introduced a panic button (Suedfeld, 2012). The view that sensory deprivation caused negative
cognitive and consciousness affects persisted into the 1970’s (Forgays & Bellinson, 1986).
Peter Suedfeld started conducting research on Floatation-REST in 1968 and coined the
term ‘Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy’ (1980). Extensive academic research
began globally; the majority in Sweden by Annette Kjellgren (2001 – 2016) from Karlstads
Universitet. In more recent years Justin Feinstein (2016) and his team at the Laureate Institute of
Brain Research (LIBR) in the United States conducted the first functional Magnetic Resonance
Imaging (fMRI) study on the effects of floating.
Floatation-REST
Lily’s (1962) initial hypothesis was that the brain would turn off without sensory input.
Anecdotally, Lily reported a deep understanding of consciousness and the tank was a portal used
to go “inside yourself” (Lilly, 1977). No valid research project has supported such claims;
however, many of Lily’s early anecdotal claims catalyzed further research (Suedfeld, 1980). The
meditative state Lilly first researched in the 1960’s is still what attracts many people to float
tanks today (Feinsten, 2015). Lily’s early hypothesis (1962), the minimization of external stimuli
in the tank forces individuals to refocus on internal stimuli, was supported by the stimulus-
hunger hypothesis (Borrie, 1990).
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Growth in Alternative Therapies
There are now diverse approaches in mental health therapy that have been included in
traditional therapeutic treatment. There is a growing body of empirical research that has
identified the benefits of both alternative medicine and therapy for mental health, when used
both in isolation and in combination with traditional psychotherapy (Kennedy et al., 2014). In
2013, 40% of Americans in the United States used alternative treatment (Suedfeld, 2014).
Different modalities of alternative therapy and medicine are included in medical insurance
schemes reflecting the growth in its popularity. Further, therapies and practices such as yoga, tai
chi and meditation although once considered “alternative” are now considered mainstream as
evidence by the inclusion as reimbursable procedures by medical insurance companies.
The demands of daily living increase and products based on stress management are at the
forefront of mainstream culture (Feinsten, 2016). Products and services that aim to increase the
human “relaxation response” (Benson, 1975) have been found to be protective factors against
autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative as well as behavioral
disorders (Kerr, 2000). The relaxation response, the theoretical foundation of many alternative
forms of therapy, works in opposition to the “fight or flight” hormone, cortisol, through reducing
autonomic and metabolic activity, decreasing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure
(Hatchard et al, 2017; Khalsa, 2015). The physiological and psychological symbiosis that
alternative therapy promotes has shown to hold value in the psychotherapeutic framework
(Kennedy et al., 2014).
Research on the effects of floating and the commercialization of the industry is growing
simultaneously. Although the floatation industry advocates the use of floating for causes that
have been verified through research, no systematic study has looked qualitatively at the
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individual subjective experience inside the tank. Although there is a plethora of anecdotal
accounts found on the Internet, no research study has examined the subjective experience for
non-specialized populations. There is limited information available in the quantitative studies of
floatation therapies and even less qualitative studies. Considering the popularity and adoption of
floatation as an intervention to treating stress and related disorders, it would seem imperative to
fill these gaps in scientific literature. Understanding our perception of experience could provide
insight supporting established research findings.
Current Project
In part, to fill the gap, this research project will focus on the subjective psychological
experience of Floatation-REST. Research on the subjective experience is paramount to gain
further understanding, particularly as research thus far on floatation and anecdotes have shown
the experience to produce significant effects. The purpose of this study is to understand the
subjective lived experience inside the tank through a systemic and valid research methodology in
the hope that further understanding of the growth and popularity of Floatation-REST can be
applied to other therapeutic frameworks.
This dissertation focuses on the subjective psychological experience of Floatation-REST.
The project aims to understand the essence of floating through the user’s lived experience,
answering the question ‘What is the lived experience of floating inside a floatation tank?’.
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CHAPTER II
Literature Review
Floatation REST was popularized in the 1970’s in the United Sates and has slowly grown
globally (Suedfeld, 2012). Two distinct time periods of research emerged from the literature
review. Initial scientific inquiry was published in the 1980-1990’s and more recently there has
been a second wave of interest (2010 – Present). Initial published searches using keywords
‘floatation’ (n = 7) and ‘sensory deprivation’ (n = 1670) through the EBSCO search engine,
PsychInfo and Medline, produced a limited pool of scientific literature regarding Floatation-
REST. As a comparison, “meditation” (n = 3,764) was searched to determine the extent of
alternative therapy research. The larger quantity of scientific literature on mediation as
alternative therapy showed relatively little scientific literature has been submitted on Floation-
REST.
More specific research using both PsychInfo and Medline, using ‘Floatation-REST’ and
‘chambers’, produced a more relevant and larger scientific literature pool (n =1662). The search
was expanded to the years 1970 – 2016. The search results included pilot studies, effects on
behavior when sight, smell or noise were manipulated in general but not in regards to the
Floatation-REST experience. The search that yielded the most relevant results (n=22) was
‘restricted environmental stimulation therapy’.
Studies on Chamber-REST were not included in the literature review as the focus of this
study is to understand the experience inside the float tank. Tanks are not used in Chamber-REST
where participants sit in an isolated room. Therefore those studies have not been included in the
current review. There are some studies where both Chamber-REST and Floatation-REST are
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examined; those studies have been included to highlight information from the Floatation-REST
segment.
There are many potentially critical elements that comprise the floatation tank experience.
The water in the floatation tanks are filled with 500kg of Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) to
create buoyancy and utilize magnesium through skin absorption. However, an EBESCO search
through PsychInfo from 1940-2016 found 62 studies on ‘magnesium sulphate’, the majority
pertaining to animal behavior that did not have outcomes relevant to ‘well-being’ or ‘stress’. One
study examined the effect of light in the floatation tank the relevance of which is discussed in
later sections of this chapter. No other studies researching one element of the floatation tank in
singularity were found.
An EBSECO search through PsychInfo and Medline on “water therapy” (n=32) found
studies largely examining the relationship between physical therapy in pools and physical relief
for patients with severe physical disabilities.
The overall findings are summarized below; first the early findings (1960-80), followed
by the relevant literature on the overarching effects of Floatation-REST. The effects were
divided into three distinct groups; performance, behavioral health and therapeutic application.
Early Findings on Sensory Deprivation
Floatation-REST affects emotional states and psychophysiological arousal (Suedfeld &
Ballard, 1984) unlike Chamber-REST that has larger effects on cognitive processes and
motivational attributes. Suedfeld (1980) claims the marked changes are accounted for by the lack
of stimulation from the various senses. Lily (1977) has proposed the changes are due to a lack of
human interaction, light, sound, gravity and heat flow. Through neuroimaging, the Laureate
Institute of Brain Research has identified the lack of sensory stimulation shuts down all the
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sensory cortices and the “interoception” is elevated (Feinstein, 2016). Interoception is formed
through neural pathways that provide signals regarding the “internal milieu of our body”
(Feinstein, 2015).
Effects on Performance
Creative. Creativity has been measured in conjunction with Floatation-REST in
controlled settings. The ability to solve puzzles and use more novel creative problem solving
techniques increased for those who used Floatation-REST (Norlander, 1998) as reported in a
study using random assignments and different forms of puzzles as well as deductive reasoning
exercises to measure creativity as a cognitive skill.
Significant increases of performance on creativity scales have been found before and
after floating (Forgays & Forgays, 1992) on university students who were measured against a
control group who spent an hour in an isolated dark room instead of floating. The creativity
measures and mood states showed a significant decrease in anxiety and depression. It was
hypothesized that the increase in vigor contributed to the increase in creativity as self-reported.
Forgays & Forgays (1992) used 40 participants in a laboratory setting with self-reported
measures of creativity. The results suggest that people who rate themselves as more creative
benefit with more vigor and a decrease in negativity from floating than people who do not rate
themselves as creative.
One research study involved eight university jazz musicians who floated one hour per
week for four consecutive weeks and who reported feeling more creative and were graded higher
in their final performance against a comparison group of five musicians whom did not float
(Vartanian & Suedfeld, 2011). Blind ratings of improvised performances from their music
teachers, the musicians self-report on their ability and the final grade were all taken as
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measurements of change. Vartanian and Suedfeld (2011) hypothesized that the creative
improvement on all three measures could have also been due to the improved perceptual-motor
skills of the musicians. Further, the research also found the duration of change in creativity levels
appeared to be short-lived as the increase diminished to the musicians’ subjective baseline one
week after floating (Vartanian & Suedfeld, 2011).
Scientific creativity has been shown to improve after Floatation-REST sessions
(Suedfeld, 1987). Suedfeld (1987) monitored the oral dictations of science professors’ research
lines of inquiry in two different conditions; one-hour floatation sessions and sitting in isolation
for 90 minutes. Through self-rating the subjects found they produced more creative and novel
ideas after floatation-REST than when sitting in isolation. Higher levels of vigor and lower levels
of depression, fatigue and anxiety were also monitored on scales of mood. Some of the
limitations to the study include the small sample size (n=5) and the absence of a control group.
Athletic. Athletes who undergo Floatation-REST report less perceived exertion and more
consistency in physical performance (Norlander, 1999; Suedfeld & Bruno 1990). Athletes appear
to gain improved performance levels and technical skills, as seen with thirty amateur basketball
players who significantly improved their shooting accuracy (Suedfeld & Bruno, 1990) and
received higher coaches’ ratings (Wagaman et. al, 1991).
Suedfeld and Bruno (1990) studied thirty college basketball players and their ability to
shoot free-throw shots. The participants either underwent a period of Floatation-REST, the
‘Alpha Chair’ a shell-like chair that enclosed them, or sat alone in an office. All groups received
visualization training. The Floatation-REST group improved personal confidence in their sport
the most, which was also reflected in the significant improvement in their athletic performance
as measured by accuracy of free-throw shooting. Accuracy improvements were also
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demonstrated in tennis (McAleney et al., 1990) and darts (Suedfeld et al., 1993). McAleney et
al., (1990) measured athletic performance before and after floatation through first serve accuracy
throughout a tennis season for twenty college athletes. However, more variability was found on
other key shots. Darts player’s improvement occurred after one floating session, whereas, the
tennis player’s ratings increased after two (Suedfeld et al, 1993).
All studies reinforced instructional concepts of “imagery” – the ability to visualize future
events (Suedfeld & Bruno, 1990) before participants started the study. The construct of imagery
appeared to be the factor that supported athletes’ ability to outperform the control group. Studies
have demonstrated that visualization in the tank is more powerful than visualization by itself
(McAleney, Barabasz, & Barabasz, 1990; Wagaman et al., 1991). Wagaman et al., (1991)
measured eleven collegiate basketball players performances after listening to visualization tapes
versus visualization tapes being played while floating. Players’ performance was significantly
better, as measured by completed shots and blind coaches ratings after floating than the control
group. Athletes benefit from floatation therapy with increased performance level.
Cognitive. Effects on learning have also been found after floating. More learning was
found to occur in individuals after floating than for those who rested in a quiet relaxing room
(Taylor, 1990). The differences were more pronounced when cognitive testing questions were
more difficult. Twenty participants, either in a control group or the experimental group were
tested on a graded series of questions before and after floating or in a quiet relaxing room. All
participants were monitored via electroencephalogram (EEG) when answering testing questions.
Participants in the floating group had greater fluctuation on the EEG for more difficult questions
(Taylor, 1990) revealing cognitive differences between the floating and non-floating groups.
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After floatation-REST; cognitive, athletic, musical and creative performances increase.
The benefits were both self-reported and observed by either coaches, teachers. The changes have
also been recorded through standardized methods of measurement and third-party observations
(Wagaman et. al, 1991). However, the lack of research on the duration of cognitive effects after
therapy (Vartanian & Suedfeld, 2011) remains inconclusive.
Effects on Behavioral Health
Studies thus far have found promising results for the potential pairing of floating and
psychotherapy for healing chronic stress (Kjellgren, Buhrkall & Buck, 2011) and problematic
behaviors that reinforce stress. A pilot study in Sweden, monitored the progress of 6 participants
suffering from diagnosed ‘burnout syndrome’. All participants were on the brink of taking long-
term leave of absences from work due to ‘burn-out’ stress and problems with daily functioning
(Kjellgren, Buhrkall & Buck, 2011). Instead they underwent 10-weeks of floating followed by
psychotherapy. During the 10-week period participants floated twice every week and after every
second float a psychotherapy session ensued. At the end of the 10-week period participants had
significant decreases in levels of depression and anxiety and the need for sick leave was
completely eradicated for all participants both by themselves and the doctors. Levels of
depression measured at the beginning of the study were in the clinical range of concern. At the
end of the study all participants fell within a non-clinical normal range. Further, general health
improved as well as decreased pain levels.
Floatation has been found to be useful as a preventative tool for depression and anxiety.
Kjellgren (2014) found floatation tanks to induce behavioral change in healthy participants who
underwent a 7-week floatation program with 12 floats. The control group, who were on a waiting
list for floatation therapy, found no change in stress, energy, optimism, anxiety, depression or
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pain. Floatation participants showed significant improvement on all scales of well-being and
mindfulness, whereas there was no difference found in the control group from the beginning to
the end of the program. The significant changes in the floatation group on all measures
concluded floatation to be a significant tool for healthy people.
Smoking and Alcohol Reduction. A case study (n=1) using Floatation-REST found it to
be an effective therapy for quitting smoking (Suedfeld, 1987; 1990) with a low relapse rate. The
study used both Chamber-REST and Floatation-REST with the participant listening to messages
about smoking cessation with treatment (Suedfeld, 1987). Three months later all smoking
behavior was resolved, although after one year the participant had returned to smoking.
Suedfeld (1990) compared standard anti-smoking messages when paired with floating.
Both groups stopped smoking but the group that underwent Floatation-REST smoked 40 percent
less than the group that listened to anti-smoking messages only.
Alcohol intake decreases during treatment periods (Bood et al., 2005). Floating was an
effective tool when used in conjunction with anti-drinking messages for prodromal alcoholics
(Cooper, Adams & Scott, 1988). Participants in a pilot study listened to one of two anti-alcohol
messages and after two weeks alcohol intake significantly decreased (Suedfeld, 1982). In a later
study (Cooper, Adams & Scott, 1988) an anti-alcohol message was played during a two-hour
floatation session. Participant’s alcohol intake dropped significantly and was maintained on
follow-up three months later. The control group that did not float had significant increase in
alcohol intake. Habitual behavioral changes have been theorized to be due to the cognitive
effects of Floatation-REST, such as openness to new information and increased concentration.
The behavioral changes that occur from floating occur in both healthy and clinical
populations (Kjellgren 2014; Kjellgren, Buhrkall & Buck, 2011). These changes are established
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unrelated to placebo or instruction (Bood et al., 2005), concluding that the changes occur due to
the floating experience.
Dosage. Floatation changes vigor, lowers levels of tension, anger, depression and
confusion (Suedfeld, Metcalfe & Bluck, 1987); however a ceiling effect has been found for the
effects floating can produce. In a study examining the difference between 12 and 33 float
sessions, considerable improvements were found after 12 sessions and no additional benefits
after 33 sessions (Bood et al., 2007). The psychological effects measured; depression, anxiety
and sleep quality, showed no significant difference between groups. The only notable difference
between groups was a significant decrease in blood pressure found in the group that underwent
33 weeks of treatment. Therefore, it was concluded that a ceiling effect had been found for
floating for well-being. After 12 float sessions the positive effects appear to plateau (Bood et al.,
2007). No further study has been done directly comparing quantity of floating sessions.
A meta-analysis of floatation research concluded that well-being improves with repeated
Floatation-REST sessions. Participants who underwent Floatation-REST for longer periods of
time (van Dierendonck & Te Nijenhuis, 2005) found more psychological and physiological
differences. It has been suggested the “relaxed state” created from floating allowed participants
to be calmer in psychotherapy and thus benefited more from psychotherapy (Kjellgren at al.,
2011).
Therapeutic Application
As Floatation-REST affects emotional states and psychophysiological arousal (Suedfeld
& Ballard, 1984), a hypothesized consequence due to the lack of stimulation of the senses
(Suedfeld, 1980) there is a connection made about the therapeutic application of Floatation-
REST. Lily (1977) proposed cognitive changes and insight occurs from a lack of human
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interaction, light, sound, gravity and heat flow. Through neuroimaging, the Laureate Institute of
Brain Research (LIBR) has identified the absence of sensory stimulation shuts down the sensory
cortices and elevates interoception (Feinstein, 2016) and develops insight. There has been further
speculation about the use of tanks with clinical and subclinical populations.
Reduced Pain. Floatation-REST has been studied in relation to pain reduction. Months
after treatment, participants still benefit physiologically from floating (Bood, 2006). From
observing the prognosis of 70 patients, over half were diagnosed with “burnout depression” and
had been suffering from pain on an average of 12.1 years. Participants floated twice a week for 6
weeks and the control group sat in a comfortable armchair for the same period of time. Pain
levels in the experimental group initially decreased by 48% and maintained that level of relief
when followed-up four weeks after the Floatation-REST experimentation period. Participants
who floated continued to report improved sleep quality, anxiety and depression levels consistent
to their reported level after floating. The study hypothesized the effect was from the deep
relaxation achieved through high levels of salt that allowed for buoyancy (Bood, 2007). The
buoyancy results in zero physical pressure on the body.
After twelve sessions, prolactin levels – the hormone responsible for fertility – initially
increased but then returned to baseline on follow-up (Bood, 2006). Further research (Suedfeld,
2015; Werner, Bengtsson, Petrus, et al., 1999) has supported changes in hormonal levels due to
the treatment process inside the tank. Teaching participants how to relax in the tank enables
participants to relax and cope with anxiety and depression symptoms outside of the tank. The
development of emotional resilience is taught through the experience whereas hormonal levels
cannot be educated in the same manner (Werner, Bengtsson, Petrus, et al., 1999). An alternative
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proposed hypothesis was that it would cause physical stress for the body to maintain such high
levels of vitality (Werner, Bengtsson, Petrus, et al., 1999).
There is consistency in the findings for therapeutic application with clinical populations
suffering from stress, burnout and muscle tension pain. It was found that participants (n=37) who
suffered from muscle tension pain reported significant reduction in pain levels after floating nine
times over the duration of three-weeks (Kjellgren et al., 2001). Participants suffering from low
levels of pain found no significant difference in pain levels. Hormonally, noradrenaline was
significantly decreased creating lower blood pressure and endorphin levels were unaffected. The
experimental group were found to have higher levels of sleep quality, reduced depression and
lower levels of anxiety, all of which were maintained four-months later during follow-up.
Positive results have been found in patients with whiplash and fibromyalgia (Asenlöf et
al., 2007; Edebol, 2013). The case study on whiplash reported, “pain relief, relaxation, mental
coping, enhanced energy, muscular and motor improvement and increased subjective well-being
with positive effects” (Edebol, 2013) through a year and a half of floatation treatment. The
results were documented through semi-structured interviews. The case studies included two
women, one with fibromyalgia (Asenlöf et al., 2007) who had been on sick leave from work for
ten years. Over the one-year treatment period she went back to work. At the 18-month follow-up
it was found that the patient maintained feelings of well-being, insight and lowered levels of
anxiety. The aches and pains disappeared and she was no longer needed medication.
The effects of Floatation-REST on non-clinical samples as a form of preventative health
care have been found to be effective (Kjellegren et. al, 2014). Floatation-REST induces a state of
deep physical relaxation as it lowers stress (cortisol), pain and depression levels all of which
consequently increase levels of mindfulness, sleep quality and optimism (Borrie, 1990; Kjellgren
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& Westman 2014). A sample of 65 participants (Kjellgren & Westman, 2014) were randomly
allocated to either a control group or a floatation tank treatment group who floated 12 times over
the course of 7 weeks. The floatation group had lower stress, depression, anxiety and pain levels.
There was also a significant increase in optimism and sleep in the float group. The degree of
altered states of consciousness inside the tank was positively correlated to levels of mindfulness
in daily life after floating. Altered states were measured through scale data. However it is unclear
what the subjective experience of ‘altered states’ entails and how that leads to enhanced levels of
mindfulness.
Improved muscle range, tone and control. Physiological benefits such as lowered heart
rate, arterial blood pressure and increased flexibility appear to be a consistent finding with
continued Floatation-REST (Caromano, 2015). A study of 21 healthy women found heart rate
and blood pressure significantly decreased while levels of flexibility increased after floating. The
increase in physical awareness as well as a heightened awareness of external stimuli after
Floatation-REST sessions made participants more receptive to new information.
Floatation-REST alleviates muscle tension (Kaplan, 1990; Kjellgren et. al, 2001) and
increases muscle range in people who have experienced chronic whiplash (Edebol, 2013).
Increase in muscle range also occurs in healthy people who float (Caromano, 2015).
Reduced Stress and Tension. Floatation-REST induces the ‘relaxation response’ more
readily than other relaxation techniques (van Dierendonck & Te Nijenhuis, 2005) as found
through meta-analyses of over 400 participants. It is hypothesized this is because floating
requires little to no training unlike many other relaxation activities such as meditation, stress
management courses, relaxation techniques and light physical activity (Kjellgren et al., 2011).
The physiological effects of stress; heart rate and cortisol levels are found to be consistently
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
16
lowered after Floatation-REST treatment (Fine & Turner, 1983; van Dierendonck & Te
Nijenhuis, 2005). Floatation-REST improves factors contributing to stress; anxiety, sleep quality,
mindfulness and pain all decrease through Floatation-REST (Bood et al., 2005; Bood et al.,
2006; Kjellgren 2014). A positive correlation has been found with continued use of floatation
tanks and overall well-being (van Dierendonck & Te Nijenhuis, 2005). The effects have been
found to last as far as six months after treatment (Jonsson & Kjellgren, 2016). People suffering
from chronic stress and ‘burn-out syndrome’ have seen positive results with lowered anxiety and
depression (Bood et al., 2005) and the capacity to return back to work sooner (Kjellgren et al.,
2011).
A study on General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (n=25), found floating “significantly
reduced both [the] general GAD-symptomatology, as well as several symptoms associated with
the disorder, such as difficulties in emotional regulation, sleep difficulties and depression, while
having ambiguous or non-existent effect on level of pathological worry and mindfulness”
(Jonsson & Kjellgren, 2016, page 9) after twelve sessions of Floatation-REST. Assessments on
scales of worry, generalized anxiety, sleep quality, dysfunctional emotional regulation, mindful
attention and experience deviation from a normal state were made before, four-weeks into
treatment and after the twelve-week treatment period for both the treatment and the waiting-list
control group. Through assessment, 37% of participants reported full remission after the
treatment period with lower levels of GAD symptomology, emotional regulation, depression and
improved sleep quality. On follow-up 6-months later, all measured outcomes except for
depression levels had been maintained (Jonsson & Kjellgren, 2016).
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17
Mitigating Elements
The presence of light in the floatation tank does not appear to affect the physiological
experience of the session. Turner et al. (1989) tested 21 healthy participants with no prior
floatation-REST experience and the effect of the presence of light versus the absence of light in
the floatation tank. Assessment of plasma cortisol and arterial pressure were taken before session
one and after session eight and no differences were found between the groups. The physiological
experience appeared to be similar regardless of the presence of light in the tank, therefore there
must be other factors contributing to the change in experience in the tank.
Neuroimaging
In 2015 the LIBR created the “floating chair”, a memory foam chair aimed to induce high
levels of relaxation as an active control (Feinstein, 2016). Based on randomization, healthy
participants (n=40) either floated in a tank or were in the “floating chair”. Functional Magnetic
Resonance Images (fMRIs) were taken before each third session either in the tank or in the
floating chair over several weeks. There was a significant difference found in brain scans before
and after floating sessions in the dorsal anterior cingulate and the salience network previously
related to anxiety (Feinstein, 2016). The post-float scans were done immediately after the third
float at the end of three weeks as to avoid the novelty effect and to acclimate participants to the
floating experience. All except for two participants in the floating tank condition had a
significant reduction in activity in the salience network, a neural region responsible for managing
anxiety. Further, there was a slight increase in salience network activity for all chair floaters. The
neuroimaging supports earlier research that expectation, prior experience of altered states
(Norlander et al., 2000) and attention (Bood et. al, 2005) have no mitigating effect on the
Floatation-REST experience. The LIBR research also supports the significant effects Floatation-
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18
REST has over a relaxed state. The holistic alterations appear to be due to a physiological and
psychological change that occurs inside the tank that goes further than relaxation (Bood et. al,
2005).
Research Implications
Summary. Overall the literature demonstrates physiological and psychological change
occurs through Floatation-REST predominantly affecting stress levels (van Dierendonck & Te
Nijenhuis, 2005). Behavioral change was found in the cessation of smoking (Suedfeld, 1990),
alcohol intake reduction (Cooper, Adams & Scott, 1988) and addictive behaviors (Borrie, 1990).
When used in conjunction with psychotherapy, people have been able to return to work
(Kjellgren et al., 2011) and present more optimism and mindfulness. Research with clinical
populations such as those with general anxiety disorder have promising effects (Jonsson &
Kjellgren, 2016) in decreasing anxiety symptoms.
The physiological effects of floating have been well researched and show lowered heart
rate, blood pressure and improved muscle flexibility (Bood et al., 2005; Caromano et al., 2015)
in healthy as well as clinical populations such as those with whiplash (Edebol, 2013) and those
with fibromyalgia (Asenlöf et al., 2007). The results found from Floatation-REST appear
superior to other forms of muscle relaxation (Kaplan & Barabasz, 1990).
The use of Floatation-REST with athletes has shown great self-reported improvement,
coach ratings (Suedfeld & Bruno, 1990) and athletic performance (McAleney, 1990; Norlander,
Kjellgren & Archer, 2000). Evidently Floatation-REST positively impacts well-being, measured
on scales of mindfulness, life orientation, sleep quality, stress and energy. Such measures of
well-being have been found to be potential catalysts for behavioral change.
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19
More research is needed to understand how these changes occur, as research has
demonstrated there is a multi-faceted myriad of factors more complex than simple relaxation
(Feinstein, 2016).
This project aims to contribute research that may further facilitate understanding possible
reasons for such performance, behavioral and therapeutic changes. The experience inside the
tank is not fully understood and thus a comprehensive understanding of the user experience is
necessary to complete a more thorough understanding of Floatation-REST and it’s contribution
to psychotherapy.
Clinical Application. The subjective and perceived experience inside the tank has not
been researched. Therefore, understanding how one perceives the environment inside the
floatation tank that produces such peaked levels of relaxation has great clinical implications. This
research project aims to understand where the mind goes when it is at an ultimate level of
relaxation. This can therefore be used in the therapy room or in supporting clients through a
mindfulness or meditation practice. To be able to recreate the internal experience outside the
tank could have future cost and time benefits to practitioners in therapy.
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20
CHAPTER III
Methods
As based on the literature review, there are three main areas of empirical research;
performance, behavioral health and therapeutic applications. There is a gap in knowledge on
what psychologically occurs while a person is inside the tank. The relatively small scientific
body of research has studied the after effects of floatation, leaving only anecdotal claims for the
experience of floating (Feinstein, 2016). It is important to understand the experience inside the
tank as this may help to shed light on the after-effects.
Research Design
Interviews aimed at understanding the subjective experience inside the tank will be
analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The IPA process focuses on the
lived experience to find the essence of what the experience is.
Branches of Phenomenology. Phenomenological research has developed through time
into sub-branches; Husserlian descriptive and interpretive or hermeneutic (Heidegger, 1962;
Merleau-Ponty, 1962). The foundation of the phenomenological methodology is to understand
the true essence of a phenomena through individual subjective perspective and attached personal
meaning of the experience. Phenomenology is not an explanation of cause and effect but rather a
much deeper understanding of the personal perspective (Butt, 2004). Nothing is forced with
phenomenology, rather just accepted and understood. The methodology is typically used for new
or uncertain phenomena that are not fully understood (Creswell, 2007). Therefore, to understand
what is happening during Floatation-REST, a growing therapy with evidence-based results, it is
important to understand the participant’s experience. The imperative to further the scientific
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
21
inquiry of the lived experience of Floatation-REST is to gain a greater understanding of the
possible underpinning of the wide range of changes that are occurring after the experience.
Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). IPA examines how participants
understand and create meaning from their personal experiences (Smith & Osborn, 2007). IPA
also emphasizes the organic relationship between researcher and participant; the researcher has
his/her own conceptions and interpretation of how he/she make sense of the participant. The two-
stage interpretation is coined double hermeneutics (Smith and Shinebourne, 2012) – the
participant making sense of their experience and the researcher making sense of the participant’s
reported experience. The researcher makes sense of what the participant reports to understand
about their experience. Therefore, interpretation of what is not said and what the researcher
senses throughout the interview process is part of the analytical procedure. The goal within IPA
is to gain “richer analysis and to do greater justice to the totality of the person” (Smith & Osborn,
2007, page 54). Connections between emotional state and words are developed to gain a deeper
understanding of the experience.
Analysis. In analysis the researcher immerses himself/herself with the transcript to make
sense of the participants’ experience and to produce a thematic analysis. Thematic analysis is
produced through the development of themes. In the initial stage, the transcripts are read and re-
read with annotations and emerging themes margined. Each transcript is analyzed for significant
statements, “the generation of meaning units” (Creswell, 2007) and the development of an
essence description (Moustakas, 1994). Themes and notes are then analyzed into more
meaningful statements. Finally, in chronological order on a separate piece of paper, themes are
listed to examine connection and merges between certain themes and the usefulness in
understanding the phenomena. To keep the integrity of the process, the researcher continually re-
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
22
checks the transcript. IPA is the most popular method within Phenomenology. It examines
themes within the text, committing to the participants’ world and experience of phenomena. The
structure of IPA is best suited to understanding the phenomena of Floatation-REST.
Participants
IPA is designed to gain a detailed account of an experience and requires the researcher to
deeply explore the content. This is typically undertaken to the highest level with a smaller
sample size to allow the researcher to conduct in-depth analysis. Purposive or selective sampling
is most frequently used for subject selection in phenomenological inquiry (Crotty, 1996). It
provides the richest data for interpretive phenomenological studies (Langdridge, 2007) as the
sampled group are able to give more significant answers to the research question (Smith &
Osbourne, 2007). The sample will consist of a minimum of six participants and interviews will
continue until saturation is met to ensure the highest level of understanding.
Inclusion Criteria. The sample pool was selected from customers who have floated at
Float On’, currently one of the two centers in Hong Kong with floatation sensory deprivation
tanks. When this research project first began, Float On was the only center in Hong Kong. Both
centers exist within similar neighborhoods and therefore the demographic of customer would be
homogeneous. The Float On center has a database of customers who have indicated on their
centre liability waiver that they are interested in a follow-up interview. Participants chosen are to
have floated more than once to eliminate the novelty effect (Feinstien, 2016) so as to access
information true to the overall experience rather than the nuance of the experience. Participants
must also have floated within two weeks of being interviewed so as to ensure their experience is
current and easy to recall.
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23
Exclusion Criteria. Novice floaters, i.e., people who have floated less than three times,
are not used in this sample. The nuance of the floating experience can be overwhelming and it
takes two to three float sessions to adjust (Feinstein, 2016).
Materials
An audio recording device was used during interviews.
Measures
The demographic form from Float On (Appendix B) as well as further demographic
information on the interview questions page (Appendix C) will be used. Interview questions
(Appendix C) are aimed at understanding the participants experience inside the tank. The
interview questions will be used as stem questions to structure the interview and provide space
for the participant to express their own experience.
Procedure
The researcher contacted eligible participants in chronological order through the Float On
database of prior clients who have expressed interest in the study. Phone calls to explain the
purpose of the study, confidentiality, procedure, inclusion and exclusion criteria were discussed.
The participants were then asked to confirm if they are still interested in participating in the
research. This procedure was repeated until the participant pool of six was created. Once
participation was confirmed, a date was set for a face-to-face interview in a private, comfortable
setting with limited distraction.
On meeting for the interview, participants were reminded of confidentiality, possible risk,
benefit and the anonymity of their participation to the float center, Float On. Once the
participants gives assent, they were asked to complete Consent to Research and Audio-Taping
(Appendix A) document, inclusive of mental health resources available if they so wish.
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
24
Secondly, demographic information was verified (Appendix B) from the liability waiver
previously filled out before floating at Float On. Once documentation was signed, the researcher
started the audio recording of the interview, which typically lasted one hour. The interview
discussed about the participant’s experience inside the floatation tank, following the interview
questions (Appendix C).
Data Collection
Phenomenology is concerned with understanding and interpreting experience through the
use of language. Therefore, naturally the data was collected through interviews (King, 2004).
The format of the interview is semi-structured. The interviewer had a set of questions to guide
the interview and focus on the issues to be covered. In the semi-structured interview, the
structure consists of four stem questions listed below, with expected follow-up questions
dependent on the participants responses. The participants were interviewed in person at a quiet,
neutral location. Interview stem-questions are designed to be open and exploratory of the
participant’s experience. Individualized follow-up questions and inquiry questions were asked
based on the participant’s response.
Stem Questions:
1. What made you try floating?
2. What did you expect from floating?
3. What was it like to float?
4. Now that you have floated, what do you think about it?
All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed so the interviewer does not have to
transcribe during the interview and audio recording allowed for a more precise interview
experience. Audio recording alleviates the researcher from attempting to transcribe every word
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
25
and instead enabled the interviewer to be fully present in the room; to notice transference and
silence during the interview. The relationship between interviewer and interviewee is also seen
as a key feature of qualitative research (King, 2004). The rapport and connection established is
an essential requirement for self-disclosure, leading to more detailed accounts with powerful
emotions strengthening the data. The interviewer probed the participant to understand more and
obtain more complete answers. Unlike the structured interview, there is flexibility in the order of
the questions asked, arguably making it a more organic process (Shaw, 1999).
Subject Checking. Once the verbatim transcript was completed, a copy of the transcript
was sent to the participant for them to verify its authenticity and approve the copy. No changes
were requested to the original text.
Ethical Considerations
All research has ethical implications that need to be considered at each stage of the
project. The American Psychological Association ethical guidelines were followed and the
principles concerning informed consent, confidentiality and anonymity, protection of participants
and researcher safety was implemented.
Informed Consent. Informed consent was asked from all those who agree to participate
in the study. Potential participants were given written information (Appendix A) about the study
and the opportunity to discuss the study before deciding to take part. Preliminary assent was
received either over the phone or in person on location before written consent was received at the
interview. The participants were informed of their right to withdraw from the study at any time
and that this decision would not affect their relationship with Float On or any future floats. Float
On was not informed on the identity of the participants. The informed consent form will also
specify that the interview will be audio recorded.
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
26
Confidentiality. Participants were informed that all data collected during the course of
the research project was secure and confidential. Participants provided basic demographic
information such as age, gender and occupation. Data files will be kept for two years after the
completion of the study for potential further scientific inquiry. The interviewer took take care to
remove any potentially identifying information from the transcripts and the names of participants
will be replaced with interviewee numbers. Participants were given pseudonyms where necessary
to ensure the data could not be directly linked back to them.
The data will be stored at the Alliant office in a secure holding center.
Protection of Participants. The duty to protect participants from possible physical and
mental harm during the study was implemented at all times. Although no distress was
anticipated, it was imperative to ensure the protection and wellbeing of the participants. Before
starting the interview, participants were reminded of their right to withdraw from the study at any
time and that there was no obligation to answer any of the questions asked. Participants were
informed they are free to take a breaks at any time and they were not obliged to give reason in
doing so or in ending the interview. If during the interview high levels of emotional distress were
evident, the participants would have been reminded of their right to withdraw. This did not
happen during the interview process. Participants were provided with a contact card after the
interview with the dissertation chairperson, Dr. Tien’s, contact details and a list of therapy
centers in the local area.
Researcher Safety. To ensure personal safety of the researcher and limit the possibility
of any physical or psychological harm, the interview timetable will be available to the
dissertation chairperson, Dr.Tien. The researcher will also carry a mobile phone at all times.
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
27
Limitations
Limitations of the current study were considered. As all participants were recruited from
the same float center in Hong Kong there could be an aspect of the float experience that is unique
to that float center.
Lastly, the use of the researcher as the interview and analysis tool could have provided
bias as the researcher has had positive floating experiences. Therefore supervision from peers
and the dissertation committee were heavily utilized in the research process to reduce the affect
of any researcher bias.
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CHAPTER IV
Results
Analysis Process
The analysis examined the phenomenological lived experience of individuals who have
floated more than three times at the float center in Hong Kong, Float On. To best understand the
floating phenomena, from initial interest to experience inside the tank, after all interviews were
transcribed, transcript stem questions were analyzed sequentially. All six responses for question
1 were analyzed before moving on to all 6 responses for question 2. Question 1 was analyzed
across all six participant responses. Once the essence of the lived experience emerged, question 2
was analyzed. This enabled the data to maintain the integrity of the question and for the themes
that emerged to resonate with the question being asked.
All six responses to each of the four research questions were analyzed as individual
entities. Each research question was analyzed and connections were made between participants’
responses. For each question, tables were created based on themes and sub-themes that emerged
throughout the transcript.
For each research question, words that described how the participant was feeling or
phrases that reflected internal processes were of particular interest for analysis. These words and
sentences were highlighted and extracted from the transcript and then analyzed for sub-themes
and “clusters of meaning” (Moustakas, 1994). Distinction was made between textural and
structural clusters, the “what” and the “how”, of the experiences respectively.
Once a list of themes was created for each question, a quantitative element within the
analysis was necessary in order to rank themes regarding their level of prevalence seen across all
participants. Themes that occurred more frequently were ranked higher. Alternatively, themes
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
29
that were spoken about at greater length and more thoroughly were also ranked higher in the
final table of analysis.
Description of Participants
Seven people in total were interviewed for the research study over the course of three
months. Table 1 shows the demographic information of the participants. One participant who
was interviewed was not used in the analysis as during the interview process it was apparent she
struggled to find appropriate English words to describe her experience. It was revealed that
English was her second, not native, language. Thus her data was not valid for analysis, as she
could not speak in detail describing her experience and misunderstood questions. One additional
interview was undertaken to complete the minimum number of interviewed subjects. The table
below includes the interview transcripts used in analysis.
Table 1
Participant Demographics
Ethnicity
Number of Floats
Caucasian
4
Chinese
20-30
Caucasian
40-50
Caucasian and Chinese
4
Caucasian
30+
Caucasian and Chinese
20-30
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30
All participants and data used in analysis (6/6, 100%) are male. This occurred as no
female participants responded to request for an interview. The only female participant who did
interview did not meet the language requirements as stated above and therefore the data could
not be used in analysis. Due to the limited time window for interview it was not possible to select
participants until a 50% participant gender-split was met. From the active participants, half (3/6,
50%) were Caucasian, two were mixed race (Caucasian and Chinese, 2/6, 33%) and one was
Chinese (1/6, 17%). Two participants had only floated four times, whereas the other four
participants had all floated over twenty times.
Question One
What made you try floating?
Table 2
Themes and Subthemes
1. Wanted to experience
something different
A. “The sensation of weightlessness”
B. “Explore my mind”
C. “I felt a bit stuck and wasn’t sure what to do”.
2. Escape
A. “Have time on my own away from notifications and stress”
Theme 1: Wanted to experience something different. All participants (6/6) spoke of
wanting to experience what it felt like to float and initial interest in the nuance and novelty of
floating. A curiosity of the psychological and experiential physical factors of floating drew all
participants to visit the float center. One participant summarized their desire to experience
something new as being “open to exploring new things, new ways to go with an issue […] I
thought it would be useful to experiment”.
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31
There were three sub-themes that emerged within the desire to experience floating;
Weightlessness, Consciousness and Dissatisfaction in how they felt about their life generally or
more specifically their work situation.
Subtheme A: “The sensation of weightlessness”. One participant spoke about wanting to
“enjoy that sensation, experience that sensation of weightlessness”. This speaks to the
physiological aspects of what he believed floating would offer. Ultimately, it was an interest to
experience the novelty of weightlessness that made him try floating, as he “just wanted to
experience that”.
Subtheme B: “Explore my mind”. Half of the participants spoke about a curiosity or
continuation of their experimentation with consciousness. Of these participants, consciousness
was defined as a way to “explore my mind” and for others it was a way to work on their “body
and mind” doing something different. When speaking about the pursuit of understanding
consciousness through meditation, one participant said, “I’ve always wanted to try meditation or
some kind of deep relaxation”. Another participant already had a meditation routine and was
interested in the way floating might develop his pre-existing meditation practice, “I meditate
occasionally […] so I thought I should try floating” as a catalyzing factor towards the meditation
experience.
Subtheme C: “I felt a bit stuck and wasn’t sure what to do”. Many participants
expressed dissatisfaction with their current status in life, which lead them to try floating. This
feeling of dissatisfaction stemmed mostly from their work life, which made them feel that
something was not right. “I’d been having a rough time” or they had been feeling “really tired at
work”. This disquiet was the catalyst to wanting to experience something different; “throwing
myself a little bit more out there, out of my usual comfort zone” and as another participant
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
32
pointed out, “I felt a bit stuck and wasn’t sure what to do”. The dissatisfaction in life was making
“everything […] quite regimented” and floating offered him the opportunity to try something
new.
Theme 2: Escape. The theme of escape was expressed verbatim. “I wanted to escape,”
said one participant while another described it as if he “felt a bit stuck”. Other participants
described their need to escape more subtly as a general desire to be removed from what was
happening around them. Floating was seen as a way to alleviate feelings of “‘trappedness’ in the
sense that this is the world, what have I been doing?”. Within escape, there was a clear subtheme
that emerged; escape from current demands in life. The other themes that arose around escape
were very tightly connected to Theme 1.C, dissatisfaction with how they currently felt and
therefore wanting to escape to find “new ways to go with an issue to be able to do it myself”.
Subtheme A: “Escape from current demands”. One participant spoke in detail about the
demands of his life and how floating offered a space to “get away from all the decisions and have
time on my own, away from notifications and stress from everyday life”.
Summary of Question One
The first question participants were asked was what made them try floating. For the
majority, the response was they saw it as an escape from their daily life situation. Their curiosity
for this novel experience evolved from a dissatisfaction with their current status quo. In
particular, the theme of ‘Escape’ was raised frequently in regards to the stress of daily living and
technological demands including constant bombardment of media notifications. Whilst floating,
it is impossible to bring technology or another person into the tank, therefore self-enforced
isolation in solitude was initially of interest or curiosity to all participants.
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
33
Question Two
What did you expect from the experience?
Table 3
Themes
1. Something Big
A. “You don’t know where your body ends and where the outside world
begins”
B. “Possibly a psychedelic experience”
C. “A moment of epiphany”
Theme 1: Something Big. Although all participants struggled to elaborate eloquently on
their expectations of the floating experience, the answers received were far more ubiquitous than
question 1. All participants except for one (83%), expected something considerable to happen
either physiologically or psychologically and two participants expected some form of
psychedelic experience. The expectation that something substantial may happen led the
participants to feel “slightly nervous to what may come of the experience”, “nervous about the
general surroundings” and “concerned about what would happen if I’m in this dark tank and I
feel like I’m losing control”. The one participant who didn’t express something ‘big’, struggled
to elaborate on his expectation and described his experience as an attempt to have an “open mind
to see what the experience is about”.
Subtheme A: “ You don’t know where your body ends and where the outside world
begins”. One participant describes, “I just thought it might be a little bit frightening” due to “all
your senses deprived […] you don’t know where your body ends and where the outside world
begins […] I thought it sounded pretty freaky”. Other participants also expected to experience
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
34
the physical aspects of floating “like in the Dead Sea” and that there is “half a ton of salt in there
so I knew I would float”.
Subtheme B: “Possibly a psychedelic experience”. Three participants “expected possibly
a psychedelic experience”, “a psychedelic experience or close to psychedelic experience” where
you “lose a sense of control”. Of these three, two participants had feelings of apprehension and
the third expressed he was intrigued by the “idea of seeing different visuals without taking any
substance”.
Subtheme C: “A moment of epiphany”. One participant described his expectation as
“looking for greater clarity, hoping for a moment of epiphany and hoping that maybe somewhere
in the darkness there would be an answer”. For another participant, the expected moment was
based on a “deep psychological issue I have [which] may come out” and “something would
emerge”. Further, there was a desire to “reach this incredible moment of clarity”.
Essentially, participants expected a bodily sensation to take place with the possibility of
something major happening psychologically, whether through a psychedelic experience or a
breakthrough moment of insight.
Summary of Question Two
The second question asked participants about their expectations of floating. This
was noticeably the hardest question for participants to elaborate on. However, participants
clearly expressed the expectation something big would happen while floating. The expectations
of floating were set very high; it would either provide a psychedelic experience or a moment of
epiphany.
Before floating, most participants were somewhat nervous or cautious about what might
happen inside the tank. The apprehension of “what might happen inside the tank” was in relation
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
35
to the psychological aspect of the experience, and fear of a psychological event for which they
were unprepared. This initial caution prevented participants from completely relaxing the first
time they floated and also differentiated their first experience from the rest. A marked
assimilation to the environment, including the realization no psychedelic component existed
inside the tank, created a delayed relaxation into the environment for later floats. The first
floating experience was noted as being significantly different from all other floating experiences.
Question Three
What was it like to float?
Table 4
Themes
1. Relaxing
A. “No Interruptions”
B. “Distance from my Thoughts”
D. “Subconscious”
E. “Clear in my Mind”
2. Meditation
A. “Focus on Breathing”
B. “You don’t have a Body”
3. Mental Activity Change
A. “Mental Activity Goes Down”
B. “Clearer about a Decision”
C. “Reflect in your Brain Activity”
4. Sleep
All participants spoke at length about what it was like to float. There was a clear stage at
the beginning of the overall experience where the participants learned to be comfortable in the
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
36
environment. Once the participants were comfortable with the novelty of their environment and
the floatation process itself, they were able to have a very different experience. It is this more
settled, meditative floatation experience the data is focused on. The most prevalent theme
amongst the participants was the overall relaxation experienced and different domains of
relaxation achieved through floating. When elaborating further on the experience, this level of
relaxation was strongly associated to a sleep-like and meditative state. The meditative state was
marked by the noticeable decrease in mental activity and a change in cognitive processing. The
change in mental activity gave participants clarity with their thoughts and an awareness of the
unconscious process by which this change occurred. The themes derived from the data were;
Relaxing, Sleep, Meditation and Mental Activity Change.
Theme 1: Relaxing. All participants spoke of the relaxing state that floating induced; it
was “the most relaxed I’ve ever been” “on all levels, physical, mental and emotional, you get
deep relaxation”. To describe the relaxation, participants spoke about “letting go” and their
relaxation was either a cause or effect of the completion of letting go physically and mentally.
Although this did require a minor time delay as participants had to “close the pod, and then 15
minutes later that’s when I become relaxed”.
Subtheme A: “No Interruptions”. The relaxation was in part due to having “a break
from the world” with no interference. Participants felt having “a pause in the day with no
interruptions” was a novel experience. Having an hour a week in their schedule where nothing
could interrupt them attributed to their high levels of relaxation. Participants spoke about how
living in a busy, bustling city like Hong Kong, filled with noise and light pollution, provided a
sharp contrast to the environment inside the float tank. This sharp contrast between environments
heightened their sense of relaxation.
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Subtheme B: “Distant from my thoughts”. Half of the participants spoke about the
“distance” the tank gave them, contributing to their relaxation, as “in the tank, it’s just you”. The
distance and lack of interruption gave participants “space to think about what I need to think
about”. The perceived distance from others allowed participants to connect with themselves and
“get a ‘kind of’ distance from my thoughts”.
Subtheme C: “Subconscious”. When asked how the state of relaxation occurs, all
participants spoke of the natural mechanisms that override the experience. The relaxation “just
happens” as it “comes quite naturally” and “just seems to happen”. One participant struggled to
describe the process, saying, “I have no words. I am trying to build my awareness in that state”.
For others, the process of relaxation was simply “letting my subconscious do the work”, or it was
physically led and the “body will take you where you need to go”.
Subtheme D: “Clear in my Mind”. One participant could feel his mind relax, “I feel a
muscle loosening up, at least in my mind, my mind goes somewhere else”. Another participant
spoke about feeling “really clear in my mind” and “your mind gets to just kind of shut down or
just to really calm down”.
Theme 2: Meditation. All participants described their experience inside the tank as a
“sort of meditation” or “an interesting alternative to mindfulness meditation” due to the
“comfortable environment [for you] to essentially meditate”. One participant imagined his
experience in the tank to be “like what Buddhist monks will talk about”. Another participant
spoke about his meditation practice outside the tank and how he did not have the “willpower” as
there is “too much external stimuli, too many excuses for me to find” to meditate at home for
more than ten minutes. However the tank alleviates all that and allows him to simply meditate.
The sentiment was echoed by another participant, the tank “forces you to be disciplined” in your
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
38
meditation and eliminates “excuses” for you to scratch your nose or get out of the pod.
Additionally, as participants have “blocked off an hour, paid money, gone somewhere, taken a
shower”, the preparation and processes prevent “excuses” that normally occur at home in their
own meditation practice.
Subtheme A: “Focus on Breathing”. Participants noted their breathing throughout the
process and true to meditative practices, their “breathing slows down”. Additionally, if
participants lost their “focus” during the float, they would “switch track and focus on [my]
breathing”. This was a consistent pattern with all participants to reach the apex of their relaxed
state. If the heightened relaxed state was lost at any point throughout the float, participants would
“come back to breathing”.
Subtheme B: “You Don’t Have a Body”. When talking about the process of meditation
inside the tank, participants described a state where they had a “feeling where you don’t have a
body” and “you lose the sense that you have the necessity to think about your body, your body
just isn’t a concern anymore”. Most participants acknowledged their body was in a “relaxed
state” but they didn’t feel “such a big impact” on their body in regards to the overall floating
experience. Floating was regarded a much more of a psychological experience. One participant,
who spoke extensively about the psychological aspects of floating, stated, “your body will take
you where you need to go”.
Theme 3: Thinking. All participants talked about their mental activity and noted the
fact that “there’s a lot of thinking, that’s for sure” and one simply “lets your brain float to where
it floats to”. When the float first starts “you have all these thoughts come into your mind and
then you just relax and you can actually also divide these thoughts, like, this is done, now I can
go for another one”. All participants found a curiosity about their mind in the process “It can be
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39
quite interesting mentally too, when everything calms down the most random things can pop up”,
“you let your mind do whatever it wants!”. There was a positive association to “mark out an hour
each week to let your state of semi-awareness, where you can think things through, let your brain
work through issues in a semi-conscious state”. The sequence of marked changes within thinking
were initially a decrease in amount of thoughts, then clarity followed by reflection of thought.
Subtheme A: “Mental activity goes down”. In the tank, “your mental activity goes
down” as “in the beginning there are lots of thoughts, but then [I] slow down to the point that I
can focus on something”. Participants sometimes came to float with the intention to “‘de-clutter’,
“I have all these voices in my head and I was trying to not think of it at all, slowly drown them
out to be more peaceful, like a slow meander of my mind”. All participants noted a change in the
slower rate that thoughts were consciously appearing and being noticed.
Subtheme B: “Clearer about a Decision”. The changed rate of thought processing
allowed participants to be “clearer about a decision” that needed to be made and they could “see
easily if I want to do that or I need to do this”, “it just seems to happen, I run through all the
decisions in my head”. Three participants went into the tank with an “intention” or with a
particular concept to think about. One participant was reflecting on his reading about Nietzsche
while floating and his “mind [was] thinking about that concept and what or how I should
prescribe to that”, so his time in the tank allowed him more clarity of his own thoughts.
For others, the tank allowed thoughts of a “particular problem or thing that I have to
solve” to be given the time necessary to be solved. In that process, two participants respectively
stated “it seems every single time to resolve itself in my mind” whilst the other could “work
through issues by themselves until they are resolved” or “work through the issue and then [it]
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40
just fizzles out”. Further, the clarity floatation provided helped participants to “wash[ed] the
necessity to control the situation away”.
Subtheme C: “Reflect in your Brain Activity”. Participants thought about “the day’s
issues, work or some conversation […] or some sports I’m thinking about, anything really” while
they were floating. The “tank can be used as a measure of how much stuff you got on your plate.
If you’re stressed at work or relationships or anything, then [it will] probably reflect in your
brain activity in the tank”. Reflections of the past appeared for one participant, “an old memory
and stuff that you have completely forgotten about”, “stuff comes to the surface and it is great to
deal with that and let that out”. For another participant his reflection process was more
philosophical, “a lot had to do with the uncertainty of life”.
Theme 4: Sleep. When asked what kind of a state they experienced whilst floating,
participants connected it to “the stage before sleep” or “the deep sleep state”. Interestingly three
of the participants responded with “I did not know if I was asleep or not” and there was a large
notion of ambiguity to whether they were really sleeping or in a “semi-conscious state”. This
inability to define the state their body reached, resulted in using the term “kind of between
sleeping but not sleeping, you don’t know whether you are sleeping or not but you are still kind
of conscious. Occasionally my body will twitch, I don’t know why but it will do it to kind of
remind itself that it is still here….really hard to put into words”. For occasional float sessions, as
participants were “really tired” they knew they were “going to sleep in there”. However, on the
whole, sleeping was only for “fifteen minutes” or a short “drift off and then come back” to an
awake state.
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Summary of Question Three
The third question asked participants what it is like to float. The experience inside the
tank is a meditative state in which participants are the most relaxed they have ever been. The
floating experience induces extreme relaxation and allows participants to have space to think
about what they want to think about and they let their thoughts lead the experience. Participants
described a process in which they watch their thoughts slow down and are able to observe their
thoughts and gain more clarity. The state the participants reach is hard for them to put into
words. There is a struggle to clarify their awareness between being in a dream, sleep or other
state. The experience inside the tank is predominantly conscious. Participants focus on their
cognition and lose the sensation of having a body. The state occurs naturally in the tank and
requires no effort from the participants. Participants’ mental activity naturally slows down and
distance from the world is created, giving them a break.
For each participant, what happened inside the tank was a personal experience in which
they were able to reflect on what was happening in their life and make decisions about issues.
The tank was used as an indication of how much stress participants experience in their lives and
a tool in aiding decision-making. The time inside the tank helped participants with activities
outside of the tank, to make choices and remember the lessons learned whilst they were floating.
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Question Four
Now that you have floated, what do you think of floating?
Table 5
Themes
1. Recommendation
2. Beneficial
A. “ Physically I feel better”
B. “More Clarity with my Thinking”
C. “ More Energized”
D. “There’s Nothing but the Present”
3. Meditative Hour
A. “Useful Supplement”
B. “Reflecting on Life”
C. “Alone with Yourself”
All participants felt that floating had been, and was beneficial to them. The degree to
which those benefits were felt varied. Two participants who had only floated 3-5 times were
cautious about the degree to which they endorsed the benefits of floating. One of the two said “I
don’t think of it as a be all and end all. I don’t think of it as something that is going to lead me to
some grand conclusions and answers to life” whilst the other participant felt that the benefits had
“slightly plateaued”.
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43
The question allowed participants to reflect on their floating experience once they had
left the tank. Most noted “the biggest difference is when you’re out of the tank.” Within question
four, three themes emerged, Recommendation, Beneficial and Meditative Hour.
Theme 1: Recommendation. Half of the participants spoke about recommending the
floating experience to their family and friends. The idea of recommendation was consistently the
first reaction to the question. Recommendation was in appreciation of the notion that floating
makes people “better”. One participant went on to say, “I think that if everybody did it, the world
would be a better place. I think it offers a huge amount”. The uniqueness of the experience was
at the foundation of the recommendation for one participant, “I don’t think there are many thing
in the world, especially in Hong Kong where you could find a similar experience”.
One participant described floating as a “therapy” that he would recommend to people
who need to “learn how to relax”.
Theme 2: Beneficial. Secondly, participants listed off the myriad of benefits they gained
from floating and how “it offers a huge amount” because post-float, participants “actually feel
good” and holistically “relaxed”. One participant spoke about the “really quick steep learning
curve, or more of a benefit curve” that occurs when one starts floating which is “very beneficial”.
Subtheme A: “ Physically I feel better”. Two participants felt that there were physical
benefits; “my skin is better, it helps with my digestion, I’m also not as sore” and another noted
“physically I feel better as well” and have “a lot more energy”. These effects are felt
immediately after floating, as it is “really nice to move your body again”.
Subtheme B: “More Clarity with my Thinking”. All participants noted the mental
benefits they had gained from floating. As one participant suggested, “there are some physical
benefits, but it is much more mental”. One participant noted his “thinking isn’t so fast about so
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44
many things” whilst others found the whole process “mentally, quite relaxing” and “after the
float I always feel clearer in the head”. One participant said, “I feel like I have more clarity with
my thinking. There’s less things going on in my head. [There is] better thinking”. There is a
“clarity of mind” created once participants finish floating. One participant spoke about how he
was “generally more positive about things. If I had an issue with someone or something I
generally approach them in a more relaxed way and less difficult […] Even things like worries, I
think of how I can make something work out […] I follow my intuition a bit more.”
Subtheme C: “More Energized”. Energy levels increased after floating with participants
feeling “refreshed” and “rested”. The benefit “makes me feel more energized and helps me get
through the week, not really make me be that desperate for the weekend”. The higher energy
levels were reported for five participants, “I always come out feeling really rejuvenated. If I lay
on the bed for an hour, I would not wake up in the same way, a little slow to get up, take a few
minutes to get the body going”. Ultimately the feelings also lead to be “mentally quite relaxing”.
Subtheme D: “There’s Nothing but the Present”. Participants noted the “biggest
difference is when you are out of the tank”. One participants’ experience inside the tank “plays
out in the real world because I keep reminding myself of the lessons or whatever happened in the
tank. Or feelings I felt inside the tank that have washed the necessity to control the situation
away”. Another participants spoke of how “when you come out of the tank, there’s nothing but
the present”.
Theme 3: Meditative Hour. Participants spoke about how they “think of this as my
meditative hour”. In that because they “actually mark out an hour in the day or week dedicated to
meditate”, it gives them “one hour a month to kind of not be in this reality and detach and go
where your mind want to take you”. One participant did not differentiate between floating and
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45
mediation and simply saw his time in the tank as meditation, “there’s loads of research on the
Internet wherever you look, meditation is actually very good for you”.
Another participant spoke of floating as a “penalty” for his inability to mediate alone “if
I could meditate independently for an hour I would, but for now I can’t”. However, he wanted
“to be able to reach that stage independently without having to force myself to sit in a bath in a
dark room and go through the process and pay a decent amount of money”. Floating provided
others with “meditative happy benefits” and “an interesting alternative to mindfulness
meditation”.
Subtheme A: “Useful Supplement”. Two participants described floating as a “useful
supplement to mindfulness meditation” in that it was a “training aid” and supported their
meditation practice in that floating made them more “dedicated to meditate”. One participant
went on to say how “useful” the tank is in developing his mediation practice.
Subtheme B: “Reflecting on Life”. Within the realm of meditation, participants spoke
about how floating made them “a more reflective person”. That floating had helped when they
“really had things on my mind, suffering from anxiety and the float has been amazing in that
situation.” Another participant spoke of how floating had helped “just reflecting on life, or
thinking about things in their context”.
Subtheme C: “Alone with yourself”. Participants valued marking time out to “Just being
alone with yourself for a period of time is something that we don’t do in this modern day”. The
quietness and ability to “detach” added to the experience in that they could “see where my mind
takes me” when they are left to themselves “independently for an hour”.
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46
Summary of Question Four
Participants were asked to reflect on floating now that they have floated. All participants
were keen to recommend floating to others as it had brought them benefits to daily life. There
were great physical and mental benefits described, especially once participants left the tank.
Participants were able to be more present in the moment, less reactive to circumstance and have
more energy throughout the week.
There was a unique aspect to the relaxing components of floating that could not be
achieved through anything else. The process of going to float also created discipline for a
meditative practice, marking out a determined hour each week or month and going to a float
center. The environment and cost of floating also helped incentivize participants to float for the
entire hour, unlike at home where there would be a struggle to meditate for more than ten
minutes. Floating provides the meditative, happy benefits that meditation, and being alone with
oneself for a period of time provides.
Summary of Research Questions
Floating was an experience that intrigued participants because of the physical isolation
and possibility to escape from the demands of life. Participants were initially nervous and
expected a big psychological or even psychedelic experience inside the tank. However, they
found floating to be an extremely unique, relaxing experience led by reflective thought. It
provided a break from the world and an uninterrupted environment for participants to gain clarity
over their thoughts and detach from their body. Participants naturally entered a semiconscious
sleep like state allowing them to “let go”, meditate and for their mind to wander freely.
Participants recommend the benefits of floating because of the physical, mental and
energy it provided. The biggest differences and benefits were felt outside the tank. After their
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47
floating session, participants felt higher levels of energy, remembered lessons learnt in the tank,
became more present in the moment and less reactive to situations.
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CHAPTER V
Discussion
The lived experience of Floatation REST, an advertised alternative therapy and
commercial service, has not been heavily researched. The post-floatation REST experience has
however been measured and a wide array of overwhelmingly positive effects have been found
(Suedfeld, 2014). Controlled studies have previously found positive psychological benefits with
both clinical and non-clinical populations (Fienstein 2016; Kjellgren, 2011). There has been
emphasis at the annual Float Conference about the unique benefits that floating offers (Feinstein,
2016) and globally, the number of commercial float centers is increasing.
This study offers a phenomenological approach in the understanding of the lived
experience of floating (Gamson, 2000). As there are psychological benefits found after the
floating experience, it is important to understand what the lived experience is inside the tank. To
establish a connection between the experience inside the tank and the post-float effects lay the
foundation of understanding to why the psychological differences have been found after floating.
The final chapter of the dissertation provides the an overview of the trajectory of sensory
deprivation, the limitations of the study, the implications to the literature, possibilities for future
studies and the final conclusions.
Trajectory of Sensory Deprivation
Sensory deprivation research was prompted by videos of American prisoners of war in
Korea denouncing capitalism. This started investigation into mind control. The USA’s Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) engaged in a “psychological arms race that could only be run by
scientists studying the human mind” (Crist, 2015). On June 1st, 1951 Donald Hebb, the then
Chair of Human Relations and Research Committee of the Canadian Defense Research Board,
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49
met with the defense departments from Britain, the United States and Canada. He “speculated
that prisoners might be more malleable if placed into isolation with limited sensory input” (Crist,
2015), catalyzing the interest of the defense departments into research on brainwashing. This
initiated the Canadian Department of National Defense to research the psychological effects of
sensory deprivation. In 1954, Hebb published the results of studies on how monotonous
environments experienced by long-distance truck drivers and airline pilots resulted in possible
hallucination (Zubek, 1969). The CIA was aware of how the research could prepare soldiers
against possible interrogation and mind-control strategies used in war (McCoy, 2007).
Hebb’s sensory deprivation set-up did not involve a tank and looked very different to the
present commercial float centers. Hebb’s participants lay in a quiet room, wore visors to reduce
visual stimulation, pads around their ears to reduce auditory stimulation and special arm cuffs
that went from the elbow to past the finger tips to reduce tactile sensation. Additional padding
was placed around their head in order to reduce auditory input. Participants were allowed to take
breaks for the bathroom and ate meals delivered to them at the end of their bed. Although invited
to stay as long as they wish, most participants removed themselves from the study after two or
three days. During the experiment, participants were played a recording on the existence of
ghosts and supernatural phenomena. Comparison questionnaires taken before and after the
experiment showed a marked change in opinion towards the existence of paranormal life. These
changed impressions lasted for several days after the experiment. The experiment concluded that
prolonged exposure to sensory deprivation resulted in impaired thinking, hallucinations,
disruption in visual perception and emotional response (Heron, 1957).
Hebb abandoned the research due to the negative psychological and practical
implications. Other teams went on to study sensory deprivation and the use of sensory
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deprivation eventually became an established strategy to “soften prisoners before interrogation”
(Crist, 2015). Hebb’s initial research was the catalyst for the CIA funded Project MKUltra,
which, during the 1950’s and 60’s cost approximately US$25 million (McCoy, 2007), Project
MKUltra conducted psychological experiments operationalizing various forms of torture.
Although further research went on to look at the manipulation of senses and sensory overload,
Hebb’s experiment is remembered as the foundation of torture research.
Although Hebb abandoned research on sensory deprivation, another psychologist in the
United States was interested in the effect a lack of sensory input would have on consciousness.
In the mid 1950’s, John C. Lilly whilst working at the National Institute of Mental Health,
studied sensory deprivation. Lilly built the first floatation tank to study human consciousness. He
initially developed a tank in which participants stepped down into a vertical chamber to be fully
submerged in the water. Lilly’s participants submerged themselves vertically in full body suit,
black goggles and a special hood. This vertical design and set up did not last long for practical
reasons as participants felt uncomfortable and soon after the initial tests; the first horizontal
floatation tank was designed. Lily continued to conduct his own research after leaving the NIMH
with floatation tanks and hallucinogenic drugs. He lost much of his scientific credibility in his
pursuit of in-depth exploration of consciousness as it was considered unscientific to the academic
community. Due to Lilly’s unconventional methods, his public relationship with recreational
drugs and seemingly unscientific experiments, research on floatation tanks and anything under
the umbrella of sensory deprivation were abandoned due to stigma (Suedfeld, 1975) from both
Lily and forms of torture.
In the late 1960’s, an interest in private ownership of tanks started, in part due to Lily’s
social network. In collaboration with his friends the Samadhi Tank was devised. In the early
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51
1970s celebrities such as John Lennon were know to have the Samadhi Tank in their homes. In
part, this was the start of the commercialization of floatation tanks.
Perhaps in response to the growth of commercial float centers, researchers in Sweden and
the United States have started to study the effects and clinical implications of floatation-REST.
This current study, through understanding the lived experience, connects floating to meditation,
providing insight to previously found effects. Further, this study provides understanding on
possible reasons for why people are choosing floatation-REST as a form of psychotherapy.
Limitations of the Study
This phenomenological study focused on the lived experience of participants during
Floatation-REST. The study included six male participants who had floated at the same float
center in Hong Kong. Although a pre-determined approach was taken to sampling, by chance all
participants were male and within a similar age bracket, 27-44 years old.
The study did not include female participants nor participants living outside of Hong
Kong. These two variables could have created different outcomes to the lived experience inside
the tank.
All of the participants reside in Hong Kong, a densely populated city with a lot of light,
noise and air pollution. The contrast of the city’s’ environment with that of the floatation tanks
could have had an effect on their experience. Furthermore, having only a male perspective of
isolation and sensory deprivation inside a floatation tank without the female views possibly
limits the perspective in the analysis of the experience.
All participants were members of Float On and were therefore individuals who had self-
selected into the floating experience. It is important to note that there is a section of the
population who are not interested in floating for a variety of reasons. Therefore this current
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52
research project is only a reflection of people who have initial interest in floating and isn’t
inclusive of those with aversions to floating.
Qualitative research cannot completely omit researcher bias. Although the researcher
engaged in a deep and rich analysis of the transcript data (Creswell, 2007), utilized a dissertation
group for council and continued to check with data throughout analysis and writing, an element
of the researchers experience is bound to be inevitably woven into the analysis and conclusions.
Therefore, if the data were to be re-analyzed it is possible that the interpretations, discussion and
findings would subjectively reflect the next researcher.
Implications of Study
Connecting to Psychotherapy. The findings of the current study suggest a successful
pairing of psychotherapy and floatation for therapy prognosis. Participants reported feeling
clarity and reflection during their time in the floatation tank. Therefore floating is a useful
conjunctive activity concurrent to psychotherapy. In terms of the scheduling psychotherapy
sessions in relationship to floatation sessions, floating before a psychotherapy session would
perhaps enable clients to be more open to reinterpretation and to speak more fluently about their
internal experiences. Alternatively, floating after a psychotherapy session would perhaps
enhance the insights gained during that specific psychotherapy session.
Connecting to Past Literature. The findings of the current study shed light on prior
research. The phenomenological process provides rich analysis (Creswell, 2007) of the lived
experience inside the tank. To date of writing, this is the first study to examine the lived
experience of a non-clinical population inside the float tank.
Relaxation and Well-being. The relaxation response and participant well-being (Bood,
2007; Nordström, 2006) previously found, could be in part due to the reflective process
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
53
occurring in the tank. Once participants are able to reflect on their thoughts there is a greater
sense of relaxation, creating higher levels of well-being. Therefore the implication that
relaxation, previously understood as a physical process, goes beyond physical ailments and
transcends into an area of cognitive reflection.
Cognitive Experience. The floating phenomenon is a highly cognitive experience, giving
participants an awareness of their thoughts and thinking process. This could explain why floating
has been found to be beneficial with clinical populations in reducing levels of anxiety (Fienstein,
2016). Further, the tank is a training aid providing participants with lessons that they remember
once they have left the tank; therefore using the tank with clinical populations in need of
relaxation skills (Kjellgren & Westman, 2014; Kjellgren, 2011) provides self-generated benefit.
Previous studies found higher levels of creativity and novel problem solving (Norlander,
1998; Suedfeld et al., 1987) after floating. Inside the tank, participants received clarity from
being in an environment with no interruptions. Being able to process thoughts with no other
sensory stimulus acts as a tool for selecting novel problem solving skills.
Training Aid. The phenomena of floating has great lasting effects on participants. The
effects are felt so strongly that participants recommend floating to others. Although floating and
pool therapy has been used in the past as a way to lower aggression levels (Crumbaugh, 1966),
there is opportunity to utilize them further. As previously mentioned, the tank not only helps
participants slow down their thoughts and gives them the ability to develop more clarity, the
lessons learnt inside the tank are utilized once the participants leave the tank. The tank also helps
participants reach a meditative state. Both slowing thoughts down and reaching a meditative state
make floatation tanks tools for training relaxation and meditation. Therefore, tanks can be seen
both a preventative or curative aid for participants.
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54
Meditation. There are strong implications from the current study that the lived floating
experience is similar to that of meditation. However neither the lived experience of floating nor
meditation has been closely studied. The possible connection between these two has implications
for further research. One possibilie avenue of exploration is using floating as an augmentation
and or training tool for use where meditation is utilized. Using the tank as a training aid for
clinical and non-clinical populations to introduce meditation to those who are in need of
additional help to reach a clinically beneficially meditative state.
Future Studies
Further studies around Floatation-REST could include inquiry into the need to escape and
the benefit of solitude in environments other than floatation tanks. The lived experience of
isolation in environments that do not have Epsom salts, darkness and body temperature water
may differ and provide a different cognitive experience than those found in this study. The
difference may provide further information on how the sensory element of floating uniquely
effects conscious thought.
It is important to note that although this population studied presented a level of diversity
in ethnicity, all participants were male. Coincidentally, there was a larger pool of male
participants to recruit from than female participants. Therefore it is possible that there is an
element of floating that attracts males more than females. Further, as these participants were
using the tanks as a form of relaxation, it is possible that the isolation and disconnection the tank
offers speaks to a part of the unique male experience. Further studies would inquire into the
possible gender difference in choice of floating and the lived experience of floating. Further
inquiry into how floatation tanks can be integrated as a therapeutic aid or meditation tool and
preventative strategy is warranted.
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55
As noted in the limitations of the study, this current research project only examined the
experiences of those who self-selected to float. It would therefore be of interest to examine
individuals who actively avoid the floatation tank after one session of floating and understand the
phenomena of their experience inside the tank.
Conclusions
Phenomenological Summary of Research Questions. What made you try floating,
what did you expect, what was it like and what do you think of it? A composite description of the
lived experiences; I wanted to try floating out of a curiosity for a novel experience both
physiologically and psychologically; and additionally, I wanted to be alone, to escape the
demands of daily life. My curiosity about what would happen, physically and mentally, came out
of my prior exploration of consciousness and meditation. I was somewhat apprehensive about
what might happen inside the tank. I expected something big to happen from floating, like an
epiphany or incredible moment of clarity or maybe a psychedelic experience. Having
experienced floating, I now think that floating is a relaxing meditative experience that is far more
cognitive than physical. Although there are physical elements that create a very relaxing
environment, mentally the brain took me through an experience of slowing down my thoughts to
a point in which I found resolutions and clarity. I would recommend it. It was a positive
meditative hour that allowed me to reflect, provided clarity of mind. It created a good feeling
that I could take into daily life.
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56
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APPENDIX A
Participant Consent Forms
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65
The Floating Experience
Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed by Kimberley Carder from Alliant International
University, California School of Professional Psychology for her dissertation ‘What is Floating?-
A phenomenological study of Floating-REST’. The interview should last around sixty minutes
and will be audio recorded.
In the 1960’s John C. Lily developed the sensory deprivation tank to explore notions of
consciousness. In the past ten years, research has supported the positive effects or floatation-
REST from performance to therapeutic applications. However, there has not been a scientific
inquiry into people’s experience inside the floatation tank accounts. My research is aimed at
understanding the subjective experience of people when they undergo floating sensory
deprivation.
Protection
Throughout the interview, emotionally traumatic memories might resurface and you may
be inclined to reach out for further counseling support. There are many centers in Hong Kong
providing such services. Three centers with bilingual professionals are listed below. However, if
you request something different please do not hesitate in asking me for other centers’ contact
details. (+852) 2525 7207 or 2525 7208.
St. John’s Counseling - 2525 7207
ReSource Center – 2523 8979
Central Minds - 2813 6108
Concerns
This research is conducted under the supervision of my professor and program director,
Dr. Liang Tien at Alliant International University, CSPP – Hong Kong PsyD program. If at any
time there are concerns or comments that you do not feel comfortable telling me, please contact
her at liang.tien@alliant.edu.
Consent
By signing this contract, you are agreeing to participate in the research of understanding
the floating experience and have the right to withdraw at any time. Your involvement in this
interview has no impact on your relationship with Float On. No employee at Float On is aware of
your involvement in this interview and is up to your discretion if you choose to disclose your
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
66
participation. Your name will never be printed in research; your information will be written
under a pseudonym. You will have the chance to read over the transcript once it is completed to
rectify any details.
You should retain a copy of this consent form when completed
1. I have read the information sheet. Y/N
2. I understand what will happen to me during the study. Y/N
3. I have had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the study. Y/N
4. I understand that I am free to withdraw from the study after it has started at any time
without having to give a reason. Y/N
5. I consent to being audio-recorded. Y/N
6. I understand that anonymous data from this study may be used for future research and
publication purposes by the researcher Y/N
7. I agree to take part in the study. Y/N
Signed Date
Name in block capitals
Witnessed by Kimberley Carder
Signed Date
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
67
Liability and Release Form
NAME_______________________________
PHONE____________________________
E-MAIL________________________________________________________
BIRTHDAY________________ REFERRED BY: ________________________
*Please tick that you agree to the terms and conditions below:
o I will not float under the influence of drugs or alcohol
o I do not have epilepsy. If I do have epilepsy, it is under medical control
o I do not have a recent tattoo or piercing (within 4 weeks) or a large skin wound
o I understand that if I contaminate the water I am liable to $10,000HKD maintenance fee
o Hair Dye
o Heavy Moon Cycle
o Spray Tan
o Bodily Fluids
*If in doubt about whether floatation therapy is appropriate for you, please check with a
medical health provider.
The undersigned releases Float On Hong Kong and its employees and agents from any
and all legal liability, and agrees not to sue them on account of or in conjunction with
any claims, causes of action, injuries, damage, cost of expenses arising out of the
activity, including those based on death, bodily injury or property damage whether or not
caused by the acts, omissions or other fault of the parties being released.
o I am open to follow up interview for research.
Signature:
Date:
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
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APPENDIX B
Interview Sheet
LIVED EXPERIENCE INSIDE A FLOATATION-REST TANK
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Interviewee Number:
Age:
Ethnicity:
Nationality:
Occupation:
Questions:
1. What made you try floating?
2. What did you expect from floating?
3. What was it like to float?
4. Now that you have floated, what do you think about it?
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
The purpose of this review is to explore the impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on the brain. Neuroimaging studies using both clinical and non-clinical samples are reviewed herein, with a particular focus on functional and structural related brain changes associated with participation in MBSR. Despite a number of methodological limitations, these preliminary neuroimaging investigations revealed that MBSR training affects areas of the brain related to attention, introspection, and emotional processing consistent with the outcomes observed in the clinical literature. Directions for future research are discussed throughout. To further elucidate the processes through which mindfulness exerts its effects on the brain future studies using larger sample sizes, incorporating imaging tasks with performance measures, including longer-term follow-ups, and quantifying the relationship between home practice adherence with structural and functional changes are needed.
Article
Full-text available
Background: During Flotation-REST a person is floating inside a quiet and dark tank, filled with heated salt saturated water. Deep relaxation and beneficial effects on e.g. stress, sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression have been documented in earlier research. Despite that treatments for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are effective; it is till the least successfully treated anxiety disorder, indicating that treatment protocols can be enhanced. The use of Flotation-REST as a treatment of GAD has not been researched. The aim of the present study was to conduct an initial evaluation of the effects in a self-diagnosed GAD sample. Methods: This study was a randomized, parallel group, non-blinded trial with 1:1 allocation ratio to waiting list control group (n = 25) or to a twelve session treatment with flotation-REST (n = 25). Inclusion criteria's were: 18-65 years and GAD (as defined by self-report measures). The primary outcome was GAD-symptomatology, and secondary outcomes were depression, sleep difficulties, emotion regulation difficulties and mindfulness. Assessments were made at three time points (baseline, four weeks in treatment, post-treatment), and at six-month follow-up. The main data analyses were conducted with a two-way MANOVA and additional t-tests. Forty-six participants (treatment, n = 24; control, n = 22) were included in the analyses. Results: A significant Time x Group interaction effect for GAD-symptomatology [F (2,88) = 2.93, p < .001, η p (2) = .062] was found. Further analyses showed that the GAD-symptomatology was significantly reduced for the treatment group (t (23) = 4.47, p < .001), but not for the waiting list control group (t(21) = 0.98, p > .05), when comparing baseline to post-treatment scoring. Regarding clinical significant change, 37 % in the treatment group reached full remission at post-treatment. Significant beneficial effects were also found for sleep difficulties, difficulties in emotional regulation, and depression, while the treatment had ambiguous or non-existent effects on pathological worry and mindfulness. All improved outcome variables at post-treatment, except for depression, were maintained at 6-months follow. No negative effects were found. Conclusion: The findings suggest that the method has potential as a complementary treatment alongside existing treatment for GAD. More studies are warranted to further evaluate the treatments efficacy. Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry: ACTRN12613001105730 , Date of registration: 03/10/2013.
Article
Full-text available
Background : Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) promotes physiological and behavioral changes that reduce the deleterious effects of stress. However, it requires expensive equipment and is accessible to a limited number of professionals and patients. We aimed to evaluate the physiological and behavioral effects of modified REST (mREST) in healthy young women. Method: Twenty-one healthy young women (20-25 yrs) participated. mREST consists of positioning the patient floating in the pool with 32 o C for about 15 minutes, for twelve sessions, with blindfolded and wearing earplugs. The evaluation was performed before and after the intervention. The analysis of the state of relaxation was investigated by a questionnaire and the self-reports were categorized. Measures of heart rate and blood pressure were used as indicators of the cardiovascular response. Flexibility, measured by the finger-to-floor test, was used as an indicator of muscle relaxation. Results : Heart rate and blood pressure significantly decreased while flexibility and relaxation increased after the sessions (p<0.001 for all comparisons). Self-reports of relaxation were consistent with the blood pressure measures and indicated that the participants showed states of relaxation associated with the decrease of blood pressure and the increase of flexibility (p<0.001 for all comparisons). Conclusion : Healthy women undergoing mREST reported relaxation, with effects on muscular and cardiovascular systems. mREST is a simple, practical and affordable option for therapy in the aquatic environment.
Article
This book provides an introduction to the intersubjective perspective in psychoanalysis. It is premised on the central idea of contextualism, a broad-based philosophy of psychoanalytic practice that encompasses the most recent insights of intersubjectivity theory. From an overview of the basic principles of intersubjectivity theory, the authors proceed to contextualist critiques of the concept of psychoanalytic technique and of the myth of analytic neutrality. They then examine the intersubjective contexts of extreme states of psychological disintegration, and conclude with an examination of what it means, philosophically and clinically, to think and work contextually. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Chapter
Book synopsis: The three-volume APA Handbook of Research Methods in Psychology features descriptions of many techniques that psychologists and others have developed to help them pursue a shared understanding of why humans think, feel, and behave the way they do. At the broadest level, when choosing a method, researchers make decisions about what data or measurement techniques will best capture the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that interest them; what research design best fits the question that they want to answer; and what strategies for data analysis best match the characteristics of their design and measurements. The simplest choice for organizing the presentation of material is the temporal sequence in which they will make these decisions. The earliest chapters in the handbook address the broadest questions related to research designs. These involve both (a) which research designs are most appropriate for which question; and (b) how to think about the ethicality and feasibility of the designs that address the question and the measures available. Next, handbook chapters describe the types of data that psychologists most often collect and how to determine whether the measurement techniques are the best ones for the research purpose. Later, the chapters return to issues of research design and present a panoply of options, further divided along more nuanced distinctions in their objectives. Chapters on techniques for data analysis follow, again with special attention to the fit between design, measurement, and analysis. Finally, issues and choices to be considered when writing up research to share with the community of psychologists are discussed in the handbook's concluding chapters.
Article
The purpose of this study was to investigate if experiences induced by flotation-REST (in flotation-tank) are affected by settings or subjects earlier experiences of altered states of consciousness (ASC). No such significant differences were found. Significant effects owing to flotation-REST were found regarding reduction in experienced pain and enhancement of mood. Flotation-REST was considered a pleasurable technique. Different kinds of visual and acoustic effects, altered time perception, and a sense of weightlessness have been reported. Also, deep transpersonal experiences were quite common, and could be distinguished into three types: experiences of one's own childbirth/delivery; feeling of cosmic unity; and experiences of losing contact with the body or out-of-body experiences. Flotation-REST must be regarded as a consciousness-altering method with promising potential for clinical and therapeutic use.
Article
This study examines the effects of flotation REST on learning and attempts to correlate changes in EEG patterns with the learning experience. One important question which is addressed is whether the amount of material learned was different during flotation REST than during non-REST relaxation. This study also demonstrates the capability for doing EEG recordings during flotation REST. A total of 20 volunteers aged 18–22 who were of average height, truly right-handed, and in the preluteal stage of the menstrual cycle (days 5 through 12) were used as subjects in the study. Subjects were initially screened to establish the level of artifacts in the EEG patterns. They were then tested for initial level of knowledge on a graded series of questions while EEG recordings were being made. Following controlled learning in the flotation tank (experimental group) or while relaxing on a couch (control group), final EEG recordings were made while the subjects were thinking about each of the questions in the series. Within the statistical parameters stated, more learning occurred in subjects who had floated and were instructed while floating, than in subjects who lay quietly in a darkened room on a couch and were similarly instructed for the same period of time. In addition, the most pronounced increases in learning rates of floaters vs. controls were found in the more difficult questions. A visual inspection of raw EEG tracings revealed pattern changes which seemed to be consistent with gaining a higher level of understanding. These patterns were more pronounced in the floating group than in the non-floating control group. An EEG recording during the chance moment in which a difficult technical concept suddenly “made sense” to a floating subject, showed an abrupt change in brain wave patterns. When the floating group and the control group were divided into primarily visual vs. predominately conceptual thinkers, the amount of learning was greater for the visualizers.
Article
Fluoride is frequently depicted as a ‘double-edged sword’ as an insufficient intake is related to dental caries and too much ingestion leads to dental and skeletal fluorosis which has no treatment. Prevention is only through the supply of fluoride safe water by using defluoridation techniques. This review article is aimed at providing specific information on attempts made by various researchers in the field of fluoride removal from polluted waters. Various de-fluoridation techniques are currently in use viz., precipitation, ion-exchange, reverse osmosis, electro dialysis, donnan dialysis, nanofiltration, electro coagulation and adsorption etc. And among these techniques, adsorption process is economical, efficient, ease of operation and produces high-quality water. Studies on fluoride removal from waste waters using various adsorbents such as alumina/aluminium based materials, lime, clays and soils, calcium based minerals, bone, bone char, synthetic compounds and carbon based materials are reviewed. The present paper reviews the techniques available and ongoing attempts for fluoride removal from polluted waters.