Sensory deprivation: the wellness trend resurfaces

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Intense relaxation in a state of weightlessness, without leaving dry land? Yes, it’s possible, thanks to sensory deprivation: an innovative item of spa equipment from the United States gaining ground everywhere. Piscine Global Europe reviews floating technology!


Spa innovation over 50 years old!

Flotation tanks arrived in the United States in the Fifties. Their main use was scientific – to examine the brain and consciousness. Subjects “floated” in heated water saturated with Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) in a tank with no external stimuli at all. It was not until the Eighties that these tanks were used commercially to help people experience intense relaxation through nearly perfect sensory deprivation based on several factors:

  • darkness or reduced lighting;
  • optimal sound insulation;
  • the absence of feelings related to wearing a swimming costume;
  • and finally, weightlessness.

However, this revolutionary technique went into a fast decline at the end of the Eighties, before resurfacing some ten years ago. In 2015, 88 private centers in the world proposed sensory deprivation. Although primarily located in the United States and Canada (1), they are increasingly numerous in Europe.

Discover 5 spa innovations to make your establishment stand out

The benefits of sensory deprivation

Flotation tanks induce a state of deep relaxation, like a trance. Users can thus focus more completely on their bodies, their feelings and their thoughts. People even fall asleep during sensory deprivation sessions! During sensory deprivation, cerebral activity slides into a “theta” rhythm which usually appears just before falling asleep. This rhythm is known to stimulate creativity, as well as memory and the ability to concentrate.

A Canadian study in 2014 (2) also showed the following positive clinical effects on people placed in a state of sensory deprivation:

  • reduction of pain, in particular due to muscular relaxation;

  • significant reduction of stress seen by a drop in the level of cortisol;

  • reduction in anxiety and improvement of depressive conditions;

  • better quality of sleep.

Epsom salt also has its virtues as the body can absorb magnesium and sulfate without risk through the skin. For example, people with magnesium deficiencies feel more rested.

Some hints on introducing a flotation tank in a spa establishment!

1. What target group is interested in sensory deprivation?

One probable reason which explains why there is such resurgence in sensory deprivation is that it is for everyone whatever their age! Although this experience is normally individual, even the smallest kids can “float” although preferably accompanied by a parent for safety.

Sensory deprivation can also be a real support for pregnant women (in their fourth month and after), to relieve pregnancy-related pains and even enhance connections with their baby.

2. Cabin or flotation tank?

The first choice spas deciding to opt for sensory deprivation have to make is whether to install a cabin or a tank. Cabins provide more space and are better for claustrophobics. Tanks are more compact but provide less design possibilities. So check the space available – and the budget.

There is a solution for all spaces: check the sauna cabin too!

3. How to integrate sensory deprivation into a wellness circuit

Every session must provide two showers: one before to keep the water clean and one after to remove the salt. To ensure users “get attuned” before the session or to prolong the relaxation aspect after it, centers can use other innovative therapies like chromotherapy, music therapy and aromatherapy.

The spa can also offer a “snack” service so that users do not feel hungry during the session which would prevent relaxation. Massages are also a good way to extend the feeling of wellbeing. As users are relaxed they will enjoy massages even more than usual!

The benefits of sensory deprivation increase with the number of sessions. Over time a user’s cerebral activity reaches the “theta” rhythm more and more quickly, so the period of deep relaxation is longer. A good idea is to propose a multi-session subscription or a package including several sessions!  

4. Is this spa innovation difficult to maintain?

Although there is nothing very complicated about maintaining a cabin or a flotation tank, there are some basic rules to comply with for hygiene and good equipment performance. Warning: regulations are not the same in all countries. For example, only some provinces in Canada have specific rules. There is no legislation in France. However, the American Floatation Tank Association has set standards and the British Columbian Health Ministry in Canada has published advice notes which include:

  • visual inspection, disinfection and total filtration between each session;

  • a daily check out of the equipment, water and the concentration of chemicals as well as the execution of several filtration cycles;

  • complete cleaning of the filtration system and a check on the integrity of the heating system every week.

Sensory deprivation is an innovative spa feature which will easily attract a public always on the look-out for wellbeing and new sensations. The market segment is promising but still in its infancy and offers many opportunities for spa operators in dedicated establishments to bolster their offer, manufacturers seeking to conquer a new market and wellness establishment originators wanting to provide innovative solutions.

What spa animations can you organize to be different?

(1) CCNSE : Bains flottants : Examen des lignes directrices et des considérations actuelles pour les inspecteurs en santé publique
(2) NCBI : Beneficial effects of treatment with sensory isolation in flotation-tank as a preventive health-care intervention – a randomized controlled pilot trial

Photo credit: © RZ Images /

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