by Lina Stoyanova
If you can’t seem to put down your electronics, are overwhelmed with the constant ‘go, go, go’ mentality, or simply would just like to take a break, flotation therapy will be a great option for you.
What is Float Therapy?
If you’re anything like me, right about now you’re probably wondering, “What is Float Therapy?” Well, let me tell you. Flotation Therapy is essentially a way of achieving deep relaxation by spending an hour (or more) lying quietly in darkness, suspended in a warm solution of Epsom salt. Float tanks are also known as isolation tanks, sensory deprivation tanks, and/or REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) chambers.
The concept of Float Therapy is based on the theory that up to 90 percent of the brain’s normal workload is estimated to be caused by routine environmental stimulation such as gravity, temperature, touch, light, sound, etc. Float Therapy allows the senses to be released from all distractions, so your body is weightless; this allows your mind and body to reach a deep level of relaxation/meditation. Research on Float Therapy suggests it may benefit those with muscular pains, anxiety, depression, insomnia, addiction, fatigue and even those who have trouble with concentration.
A Little History
Floating/Float Tanks (or pods) are not a new trend. In fact, John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuro-psychiatrist, first developed flotation tanks in the 1950s. Through his research into the effects of sensory deprivation on consciousness and the brain, Lilly found many therapeutic benefits of floating (and sensory deprivation). Fast forwarding a bit, Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie of the University of British Columbia began experimenting on the therapeutic benefits of flotation tank usage in the late 1970s; they named their technique “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST). Discovery of these experiments showed a relaxed state as well as the healing of a variety of conditions including stress, anxiety, pain, swelling and insomnia.
The Benefits of Float Therapy
The effects of gravity on your bones, joints and muscles are completely removed while you’re floating. This vastly improves your circulation and allows your body to rejuvenate and heal itself. Research shows that floating measurably reduces your blood pressure and heart rate while at the same time lowering stress levels. So, what are some of the benefits?
• Improves Sleep
• Helps Treat Fibromyalgia
• Helps with Pain Relief
• Relieves Stress, Anxiety, and even Depression
• Reduces Chronic Fatigue
• Stimulates Creativity
• Accelerates Mental Clarity and Learning
• Helps with Chronic Pain from Arthritis, Back Pain, Neck Pain, Inflammation, Tendonitis, and as mentioned, Fibromyalgia
• Improves Athletic Performance
• Improves Skin
• Restores Hair
• Decreases Muscular Tension
• Improves Circulation and Reduces Blood Pressure
• Helps Increase Magnesium
• Accelerates Healing
• Strengthens the Immune System
How Does it Work and What’s the Tank Like?
So, you’ve read about what it is and the benefits; let me explain how it works. The weightlessness combined with the benefits of Epsom salt creates an ideal environment for injury recovery as well as providing relief from muscular pain and tension. Since you’ll be free of any external stimulation, your body can achieve a state of deep relaxation that will be extremely beneficial to the mind and body.
Once you are inside, you will lay back and get comfortable. There is a headrest/neck pillow on the inside of the tank in case you need help relaxing your head/neck. Generally, there will be meditation music playing when you enter the tank; you can use the volume knob to your right to adjust. The music will generally play for about 10-12 minutes at the beginning. Once the 10 minutes are up, the music will fade out and you will be left in silence. It’s important to note that the music will come on at the end (in addition to the water changing—bubbling/moving sensation) and that will be your cue your session is done. Before you think you won’t feel the water change, or hear the music, let me assure you—you will. Once you have thoroughly showered (after your session is complete), you can go back to the waiting area and relax a bit; it’s also encouraged to drink water at that point (either provided by a staff member or your own).
What the Float Session is Like: My Experience
Since I had done so much research on the effects of Float Therapy (all positive may I add), I already had an idea what to expect.
Well, let me tell you, reading about it is one thing and doing it—is another. I’ll try my best to formulate my experience to you; though I will say, I do think everyone should try this. If you are claustrophobic, I also think you can try this. Why? You can keep the tank ‘door’ open (or even halfway if you’re feeling comfortable). Everyone’s experience may differ; however, I do think it’s worth trying at least once.
Full transparency, I walked into my session pretty anxious. Though I’m not claustrophobic (really, aside snakes, nothing really scares me), I felt a bit nervous to try this out. I was fully hydrated, and I had eaten so I wouldn’t have to worry about thinking about food my whole session (though, if that’s what happens with you, no worries, there are worse things). I had already watched the educational video and signed a waiver before the day of my session, so once I got there, my only instruction was to use the bathroom. Once I used the bathroom, the staff member took me into my private room. There she essentially repeated everything that was on the video. She explained how to enter and leave the tank, what products to use and when (you have to use conditioner after your second shower but not prior to entering the tank), in addition to answering any questions I had. So, in summation, the process looks like this: waiver, video, go in for the session, use the bathroom, shower in the private room, float in the tank, come out of the tank, have a final shower, relax a bit in the general area, pay, and then leave.
Once I got in the tank I settled in and tried my best to relax. I initially grabbed the headrest I was provided, however, I am happy later on in the session I took it off. At first the meditation music was nice but then I thought it would be better to be in complete silence. Through the intercom in the tank I was able to ask the front desk to turn the music off. I decided to turn the lights off, and though I had my eyes closed anyway, when I pressed the button to turn the lights off, a feeling of fear came over me.
Being in complete silence, fairly still, and in an enclosed tank, didn’t affect me; but being in pitch dark gave me some anxiety. I’m not too sure why because I’ve never had any issues being in the dark before, but I decided to press the button and turn the lights on. Essentially the beginning (15 minutes or so) of the session was spent with me laying on my back, clicking the light button on and off. I finally decided to just suck it up and be in the complete dark. At first, I found it very uncomfortable. I was naked and vulnerable, I felt emotions rise up to the surface and I didn’t know how to deal. So, I decided to just let my thoughts be and focus on my breath. Once I realized I was okay and that nothing bad would happen, I decided to remove my little headrest to see if I can enhance my experience even more. Well, I did. I ended up falling into such a deep relaxation a part of me thought I’d fall asleep. I floated and relaxed, focused on my breath, and anytime I felt hot or that my heart was racing, I’d just bring my attention back to my breath. I ended up fully relaxing and when I felt the water move (that’s their way of letting you know your session is up), I knew I had to come back again and try this more.
Once the water started moving under me, I knew that was my cue to leave the tank. However, I had reached such a state of relaxation near the end that when this happened, I felt a bit startled. I panicked thinking I went over my time and thought, “Oh no, they’re going to come in here, lift my tank and see me naked.” In retrospect, I now know that wouldn’t be the case. I jolted up and I felt like a truck had hit my body. So, most important tip (or one of): DON’T rush out of the tank.
Take a few minutes to breathe and slowly get up. I struggled to get up (my body felt heavy and I felt woozy) and a little bit of water from my hair poured on my face. Unfortunately, due to this, a bit of water got in my right eye. Very painful, however, there’s a cloth and spray bottle on the handle IN the tank, so I was able to alleviate my discomfort. I lifted the tank through the handle, closed it, and began to take my final shower. During my shower, I tried to breathe slowly (I still had my earplugs in by the way) and focus on the experience. I took out my earplugs and I will say, I recommend finishing with your shower before you do this. Why? The moment I took the earplugs out, the shower sounded so loud it really threw me off. So essentially, upon finishing your float, come out gently and slowly, take a gentle shower, and once done, then take out the earplugs, dry off and get ready. I think that will maximize the experience and I intend to do that little step next time. Once I finished and I went up to the counter; I noticed the staff member was talking to me, but I felt very woozy. I drank some water and I told her I felt very out of it—almost like I couldn’t focus on what she was saying. In retrospect, again, it’s probably because I ‘rushed’ the end process and I wasn’t giving my body enough time to ease back in. Once I left, I got in my car and turned on the music. No more than a minute went by when I decided to shut off my radio (very rare for me). I found this odd as I had just spent an hour in complete silence.
I felt very comfortable driving in silence and I felt very, very relaxed. I noticed when someone cut me off, I didn’t even get the slightest bit irritated. I ate dinner when I got home, enjoyed feeling relaxed, and then about 9 p.m. or so I got a spurt of energy. This part was a bit frustrating because though normal (as it can happen to some), I was trying to wind down. I finally managed to relax and fall asleep; I woke up the following morning feeling really energized. Though I don’t think this process went “perfect,” mainly because it was my first time, I do see the benefits I reaped.
Due to this, I will be enjoying floating several more times (now that I’m an expert on the process).
Final Thoughts: I 100% will do this again since I have never gotten to such a relaxed state before—not through Yoga or meditation. As a highly stressed and anxious person, I assure you, if I can get to a relaxed state, so will you. I will let the front desk know ahead of time that I don’t want any meditation music, I’ll make sure to take off my jewelry at home (saves time) and I will do it naked again. If you’re feeling weird about being naked in a tank you can have a bathing suit on. I think the reason it’s recommended to be nude is because it gives your mind one less thing to focus on; keep in mind your brain will try to focus on various things since your senses are being deprived, so not having a suit on gives it one less thing to worry about. I will not use the headrest next time and I will try to be in the dark for the full session. Final takeaway? Go try this!
In conclusion, Float Therapy is highly beneficial. Floating around in a pod/tank is also quite the experience. Even if you don’t have anxiety or any chronic illnesses, I still recommend you give this a go! After all, who couldn’t use a little relaxation?