Floatation Therapy: Is It for You?

By Catherine Gregory

What happens when you combine more than a half ton of Epsom salt with tepid water in a soundproof, lightproof tank, and then willingly submerge yourself there for a long time?

I’d heard of floatation-REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique) from a friend who claimed it allowed his body and mind to let go to levels more profound than meditation or medication. Intrigued, I did some research and discovered a number of studies proving sense deprivation floatation, or “float therapy,” as an effective method for reducing stress, depression and anxiety, as well as increasing optimism and sleep quality. Float therapy studios, or “float houses,” are popping up in urban settings everywhere, thanks to the growing number of people enjoying the relaxing health benefits.

Athletes and those with fibromyalgia or other physical pain enjoy the pain relief experienced after floating.

Your Brain on Rest

Sensory deprivation tanks have actually been around since the 1950s, primarily to test how the brain functions without outside stimulation. The research shows that lack of sensory stimulation, including light, sound and gravity’s pull on the body, helps the brain access much deeper states of rest, which improves overall brain function. Some of the purported perks include better memory, an increase in focus, creativity and problem solving, as well as the ability to access deeper states of physical and mental relaxation.

Maximizing the Effects of Magnesium

The use of large amounts of Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) for buoyancy in the float tanks also has added benefits. Athletes and those with fibromyalgia or other physical pain enjoy the pain relief experienced after floating. The salt additionally softens skin and hair, along with detoxifying the body, while increasing the absorption of magnesium through the skin.

What (Not) to Expect

I booked my first float session at Isolate Floatation Center in Boulder, Colorado, where owner Ben Gleason, wise beyond his twenty-eight years, had his own life-changing experience with floating. For Gleason, floating is ultimately a means to greater self-awareness. At the time of his first float seven years ago, he weighed 300 pounds, ate fast food for every meal, smoked, didn’t exercise and had no motivation to change. His first experience in the tank was transcendental, allowing him to see the thoughts and choices that were holding him back from being happy and healthy. This sparked radical changes that led to his current healthy lifestyle and to sharing the joys of floating with others.

Before Gleason showed me into my private, spa-like studio, he told me it was best to let go of any expectations. “Expectation is limitation,” he said.

So as I showered beforehand, I washed away everything I’d heard about floating, inserted my earplugs and then slowly immersed my body into the buoyant, salty water. I reached up to close the lightweight tank door behind me and was instantly cocooned in sheer silence and darkness.

Getting adjusted to the buoyancy, the immense amount of salt (don’t touch your eyes) and the tepid temperature took a bit of time. But once I got comfortable on my back and settled into the rhythm of my breath, I began the process of letting go of tension in my body, one muscle at a time. I felt weightless and free, and eventually my breath slowed way down. My thoughts drifted by and I melted into a deep state of relaxation. I was so relaxed, in fact, that I had to remind myself to breathe a couple of times. My time in the tank was a mix of mindful breathing, deep meditative awareness and possibly sleep, because the 90 minutes passed like it was 20. I was shocked as the sound of ambient music began floating up from beneath me to signal the end of the session.

After my float, as I stepped outside in my deeply relaxed state, my senses were reawakened. The warm sun on my skin felt divine. Everything was more vibrant—the billowy clouds against the blue sky, the wind whistling through the trees, the beautiful birdsong. For the next few hours, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. An unexplainable bliss was radiating from every cell in my body. I felt ridiculously happy just to be alive. No expectations, but I will be booking another session to float again soon.



What to Look for in a Float Therapy Studio

Not all float studios are created equally. Gleason suggests reading online reviews first and calling the studio to guarantee the quality of your float experience. He recommends these following tips:

  • 90 minutes is ideal for a first float to allow for the adjustment period, and thereafter one-hour sessions are best.
  • Water temperature should be between 93.5 and 94 degrees F. This temperature maximizes the sense deprivation experience by not being too cool or too warm.
  • Sanitation is key. The tank shouldn’t smell musty. A combination of ozonation and hydrogen peroxide is ideal. Chlorine used in a closed environment is not healthy.
  • Excellent soundproofing is a must. Outside noise distracts from the relaxing effects of complete silence. Some studios offer music during the float experience, but Gleason, a musician himself, believes that misses the point of sense deprivation. Music should only be used to signal the end of the float.
  • For lasting stress reduction, Gleason recommends floating a minimum of two times per month.

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