Introduction to Floating: Why Float?
There is nowhere on Earth you can go and get away from all outside stimulus, and the annoying dog next door that barks all night, except in a floatation tank. There is also nowhere on Earth you can go and completely escape the effects of gravity on your muscles and joints, except in a floatation tank. Barring a ride with one of the world’s space programs - this is it.
What are floatation tanks?
- Floatation tanks or tubs, also known as floatation therapy tanks and previously known as sensory deprivation chambers (a misnomer) are simply warm saline baths with enclosures to block out sound and light. The tubs contain ten inches of water and due to the 850 pounds of Epsom salts dissolved in the water a person will pop up to the surface and float like a rubber ducky.
A brief history of floatation.
- Since the days when floatation tanks were invented by the psychiatrist Dr. John C. Lilly and Dr. Jay Shirley, in 1954, for psychological experiments, floatation tanks have become highly evolved. No need to worry about strapping on scuba gear or being completely submerged while looking at ink blots. Since you are laying in water that is skin temperature, 93.5° F, you don’t get too warm or too cold and eventually you begin to lose track of where your skin ends and the water begins. In the absence of light and sound your mind turns inward and all the energy the brain usually expends to compensate for gravity, deal with work stress, relationships and daily life can be used in new and interesting ways.
REST and the stress response.
- In the early 1980’s, just north of here at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Peter Suedfeld coined the term R.E.S.T., restricted environment stimulation therapy. REST is exactly what happens in a floatation chamber. Once the mind becomes completely calm and lets go of the low grade levels of “fight or flight” response, also known as stress, interesting physiological changes take place in the body. The body lowers its levels of cortisol, ACTH, adrenaline and nor-adrenaline, the key hormones related to stress response. The nervous system then begins releasing elevated levels of endorphins, which are neurotransmitter/hormones responsible for the relief of pain, a sense of well being and euphoria.
REST and the effects of gravity.
- Once the blooming and buzzing world fades away and the body is freed from the effects of gravity, the mind and body can truly rest and begin healing. In the tank, since a person is being supported by water, the body does not become uncomfortable and there is no need to shift around like you do in bed; the result is the deepest form of rest known to humanity. The spine lengthens and all pressure is removed from the joints and muscles, helping relieve many forms of chronic pain.
REST, brainwaves and meditation.
- You can attain the same level of Theta state brain waves reached by advanced meditation practitioners in just one hour in a floatation tank. After the Beta and Alpha waves of ordinary daily consciousness fade, Theta brain waves kick in. We normally experience Theta brain waves during what is called the hypnogogic state. This state is the short transition period between waking and sleeping where we sometimes experience random mental images and sounds. The difference in the floatation tub is that we are awake and can manipulate these mental images in positive ways that benefit the mind and body.
The effects of Epsom salts.
- Even though the tank is filled with hyper-saline water you won’t turn into a pickle. The tub is not filled with ordinary salt but with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate, MgSO4), a natural skin emollient, so when you get out of the tub your skin feels silky smooth and there is no “prune” effect like staying in a regular bath too long. Epsom salts draw out toxins as they are absorbed into the skin and act as a natural sedative to the nervous system. Epsom salts also help to relax muscles, reduce swelling and aid in the release of Lactic acid built up in muscles while exercising. Since most of us are slightly magnesium deficient, due to low levels of magnesium in food farmed in poor soils, we also absorb an essential element necessary for good health while floating.