One tank, 10 inches of 93.5-degree water, and 800 pounds of Epsom salt. These are the basic elements of floating.
Floating is a variation of the restricted environmental stimulation technique. In other words, it is used to restrict the environment’s effect on a subject in certain scientific studies. John C. Lilly invented this technique of sensory deprivation in 1954, when he required an environment that would isolate subjects from external stimuli. He was studying how the brain would function in an environment where it wouldn’t be required to focus on stimuli such as light, sound or touch.
These days, floating is used recreationally. People use them for different reasons. Some want a relief of stress; others are looking for a method for pain therapy. Regardless of the reason, there is a general consensus that floating benefits the body.
Tanks can be found all over the country. They can be found in float centers, businesses dedicated to the floating technique. However, spas are now participating in the trend and offering float sessions along with their regular services. Sessions usually last 60 to 90 minutes, with the price ranging from $30 to $60. You can find a float center near you at Floatation International or by using a search engine. Using an isolation tank is simple. Get naked – sensory deprivation is most effective if you do not wear clothing. Open the tank, get in and close the door. Lay down on your back. Relax. The 800 pounds of Epsom salt dissolved in the water allows you to float effortlessly.
While Lilly focused his studies on the activity of the brain in a sensory deprived state, others have looked for, and found, health benefits associated with floating. Many floaters experience stress relief.
Studies have shown that the floating technique is capable of affecting stress related hormones. One study discovered that “hormones directly associated with the stress response” such as “cortisol, ACTH and epinephrine showed decreases during REST sessions.” There is a debate over whether or not the decrease in stress-related hormones is related to an increase in endorphins, a neurochemical secreted in the brain that can create an elated mood. Some say that the brain is flushed with endorphins during a float session, while other studies have not found such a result.
Regardless of the dispute over endorphins, the decrease in hormones such as cortisol, ACTH and epinephrine results in a satisfactory stress relief. A study by Karlstad University in Sweden, found that “flotation-REST treatment also elevated the participants’ optimism and reduced the degree of anxiety or depression.”
Pain reduction is also associated with floating.
Epsom salt is known to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. The study by Karlstad University confirmed this, that “the most severe perceived pain intensity was significantly reduced, whereas low perceived pain intensity was not influenced by the floating technique.” It also concluded that “the present findings describe possible changes, for the better, in patients presenting with chronic pain complaints.” Athletes frequently use salt baths to promote muscle regeneration and reduce lactic acid.
Stress and pain relief are only two of the numerous health benefits associated with floating. Some studies show that floating can improve mental health. Another concluded that floaters could lose weight more easily due to the decrease of cortisol in their bodies. The science doesn’t lie. Give it a shot. What do you stand to lose?
Lastly, I want to leave you with my first floating experience:
There was only darkness. After some time I couldn’t differentiate between my body and the water. It was as if someone had turned off my senses and left me floating in space. I honestly didn’t know where my arms ended and the water began.
As I drifted in and out of consciousness the darkness of my surroundings melted into the depth of my mind. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed. I submerged into relaxation. At times I was asleep, others I was as alert as a fox. Eventually I was in a state of slumber, while retaining consciousness. I remembered the attendant telling me that this could happen. That my body would relax into a sleep state, without physically falling asleep. He also mentioned something about hallucinations…
As I lay in the water, feeling more relaxed than I had in my entire life I saw something. It was not a dream; I know this for a fact. I saw a giant snail appear in front of me. My eyes actually perceived the image of a snail. No gimmicks. But that’s not all. The design on the snail’s shell was the entire universe. Every star, galaxy and constellation that existed was present on this enormous shell. I floated on my back – for what felt like an eternity – looking up at the spectacle.
Then I got out.
My appointment was over.
If you can’t decide what to think about floating, consider one thing. Floating can induce sober psychedelic hallucinations. Think about it.