Self Care Strategies | Sensory Deprivation AKA Floating

Epsom salt has long been a recovery modality for its pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. But did you know it is also aids muscle and mind recovery when used in the form of flotation therapy. Also referred to as REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy), this practice is centered around sensory deprivation as a way to provide comfort from not only physical pain but mental stress and fatigue as well. It is the basis of our mantra Unplug, Recover and Evolve. 


History


The roots of flotation therapy reach back into the 1950s when physician and neuro scientist  John C. Lily became increasingly interested in the origins of consciousness. He designed the first isolation tank in 1954 as a way to cut off all external stimuli and study the effects of sensory deprivation on the human brain with minimal distractions. Many of his trials and research displayed increases in brain function during and post float sessions similar to the activity displayed during mediation. In the 1960s, Lily’s studies came under some scrutiny when he began using LSD and other hallucinogens while floating in the tank. Nonetheless, manufacturing of commercial float tanks began in the 1970s for their perceived benefits. Today there centers all over the world are dedicated exclusively to flotation therapy. Even some gyms and spas feature float tanks in their facilities. The increase in popularity can be attributed to vast scientific evidence of health benefits such as muscle relaxation, decreased pain, lower levels of anxiety and stress resulting in better sleep. Countless professional athletes, Tom Brady and JJ Watt to name a few, are float enthusiasts and have been known to utilize the tank as a tool for athletic optimization. Some find it not only provides physical recovery but mental relief after intense training. The famously stoic coach Bill Belichick has also been known to use sensory deprivation for its therapeutic benefits on the mind, improving concentration and focus. 


What’s it like


Unlike ice baths, you are welcomed in by a pool of water warmed to normal body temperature, filled with 2000 lbs of Epsom salt designed to make you float like a buoy, defying the effects of gravity. Dark and soundproof, the lack of external stimulation induces relaxation. Studies show that spending time floating in an isolation tank may have numerous benefits from muscle relaxation, decreased pain, lower anxiety and stress levels resulting in better sleep.


Floating was the missing piece in my wellness routine. For years I lived my life by a strict to-do list, full steam ahead on career, financial and fitness goals none of which included recovery or self care. An occasional massage was not enough to fully combat the amount of tension unknowingly built up in my body and mind. My first float experience taught me a lesson in letting go and living in the moment as the sensation of weightless gradually washed over me. With my body cradled in the water, certain places where I naturally held tension, for example my neck, no longer needed my energy. In fact, for the next hour nothing and no one needed my attention. My mind was free to wander, no distractions or places to be. No external threats to analyze. My thoughts turned into visualizations woven together and guiding me to an answer I didn’t know I needed. The hour seemed to come and go but the effects lasted even after my float. Similar to leaving a massage refreshed or the satisfaction after a really deep and meaningful conversation. 


Research and studies on the benefits


It’s undeniable that something special happens in the brain during and after floating. Researchers continue to define the many far reaching benefits and how they affect the brain and body. Clinical trials conducted with 65 participants in New Zealand, male and female, studied the effects of 12 float sessions over a period of 7 weeks. The results showed a significant decrease in stress, depression, anxiety and pain with an increase in optimism and sleep quality. Subjects also observed an increase of mindfulness in daily life. The high degree of relaxation recorded in the float tank correlates with time spent in a meditative state. In separate studies, mediation has also been known to relieve various stress related mental and physical conditions such as high blood pressure. 


Related studies corroborate the effects or REST on improved physical performance, pain reduction, eased PTSD symptoms and even a boost in creativity. Recorded brain activity during and after a float session have been shown to mimic the patterns displayed during meditation, a benefit to those who have trouble “shutting their thoughts down”. The science shows an activation in awareness but a deactivation in the amygdala, known as the flight/fight portion of the brain triggered by real or perceived threat. With practically no activity in this part of the brain, the nervous system experiences an instant relief.



Risks or Downsides


Although most healthy individuals should be able to experience the float experience with minimal risk, here are some disclaimers.


Being inside of the closed tank or pod may seem claustrophobic for some but the option to keep the light on and lid open is available. With advancements in design, some centers even offer open air pools or float rooms which can alleviate such fears.


Those prone to hallucinations may experience them while in the tank but have been reported to subside post float.


Drowning can be considered an extremely rare risk factor. The average depth of common float tanks are 12-18 inches. Floating in the proper face up position makes ingestion of the water/salt solution unlikely. 


We could go on and on about floating but we’re more interested in your experiences! Please use the comments section below to immerse us in your favorite float moments.


Resources and Citations


www.LaureateInstitue.org


 www.Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pic/articles/pmc4219027

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