A Brief Overview of Floating and Its History
Floatation Therapy, also called sensory deprivation or REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy), is a de-stressing practice in which your body is suspended in a highly concentrated (salty) water in an enclosed tank/pod, or a private open pool at a Float Spa.
With floating, you can reach a deep meditative state where you will have virtually no distractions and can fully focus on your breath in a suspended state. Experts suggest this can be the way to connect to your own consciousness.
In other words, floating is a restorative and regenerative wellness tool that offers myriad of health benefits for the mind and body. Floaters say that the benefits tend to increase with every new session. Simply put, floating is like hitting the reset button for your mind and body, and the effects seem to be cumulative.
Dr. Jay Shurley and Dr. John Lilly founded the base for the modern-day float therapy in the 1950’s. At that time, both were working at the National Institute of Mental Health. Driven by their serious interest to explore the effects of no or minimal external stimuli on the human brain, they developed the first sensory deprivation devices. The devices typically used masks that would prevent the brain from receiving external sensory stimuli.
In 1957, Dr. Shurley built the first fully immersive floatation tank while working at the Oklahoma City Veterans Administration hospital. The first version was a vertical tank in which the participant was immersed vertically and their head was covered by an opaque helmet connected to breathing tubes.
After almost 13 years, Glenn Perry together with John Lilly invented a horizontal float tank that did not require the participant to wear a helmet. In this version, the participant would lie facing upwards in a highly concentrated solution of Epsom salt. Because the salt provided sufficient upthrust, the participant could suspend effortlessly and have their eyes, nose, and mouth above the water surface. Undoubtedly, this updated version fared better than the earlier versions.
Nonetheless, it was only in the late 80’s that floatation tanks started gaining widespread attention in the scientific community. Now, floatation therapy is increasingly becoming popular among the general population because of its demonstrated health benefits and more user-friendly tanks.
Soon after you float, a number of wonderful things start happening in your brain and body. Most notably, your brain calms down as its fight-or-flight response mechanism shuts off. This helps you attain a peaceful state where the creative ideas can flow and the harmful inflammatory processes in the body slow down. Consequently, pain and inflammation reduce significantly.
Your Brain on Floating
Your brain is the most active organ in the body. It works constantly even when you are asleep. Unsurprisingly, it consumes about 20 percent of the body’s total oxygen.
Sadly, the brain’s biology begins to go haywire due to mounting life stress, unhealthy habits, and a constant exposure to the chaotic environment. The need to stay ahead in the race of life takes its toll on the most active organ of your body. What happens next? Anxiety becomes a daily staple and struggle becomes an everyday task.
Luckily, floating can provide the much-needed relief in such cases.
Here is how it works:
When you are floating in the absence of of external stimuli, TWO major scientifically proven changes happen in your brain.
- The Brain’s Fear Center Becomes Quiet
When you are exposed to a perceived or real threat, the part of the brain called amygdala is activated. The amygdala is where overwhelming thoughts originate.
Prescription anti-anxiety medications like Lorazepam (Ativan) shut off the amygdala. However, the benefit comes with a huge price. The pills can be addictive. On the contrary, floating can provide similar benefits without the risk of addiction.
A study, which scanned the floaters’ brains with fMRI after floating, revealed that subjects brains amygdala had no activity after a float session. In fact, the same effect can also be seen in people during meditation. Give that not many of us have enough time and desire to meditate, floating can be an equally effective alternative.
- Influences Brain Waves
Just like meditation, floating changes your brain waves. Researchers used waterproof EEG to measure brain waves during float sessions and found it primarily affects two waves:
- Alpha Waves
Typically, these waves range from 8 and 13 Hz, but in most adults, it is between 9 and 11 Hz. Studies reveal that increased alpha waves are a sign that you have attained a higher level of relaxation. This state is often considered a bridge that links the conscious mind to the subconscious mind. It is known to enhance creativity and reduce depressive symptoms.
During this period, which occurs in the early stage of floating and after the float, your mind becomes less analytical and focuses on your own thoughts or emotions. Experts call it “spontaneous wandering”.
- Theta Waves
These waves range from 4 to 8 Hz and have been associated with increased creativity. After 20 minutes of floating, the theta wave becomes the predominant wavelength. We usually only experience theta for brief moments before we fall asleep. While in theta, one will experience a trance-like state of meditation with more capacity for problem solving and visualization.
* We have a list of Isochronic music tracks to select from during your float. Different tracks will elicit different brain waves.
Your Body on Floating
During floating, the body switches from the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to the parasympathetic nervous system. Particularly, this happens during a phase called relaxation response.
In simple words, the brain shifts its gears from “fight-or-flight” to “rest-and-digest”. It means you are more relaxed and the systems are in an optimum balance. As a result, it favorably affects the following systems.
The Amazing Benefits of Floating on Your Mind and Body
As mentioned earlier in the guide, floating results in increased alpha and theta waves, both of which
- Improves creativity
- Improves learning capabilities
- Increases meditation capabilities
- Improves visualization
- Decreases stress and anxiety
- Decreases depression
Many of the effects of floating on the body come from its effects on hormones, immune system, inflammatory mechanisms, and pain response. Floating is linked to:
- Decreased pain
- Decreased inflammation
- Decreased muscle tension
- Improved muscle recovery
- Improved sleep
- Improved postural alignment
- Accelerated removal of heavy metal toxins
Some people float to ease anxiety and depression symptoms while some may do it as a part of their routine to unwind and relax. In addition, many find floating as an effective tool for increasing creativity, enhancing concentration, and reducing high blood pressure.
Some people who want to meditate (but cannot most likely due to their busy schedule) use floating as a substitute for meditation.
If you have chronic pain that only seems to worsen even with pain pills, you should consider floating. An emerging body of evidence has found that floatation relieves pain by various mechanisms. These include:
- Reduction in muscle tension. When you immerse in a floatation tank, your body will absorb magnesium sulfate from the water through your skin, which will help your muscles relax. In one study, participants with chronic neck and back pain attained significant pain relief after a 3-week floatation therapy. Notably, the therapy also improved sleep quality and optimism in the participants.
- Reduction in inflammation. Whether you’re a pro athlete or just love to lift some weights, it’s almost a sure thing that a heavy workout session will cause inflammation in the muscles. If you are looking for a natural way to reduce inflammation and boost recovery, consider floating. According to a 2013 study, flotation can help reduce blood lactate levels in both recreational and professional athletes.
- Muscle relaxation. In addition to relaxing a stressed mind, floatation therapy also relaxes your muscles. This can be particularly useful if you often do high-intensity and heavy workouts. When you float, the buoyancy provided by the saturated salt solution helps release muscle tension. In fact, the effect is similar to that of a gentle massage.
- The transition of the nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic. Being stressed activates the brain’s “fight-or-flight” response, which causes tensed muscles, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. When you engage in regular floating sessions, the brain gradually shifts its gear from “fight-or-flight” to a calmer “rest-and-digest” mode, which is also called parasympathetic nervous system. Over time, this shift brings numerous positive health benefits that range from reduced anxiety and pain to better sleep and improved quality of life.
- Naturally align the spine. Floating can reduce the effect of gravity on your body by as much as 80 percent. This greatly helps your joints and spine align naturally. As a result, the spine can decompress without any harness such as in decompression therapy. This novel method of spine decompression promotes healing by increasing the availability of nutrients to the affected part of the spine.
(Lower Blood Pressure, and Cortisol Levels)
While stress is a normal part of life, too much stress even without a valid cause can wreak havoc on your health. Chronic stress increases the risk of several chronic conditions. For example, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Floating acts on different areas of the brain that control your stress response. One such key area is the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS prepares your body for a real or perceived threat by activating thalamocortical systems.
By decreasing the activity level of the RAS, floating helps your attention shift from external stimuli towards your own consciousness, which in turn promotes mindfulness and relaxation.
Chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone “cortisol” are a warning sign that your stress response mechanism has gone haywire. In one study, researchers found that floating significantly decreased cortisol levels in participants who had sessions of floating therapy.
When we talk about stress and elevated cortisol levels, high blood pressure naturally comes to our mind. It is well known that chronic stress increases the risk of long-term high blood pressure. Evidently, floating can help lower the blood pressure as it relaxes your mind and body and reduces spikes in cortisol levels.
One more reason how floating might lower blood pressure is that it helps relieve the sleep problems such as insomnia. It is no new thing that insomnia increases the risk of high blood pressure by many folds.
Creativity & Mindfulness / Hacking the Learning Curve of Meditation
There is convincing evidence that floating is a great exciting way to naturally increase alpha and theta brain waves. In fact, some even go as far as to say that theta waves become the predominant brain wave after 20 minutes of floating.
Interestingly, the theta waves that typically range between 4 to 8 Hz interlink your conscious and unconscious mind. This dreamlike state is a perfect breeding ground for creative ideas, and helps deep relaxation.