Although not a new method of treatment, floatation therapy is well known globally as an alternative treatment option for a variety of conditions. The most common of which is to improve muscular recovery and promote the easing of some psychological conditions. Many healthy people use floatation therapy to improve their cognitive function and promote benefits such as increases in concentration, creativity and learning.
The therapy developed during the 1950’s when American, Dr John C. Lilly pioneered the research and was himself a first participant in the study of floatation therapy. At the time it was called sensory deprivation or simply isolation, with the tanks being called isolation tanks or sensory deprivation chambers. These names tended to promote fear rather than the idea of health and healing, so these terms were later replaced by the term REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique). The modern day term is floatation therapy, and the tanks are known as floatation tanks.
From the beginning, the theory behind the treatment has been the same, to remove an individual’s detection of senses and observe any potential side effects or benefits. To achieve this, floatation therapy is conducted within a sealed and soundproof tank, with an Epsom salt concentration of 525kg Magnesium Sulfate and water to form a 1000 litre solution. This solution is warmed to exactly 35.5 degrees Celsius. This is the average temperature of the skin and human body, and removes the ability to detect the water during the experience. Many modern tanks contain a light, which can be turned on or off from within the tank. For the full experience it is highly recommended to undertake the therapy in complete darkness, as once accustomed to the tank and the floatation, produces a complete state of sensory deprivation, an experience which many report as feeling like one is floating effortlessly in space.
The exact concentration of Epsom salt and water are added to exactly offset the weight of the human body, hence the term floating in space is almost identical to the experience one would have in an anti-gravity environment.
Floatation benefits for muscular recovery
Following exercise or muscular strain, the natural responses of the body produce a range of chemicals, signalling the fact muscle injury has been sustained. Although natural, this response can inhibit recovery times, as the body enters into a protective phase before beginning recovery and repair of muscular and joint tissue.
The chemical signals which inhibit the repair process are known as Cortisol, ACTH, Lactic Acid and Adrenaline. The effects of these chemical signals can last long after the initial stressful event (following exercise or initial injury).
Studies on individuals following floatation sessions have shown a reduction in the release of these stress signals, while increasing the release of endorphins, greatly reducing the response to pain and injury, hence allowing the recovery process to commence.
Athletes report an increase in athletic performance following using a floatation tank. Effects on the body’s functions have shown a reduction of blood pressure, slower and more stable heart beat rhythm as well as an improvement in overall oxygen uptake and utilisation of oxygen efficiently within the body.
Psychological benefits of floatation therapy
Neuroscience has identified four main brainwave states which we experience throughout each day. These are known as Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. When awake throughout a typical day, the brain normally operates within the Beta state, which is detectable by brain wave signals of between 12Hz and 38Hz. When the brain is about to sleep, or just waking following sleep, the brain waves associated with this period are known as Alpha waves, which operate between 8Hz and 12Hz. Theta waves operate between 4Hz and 7Hz. They are known as the pre-sleep state and provide the most beneficial mental processes for psychological and physical recovery. This state is associated with a deep relaxation and hypnotic state of consciousness, where the brain is not in absolute sleep, however proceeds towards non-detection of the senses. This state is the most beneficial to mend the body and reset the mind. Once in a deep sleep, the brain waves are known as Delta, with a range of 0.2Hz and 3Hz.
Floatation tank usage within an environment of complete sensory deprivation, is known to produce long periods of Theta brain wave states, much longer than one would normally experience while sleeping. This phase is associated with release of endorphins and the entering of the body into a state of hypnosis, where by thought processes are altered although the body is still awake. The psychological benefits and physical benefits of prolonged rest within the Theta state are the key behind the benefits seen in floatation therapy.
Regular use of floatation therapy (3 sessions or more) have shown to improve the synchronisation of both the left and right sides of the brain, promoting a sense of mental clarity, improved learning, improved creativity and an improved alertness to both psychological processes within the mind and observations in the external world.
Research from floatation therapy sessions show dramatic decreases in anxiety, stress, depression and negative thought processes, with increases in areas such as optimism, energy levels and a positive mental state.
What to expect when seeking to partake in floatation therapy
When seeking out a floatation therapy provider, the types of tank often make a big difference, as does the maintenance and proper function of the tank in terms of salt concentrations and water heat maintenance. If the tank feels too hot, some prefer to open the entrance of the tank slightly to allow some colder external air to flow in. This is usually not a problem provided the company you choose has dedicated features, such as completely enclosed floatation rooms, where by you can turn off the light within the room, allowing the tank to remain slightly open without upsetting the sensory deprivation benefits of a no light environment. If an individual finds the tank too cold, it is recommended to remain within the tank with the top closed for at least 15 minutes, as the heat of the water in the enclosed space will begin to humidify the air to around the same temperature of the salt water solution.
When you first enter a floatation session, it often takes individuals around 15 minutes to completely calm the mind down to a theta type state. The novelty of the first float may take some adjustment, as you learn how to keep your body still without floating into the sides of the tank. You may also take some time to find the most comfortable floating position. After the first session, most people show noticeable and reported benefits, however the full benefits are often not completely felt until after the third session.
Professional floatation therapy providers often supply customers with a fully enclosed floatation room, giving complete privacy, allowing for both the room and tank to be completely free from light, and contain a shower which you can use before and after the session. Ear plugs should be fitted before showering, as they can be difficult to place in your ears if they are wet. Ear plugs must be used to prevent salt from entering the ears. Other parts of the body are fine however you will need to shower following your session to remove the Epsom salt. If you have any small cuts or rashes, apply some petroleum jelly to those areas to prevent them stinging. The Epsom salt solution is extremely beneficial to the skin, so if you can put up with a slight stinging for the first 10 minutes of your session, you may prefer to go without applying petroleum jelly. Most providers will supply you with ear plugs and petroleum jelly to use in the floatation rooms.
It is imperative to avoid caffeine, tobacco and other stimulants for at least two hours prior to a flotation session.
Most people prefer a one-hour session to begin with, and may opt for further one hour or two hour session following this. Individuals wishing to maximise their individual experience can arrange for a custom session of four or more hours, as is used by many professional athletes following an intense series of training, along with those wishing to obtain an experience of absolute peak mental performance.