I floated today. Stepped into a salt-filled pod, shut the pod door, and bobbed away. This year being my year of trying new things and focussing on inner wellbeing, when I saw an advertisement for a new floatation pod clinic opening around the corner from me, I knew it was a sign that I had to book in. And I’m pretty excited that I did.
Floatation/flotation therapy. Tank therapy. Sensory isolation. Sensory deprivation. Sensory deprivation tank. Float tank. Floatation tank. Isolation therapy. Isolation tank. Isolation tank therapy.
There are so many names for exactly the same thing: floating. And in this post, I’d like to talk a little about what floatation therapy is and how it came about.
While this may seem like a crazy new alternative therapy, it’s not. Floatation therapy has been around for some time. I mean we all know about the Dead Sea. It’s the world’s biggest and best known hypersaline lake, a landlocked lake that has really high concentrations of minerals and saline levels that are higher than ocean water (Quinn & Woodward, 2015). People have been visiting its waters and taking advantage of their high salt content for centuries. And it’s because of those concentrated salt levels that we are naturally buoyant when we enter them. I’ll tell you what, after this floating experience, I really want to visit and experience that buoyancy first hand.
Moving on from nature, the first isolation tank was created in 1954 by John C. Lilly, an American physician and psychoanalyst (Lilly, 2007). He wanted to study the effects of sensory deprivation. Over time, his design and method was refined, and it wasn’t long before people heard about his tank. Glenn Perry, a designer, was mentored by Lilly and designed the first ever commercial float tank in the 1970s (Floatation Tank Association, n.d.). Since then, their use both commercially and privately has grown, which is why I found myself in a float tank this afternoon.
So how does it work?
In his book, The Book of Floating, Michael Hutchinson (2011) outlines seven theories on how floatation heals physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. His first theory is that the Epsom salt concentration in the water produces an anti-gravity effect on the body. The weightlessness that is produced frees up our mental capacity and skeletal system from gravity, and allows us to be mindful of other matters. This certainly felt like it was the case for me, and my back and neck when I floated.
The second theory is that while floating our brains are able to increase their production of theta waves, which are linked to deep relaxation, meditation, or early stages of sleep. Another belief is that in the absence of external stimuli the left hemisphere of our brains turns off and allows right-brain functioning to increase. I know I definitely felt my internal natter becoming quiet, and I was able to focus on my heart beat and breathing.
Hutchinson’s fourth theory draws on research by Paul MacLean, chief neural researcher at the National Institute for Mental Health. His research suggests that there are three separate physiological layers of the brain that tend to be chronically dissociated, but floating is able to reconnect and re-harmonise these levels. The next notion is that while floating the levels of the chemicals that our brains secrete alter. Essentially, our brains pump out more happy hormones, like endorphins, while reducing our not-so-happy hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. I like the sound of this. Give me more endorphins!
The sixth theory is based on biofeedback research, which states that humans can learn to exercise control over every cell in their body. While in the tank and shut off from external stimuli, we are able to concentrate more on our bodies, tune in to this biofeedback, and control functions. The final explanation is that floating allows us to return our body to its natural homeostasis state. As there are no external threats to adjust our bodies to, we can just relax.
So there are a number of theories that people have as to why floatation therapy makes us feel so good. After my session today, I felt so calm and relaxed. Something this Type A personality doesn’t experience so frequently without concentrated effort.
This is definitely something I will be doing again. And I’ll tell you all about it…
Floatation Tank Association. (n.d.). History of FTA. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from http://www.floatation.org/aboutfta/history-of-fta/
Hutchison, M. (2011). The Book of Floating: Exploring the Private Sea. Gateways Books and Tapes.
Lilly, J.C. (2007). The Deep Self: Consciousness Exploration in the Isolation Tank. New York, NY: Gateways Books and Tapes.
Quinn, J.A., & Woodward, S.L. (Eds.).(2015). Earth’s Landscape: An Encyclopedia of the World’s Geographic Features. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Floating on the Dead Sea https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_float_on_the_Dead_Sea.jpg
I-sopod Floatation Tank https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I-sopod_Flotation_Tank.jpg