I am extremely excited to share a new method of therapy with all my HFFG fans and my experience with this therapy! The benefits to our physical, mental, and spiritual health are immense and cannot be covered in a single blog post, but I’ll summarize them the best I can!
Float therapy, aka Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique or R.E.S.T. for short, was formally developed in 1954 at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington. Float therapy offers a myriad of health benefits that I will summarize below, as well as the cautions and things to consider.
There are many different styles of flotation tanks but they all generally have about 800-1000 pounds of Epsom salts.
The tank rooms are private. Some are pods that close and some are walk-in closet-type tanks (which I prefer). Some have the option to have a light on and some do not.
The concentration of salt is higher than in the Dead Sea, allowing your body to float effortlessly. With your head resting in the water, your ears are below the surface of the water which eliminates any noise distractions, the only thing you hear is the sound of your own breath.
The air and water temperature is maintained at skin temperature and the water is silky soft.
In many float tanks, the water is unchlorinated and filtered naturally without chemicals like bromines. (Be sure to call and ask your local float therapy room about this before floating.)
Floating in a flotation tank triggers a deep relaxation response, much deeper than normal sleep. It enables us to drift into the elusive Theta state, which is hard to achieve.
Theta waves, measured at 4-7 Hz, represent the brain in a state of REM sleep (dreams), hypnosis, or lucid dreaming. Theta is the twilight state just before sleeping and just after waking, the border between the conscious and the subconscious world.
Have you ever noticed how all of our most amazing ideas tend to come to us right before we fall asleep?! This is the power of the Theta state!
By learning to consciously use a conscious, waking Theta brain wave, we can access and influence the powerful subconscious part of ourselves that is normally inaccessible to our waking minds. While in the Theta state, the mind is capable of deep and profound learning, healing, and personal growth.
(Read below under My Experience for the spiritual and emotional experiences I had during my float therapy.)
There have been numerous studies conducted with college professors, college students, etc., that show an increased level of creativity and improved test scores after sixty minutes of float therapy.
In 2005, a meta-analysis further confirmed that flotation was more effective at reducing stress than other popular methods such as relaxation exercises, biofeedback or relaxing on the couch.
Because of the dopamine and endorphin levels that are increased during floating, your mood is boosted and most people experience a pleasant afterglow that lasts for days.
The physical benefits from flotation therapy have two mechanisms behind them–One from the physical action of floating and Two from the nutrients in the Epsom salts.
The parasympathetic response generated by float therapy is the mechanism by which the body naturally regenerates itself and maintains chemical and metabolic balance. Old wounds and injuries are allowed to heal faster. Increased T-cell production strengthens the immune system. This deep level of relaxation also benefits the cardiovascular system. Known as the vasodilatory effect, the body’s circulation is increased while the blood pressure and heart rate are reduced. Furthermore, the elimination of gravity on the body allows muscles and joints to release tension and heal more rapidly. For this reason, people suffering from musculoskeletal and rheumatic conditions greatly benefit from Floatation REST.
Epsom salts have been used to treat a variety of health ailments by numerous cultures for centuries. Epsom salt baths have astounding health benefits and are an excellent way to de-stress and detoxify the whole body.
Epsom salts are high in magnesium, and there is hardly a disease or health condition out there in which magnesium deficiency does not play at least a minor role.
Some common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- High blood pressure
- Low Vitamin D
- Unbalanced hormones
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Muscle cramps
- Eye twitching
- Chronic pain
Float therapy is commonly used as a primary intervention for disorders as diverse as high blood pressure, headaches, arthritis, insomnia, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia. Those suffering from intractable chronic pain particularly benefited from weekly REST sessions: their level of perceived pain dropped, their sleep improved and they reported feeling happier and less anxious. An ongoing project is investigating the use of flotation for fibromyalgia pain management with positive preliminary results.
I also recommend this therapy for those who may be experiencing adrenal fatigue/strain on their adrenals due to high stress.
Because of the high content of magnesium from the Epsom salts in a float session, I would personally recommend it to pregnant women with a history of pre-eclampsia and/or pre-term labor. It’s also a great way for women in their uncomfortable third trimester to alleviate some of the weight off of their hips, legs, etc. and improve their sleep before baby comes. (Click here to read more about float therapy during pregnancy.)
Float therapy often results in a much better night’s sleep for 3-5 nights after a float, sometimes starting the night of the float and sometimes not starting until the second night after the float.
I was nervous going into it. I knew that it would be hard for me to sit still for an hour. I doubted that I’d even be able to make it to the end of the hour in the tank.
I opened the glass door to go into the float tub. As I stepped my toes in the tank, I felt myself exhale and relax at the warm temperature and softness of the water.
I sat down and began preparing my mind to get the most out of this experience. I laid back and was surprised at how effortless it was for my body to float.
Then I worked to let my body fully relax.
My first stark realization during my float was:
Our minds are so busy and our bodies are so tight.
How often do we quiet our minds? How often do we truly relax our bodies. It took me the first 15 minutes of my float experience to truly release all muscles in my body and fully relax. Before that, I was still contracting muscles I didn’t even realize I was contracting.
Think of the physical, mental, and spiritual damage we endure without ever experiencing this kind of mental and physical release!
In my float experience, I realized just how rare it is for me (and likely millions of other people) to actually be completely free of distractions and to be in a situation where we can truly focus on eliminating the mental distractions that prevent us from truly listening to God. As I laid there trying to quiet my mind and let God speak, I found it difficult to turn off the alerts of the things I needed to get done this week or the emails I forgot to respond to or the appointment I need to cancel.
It took me at least 15 minutes of sensory deprivation to force my mind to eliminate all distractions. And even then, it was a continuous battle for another 15 minutes until I finally felt like I had entered the Theta stage. Because once the realization of complete deprivation of external sensory hit me, I realized I was starting to hyperventilate.
I knew I had to completely let go (physically and mentally) in order to get the most of this experience, and so I pressed on. I let my head be fully supported by the salt water; I listened to the sound of my breathing and controlled it; and I made sure every muscle was released. (I did turn off the light but quickly realized that I needed to keep it on for my first float experience.)
I prayed for distractions to be removed and for God to speak to me. And the words of a Switchfoot song popped in my head:
If you could let the pain of the past go
Of your soul
None of this is in your controlIf you could only let your guard down
You could learn to trust me somehow
I swear, that I won’t let you go
If you could only let go your doubts
If you could just believe in me now
I swear, that I won’t let you go
I won’t let you go
That is when I started feeling relaxed in a way I have never felt. (For those of you who have ever done smoked marijuana or got drunk, you may have felt something similar to this feeling. 😉 ) But my mind was quiet, so it wasn’t just a physical relaxation. I felt almost like I was sleeping but I wasn’t. My body felt kind of like a wiggling noodle but I knew I wasn’t moving around much at all because I wasn’t hitting the sides of the tank. I felt weightless. And I started to drift deeper and deeper into a sleep-like state.
Then before I knew it, the sunshine-like light came on, indicating that my time was up. As I started to sit up, I realized I felt woozy. Almost tipsy. And I was smiling uncontrollably. I wasn’t sure why, but I’ll take it!
I proceeded to the shower and then to blow dry my hair (it was -8*F outside that day), feeling so relaxed in all of my muscles that I had to sit down to get dressed and dry my hair. I applied a few drops of Present Time to allow me to hold onto the benefits I experienced. As I walked to the front counter, I still could not stop smiling.
Now I was always the one to reject drugs and alcohol growing up, and refused any medication during all six of my pregnancies, because I never like feeling under the influence of anything. I always wanted to be fully conscious and in control of myself. (I did experiment once or twice as a teenager and hated it for those reasons.)
For some reason, this feeling, while similar, was not like that. It was different. It was a feeling of peace and deep relaxation (mentally especially). It was very controlled in a way rather than uncontrolled. As soon as I pulled out my credit card, I knew that I had to do this on a regular basis. I am hoping in future experiences, I will begin to really experience more and more of God’s presence during my float sessions.
That evening, I couldn’t stop recollecting on my float experience, replaying it in my head. As I slept, I even dreamed that I won a free float therapy. Needless to say, I really look forward to implementing this therapy as a regular part of my wellness regimen.
Everyone’s experience will vary greatly, and each person’s subsequent float experiences will vary from their initial experience as well. The more you use flotation tanks the better it gets. Each flotation tank session is unique, and two floats are rarely the same.
- Drink lots of water; Epsom salt baths are detoxifying to the whole body, so it’s good to drink lots of water in the hours after a float. (I wouldn’t recommend drinking much beforehand as the urge to use the restroom will detract from the experience.)
- If you are claustrophobic, I don’t recommend avoiding float therapy but I recommend proceeding carefully. Look for a float room similar to the one I go to rather than a float tank. Make sure it has an optional light.
- If you have open wounds, you may want to avoid float therapy until the wounds are closed. If you just have one or two and they are fairly small, a waterproof bandage should work.
- Ear plugs can be worn for those who normally wear ear plugs in a swimming pool, but this can, for some people, be a distraction to the mind that can prevent achieving the Theta stage.
- Some float rooms have head rests that you can use at first before you are fully ready to let your head rest in the water. Otherwise, you can also use your hands placed under your head and then slowly move them away from your head as your head learns to float. If you experience head/neck tension during your float, this likely indicates that you are holding you head up instead of fully relaxing it. You can move your hands back underneath your head again until your head/neck fully relaxes.
- If you have a natural shampoo/conditioner/body wash you use, be sure to bring it with as well as your own towels if you want. (These things are available there usually but I prefer to bring my own.)
- You can also bring a bathing suit if you are uncomfortable being in your birthday suit. Some people get distracted by fabric and some people can’t fully let go if they are uncomfortable being naked, so it’s up to each person what works best for them!
- The water is salty, so do not rub your eyes once your hands are in the float tank! It is recommended to dry your face with a towel after your initial shower before going into the float tank. This prevents any urge to wipe remaining water droplets off your face while in floating and potentially getting salt water into your eyes.
Some people do fall asleep in subsequent floats, and there is no fear of drowning as the buoyant water will keep you afloat.
I strongly encourage those of you with available resources to give float therapy a try! Ask for it as a gift if you can’t afford it. Watch for Groupons and specials for a local float spa. We can all benefit from it in so many ways, especially in our busy world where we don’t quiet our minds enough to hear from God.
You can read more about the float place I go to in Monticello, MN here: http://apotheosisllp.com/float-room
Blessings of good health,
~Sara Jo Poff
Holistic Health Practitioner