Floatation Therapy, Sensory Deprivation Tanks & The Medical Benefits

Image: urbanfloat

The first floatation tank was developed by neurophysiologist Dr John Lilly as early as 1950 who was intrigued with human consciousness and its origins within the brain. The initial developmental stages revolved around creating an environment where the brain was completely devoid of any external stimuli, in order to assess whether or not a conscious state was independent of peripheral activity.

In our daily lives our brain is blocking over 90% of external stimuli from the environment around us which we are not consciously aware of; such as gravitational pull, temperature regulation and clutter in our vision and hearing. Floatation tanks remove as much external stimuli from the environment as possible, allowing the energy usually expended on blocking these stimuli to be redirected and allocated to more focussed, creative tasks. There is extensive research to indicate that floating allows the brain to enter a theta state, only reached in the few moments where you drift off to sleep between alpha and delta, completely free from any distractions. It is at this time that the brain is capable of doing its highest level thinking and problem-solving utilising the same brain waves as REM sleep.  The silent black environment creates a calmness inside the mind, allowing our right hemisphere (the creative part of the mind) to be more active and produce a surge in dopamine, a well known neurochemical linked to feelings of euphoria, happiness and wellbeing.

A person floating with their arms raised inside an open floatation tank glowing turquoise

When the brain is working in theta waves it allows a retrospective processing and learning, allowing us to incorporate the experiences of our day into our ‘self’ to aid development. Increasing the amount of time spent in this state not only allows us to enhance our own identity but to be more creative and aware.

Studies Measuring EEG signals in the brain of floaters have shown that activity is shifted from the normally dominant left side to create a more balance picture of energy expenditure between the right and left side. Modern day tanks are beginning to incorporate audio and visual equipment. Floaters will be able to study a huge variety of skills and absorb information much more effectively whilst floating.

A brain MRI scan

The floatation tank,

The tank growing in popularity today has transformed from one requiring complex underwater apparatus to something you could make in your home with a water temperature regulator, air pump and filter for Epsom salts.

The mental and physical benefits of floatation come from the combination of weightlessness, a meditative, theta, state and the magnesium salts. There is extensive evidence to suggest floatation in combination with muscle strengthening activities can lead to much longer pain free periods in patients suffering from spinal conditions or chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.

A mindmap diagram showing the benefits of floatation for the mind and body

Epsom slats not only have external effects such as strengthening your hair and nails and skin exfoliation, they also naturally relax the body by detoxifying heavy metals which often accumulate in the joints causing pain and tension. Floatation is increasingly being used by athletes as part of their recovery process, utilising the power of Epsom salts to remove lactic acid and speed recuperation time. The salt and water composition of the tank is such that the body can effortlessly float, removing the normal gravitational forces on the brain and nervous system. It also frees rigidity in the body by alleviating stressors from pressure points allowing the natural length to return to the spine and increasing blood circulation around the body aiding muscle repair.

Floating has been used by professional athletes from as early as the 1980’s, notably, the Australian Institute of Sport has incorporated it into their olympic athletes training regime for the last 35 years. It is not only the physical effects detailed above that make the therapy appealing but also the mental results, producing the desired ‘cool synchronicity of mind, body and emotion which is the hallmark of a champion’.

A floatation tank, glowing from the inside. Looks like a white space ship

Whilst there are common benefits to floating such as relaxation and relief from daily ailments, each individual can tailor the experience to their own needs, be it pain relief, de-stressing or emotional needs.

There have been several studies looking into floatation and its effectiveness as a relaxation technique in order to reduce stress-induced sick leave in the workplace. A New Zealand study found that treatment with floatation therapy significantly reduced perceived stress, using a Mood Adjective Checklist, anxiety & depression, measured by HADS, in comparison to controls. It also found that a total of 12 floatation sessions improved both perceived sleep quality and optimism.

Negative emotions are greatly reduced and floaters may find themselves less dependent on things such as smoking, alcohol or overeating after prolonged floatation therapy. Researchers believe these effects are a consequence of higher endorphin production following floating.

‘cool synchronicity of mind, body and emotion which is the hallmark of a champion’

It is certainly an interesting field of research and there are many avenues left to be explored.

Look out for our follow up on our own personal experience of floatation therapy in the coming months.

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The first floatation tank was developed by neurophysiologist Dr John Lilly as early as 1950 who was intrigued with human consciousness and its origins...
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