BY: Sandra Graham
I was recently given a gift….a lovely gift from a friend who felt I could use a treat to get me through a rough patch in my life. She gave me a coupon for a free float. No, not the kind with ice cream and pop which one would think of when thinking of “treat” and “float” in the same sentence. No, it was for a session in a flotation tank. These tanks are popping up all over the West Coast. I can’t speak for the rest of the country; perhaps they are in existence elsewhere, too.
She and I had discussed this one day. She is my massage therapist and while discussing stress and the detrimental effect it has on our bodies, she mentioned several of her customers had gone to a flotation tank and found it very beneficial. They claimed that not only was it physically soothing for muscle and joint pain, it tapped into the creative bits of their minds. The one fellow even claimed to discover the final ending to his novel while bobbing along in the hundreds of pounds of Epsom salts – a eureka moment flavoured by salt so to speak!
Always ready to explore something different in complementary therapies (full disclosure here – I had a very bad case of exczema cleared up through the use of Chinese herbal remedies when traditional Western medicine failed to work, I see a chiropractor regularly, used midwifery care before it was mainstream, and more), I did a bit of research and booked an appointment. Why not? There appeared to be no downside.
As mentioned, the flotation is provided by massive amounts of Epsom salts (up to 900 pounds) in about 11 inches of water. The water is heated to the same temperature as the surface of your skin so that when the water settles and you remain relaxed and still, you do not really feel the water anymore. You can’t tell where the water or your skin stop or start. But it is more than just the floating that provides the beneficial effects. It is the sensory deprivation that goes along with it. You are in complete darkness and complete silence (ear plugs are provided). This is called REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy ). All of these conditions together free a person from the sense of touch, pressure, friction, sound and light, resulting in an environment of complete peace and quiet.
Flotation therapy is credited to a neuroscientist and physician named John C. Lilly. He needed to create an environment in which all incoming sensory information was eliminated for a series of experiments and along the way discovered that REST had many other benefits. This was in 1956 and by the 1970’s a commercial design had been released which shares many common features of what is used today. Today, there are studies in place all over North America on the benefits of flotation on both the mind and the body.
Benefits for the body are said to include pain relief, increased immune function, increased relaxation response and stress resistance, enhanced healing, muscoloskeletal awareness, magnesium absorption, and heightened senses.
Benefits for the mind include meditation, behaviour modification, chronic stress relief, instrospection, and visualization along with other claims. When the mind is quieted from the infinite detritus of day to day life, you enter a meditative state. While floating, it is claimed that the brain moves into producing theta waves, the waves produced just between wakefulness and sleep. These waves are responsible for creativity, intuition and restorative sleep.
Armed with knowledge I went to try it out. Once I got past the idea of it being dark and quiet ( I have a tendency to experience claustrophobia,), I found it hypnotic listening to only the sounds of my heart beating and my breathe going in and out. I swear I could actually hear the transient heart murmur that I have been told I have, a soothing “whoosh” with every heart beat. You are in the float tank for 90 minutes. Now, this sounds like an incredibly long time but I could not believe how quickly that time went. Everyone says the same thing. It is like time is meaningless in there. I would love to be able to say I solved all my problems in there, but I cannot make a claim like that. What I can say is that it was very relaxing, it reduced a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders, it cleared my mind, it helped me in my meditation practice and that night, I slept SO well. It is well worth exploring if you have one in your area, as an adjunct therapy to things you may already be doing or just to experience it for the sake of trying something new. I liked it so much I booked another session for this Wednesday.
So, Maureen, while you are going through your surgery on Wednesday, “floating” in your own anesthetized way, I will be floating alongside you, figuratively of course. I will be sending much love and positive thoughts your way. Here’s to bobbing along in the sea of life and all that it brings our way – cheers and love ya!