Humans have been floating our entire lives. We floated in the womb. We float in the bathtub. We love floating down at the lake. We float in the salt water when we’re at the beach. We float in the swimming pool. Floating takes it to the next level. Floating in a Float ES is an individual therapeutic bath for the purpose of cleansing like no other therapeutic treatment.
There is no feeling of hot or cold, just a warm blanketing effect that removes all of the sensations of your skin. When you open your eyes you realize that there is no stimulation of light, open-closed there is no difference. This allows your mind the freedom to clear, relax, focus, and generate clarity. There is something to “nothing”.
History and Research on Floating
John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuro-psychiatrist, developed the flotation tank in 1954. During his training inpsychoanalysis at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Lilly commenced experiments with sensory deprivation. In neurophysiology, there had been an open question as to what keeps the brain going and the origin of its energy sources.
One answer was that the energy sources are biological and internal and do not depend upon the outside environment. It was argued that if all stimuli are cut off to the brain then the brain would go to sleep. Lilly decided to test this hypothesis and, with this in mind, created an environment which totally isolated an individual from external stimulation. From here, he studied the origin of consciousness and its relation to the brain.
Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie of the University of British Columbia began experimenting on the therapeutic benefits of flotation tank usage in the late 1970s. They named their technique “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST).
Research into floatation therapy (as opposed to just the effect of isolation) began in the USA at Ohio State University where floating was shown to improve creativity in Jazz musicians, accuracy in rifle shooting, focus before academic examinations and stress relief, among others.
Research in Sweden has demonstrated the therapeutic effect on stress and pain. The technique takes advantage of an atavistic ability that seems to be common to all humans to relax when floating at a comfortable temperature. The temperature is that which allows natural heat generation to escape without the need for muscle action to raise body temperature in homeostasis.
The floating posture, usually the supine position (although the prone position with chin supported on elbows is recommended for pregnant women), allows all the postural muscles to relax. The water pressure on the immersed skin is lower than the blood pressure and thus blood flow continues in skin capillaries. This is in contrast to normal bed rest where local contact pressure inhibits blood flow requiring regular adjustment of posture. When people cannot adjust their posture in bed, e.g in some illnesses, bed sores can result. When floating there is no tendency to adjust posture and a person can float immobile for many hours.
The natural tendency of the body in the floating posture at the correct temperature is to dilate the blood vessels, reducing the blood pressure and maximizing blood flow. The brain activity normally associated with postural muscles is reduced to a minimum. In this state, which we can call the floating state, natural endorphins are released reducing pain. Lactic acid removal is accelerated. Flow in the lymphatic system is increased.
Types of Sessions
A therapeutic session in a flotation tank typically lasts an hour. For the first forty minutes, it is reportedly possible to experience itching in various parts of the body (a phenomenon also reported to be common during the early stages of meditation). The last twenty minutes often end with a transition from beta or alpha brainwaves to theta, which typically occurs briefly before sleep and again at waking. Many use the extended theta state as a tool for enhanced creativity and problem-solving or for super-learning.
Flotation therapy has been academically studied in the USA and in Sweden with published results showing reduction of both pain and stress. The relaxed state also involves lowered blood pressure and maximal blood flow.
Floating can be passive or active, depending on the purpose. For relaxation, one simply floats and ‘clears the mind.’ Active floating has many different techniques.
One may perform meditation, mantras, self-hypnosis, utilize educational programs, etc. The idea of active floating is that, when the body is relaxed, the mind becomes highly suggestible and any action taken during these states will enter the information into the sub-conscious. Flotation therapy may be used to complement other body work and healing methods.
The Effect on Stress
Perceived stress can be correlated with increased levels of cortisol and in floatation therapy there is a natural tendency for cortisol to be reduced. For this reason Floatation therapy is one of the few non invasive techniques available to manage stress when it is a factor in reducing a person’s ability to cope with normal life. Floatation therapy is a fast technique in this respect. The Swedish research was based on 40 minute float sessions. This compares well with other management techniques such as long vacations. There are many similarities with the age old long hot bath, the differences being that in floatation therapy the temperature is maintained at the correct level and the bath is large enough to float without touching the sides of the bath.
Most float tanks use epsom salt, Magnesium sulphate (sulfate), in high concentration so that the relative density of the solution is about 1.25. This assists floating particularly making the head buoyant so that the nose and mouth are well out of the water for breathing. It has recently been discovered that there is a secondary effect which is important to floatation therapy. Magnesium is absorbed through the skin thanks to a natural skin transport mechanism. This tends to correct a common deficiency. Magnesium is absorbed from the diet but in many areas of the world over cropping without adequate replacement of magnesium makes the normal diet low in Magnesium. The body naturally optimises the levels of magnesium, so there is no over load effect from floating in the salts for extended periods.
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Tank Usage and Design
Epsom salt/ water solution is created with a raised density above the density of the human body, so that the subject floats with his or her face above the water. However, since the ears are submerged when the subject is in a relaxed position, hearing is greatly reduced, particularly when ear-plugs are also used. Skin sensation is greatly reduced because the air and water are the same temperature as the skin, and the feeling of a body boundary fades. The sense of smell is also greatly reduced.
Generally users of the therapy enter the pool nude. Although a swimsuit may be worn, the elastic material of a tight-fitting suit can create uncomfortable compressed stress points on the skin during the session. Due to the high epsom salt content the water is minimally changed and all users are expected to shower, soap up, and rinse clean prior to entering the tank. Bathing is again needed after a session to remove excess epsom salt from the skin.
The therapy device uses a circulating surface skimmer, cartridge filtration, and disinfection means, including ultraviolet sterilization and chemicals to keep the water free of microbes and sediment. A ring heating system can be used around the outer walls of the tank to warm the water so that it rises up the outside edges of the pool, travels towards the center, and then sinks under the tank user. This very slow water convection flow helps to keep the user centered, without them floating to the side and bumping into the walls during long float sessions. However, when the floater is still, the small waves caused by breathing also tend to center them in the solution regardless.
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