Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Floatation Therapy is a unique and powerful tool that is highly effective at combating chronic stress and its associated conditions. Floating is also incredibly enjoyable as it creates profound experiences of relaxation and wellbeing.
Floating combines the sensation of weightlessness with an experience known technically as Restricted Environment Stimulation Therapy (REST). Over 550kgs of Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulphate) are dissolved into a pool with water that is maintained at human skin temperature (35C). This super-saturated Epsom Salt solution creates an environment more buoyant than the dead sea and allows users to naturally float on the surface without any effort.
The effortless floatation frees the user from the effects of gravity, facilitating a deep relaxation of the body and a state of meditative calm within the mind. From a health perspective, meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, calm the nervous system and increase alpha wave patterns in the brain. Recent studies suggest that it dramatically improves the immune system by reducing anxiety, worry and stress. Regular meditation produces an increased number of antibodies and improves brain function as well.
During flotation the brain is freed from the constant demands of orienting the body in space (proprioception) and processing external stimuli. Freed from these two major cerebral demands the brain can slip into profoundly deep and rejuvenating states of relaxation which eventually leads to slower alpha or theta brainwave patterns.
The experience of floating also aids the body in reaching a state of homeostasis where various bodily systems are able to reset themselves and recalibrate for optimum function. Two such systems are the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, responsible for the fight-or-flight response and the relaxation response. Modern research has thoroughly documented how chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system by routine daily stressors is the hallmark of the modern stress epidemic.
Our stress response system was evolutionarily designed to keep us alive in the face of infrequent and transient physical threats, not persistent abstract worries. Over-activation of the stress response and the resulting flood of stress hormones creates the cascade of negative physical and mental effects commonly associated with stress disorders. When these negative factors persist over prolonged periods of time we end up with a whole host of chronic and degenerative disease conditions.
Various studies have shown floatation sessions to be an immediately effective and practical tool to reduce elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, as well as immediately lower blood pressure without any drug intervention, special techniques or training.
The intentional activation of the relaxation response through floating not only eliminates the negative effects of stress by reducing elevated levels of stress hormones and relaxing the nervous system. It also positively effects our biochemistry by naturally increasing pleasing and beneficial dopamine and endorphin levels, the combined effects of which contribute to a whole host of benefits including: increased performance, longevity, intelligence, memory and wellbeing.
In recent years scientists have been teaming up with modern contemplatives and buddhist monks to study the brain activity and neurology of healthy, happy and optimally functioning humans. Some of this research work has been conducted under the umbrella of the Mind & Life Institute, a collaboration between H.H. Dalai Lama and western research universities and organisations.
One of the prominent early findings from this body of research has come from work done studying brain wave patterns and their relationship to stress and general wellbeing. In brief, these researchers were able to identify the dominant brain wave frequencies that are induced in the brain during the tranquil experiences of deep meditation. Similar research studying the effects of flotation therapy on the brain conclusively show that it is able to rapidly induce the same alpha and theta brain wave patterns that are achieved by experienced monks after years of meditation practice.
In essence, flotation is a shortcut to a deep meditative state of consciousness that would otherwise only be attainable after prolonged periods of intentional practice and study. If there ever was a literal shortcut to enlightenment then surely flotation is it. It automatically induces the causes and conditions that lead to a deep inward experience of the mind. If this experience is coupled with intentional activity that directs the mind into productive utilisation of the experience then the results can be profound and life changing.
The human brain, removed from its protective shell(the skull) looks something like a large walnut half, deeply fissured and split into two parts by a deep central crevasse(corpus callosum). These two parts of the brain, known as hemispheres or lobes, are connected only by thick bundles of nerves. Historic studies caused excitement and astonishment by demonstrating that not only does each hemisphere of the cortex have its own train of conscious thoughts and its own memories, but that the two sides think or operate in fundamentally different modes. The brain is “cross-wired” to the body- with the right hemisphere controlling the left half of the body and the left hemisphere controlling the right half.
Neurologist Marcel Kinsbourne points out that the different hemispheres are not only specialised for mental processes but also that “it is now becoming increasingly clear that each hemisphere also supports a different emotional state.
The Left Brain- Thinks analytically, sequentially, logically with orientation in time.
The Right Brain- Processes information in a mostly nonverbal, simultaneous, intuitive, nonlinear, timeless, imagistic manner. It seems to be the seat of those flashes of insight that have been called the Eureka event.
Research into the brain waves of the two hemispheres of floaters indicates that floating increases right-brain function. Thomas Budzynski, who was engaged in EEG measurement of the hemispheres under varying conditions, made it clear that, “In a float condition, left-hemisphere faculties are somewhat suspended and the right hemisphere ascends in dominance.” The tank does not block or inhibit the left hemisphere, but simply changes its role from one of dominance to one of partnership with the other hemisphere, enabling floaters to use all their mental powers.
Synchronisation of brain waves, hemispheric harmony, is one explanation for the great increase of productivity, performance, and efficiency, and the generalised feelings of competence, confidence, and wholeness experienced by floaters.
All floaters know the feeling of closing the lid of the pod, floating into the void, and suddenly being able to hear every heartbeat, feel blood pulsing through veins - every physical sensation is magnified, and because there is no possibility of outside distraction, we are able to focus at will upon any part or system of the body.
Clearly the floatation tank is, as numerous floaters have discovered, a natural biofeedback machine. The faint body signals that we would ordinarily ignore, become powerful presences when we are in the floatation tank. In fact, evidence now indicates that conscious control over physical processes is gained more easily in floatation because intense awareness of internal signals is combined with the extraordinarily deep state of relaxation provided by the tank.
Researchers have consistently noted that the most important prerequisite for attaining control over any body function through biofeedback is relaxation. In the tank, deep relaxation and its accompanying intensified awareness of internal states come rapidly, easily, and reliably.
The positive effects of float therapy extends well beyond the time you spend in the tank. People have reported that they’ve handled stressful situations much better after frequent therapy sessions, which indicates a significant overall reduction in their cortisol levels. Sleep patterns and quality of sleep also improve vastly in individuals who regularly float, with a single, hour-long session in float tank equalling six hours of sleep – resulting in improved energy levels and optimised physical restoration.
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