Floatation Therapy or Floatation REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique) has been around for many years, since 1954 when John C. Lilly an American Neuroscientist built his first upright tank to study the effects of reduced sensory input on the mind. Instead of turning off, the mind stayed on and continued to have experiences independent of external sensory stimuli.
The floatation tank is a place to minimize the information coming into the sensory processing channels of the body, to be isolated from the stressors that await in the outside world. It can be used as a tool to re-programme our behaviour and improve our mental & physical health.
Floating is now being used by many top athletes and teams, including Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Novak Djokavic, Tom Brady (New England Patriots), The Australian Institute of Sport, The British Rowing Team and the US Navy SEALS among a number of others across the globe.
Here are 7 reasons why you should float,
1. Stress Reduction
Stress can have a huge impact on our lives, when we experience an abnormal amount of stress we can suffer from depression, anxiety, insomnia, decreased self-esteem, irritability, compromised immune system and impaired performance.
In our fast paced society stress management is of the utmost importance. Floatation therapy has been used successfully in clinical stress management and has been found to reduce blood pressure, cortisol levels, and other stress-related neuro-chemicals such as norepinephrine, adrenaline and ACTH (Turner & Fine, 1983; Turner & Fine, 1991; Dierendonck, 2005).
These neuro-chemicals are known to trigger the fight-or-flight response, which is great if we need to react quickly to life-threatening situations. But not when our body overreacts to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties. By eliciting the relaxation response, floatation therapy puts us in a calm, unshakable, steady, balanced, and totally concentrated state of mind that allows us to manage stress effectively.
2. Anxiety Relief
Previous research has presented floatation therapy as a tool to help reduce stress and increase relaxation. Although, many studies have used healthy subjects, only a few studies have surveyed floating for people with anxiety. Recent research published in PLoS ONE by Dr Justin Feinstein (2018), specifically noted how floating affects people with signs of stress, depression, and anxiety.
The study included 50 participants indicating a wide variety of stress-related symptoms and anxiety disorders such as social and generalized anxiety, panic, and post-traumatic stress. 30 healthy individuals also involved in the study offer context. After experiencing floatation therapy, 47 out of 50 patients felt floating could be an efficient intervention for minimizing levels of anxiety. As well as this, every participant requested to try the treatment again. Therefore, the study suggests that floating may be successful treatment for anxiety since after just one float participants mood improved and anxiety was reduced.
Floatation therapy has the ability to trigger the relaxation response in the body. The relaxation response, which is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response, impacts the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and slowing breathing.
3. Pain relief and pain management
There is a significant amount of evidence that suggests that float therapy is a useful option for people who deal with chronic pain. It can be an effective, all-natural treatment for many different types of pain, including muscle tension pain. For individuals managing muscle tension pain, the study ‘Effects of flotation-REST on muscle tension pain’ by Kjellgren et al. (2001) showed how floatation therapy drastically reduced the most acute perceived pain in patients, while those who had very low perceived pain saw no results. Participants also experienced lifted optimism, a better night’s sleep and a reduction in the degree of depression and anxiety due to treatment with REST therapy.
Athletes struggling with post-workout pain may also benefit from floatation therapy. After rigorous physical training, athletes often have trouble coping with pain caused by an increase in blood lactate. In a study by Morgan, P.M. et al (2013) which involved 24 college students, they observed how float therapy encouraged faster recovery and less pain after physical training by reducing blood lactate levels.
4. Sports recovery
For recreational exercisers and performance athletes it is incredibly important to recognize how to balance training, stress and recovery time. As it stands, there is no standard agreement on the amount of rest needed between training sessions. Nonetheless it was found that 1-2 days’ rest between sessions for the most untrained and trained athletes should be ideal.
Floating lowers the amount of recovery time needed decreasing lactic-acid levels, increasing blood circulation, and relieving the pain of injuries. Blood is free to circulate easily by relieving gravitational pressure reaching tendons, joints, muscles, and ligaments that may be tender or injured. This improved circulation enables your body to carry biochemicals and waste away such as lactic acid – a toxic by-product of glucose metabolism. During strenuous physical activity lactic acid gathers in the muscles and can cause cramping, tightness and pain. As well as minimizing the quantity of negative biochemicals and increasing the good ones, floating can help athletes with pain relief. Floatation does this via the release of endorphins, alongside greater awareness of painful areas holding knots and tension; allowing athletes to heal in good time and conquer fatigue. Morgan et al. (2013).
Floatation therapy offers undeniable health benefits by reducing recovery time and stress in an extremely relaxing environment, floating provides strong advantages to both high-level athletes and recreational exercisers.
For a long time, researchers have known that an athlete’s mental game plays an enormously crucial role in their performance. A study by Richardson (1998) effortlessly explains why floating works so positively to improve an athlete’s mental training. Richardson states: “Floatation-REST works to enhance athletic performance because it provides a profoundly relaxing experience in an environment conducive to greater amounts and better quality of sports-related imagery, planning strategic thought processes than possible in other environments”.
The tank guides the athlete to control each aspect of the sought-after athletic experience. The individual can go through the motions of match or technique, fully absorbed in visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory imagery.
In the study by Suedfeld & Bruno (1990), it was found that the true key to effective imagery is deep relaxation. Suedfeld also discovered that float tanks increase the clarity, intensity, production, and controllability of mental imagery.
For athletes determined to step up their mental game, clearly, floatation therapy is needed to enhance performance.
Floating can be great for creativity and for those who are having a mental block and need space to let their mind be free to formulate new ideas or to gain a new perspective on a particular issue.
In 1987, the University of British Columbia performed a research study on psychology professors who self-reported their own creativity. The tests were performed before and after floating, and they rated their ideas in a blind sampling 6 months later. The study found that professors came up with more ideas after floating, and that those ideas were generally more creative. Suedfeld, P., Metcalfe, J. & Bluck, S. (1994).
Studies were also done at the Karlstad University in 2008, showing a marked change in post-float brains in the areas of consciousness, cognition, imagination, and personality, Kjellgren, A., Lyden, F. & Norlander, T. (2008).
Floating resets the mind, in a sense, and makes it easier to concentrate and stay productive. These effects can last for days, helping you make creative leaps and stay on top of your game.
7. Altered states of consciousness
Floating can help you to access altered states of consciousness in a safe way with minimal effort required. In 2008, Kjellgren, Lyden, Norlander from Karlstad University ran a study focusing on the subjective experience of floatation and the extent to which an altered state of consciousness is part of this experience. They interviewed subjects from previous floatation studies to understand their view of their experiences whilst in the tank and their perceived after-effects.
They found a number of common experiences that regular floaters had experienced during the float sessions including, changes in their perception of time, visual and acoustic changes in perception, dissolution of body boundaries, increased creativity and transpersonal experiences (an experience of unified connectedness beyond the ego level).
The float tank provides the perfect environment to reach altered states of consciousness and explore your mind on a totally new level.
Whether you need mental & physical recovery, looking to improve your performance or need time to de-stress then I highly recommend giving floating a try. The UK/ROI Float Directory is a great place to find float centres near you. It can take a couple of sessions to get into it but once you do you will be hooked.
Statements included above taken from:
'Effects of Relaxation Associated with Brief Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) on Plasma Cortisol, ACTH, and LH' - John W. Turner, Jr., and Thomas H. Fine, Medical College of Ohio (1983)
'Restricting environmental stimulation influences levels and variability of plasma cortisol' - John W. Turner, Jr., and Thomas H. Fine, Medical College of Ohio (1991)
'Flotation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) as a stress-management tool: A meta-analysis' - Dirk Van Dierendonck & Jan Te Nijenhuis, University of Amsterdam/ Leiden University (2005)
'Examining the short-term anxiolytic and antidepressant effect of Floatation-REST' - Justin S. Feinstein, Sahib S. Khalsa, Hung-wen Yeh, Colleen Wohlrab, W. Kyle Simmons, Murray B. Stein, Martin P. Paulus, Laureate Institute of Brain Research (2018)
'Effects of flotation-REST on muscle tension pain' - Anette Kjellgren MSc, Ulf Sundequist MA, Torsten Norlander PhD, Trevor Archer PhD, Karlstad University Sweden (2001)
'The Acute Effects of Floatation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique on Recovery from Maximal Eccentric Exercise' - Paul M. Morgan, Amanda J. Salacinski and Matthew A. Stults-Kolehmainen, University DeKalb, Illinois (2013)
'Imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and restricted environmental stimulation: Enhancing Mental Training and Rowing Ergometer Performance Through Flotation REST' - Sean Oliver Richardson, The University of British Columbia (1995)
'Floatation REST and Imagery in the Improvement of Athletic Performance' - Peter Suedfeld and Talino Bruno, The University of British Columbia (1990)
'Explaining the effects of stimulus restriction: Testing the dynamic hemispheric asymmetry hypothesis' - Peter Suedfeld, G. Daniel Steel, Alistair B.C. Wallbaum, Susan Bluck, Nigel Livesey and Lorianna Capozzi, The University of British Columbia (1994)
'Sensory Isolation in Flotation Tanks: Altered States of Consciousness and Effects on Well-being' - Anette Kjellgren, Francisca Lyden, and Torsten Norlander, Karlstad University (2008)