All About Flotation Therapy
Wellness

All About Flotation Therapy & Floating

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From the title of this post you must already have questions! Flotation Therapy, is also known as a Sensory Deprivation Tank, Float Tank, Flotation Chamber, Float Therapy, or simply Floating. It introduced to me while living in Los Angeles as I was jumping into yoga with videos on youtube. I had heard all about floatation therapy on a Joe Rogan podcast (LISTEN HERE) and it struck my curiosity. As Joe and his guest, Crash, touted the benefits of floating I booked an appointment. I have since floated at several float centers and am here to tell you all about it.

You may have heard about flotation therapy from a friend or seen flotation therapy on TV. Altered States (1980), Fringe and Stranger Things have all featured flotation therapy tanks. Many of the pop references about floating are over drammatized and often seem scary. The floatation therapy experience is not at all like a scene from a sci-fi thriller. It is more akin to giving yourself a spa treatment. Basically, don’t be scared to try it.

So, what is it exactly?!?

Well, in short, you float in a tank that contains 200 gallons of water and 1200 pounds of epsom salt. The depth of the water is 11 inches (knowing how to swim is not necessary to enter a float tank). This makes for very dense, saline water so you become quite buoyant and float with no effort at all. The room and water will have been thoroughly cleaned & filtered and set at skin temperature. This creates an antigravity experience- like you’re floating in outer space.

The two aspects of Float Therapy are floating and sensory deprivation.

  • The floating: This can last a few minutes to several hours depending on how long of a session you booked.
  • Sensory deprivation: This is exactly what it sounds like — you’re isolated from sound and light

The experience starts like this:

you arrive at the float center 15-20 minutes before your appointment to read over informational materials and sign a waiver that basically says “If you slip and fall, we’re not liable.” Someone will give you a rundown of how to prep, what to do in the tank, what to do when you’re done floating, and answer any questions you may have. The float center likely provides towels, ear plugs, contact lens case, contact solution, tampons, and specific soap and shampoo/conditioner. You just bring yourself.

Here’s the rundown and all about flotation therapy:

About floating:

Humans have been floating and using sensory deprivation techniques independently of each other in meditation and therapy for centuries. It wasn’t until 1954 when an American neuropsychiatrist by the name of Professor John C. Lilly became interested in the effects of sensory deprivation on the human brain.

All About Flotation Therapy
John C. Lilly

John C. Lilly

John C. Lilly began experimenting on himself and building various float tank prototypes in the 60s. By 1972 the first commercial float tank was on the market. Initially, floatation therapy didn’t take off in the USA, though it did in Europe. With the AIDs scare in the 80s and 90s popularity of public pools, spas, and float tanks dwindled for fear of transmission. We now know that HIV/AIDs is not transmitted through the use of public water spaces, and in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in floatation therapy and it has once again come into the mainstream.

John was a mad scientist and a very, very strange man. You can read all about him, his experiments, work with dolphins, and his float journey & flotation therapy here and here.

Scientific benefits of floating:

Now that you’re familiar with the man behind float tanks, lets get into the benefits.

There are many so I’ll list a few of them right here:

General Wellness

  • Promotes total calm and peaceful relaxation
  • Eliminates fatigue and jet lag
  • Improves sleep
  • Alleviates stress (mental and physical)
  • Energises, rejuvenates and revitalises
  • Increases motivation, diminishes depression, anxiety and fear
  • Facilitates freedom from habits, phobias and addictions

Mental

  • Stimulates left/right brain synchronisation
  • Shifts brain waves from beta/alpha to theta and sometimes delta
  • Creates mental clarity, alertness
  • Increases creativity, problem solving
  • Heightens visualisation
  • Deepens meditation
  • Expands awareness, intensifies acuteness of all the senses, accelerates learning
  • Enhances hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis

Physical

  • Decreases the production of cortisol, ACTH, lactic acid and adrenaline
  • Increases production of endorphins
  • Speeds up rehabilitation and recovery
  • Relieves pain (arthritis, migraines, injuries and so on)
  • Boosts immune function
  • Improves circulation and distribution of oxygen and nutrients
  • Reduces blood pressure, pulse, heart rate and oxygen consumption
  • Improves athletic performance
  • Helps prevent sports injuries, speeds healing process

Float research:

Alleviation of Pain

REST-Assisted Relaxation and Chronic Pain

Flotation for the Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy for Chronic Tension Headache

Stress Relief

Preventing Sick-leave for Sufferers of High Stress-load and Burnout Syndrome: Combining Psychotherapy and Flotation Tanks

Frameworks of Influence by Flotation-REST Upon Well-Being in Patients With Stress Related Ailments

Quality of Life with Flotation Therapy for a Person Diagnosed with ADHD, Atypical Autism, PTSD, Anxiety and Depression

Mental Acuity, Accuracy, Creativity, Resolve

The Use of Sensory Deprivation in a Programme of Weight Control

Effects of Flotation REST on Creative Problem Solving and Originality

A Controlled Investigation of Right Hemispheric Processing Enhancement After (REST) With Floatation

Bonus:

Click here for an up to date spreadsheet of all published research regarding float therapy

Spreadsheet provided by Float Tank Solutions

Before you book your appointment:

Homer Simpson GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
  • Do not shave or wax 24 hrs before floating. The salt will sting any raw or open skin.
  • If you have recently dyed your hair: you’ll want to wait to float until you’re no longer leaching color onto your towels, pillowcase, and when you wash your hair.
  • Don’t have caffeine several hours before your float as it can make you jittery.
  • If you think you might get hungry, eat a light meal 1 hour to 1.5 hours before you float.

Pre-float:

All About Flotation Therapy
  • You’ll be escorted to your private float room.
  • Get naked! …and shower. You must wash your skin and hair (sans conditioner) in order to remove any body oils, sweat, residues, etc. Dry off thoroughly, especially your hands, hairline, and face.
  • If you’re a contact lens wearer, now is the time to remove them. The salt cannot harm your eyes, but it will ruin your contacts. If you do get salt in your eyes, it’s going to burn. A lot. Don’t freak out, just get out of the tank and rinse your eyes. You will be fine). 
  • Insert ear plugs (optional- I prefer no ear plugs)
  • If you’re menstruating please use appropriate sanitary care as to not leak menstrual fluid in the tank.

The float:

  • Now it’s time to float! Wearing a swimsuit in the tank is permissible, but most prefer their birthday suit.
  • There are many varieties of flotation tanks: box design, clam design, and an open room design (my personal favorite).
  • Step into the tank, close the tank door, unless you’re in an open room design. Then you sit in the water, and lay back. If the tank has lights and/or music those will usually turn off automatically after a few minutes.
  • Then you get to experience…nothing! Juuuuust kidding! while physically there won’t be much happening, some people say there is A LOT to see, hear, and feel. It’s just all in your head.
  • If you need to use the restroom during your float, get out of the tank and go to the restroom. Though the water is ultra filtered, don’t pee in the tank. Don’t be that person.
  • You will be notified via lights, music, or a light knock on the tank when your session is complete.

Post float:

All About Flotation Therapy
  • You can take your time to slowly awaken your body if you’ve been still for a while. This is very similar to savasana: when the teacher tells you to bringing awareness back to your body
  • Carefully sit up making sure to not get salt water in your eyes. There is usually a hand towel placed within arms distance so that you can dry your hands and face. You may feel disoriented like you just woke up from a nap.
  • After stepping out of the tank and drying off you shower again! This time you can use conditioner in your hair- thank goodness. Make sure to rinse your ears well as crystalized salt in your ears is not fun.
  • Some float centers provide a post float lounge with comfy couches, books, and tea. Take full advantage if they do. This gives you a safe space to come back into your self and discuss your experience if you wish.

My experience:

All About Flotation Therapy flower sc

Flotation therapy has been profound. Everyone can benefit from floating. Everyone.

But at first, I thought it was strange. It can be uncomfortable to sit with yourself without any other stimuli. This is a rare occasion for most of us in our modern society.  It is an excellent meditation practice, though. When I first get into the tank I like to lay still for a few minutes and enjoy the feeling of my body decompressing. This often feels like I’m melting away into nothing, or dissolving, in a good way.

After I have sufficiently melted I start doing some breath work. Recently I’ve enjoyed the Wim Hof breathing technique. I find this to be ultra relaxing. After a few rounds of breath work I start to incorporate some light stretches and movement.

Then, I do nothing… … …

Once I let go, or surrender, things start to happen! The mind can wander into thoughts and play back memories- I’m just a spectator in all of this. After my mind calms I begin see colors and patterns around the room, which is pretty cool! The only sounds I can hear are my own breathing and my joints popping. The pressure is alleviating and my body is decompressing and elongating. There are times it feels like traveling through outer space. Like stars zipping past me. And other times where it feels like I’m back in the womb, which is a pretty cool experience. Sometimes I fall asleep. Usually I am in between consciousness and sleep. This is known as the Theta state, which is normally very difficult to come into.

At the end of my float

I bring awareness back into my melted self. Once I have unmelted myself and returned to my body I exit the tank and take warm shower. At this point I feel like I’ve just woken up from a nap without the grogginess. After my shower I can still be slow- I don’t rush myself. If the float center has a lounge I make myself tea and utilize the comfy couches until I am awake.

After my float

I look different- upon looking in a mirror there is zero tension in my body and I am GLOWING! I notice the same with others who have just finished their float. The post float is my favorite part of the entire experience.

Lucky for me, my partner owns a float center, so I have a float tank to use at my leisure. Building and starting the business was quite the adventure! I am floating more these days and sometimes listen to music, or podcasts during my float with these underwater headphones. I find that my memorization and learning abilities are amplified during my float sessions.

Celebrities who float:

Floating is popular amongst pro athletes, Hollywood celebrities, entrepreneurs, you name it. Here is a list of a few famous floaters:

Joe Rogan – Podcaster, Comedian, MMA Fighter

“I think it’s one of the most incredible pieces of equipment for self-help and introspective thought that you could ever find. It’s been one of the most important tools for me in personal growth for understanding myself, how I am, and what effect I do have on other people.”

Jeff Bridges – Actor, Musician

“The whole idea of the isolation tank is to see what happens to consciousness when you take away or eliminate the input into your senses, so you’re in a box floating in salt water – with 1,000 lbs of salt, so you’re very buoyant. You can’t see anything, your ears are underwater, and you can’t hear anything. And what does the mind do? It’s so active, and it’s constantly projecting, like a movie screen.”

Kristen Wiig – Actress, Comedian

“The water’s the temperature of your body so you kind of really just feel nothing. And I was in there for an hour and 45 minutes. I didn’t realize I was in there that long…you come out and everything’s great…it lasts for a while, and your skin feels really good. I did it again.”

Tim Ferriss – Author, Entrepreneur

“I found it to be one of the most anxiety reducing experiences I’ve ever had”

Stephen Curry – NBA Player

“It’s an opportunity to relax, for one. And it obviously has some physical benefits as well, with [the magnesium in] the salt, being able to relax those sore muscles. But to get away from the demands and all the stimuli we have in the world and in our lives, that was the main draw. When I get in the tank, I lean back, try to take a couple of deep breaths, ground myself and commence the floating.

Then it’s just me and my thoughts for an hour, playing Russian roulette of the mind…I kind of see where my mind goes because usually that’s something I’ve been thinking about, or a decision I might need to make in my life. It’s refreshing to process what I thought about over an hour of floating, which are probably the most important things that are going on right now in your life. I have a very clear head when it’s done, and it shows in the days after floating. It gives me a nice boost of focus and perspective. The more I do it, the more I get from it.”

Anthony Bourdain – Author, Chef

“An hour in the tank and I’d come out relaxed, rested, my back feeling amazing, and in good shape to interact with normal, non-restaurant people. Interestingly, I found that for a day or two after floating, my experience of colors and flavors would be much more acute and intense. Reds were redder, blues brighter, and the taste of food more explosive. Lying in the tank, I’d feel like I was moving through space, my brain speaking to itself in an unfamiliar language.”

Russell Brand – Actor, Comedian

“It’s quite nice, like being in the belly of a whale…a cyber whale…it was really lovely.”

Closing thoughts:

Floating is a unique experience that I always enjoy. I can be rough on my body. With weight training, calisthenics, yoga, practicing viola, and every day movement, floating is completely rejuvenating. You now know all about flotation therapy. I hope that you can try it for yourself!

If you have tried floating leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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  • Nathalia is a bodybuilder-turned-yoga teacher on a mission to help powerful womxn regain balance & build their own version of wellness + confidence. In 2017 she launched nathaliafit.com, a fitness & wellness blog to help further this mission. She holds a master’s degree, two undergraduate degrees, and is an RYT-200 . She currently resides in Austin, Texas, USA with her partner and their rescue dog, Reishi.

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