This week I floated in a sensory deprivation tank for the first time! Known for their many health benefits, these deprivation tanks, or float pods as their commonly called, are one of the very few places that humans can go in modern day to escape light, sound and gravity. I had learned about deprivation tanks after reading an article a few years ago about Jerry Garcia, the lead singer of the Grateful Dead, floating in the 1970's while high on LSD (something that the inventor of deprivation tanks, Neuropsychiatry practitioner John Lilly had been doing since the mid 1950s). The pod is filled with about 12 inches of water warmed to body temperature that has a very high level of magnesium sulfate added to it, allowing the body to float toward the surface of the water. This sensation lets the body settle into a deep state of relaxation.
This form of alternative medicine claims to have a lot of health benefits, but from the reading I’ve done, it seems that most research studies on floating (sans LSD) have yet to be scientifically proven other than stress management. However, stress management and reduction shouldn't be overlooked. In today's world, we each carry a lot of stress in our bodies. Stress from daily events, excess body weight and physical injuries builds up inside of us over time, creating dis-ease in the body. Practicing or experiencing a frequent mode of stress and tension release, such as floating, massage therapy or acupuncture will help relax the nervous system and keep the body healthy. Other health benefits of stress reduction include improved mental and physical health, increase in patience, attention and energy; memory, focus and other brain functions improve; sleep becomes more restful; greater access to intuition, as well as reduces anxiety. Often for these results to become present in our lives, these modes of therapy need to become a prominent player in our weekly lives. Yoga, walking, swimming, hiking, meditation; these are all be therapeutic stress-reducers, too!
I should mention though, that our bodies are able to absorb magnesium topically, and magnesium is a great supplement for chronic aches and pains, sore joints, menstrual cramps, arthritis, and tight muscles. Unlike our modern day medicine, where most dis-eases in the body seem to clear up within 2-3 days of treatment, with alternative medicine, to see changes in the body takes time and consistent care. Say you were suffering from an intense headache at the nape of your neck: by popping ibuprofen to numb the pain, you are really masking the issue, like putting tape over your gaslight after it comes on while you're driving your car. Instead, you could ask a friend for a massage or even unroll your yoga mat and focus on postures that will work to help release the tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back.
The intention of floating in one of these pods is to relax and reset. When the body is in such a calm and relaxed state, the nervous system is able to let its guard down, allowing the body to come back to a steady state of equilibrium and begin to heal the internal body from prolonged stressors. Rarely do we allow ourselves to melt away from our habitual emotional, intellectual and physical holding patterns. However, when we do give ourselves and our bodies a chance to release into relaxation, our bodies will begin to heal themselves back to a healthy state.
After receiving the run down on the procedure, I stripped down and rinsed the oils from my body in the shower in the room; I placed the putty-like earplugs in my ears to help block out any sounds, and stepped into the pod. I had signed up for a 60-minute session (the shortest session this particular float center would allow). Floaters have the option of listening to soft instrumental music that plays in the pod, controlled by the stereo at the front desk, or to keep the colored lights on while they float. My curiosity for sensory deprivation bloomed and expanded as soon as my toes hit the water. I quickly turned both the music and lights off so I could finally see what this floating therapy was all about.
*(Side note: if you have any cuts or scrapes, be sure to apply a liberal amount of petroleum jelly to that area before jumping in; salt stings!)
It took my mind and body about 10 minutes to finally give in and relax. I often forget how much gravity and stress can weigh us down, over time. Often times, when I experience something so delicious as meditation, receiving a massage, going to a yoga class, or any other form of alternative medicine/ therapy, it takes my mind and body a good 10-15 minutes to settle in and start to relax. These modes of healing help me tap into the zone, as I like to call it, where my body is in sync with my breath, my mind is relaxed and present, and I begin to become much more in tune with my whole self. The same was true for this 60-minute float session despite all the stress in my life, including a big deadline for school coming up. Once in the tank I realized I was slightly dehydrated and my mind felt like it was going to take off into space, but changes started to happen right away. I began to experiment with some breathing practices that I had been using lately at the end of my yoga practices, in an effort to calm my body and slow my heart rate. My mind began to slow with each exhalation.
After about 15 minutes, I had a big realization with school. I had been stressing the last couple weeks about this big critical question that I needed to come up with so I could start writing this paper, and just like that, the question just popped into my head! I smiled, and then my body and mind went became even more relaxed. For the next 40 minutes or so, my body, breath and mind drifted into a gray space somewhere between consciousness and a deep sleep. I had entered the theta state, a state that is governed by meditation, deep relaxation, hypnosis, and REM sleep. I was floating.
Before I knew it, the lights and music started to come back on and my session had finished. Like at the end of a yoga practice, I slowly awoke my body, and opened up the pod. The saltwater that had splashed onto my cheek when I was getting settled in had dried onto my face. My skin and hair were so smooth; it felt like I had just stepped out of the ocean. After showering and getting dressed, I felt a glow wash over me. My entire body felt recharged and relaxed.
I will definitely float again. Personally, I think that this would be an excellent form of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) to do on a quarterly or monthly basis. The reading that I've done about float therapy says that most people experience the relaxing benefits beyond the day that they float. For the best results it's recommended that you float regularly, meaning once or twice a week. However, as I mentioned above, there are many ways to release the body of tension and seek out physical and mental relaxation. I will continue to explore this topic of somatic therapy from many more perspectives in the upcoming months.
Other than stiff joints or muscular tension that has built up, I think that this form of alternative therapy could also be a great approach to releasing any trauma that is being held in the body. If you suffer from claustrophobia or any type of neurosis or mental distress, there are float suites available at most floating facilities to better suit your needs and comforts. The suite style is more like a large shower, than a pod.
Like most trends this too is cyclical, returning from the 1970's, and has become a very popular form of therapy again in the last few years. If you don’t mind getting wet, I highly recommend trying it out at least once, just for experience sake. There really isn’t anything quite like it, with the exception perhaps of returning to our mother's womb.
In health and happiness,