What is floating?

A float tank is a small shallow pool filled with water nearly saturated with Epsom salt, so it's dense like the Dead Sea. You float completely effortlessly. The tank is kept warm, body temperature, and it's enclosed so it's completely dark and quiet.

It's your own private world. It's utterly relaxing.

“I didn’t just feel relaxed, I felt like the giant baby at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.”

Justin Moyer, Washington Post

But I'm not good at relaxing.

That might mean you get the most benefit of anyone! Flotation REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy) triggers your physiological relaxation response directly, so you don't need to meditate or focus or manage your thoughts in any way. You just float ... and relax.

I really don't have to do anything?

Nope. The super-dense water and dark, quiet environment take care of everything for you. You just float.

There's this ironic thing where the people who most need to relax have the most trouble doing so. Floating helps you out a lot.

“I emerged in a profound daze. I spoke slowly and quietly, like a smooth-jazz DJ, to the person at the spa desk who inquired how my session had gone. I felt more rested than if I’d slept for 16 hours on a pile of tranquilized chinchillas.”

Seth Stevenson, Slate

What does it feel like?

There's no universal float experience, though generally it is soothing and restful. Sometimes you can completely lose track of time, sometimes you feel tranced-out, sometimes your brain gets full of creative ideas. Sometimes there are even visions.

When you're in the tank, you're alone with yourself, and your experience will depend on your mood, your stress and fatigue levels, and a bit of the randomness of dreams.

Isn't this sort of weird?

We were sceptical at first, too. But it was developed in universities sixty years ago, and the science behind it is by now well established (if never as complete as we'd like). Floating is popular on the West Coast, from Los Angeles to Vancouver, and in Canada, England, Australia, and parts of Europe. The country of Sweden, not much bigger than Massachusetts, has 120 float centers.

It's really taken off across the country in the last few years.

“The way you physically feel afterwards is like getting a massage, doing a full workout, and getting 8 hours of sleep all at once… Until you try it, you won’t understand what I’m talking about.”

Daniel Finfer, Ancient Lasers

Floating has a lot of benefits, then.

There are so many! We live in an overstimulated, overstressed, non-stop world. Our brains need downtime.

Medicine is discovering so many ways that stress harms our bodies. Floating is one of the most powerful relaxation techniques known. It reduces anxiety, and improves your sleep for days afterward. And it has virtually no side effects (apart from salt in your hair).


I heard about sensory deprivation. Isn't that a CIA thing?

Not the way we do it. Anything, even floating, can be unpleasant if you're forced to do it. But at FLOAT you're in complete control. It's completely safe. You can get out any time. The door doesn't even have a latch.

Someone said it makes you trip out.

“My right shoulder twitches. My left calf muscle. It’s like those involuntary muscle twitches you get right before you fall asleep. Except that I’m not falling asleep, I’m waking up. Or letting go. This body doesn’t seem to belong to me. Muscles are releasing like the first raindrops of a quickening spring shower.”

Meehan Crist, Nautilus

There is a trance-like altered state associated with floating — it feels a bit like that drifting feeling when you're half asleep. Hallucinations are possible, but usually mild. A bit of swirling color, or a feeling like you're flying through space. It can be interesting, but it doesn't happen all the time. And if you want you can stop it instantly by opening the door.

Isn't it claustrophobic?

A lot of people have that reaction before they try it, but it’s very rarely a problem. For one thing, the tank is actually much bigger on the inside than you might think, and you can sit up and move around easily. And if you want, you can leave the door cracked or wide open with a light on — some people find that helpful. The key to remember is that you’re in total control of the experience.

Could I just put some Epsom salt in my bathtub and turn out the light?

Baths can be great, of course, and far be it from us to discourage you. A float tank is like that, but turned up to eleven. Your bathtub will get chilly quickly, while our tanks are kept warm. Your bathtub is probably not big enough to stretch out in — our tanks are eight feet long. They take 850 lbs of salt so that you really float. And your bathroom is probably not really soundproof or lightproof. Our tanks are so dark your eyes can be open or closed, doesn't make any difference.

More information on floating

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. In a flotation tank, the theta state can last indefinitely without the subject losing consciousness. Many use the extended theta state as a tool for enhanced creativity and problem solving or for super learning. The more often the tank is used the longer the theta period becomes.

Spas sometimes provide commercial float tanks for use in relaxation. 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 maximum 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. 

Flotation therapy is therapy that is undertaken by floating in a warm salt water in a float tank.

Flotation therapy developed from the research work of John Lilly although he was not primarily interested in therapy, rather in the effect of sensory deprivation on the human brain and mind.

People using early float tanks discovered that they enjoyed the experience and that the relaxed state was also a healing state for many conditions including stress, anxiety, pain, swelling, insomnia and jet lag.

As a result float tanks were produced for commercial uses and commercial float centers offering flotation therapy opened in several countries during the period from 1980 to the present day when there are hundreds of flotation centers in dozens of countries. In almost all cases these float centers offer wellness treatments and in particular the release of stress.

Research into flotation 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 innate, natural inclination 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[citation needed]. Lactic acid removal is accelerated. Flow in the lymphatic system is increased.



The effect on stress

Perceived stress can be correlated with increased levels of cortisol and in flotation therapy there is a natural tendency for cortisol to be reduced . For this reason, flotation therapy is one of the few noninvasive techniques available to manage stress when it is a factor in reducing a person's ability to cope with normal life. Flotation 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 flotation therapy the temperature is maintained at the correct level and the bath is large enough to float without touching the sides of the bath.

The effect of the salt

Most float tanks use Epsom salt, magnesium sulfate, in high concentration so that the relative density of the solution is about 1.25. (Lilly recommended 1.3 but this requires operating very close to saturation with the risk of re-crystallization). The density 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 flotation therapy. Magnesium is absorbed through the skin due to natural molecular diffusion. This tends to correct magnesium 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 optimizes the levels of magnesium, so there is no overload effect from floating in the salts for extended periods.

It is noted that there is no "flotation therapist", although there is a need to instruct the floater and need to maintain the equipment in a safe condition. However, flotation therapy is compatible with other therapies as a preparation or conjunct activity. Examples include massage, talk therapy, and hypnosis.

Flotation requires a soundproof and lightproof fiberglass enclosed float capsule (sometimes referred to as float tank or spa - approximately 8 feet long by 4 feet wide by 4 feet high) filled with heated water (to skin temperature of 94-95 degrees F) and a very high concentration (800 lbs.) of Epsom Salts. The resultant high density allows ones body to float naturally and spontaneously without effort. Even the head floats. The center of buoyancy and the center of gravity of the head are in about the same place so you can tilt your head back comfortably without fear of sinking.

Due to the high salt levels in the water, the flotation tank creates a zero gravity environment. Unless you are an astronaut the flotation tank is the only situation you will encounter where your body is free from gravity. NASA employs flotation to stimulate weightlessness. Zero gravity allows you to relax every single muscle, your neck, arms, back, and even ears. The tank enables you to find those areas you are holding tense so you can let go. Finding where gravity is and in which direction, then computing how you can move and not fall over, takes about 90% of your brains activity on a daily basis. When you start to float you are free from all the gravity computations and the physical world, which leaves the brain free to attend to other matters. The tank creates a state of sensory relaxation as the mind and body are shielded from all the external stimulation. The brains normal workload is reduced by up to 90%. In this situation, the body conserves energy and has a chance to heal and rejuvenate itself.

Floating in darkness allows areas of the brain which are always in use when awake to be liberated from their work. Tests have shown that there is a drop in electrical activity of the brain and you begin to generate theta brain waves, which are associated with deep relaxation. The darkness during floating also induces a balance between the left and right brain. There is a shift from the normally dormant left side of the brain (logical, analytical, rational) to the right side (intuition, mental clarity and creativity).

For the first time both sides of the brain are in harmony and the balance creates allows you to use huge amounts of previously unavailable brainpower.

One of the major sources of stimulation in humans is the temperature gradient change on the surface of the body. Temperature inside the float tank is isothermal over the surface of the body so that the nerve endings covering the surface of the skin no longer perceive a separation between the skin and the solution inside the tank.

The flotation tank is soundproof. During floating, you may choose to wear earplugs, your ears are below the surface of the solution, which cuts out external sounds. Some people find that gentle music from underwater speakers helps them to relax.


Excerpt from Float for Health

Flotation has been in the news everywhere. In the present age, more and more people are becoming conscious and aware of their wellness.

In Europe, Flotation is a norm of life for everyone, from business people, students, moms to be and sports personalities, they are all frequent visitors of their favorite floating center. They use Flotation as a practice towards a healthy lifestyle.

From local news to CNN International news give cheers to Floating towards good health.

When you get to the tank, open the door just to feel the weight of it. It is very light. If you close the door while inside the tank, it is completely dark and that may be disorienting. When you get in and before you lie down, open and close the door several times, noticing how it feels different from the other surfaces . If you try to open the door and it doesn't open, it's not the door.

Many people have some fear or concern before they use the tank the first time. Fears such as being alone in the dark, drowning, not having enough air, claustrophobia, and others. The fears are usually the thought or the idea that YOU won't be in control of the situation, but in this situation you are totally in control. You can go in and out of the tank as you please. You can use the tank with the door completely open, you can keep it partially open, or you can close it. There is no particular way to use the tank that is more correct than another. Any way you use it, that is comfortable for you, is correct.


The tank is not air-tight

The tank is designed so that it is not airtight. You'll have plenty of air. To keep the tank air fresher, an air circulation system brings additional air from the room. The air enters at the rear of the tank. You may want to lay at that end.


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