While sensory deprivation tanks, or "floating"tanks are not new—the first sensory deprivation tank was developed in the 1950s by the NIH—the therapy has grown exponentially in the past five years, with floating centers opening in droves across the United States. Now it seems as though people fall into two minds about floating: there are those who dismiss it as wacky science, and those who will passionately proclaim floating as a cure-all. Floating is neither pseudo-science nor panacea, but it is a unique and worthwhile experience with some amazing physical and psychological benefits. Here's the low-down on floating and why you need to try it in 2018.
What is floating?
A float tank is essentially a bathtub of room-temperature water filled with enough magnesium salt (roughly 850 pounds per individual tank) to make you gently float. A typical float center will have several private rooms, each with its own float tank and shower. Upon entering the room—which should be at your body temperature, neither cold nor hot—you will take a brief shower, dry off, and put in wax earplugs to prevent waterlogging before getting into the tub. Once you're in, there will be a light switch on your side—floating requires complete darkness—and some gentle music to ease you into the tub (the same music will end your session). Floating in the tub, you will feel completely weightless.
It is disorienting to some to have such little sense of space—you hear, see, and feel almost nothing—but a divorce from all physical sensation is the point. At some point during your 60 or 90-minute session, you'll embrace it, and that is when the magic of floating happens.
Magnesium salt has a number of important physical benefits
One little known fact is that magnesium deficiency is often the hidden cause of headaches and poor sleep, in addition to other ailments like digestive issues and chronic pain. Floating is an easy way to give your body the magnesium it needs without having to ingest it, which can lead to an upset stomach.
Magnesium salt has a number of physical benefits, including balancing calcium levels, easing muscle aches, and relieving conditions such as chronic fatigue, migraines, and arthritic pain. In addition, magnesium, which is a natural detoxifier and long-considered the mineral for beauty by Chinese medicine, does wonders for your nails, hair, and skin.
Floating also eases the amount of stress on your body, including stress from an injury and the kind of routine stress that comes with everyday wear and tear. The weightless feeling you get floating in a sensory deprivation tank allows your spine to release, as you will need to use no energy to stand up straight or even hold up the weight of your head. This is a unique aspect of floating, and is especially beneficial for those of us who spend hours stooping to stare at a laptop or who have desk jobs.
Floating is as or more effective than meditation, and removes distracting stimuli for you
Studies have continually found that floating is as or more effective than meditation. It is much easier to achieve a state of Zen while floating, rather than while meditating, since floating removes distracting stimuli rather than requiring you to block out distractions yourself.
The Journal of Environmental Psychology has also found that floating leads to a reduction in stress hormones and blood pressure, as well as a decrease in activity in the area of the amygdala associated with fight or flight. Furthermore, this reduction was sustained for several weeks beyond the float session. One doctor is even convinced that floating is an effective treatment for psychological stress as severe as PTSD, and has used the treatment on war veterans. Other neuroscientists and psychologists have followed suit, exploring whether floating might be used to address more health issues than previously thought.
Of course, floating is also beneficial for those of us who are only in need of stress reduction, reflection, and relaxation. Spending 90 minutes to give your mind a break from physical and psychological stimuli is an incredibly refreshing exercise, and something that is increasingly valuable in a world in which we are saturated with negative news and increasingly tethered to social media.
So, while it doesn't look as though 2018 will be a calmer year, at the very least, you should try floating for a blissful respite that I guarantee you won't be able to get elsewhere. Don't know where to try it? Check out Floatation Locations website, which lists floating centers by city.