What exactly is float therapy?
It’s all in the name. Designed to leave you completely alone with your thoughts without the distraction of sight, sound or gravity, a float tank is filled with around 1,300 pounds of Epsom salts (around a thousand times more than you’d put in your evening bath), which keeps the body buoyant without any physical effort. The temperature of the water is also matched to that of your own skin, blurring the distinction between where your body ends, and the water begins. Released from sensory stimulation, a session in a float tank has been likened to a supercharged form of meditation. “Float tank therapy is also known as sensory deprivation therapy,” Tom Euinton, founder of Float Hub tells SL. “By reducing 90% of the brain’s usual functions, it frees the mind and body to focus on repairing itself naturally – a bit like a deep, restorative sleep, though with greater effect.”
Aside from relaxation – what are the benefits?
In addition to providing a ready-made environment for instant stress-relief, floating can also boost health in other ways. In fact, studies show it can bring about positive physiological, psychological, behavioural and neurocognitive changes, including reduced muscle and joint pain, improved mood, deeper sleep, and boosted athletic and cognitive performance. “As you float, your levels of cortisol and adrenaline reduce, while dopamine and beta-endorphins increase,” explains Tom. “By rebalancing hormones, it can dramatically reduce stress, anxiety and insomnia as well as flush out lactate waste to boost muscle recovery. Float therapy is even used by navy SEALs to learn languages four times faster (it increases focus to encourage super-learning) and the England men’s football team had float pods installed at their training facility for this year’s Euro 2020 finals.”
What does the science say?
Flotation tanks aren’t just a fad – studies have shown they can decrease activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain linked to stress and anxiety. “There are countless studies which show the benefits of floating,” says Tom. “Head to ClinicalFloatation.com – a website dedicated to publishing research on float therapy – to find out more. And the Laureate Institute for Brain Research has led a great deal of research showing significant benefits that float therapy has for mental health.” To cherry pick a few, a 2018 study showed that a single one-hour session was capable of significantly reducing anxiety, and a 2016 study found it reduced symptoms of anxiety, including sleep difficulties, irritability and fatigue. Physically, float therapy is like a yoga class without the mat. Like yoga, research has shown that float therapy can decrease blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and lower your heart rate in the long term.
What happens during a session?
Most float sessions are around an hour, says Tom. “At Float Hub, you have your own private room with a shower, changing area and state-of-the-art pod for 90 minutes. While rinsing off in the shower beforehand, the freshly filtered solution will start to fill the pod. When you’re ready, get in and once the tub is full, pull the door closed – but it can also be opened at any point during your session. Our sessions start with a sunset programmed with relaxation music for the first five minutes to ease you into the session. As the sun sets and music fades, there is then 50 minutes of no light or sound. When there are five minutes to go, a sunrise accompanied by music will slowly lift you out of your session. Be sure to shower off the salt afterwards and take the time to enjoy your post-float glow.”
How do you feel during the session?
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of floating is the concept of finding your ‘theta’ state of mind, which is something you typically only experience in those fleeting moments between wakefulness and sleep. When theta brain waves are produced, this can encourage vivid imagery and a free flow of ideas. “You reach a theta state of mind around 40 minutes into a session,” says Tom. “This state is incredible for creative thought or problem solving. At this stage, it can feel like your mind is racing (the opposite of what some people expect), although if this happens, you know it’s working. When you finish the session, you’ll feel happier, clearer and reinvigorated.”
Will you feel claustrophobic?
While float therapy may not be suitable for someone with extreme claustrophobia, the whole experience is much less enclosing than you may think. “Feeling claustrophobic is a common concern for those who haven’t tried floating, but in truth, rather than feeling closed in, there’s more of a feeling that there are no boundaries – like what floating in space might be like, if it were warm and very peaceful. We also have the largest pods in London, so you can control the lighting with an internal button, and even float with the pod open so it’s like an open pool.”
Is it hygienic?
So long as you’re heading to a decent float centre, you can be rest assured hygiene is a top priority, now more than ever. “Any high-quality float centre will take their water maintenance seriously,” says Tom. “Float solution will be near saturation point with Epsom salts (a natural anti-viral), plus there’ll be other hygiene measures, too. The best modern pods fully empty between sessions, guaranteeing 100% of the solution goes through a 1-micron filter, UVC filter and is maintained with a sanitiser or oxidant. At Float Hub, we use safe levels of hydrogen peroxide, which is odourless and degrades into water or air.”
Who’s it for?
If you struggle with meditation but want to reap the benefits, float therapy could be worth a try. “Floating is like an enhanced form of meditation,” explains Daniel Percival, director at 3Tribes. “In this light, it’s especially good for people who find meditation challenging as everything in a float pod encourages stillness of the mind and deep, clear thinking. A tank just helps you get there quicker.” And if the plethora of studies are anything to go by, an hour or two in a pod is worth a try if you struggle with stress, anxiety, chronic pain or skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis.
Anything else you need to know?
While you will feel instantly relaxed after one session, the experts say it’s worth having several sessions over the course of a couple of months to reap the benefits. “Most people feel clear benefits after one session, but they increase greatly with regular practice. Like playing an instrument, the more you do it, the better your body and mind are able to tune into the environment,” says Tom. And when it comes to dos and don’ts, Tom recommends not shaving on the day of a float, as the salt will sting any cuts, while Daniel says it’s a good idea to put Vaseline around your nostrils and any small cuts to minimise any potential stinging. “My other top tip is to relax your neck when you’re lying down as your body needs to acclimatise to not having to hold your head up in the water,” says Daniel. “But above all, have no expectations – each session is unique.”
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