Floatation therapy dates back to the 1950s, but it’s become a trend in the health and fitness community. It’s often associated with professional athletes because they’re the loudest advocates, posting their latest game-prep float photos on Instagram. Some sports teams have floatation tanks in their locker rooms.
For those who haven’t heard, float tanks are made for effortless floating on a highly saturated, body-temperature mixture of water and Epsom salt. The mixture is so dense that you float without trying, relieving tension from all parts of your body.
The physical benefits of floating are undeniable. The density-induced weightlessness by Epsom salt relieves stress from muscles and joints, allowing them to heal naturally, circulates oxygen in our blood more efficiently, and decreases lactic acid so our muscles recover more effectively, among others. Plus, it’s great for your skin.
But maybe the cerebral types, the writers, academics, and creatives should tune into this one. In the age of information-all-the-time and non-stop stimulation, an escape from it all is now a fantasy destination only achieved by years of practice with deep meditation. Or, just an hour in a float tank.
The reasoning behind floatation therapy, originally called sensory deprivation, was to figure out what the hell happens to our brain when it’s left to float in dark, uninterrupted silence. Scientists have dedicated their entire careers to studying its effects on mental illnesses, injuries, and anxiety.
At Soma Novo Bodyworks, we did some digging of our own. Here is how floatation therapy affects your brain.
1) Your Brainwaves Slow Down
Our brain is normally in beta state, alert, stimulated, working. When you’re in conversation, you’re in beta. When you’re reading directions, you’re in beta. As you read this, you’re in beta.
Our brain absorbs millions of bits of information every moment, but we can only process a little at a time. In order to make connections and reflect, our brainwaves have to slow down.
Sensory deprivation cuts off stimulation. Our brain slows down to theta state – usually experienced in deep meditation or right before you fall asleep and wake up – which leads to wild, therapeutic effects.
2) Your Brain Opens Up
Research shows that when we’re deprived of senses, our brain compensates with its own stimulation, often resulting in hallucinations both visual and aural. Visuals can be vivid, and people report hearing distant noises despite the soundproof tank.
Because of this, researchers in the 1950s actually classified floatation therapy as an experimental model for psychosis. Now, we call it a trip, or an out-of-body experience.
3) Reduced Fight or Flight Response
If you have anxiety, this will resonate with you. Anxiety medication works to activate the attention centers of our brain and decrease the fight or flight response. Research shows that the same effects are achieved under deep mediation. In fact, floatation therapy rivals the effects of prescription anxiety medication.
4) Improved Creativity
While this benefit lacks the most consistent evidence, a small group of professors in the 1980s discovered that floatation therapy improved creativity. They compared ideas generated from sitting alone in their offices for one hour to ideas generated from a half hour after floatation. The result was ideas generated after floating were more creative. Why? A combination of less stress and sensory deprivation allowed their brains to process information more freely, producing profound creative connections.
Have you had a great idea in the shower? Or couldn’t go to sleep because you had to write something down? This burst of creativity is caused by the theta state. And it’s replicable in float tanks.
5) Improved Learning
Sleep is so important because that’s when our brain rehearses everything we learned throughout the day. That’s why teachers recommended avoiding all-nighters before a test (but let’s be real, we all did.)
During floatation, our brain is left to its own devices to rehearse everything because there’s no external stimulation. Professional athletes perform visualizations in float tanks as part of their training because it actually improves performance in the game.
This same technique can be applied for those experiencing writer’s block. Research shows that visualizing the desired outcome of an activity builds experience and confidence to do it.
When we think about altering our mental state, we think the addition of drugs, alcohol, or a change of scenery can help. What we should be thinking about is subtracting our senses, our phones, and our distractions until we’re left with only ourselves.
Some people are afraid of isolation, but you’re never truly alone in a float tank, you can open the hatch and step out any time. Like meditation, getting the best experience takes practice.