Published in City Times
Step into your private sea and float your problems away
Can you imagine yourself floating in a 30 cm deep tank with 10 inches of water, warmed to a comfortable 35.5 degrees Celsius for an hour and coming out of it absolutely refreshed! Yes, this is precisely what Floatation Therapy does to you – it makes you feel refreshed, rejuvenated and de-stressed. Using Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy or Technique, (R.E.S.T), the approach is holistic in nature and brings relief in a range of health conditions, particularly those triggered by stress, says Dr.Pinky George, qualified Naturopath, Yoga and Stress Management Consultant, Mizan Naturopathy Centre, Abu Dhabi.
Floatation requires no special training - one does not need to know swimming - only a mind that is open to new experience. Essentially, it is spending an hour or so lying quietly in the dark, suspended in a warm solution of Epson salt which is so dense that you float effortlessly. The first and last 10 minutes of the session include some gentle music to help you relax and indicate the session is over. The music may be instrumental or even recitation from the Holy Quran as per the clients’ individual choice. Once inside the tank, the tank door is closed and the light switched off. However, if the clients so wish, they may continue to float with the door open or partially closed and the light on, should they feel more comfortable doing so. “Invariably, after a session or two, most people like to float in total darkness, with the light off and the door closed,” reveals Dr.George.
“Does it not sound strange that large number of people are actually paying enthusiastically to enter a state of sensory depravation, in a culture where status is earned by frantically exposing one’s senses to as many stimulations as possible? Isn’t this “seeking sensory depravation” ironical in a world where most people are so terrified of being alone, they would drop money just to sit around in a bar with people they can’t stand otherwise!” quizzes Dr.George.
Well, that’s exactly what floatation therapy is all about – it cuts you off from the outer world, provides you a chance to go ‘within’, be by yourself and seek your own balance and harmony in life. Floatation therapy offers people the chance of regaining physical, emotional or psychological health. While exercising and healthy eating are only part of healthy living, relaxing is equally, if not more imperative, to sound wellbeing. This is even more essentially in today’s highly pressurized society. Recent research has shown that up to 80% - 90% of people visit their GP due to a psychosomatic or stress related disorder.
Why would floating in a swimming pool not bring on the same effects as when you float in the tank? Dr.George responds, “Besides astronauts in space, this is the only situation you will encounter where your body is free from the forces of gravity. Every single muscle in the body goes into a state of relaxation. Because of the silence and darkness in the tank, you allow your mind to drift into the deepest state of relaxation possible which in turn balances the brain. It reduces the activity of the left logical side of the brain and increases activity on the right, creative side. So for the first time, both sides of your brain are in total harmony. Also, a large proportion of our energy, almost 85% and much of our brain, are devoted to dealing with and counteracting gravity. So when you in this Epsom solution floatation tank, you eliminate powerful and constant external stimulation, liberating large regions of the mind and great quantities of energy for novel, creative purposes.”
The weightless, temperature-balanced, fluid environment frees muscles, heart, nervous system and brain from 90% of their normal "housekeeping" workload. This unique stimulus-free environment triggers a profound "Relaxation Response" which is totally automatic, and which spreads to all levels of the body.
Scientific research experiments show that simply by focusing awareness in a certain way, a person can actually strengthen his or her immune system, lower blood pressure, slow heartbeat, release or inhibit the release of certain hormones, alleviate pain and alter the activity of the heart muscles, brain and mind, says Dr.George. The therapeutic benefits from floating are many and varied. “One hour of floating is equivalent to 4 hours of blissful sleep. Floating reduces stress, relieves muscle tension, especially in people pursuing sedentary lifestyles like computer professionals, those with desk jobs, people whose job requires them to drive a lot, for people who have stiffness around the neck, back and shoulders, chronic backache sufferers, those with joint pains, arthritis, migraine people who are victims to the burn-off syndrome, hypertension. Floating helps any problem which is psychosomatic and stress-related. It helps women with PMS, people suffering from insomnia, mild depression, people who need to slow down and people having jet lag. Floating is safe even for pregnant women during all trimesters, if they are normal and healthy, without any pregnancy-associated problems and if they themselves are comfortable floating.”
The sensory depravation associated with floating, brings about a gentle, pleasant, controllable and temporary shift in consciousness in anyone who floats. This shift in consciousness is healthy, educative and it can be manipulated, explored and used in a variety of ways to cause changes in our attitudes, physiology and behaviour that presents even after one emerges from the tank, explains Dr.George.
How does this therapy compare with meditation which also involves looking inwards and reaching a state of calm? Dr.George responds, “To reach deep levels of meditation, it takes much practice, repeated efforts to shut out sounds, light and other environmental stimuli. With floatation, one need not do that work. Undistracted, one starts concentrating immediately on one’s inner perceptions and delves deep into one’s mind.”
EEG changes indicate that individuals who floated in the float tanks for an hour, significantly increased their theta level. Theta waves offer access to free associated, insight, creative inspirations and hence is potentially very productive and opens the mind to learning, reveals Dr.George. “Research into the brain waves of the two hemispheres of floaters indicates that floating increases right brain function, thus enabling left-dominant people to gain access to the right brain more readily. This is the key to stress management – the balance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Synchronisation of brain waves, hemispheric harmony, is one explanation for the increase in productivity, performance, efficiency and the generalized feeling of competence, confidence and wholeness experienced by floaters.”
The number of Floating sessions required by a person, like any other form of therapy, is very much individual. The ideal situation is to keep healthy, promote health and prevent disorders by regular exercise and floating is one such mode which impacts health in a positive way, says Dr.George.
It has been suggested that floatation could be introduced in schools because it helps learning, says Dr.George. This is based on the fact that when the mind is calm and relaxed, learning is rapid and clear. It enhances, concentration, memory, alertness and eases the learning process.
In conclusion Dr.George says, “By restricting sensory input in the tank, we increase sensory awareness! By becoming blind, we learn to see in a new and more powerful way; by giving up, letting go, we gain greater control and power over ourselves and ultimately over the external world. And once out of the tank after a float, we seem to perceive the world with startling directness, richness and clarity. There is no training required, no secret wisdom, no guru or special decoder ring, no weeks of discipline! That day is not far when float tank will evolve as an essential equipment for clinics, hospitals, health and fitness centres, stress management centres, offices, factories, de-addiction clinics, resorts of spas and homes.
1.Origin of Floatation
Floating in a float chamber was invented by Dr.John Lily, a medical practitioner and neuro-psychiatrist in the 1950s. He experimented with physical isolutation during his training in psychoanalysis at the national Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bethesda, Maryland. A longstanding question in neurophysiology had been the source of energy to the brain and its origins. One answer was that the energy sources are biological and internal and don’t depend upon the external environment. It was argued that if you cut off all stimuli to the brain, then it would go to sleep.
Dr. Lily decided to test this hypothesis. He did this by creating an environment that totally isolated an individual from external stimulation. From here he studied the origin of consciousness and its relation to the brain. Thus evolved the first floatation tank in a rather rudimentary form. From this form, today we have a variety of sophisticated floatation tanks including the most commonly used fiberglass tanks.
In 1982, the International R.E.S.T Investigators Society (IRIS) was founded. This brought together clinicians, researchers, floatation centre operators, tank manufacturers and other involved with floatation, to form a body for research, lectures and share experience. IRIS organizes a R.E.S.T conference tri-annually and makes information available to all interested.
NASA employs floatation to stimulate weightlessness.
2. The Floatation Tank – its safety and maintenance mechanisms
• To 10 inches of water, 700 lbs of Epsom salt is added.
• The water is maintained at skin temperature of 35.5 degrees Celsius.
• Two buttons to your left and one button to your right, allow you to control the tank’s door, call an attendant and control the in-built light present in the tank.
• An automatic filtration system guarantees purified water for every single floater.
• An extremely sensitive carbon filter ensures quality water for each floater.
• The water is well chlorinated and is checked to maintain the right percentage of alkalinity, PH and chlorine levels as required by floatation standards.
• Daily, weekly and monthly checklists are undertaken by trained personnel from the United Kingdom who strictly adheres to the operational and maintenance instructions as specified by the manufacturers.
• A centrally-controlled monitor in the clinic will allow the therapist to monitor clients in the float tank – to see if the tank door is shut, the light is off, to monitor the water temperature, to check whether clients are in or outside the float tank, to communicate with them if they require.
• A generator is present to make assurance doubly sure for floaters who may fear getting shut in the tank should power supply be cut off for some reason. The generator will supply uninterrupted power for two hours following power shut.
3. Float instructions and precautionary measures
• Ensure a shower before stepping into the float tank.
• If you have a cut, an abrasion on the skin or have just shaved or waxed, the salt can sting and cause slight itchiness. Therefore dry the area completely and apply a light layer of vaseline which is provided in the private room housing the floatation tank.
• While in the tank, make sure to wear the earplugs that are provided since the ears are below the surface of the solution. In rare cases, the Epsom salts can crystallize on the ear drum and can cause ear ache.
• Once into the tank, avoid touching your face or eyes since the salt can sting.
• After a float, take a shower and ensure that the salt is completely washed off the skin.
4. Contra-indications for floating
The therapy is contra-indicated in individuals who are schizophrenic, epileptics, people with acute and contagious skin disorder, patients who’ve had a recent stroke and individuals with unstable health conditions as in high risk cardiac patients.