Floating for an hour in a tank of salty water in total darkness and silence may sound strange or scary, but many who use a flotation tank say it can give them feelings of deep relaxation.
Floating therapy was developed in the 1950s by American neurophysiologist and psychoanalyst Dr John Lilly, who was interested in the effects of short term sensory deprivation on the mind. It proved to be an excellent relaxation technique and as the therapy was further explored, a great healing aid.
How Do Floating Therapy Works
The water used in flotation tanks contains huge amounts of Epsom salts, which make it as buoyant as the Dead Sea, allowing you to float effortlessly and feel completely weightless. It’s impossible to sink and, as soon as your body registers this, your muscles begin to relax and tension just oozes away. Not being able to see or hear anything has a similar effect on the mind. The experience is heightened by the environment in the tank, where the air is warm and the water is kept at skin temperature so that after a while, you are barely aware of your physical body. You drift into a meditative state and, as an abundance of research has shown, this can boost the immune system and optimize self-healing.
Studies have also shown that this relaxed mental state which is also induced in hypnotherapy, makes the mind more open to suggestion and many float centres offer ‘self-improvement’ audio visual cassettes to use while floating. These include tapes to help you stop smoking, lose weight, increase your confidence, or even improve your sports skills. They may also feature affirmations or subliminal messages.
As well as keeping you buoyant, the salts in the water are also renowned for their detoxifying effects, helping to draw out toxic waste from the muscles, organs and circulatory system.
What To Expect
There are many different types of float tank, but typical capsule will be about 2.4m long, 1.2m wide and 1.2m high and contain 20-25cm of water with an added 320-360kg of Epsom salts. Some centres have float rooms instead of capsules to reduce any possible claustrophobic feelings. You may be asked if you’d like to choose some music, or a self-improvement cassette, and will be given earplugs to prevent the salt solution entering your ears.
After a shower you simply lie back in the water and close the hatch. You’re advised to float naked, as part of the sensory deprivation concept, but you can wear a swimsuit if you wish. For the same reason, it’s best to float with the light off, but again this is optional. There is a light switch within easy reach in the tank, so you can decide once inside.
At the beginning of the session, you may be played some soothing music to help you relax. Focusing on your breathing, mentally repeating a word such as ‘love’ or ‘peace’, or imagining you are lying in a beautiful and tranquil place, such as a beach or field of flowers, can also help. The music will then fade and you’ll be left, for about an hour, either in total silence or watching or listening to your chosen tape. At the end of the session, which may be signaled by more music, it’s a good idea to rinse the salt off under the shower.
The Floating Feeling
People’s experiences while in the tank, and after a session, vary enormously from person to person, and from float to float. On first entering the tank you may feel a bit nervous, but this will usually pass quickly. Most people say they feel warm and safe, and the experience has been likened to being in the womb. If you feel at all claustrophobic you can switch on the light or open the hatch at any time. After a while in the tank, you are likely to enter a dream-like state, when thoughts and images drift in and out of your mind. Some people have profound spiritual experiences, while others recall long-forgotten people and events.
Immediately afterwards, you are likely to feel relaxed, energized, more focused and possibly euphoric. Any aches, pains and stiffness will probably have eased. These benefits can last for days. There can also be a release of suppressed emotions, following a divorce or bereavement, for example. This may be very cathartic and could leave you feeling better able to cope.
Getting The Best Out Of Your Float
- Leave at least an hour between eating a heavy meal and floating
- Avoid stimulants such as coffee and alcohol for at least a few hours before a float
- Before entering the tank, cover cuts and grazes with a layer of petroleum jelly to prevent stinging
- Don’t shave, wax or use depilatory creams for a few hours before floating for the same reason
- Don’t splash around in the tank. As well as inhibiting the relaxation process, if the water gets in your eyes it could sting
- Drink plenty of water afterwards to aid the detoxification process