Floating therapy, or sensory deprivation therapy, is gaining popularity. Beyond the cure-all some claim, this technique has been touted as a way to completely relax physically and mentally, leading people to report many positive side effects.
I have been reading articles and blogs about this practice for a couple years. Research has shown that deep relaxation activates the parasympathetic nervous system. We have a release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine when this is triggered. Floating can mimic the same effects that a positive emotional experience creates in our brains and bodies.
How this works is you enter a tank that is light and soundproof when closed. The tank is filled with a shallow 10-inch brine of Epsom salt. You spend your time floating comfortably in the dark, deprived of anything other than the sound of you. The water is about the same as your skin temperature, so you lose the sensation of where it begins and you end.
Driving to my appointment, I was pondering what I would experience. Some things have been weighing heavily on me lately. There are habits I want to make or break. Previous traumas have been on my mind because of the violence around my city this summer. The stress of being an entrepreneur is a challenge. My body is still recovering from a major injury. I lost a loved one. All of it has been taking its toll on my energy and time, and given me the lovely gift of less sleep and an increased level of anxiety.
I’m Brittney, bitch. Thanks GiPHY.
I was finally convinced to give this a try after a dear friend shared her experience with me about what her floating sessions were like. My friend Iris has had a wide variety of experiences, from falling asleep through most of a 1-hour session, to not getting comfy and hating it, to releasing all expectations and having a wonderful experience.
Then I came across a Time.com piece about it soon after. The article talked to a vet who’s PTSD was interfering with everything in his life. I’m certainly not at that level, but I’ve had fits of hyper-vigilance at loud noises lately, the by-product of being at an incident involving gun violence last year. And if I’m being honest with myself, I have PTSD from that day.
While the medical claims are far and wide when you Google floating or sensory deprivation therapy, I wasn’t looking for any cures. I wanted two things – to see if it felt good on my back and to see if I would relax a little, maybe work some things out in my mind.
I’ve been practicing my meditation skills for around 15 years. I consider myself somewhere between intermediate and advanced. I can push myself into such a relaxed state that if I’m lying down, I will fall asleep no matter what if I’m lying down. I’ve gotten myself to the point where a few months ago, I meditated myself into such a relaxed state during an MRI that I fell asleep. Mind you that’s also with Run The Jewels playing in my headphones.
Thanks, El-P. RTJ courtesy of GIPHY
Going into the float, I was half expecting to fall asleep since I’ll be lying down, well floating on my back… warm, naked, and totally relaxed. The other half of me wonders where my mind will wander. Will it become an emotional rollercoaster? Maybe I will feel nothing but completely freaked out by the total silence!
I arrived 10 minutes early as recommended and the place is very calm, dim, quiet besides the soothing music. I’m ready to see what’s in store. I’ve already toured the facility and I’ve seen everything but the actual float tank rooms because they were occupied when I visited. There’s a whole process before and after, including a brief video that prepares you for your session. Then you change into a robe, slide into a massage chair with a celestial-themed soft light show projected on the wall and ceiling as you lie back in a zero gravity position. You get to take some time to relax and get your mind in a better place. Which is good, because I needed it!
The staff member then walked me to the private tank room and talked me through the process, then I was on my own. Basically, once he leaves – shower, get in the tank carefully because it’s slippery AF, then sit, lie down, and relax. The soft light and music fade, then it’s one hour of total darkness and no outside sounds. Got it.
Once I found a comfortable position, I did my usual steps to begin my meditation – deep breathing mixed with scanning my body from head to toe to look for areas of tension or sensation. After a few of these cycles and a return to normal breathing, my hearing found the sounds in my body. The high and low pitched hums, the 4 parts of my heartbeat, the creaking of a joint if I moved. It was like a symphony in my own body, but I had to release the want to isolate each noise and figure out what it was, as I tend to do with my musician’s brain.
I itched a bit around the 10-minute mark, but I made myself focus on letting that distraction go. Then the visuals set in. As in, I saw lights when there were no lights. I saw patterns like a kaleidoscope that emerged once I was back into a completely relaxed state after my brief scratching fit. I tried not to focus on specific parts of the pretty light show, but it was a bit like looking at the clouds and seeing puppies. Then they would shift and I’d see other shapes take form.
See! That one looks like Khaleesi taking out the… bad guys atop Drogon. I’m trying to be spoiler free here.
Finally, I hit several periods of deep relaxation, both in my body and my mind. I did not fall asleep (I think), but I did lose track of time. The only thing that kept bringing me back to a more aware state was I’d occasionally touch the sides of the tank with my fingers or toes, or my hair would touch my back or arm differently.
At the end of the hour, the light slowly came on, like a candle first being lit. Soft music rose, and it was time to get out. A quick shower, back to the changing room, then I sat in a relaxation lounge, drank water, and collected my thoughts. There were journals available to write your thoughts down, sort of a guest book that contained poems, drawings, reflections of peoples’ experiences, some pages even had a single person’s repeated visits, documenting their physical progress and changes in thoughts as they returned each time. The journals were a public diary of sorts. I left my thoughts behind…more on that later.
I can’t say that I feel like I had any huge mental breakthroughs. I didn’t have any epiphanies. But I did have a sense of deep relaxation. The host at the desk described the first float as being like a reset button. It’s often after that with subsequent sessions that clients remark on their continued relief from pain and stress, he reported. I can absolutely see why!
We all understand the world we live in today. We are constantly bombarded with sounds and images and information. Letting our brains reset in a way that is different from sleep could be profound, especially for people that have physical pain tied to stress. I have long known about the ties between stress hormones like cortisol to changes in our bodies and pain, such as belly bloat and fibromyalgia, from my time a decade ago as a weight loss coach.
Clients often hear from me that you have a handful of ways to deal with stress and the hormones it produces. A three-pronged strategy of prevention and off-setting is what I recommend. You either avoid the stress, deal better with the stress in the moment, or flush those stress hormones from your system once they are produced. The latter can be accomplished through activities like exercise, yoga, a long walk in nature, laughing, deep meditation, or good sex/an orgasm. Guess which one I like to recommend?
Thanks GiPHY for a great Mira Sorvino GIF
Now, thanks to technology, that complete state of relaxation achieved through these activities can also be achieved through other means like floating therapy. This is definitely something I’m going to recommend to friends and clients that struggle with stress management. I plan to make this a regular part of my self-care routine along with chiropractic, massage therapy, yoga, exercise, nutrition, and meditation. Plus my skin and hair looked soooo good after!
My thought I left behind in the journal was, “Answers don’t lie at the bottom of a tank, they lie in the back of our minds.” Do I sound like a modern Dorothy Gale there? Ehh. To me, we have the answers we need many times, but get held back.
I suppose what I’m feeling right now in the afterglow is a sense of calm and a lack of fear. A lack of being overwhelmed. That fluttery feeling in my chest has dissipated. The voice saying “take a little Xanax and you’ll feel better” is quiet. My feet aren’t tapping. My focus seems sharper, and I feel ready to take on my days!
I’m also feeling super creative. How else did I write a 1600 word blog in 3 hours?
Kristen Thomas is the Owner and Head Coach of Open the Doors Coaching, LLC. She helps people nurture their love lives as a relationship, dating and sex coach. Follow Kristen via Twitter @openthedoorskc, Facebook, and Instagram. Need help with your sex life or relationship? Striking out on dating sites? Looking to host a private group event or workshop with a coach? Email her at Kristen@openthedoorscoaching.com.