Maia shares her experiences discovering the healthful and delightful benefits of floatation tanks – seriously awesome bad vibe busters!
20 years ago, despite all my attempts to bounce back from a double whammy of physical illness and emotional trauma, I was still struggling to get on top of things. A healthy diet, relaxation, meditation, various other strategies—as helpful and worthwhile as these were, it was a slow process.
I had in the past been intrigued by the idea of floatation tanks, so when it was suggested that I might find floating helpful, I was willing to give it a try. Good move. It has proved to be one of the most potent ways I’ve ever found to fast track from stress and fatigue to relaxation and well-being.
As a first time floater, it was reassuring to have everything explained to me. Firstly, that it is impossible to sink, or drown—the Epsom salts in the water make it so buoyant that floating is all you can do, and in any case the water is very shallow. I wondered about claustrophobia, but they say if you can travel in a car with the windows up you’re fine. I wondered about hygiene, and I discovered that the high salt content keeps the water sterile, a filtration system is used between each float, and all floaters shower before hopping into the tank.
I wondered about getting trapped or locked in the tank, and I was told I would have control at all times. You have total privacy in your own float room so you can get in and out when you want, and the sliding door on the tank is light, easy to use and has no catches on it. Some people like to leave it a little bit open initially, just to reassure themselves, but I didn’t find it threatening at all to slide the door shut. In fact it felt to me like a wonderful sanctuary—dark, peaceful, with the amazing sensation of floating on a silky, silent sea. I lost all sense of time. The water temperature is the same as body temperature, and I also lost all sense of separation between my body and the water.
Scientists estimate that 90% of the brain’s normal workload is caused by the effects of environmental stimulation—your muscles, nervous system and sensory organs are always busy responding to things like gravity, temperature, touch, light and sound. In our stress-producing modern day lives there’s an overload of sensory stimulation, especially with sight and sound. The whole idea of the float tank is to get rid of all sensory stimulation, which provides a unique opportunity for sensory relaxation. It is so quiet in the tank that you can sometimes hear your own blood circulating.
The effect on your body, both physically and psychologically, is quite phenomenal. Floating re-sets the body’s chemical and metabolic balance, strengthening resistance to the negative impact of stress, illness and injury. It alleviates the effects of a number of diseases. It’s also deeply restful. Muscle tension, blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption drop dramatically. It increases oxygen and nutrient flow to the cells, removes ‘stress’ chemicals (adrenalin, cortisol, lactate) and releases endorphins—often called the body’s natural opiates—which give a sensation of intense well-being and improve memory and learning.
Your powers of emotional control can improve—reducing negative emotions and helping in the fight against addictions like alcohol, smoking, and compulsive eating. It balances and synchronises the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It also enhances theta activity—theta brain waves are responsible for creativity, inspiration and learning capacity. Measurements of the brainwaves of experienced zen meditators during deep meditation show large amounts of theta activity, but for many of us they are somewhat elusive at any time other than during sleep. Now for the best bit—all you have to do is lie back and relax. All of these things happen without you having to do a single thing.
After my first float, I felt physically and mentally cleansed, deeply relaxed and I experienced a wonderful sense of inner harmony. My second float brought on about three days of laughing for absolutely no reason, which amazed and delighted me. My third float produced uncontrollable sobbing—I couldn’t stop crying for at least half an hour. It didn’t feel good at the time but once I’d cleared out these deeply buried emotions I felt a wonderful sense of release and relief, and once again a deep sense of harmony.
From that point on, once I had settled into a routine of regular floats, I really started to reap the benefits. At the time I had a very stressful and exhausting job, and floating was my saving grace. It was so much more than just a lovely indulgence that I looked forward to. It was the biggest stress-buster I had ever come across in my life, and boy did that feel good. It noticeably slowed down my hyped-up tendencies, refreshed and rejuvenated both body and spirit, and helped me to have a much clearer head—and consequently a much clearer perspective. I frequently experienced flashes of inspiration, and sudden, insightful solutions to problems.
I’ve heard that a 100 minute float is equivalent to a full night’s sleep. My weekly floats not only melted away the stress and fatigue of the previous week, they also rejuvenated me and gave me a much greater capacity to cope with the busy week to come. They also helped me substantially in my chipping away at the longer term stresses and problems that had worn me down over time.
One friend who came for a float one day commented that if everybody in the world floated, there would be no wars. I would have to agree with that! It was with great interest that I browsed through the visitors’ book at the Float Centre in Brisbane to read comments from some other floaters. There were so many positive comments about the impact floating had had on them, and it was an eye opener to see how it affected people in different ways. I made this observation to co-owner of the Centre, Karen Poole.
“Some say it’s deeply nurturing, like returning to the womb,” she explained. “Some talk about a heightened perception. Again and again comments about the incredible feeling of harmony, contentment, deep relaxation, cleansing of mind and body, a new perspective.”
“It’s deeply satisfying to read these comments, and see the change in people from when they go in to when they come out,” she continued. “There was a couple once, where the husband had been yelling at his wife and was really stressed out—she was also pretty frayed around the edges as you could imagine. Floating did them both the world of good. After the float he was a changed man, calm, passive, relaxed. He was like a little puppy dog.”
“Michael Flatley came here for his very first float while he was performing Riverdance in Brisbane. He loved it so much he was back the next day for an extra-long float and wrote a comment in our book, ‘My feet will dance free tonight’—apparently wherever he goes in the world now he wants to know where the float tanks are.”
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, there are many impressive, credible statistics to prove what is outlined here, and if you’d like to investigate further, I can recommend ‘The Book of Floating’ by Michael Hutchison. Floating was such a profound experience for me that I sought this book out—along with other information available—to fully understand and appreciate just what was going on.
Floating has been around since 1954, when it was first developed by researchers at Washington’s National Institute of Mental Health. The effects of floating have been scientifically validated all over the world. It has been researched and documented for mental health, physical health, resistance to addictive habits, accelerated learning and elite sports performance at Harvard, Stanford, Yale and other universities, as well as hospitals and sports training facilities around the world. Carl Lewis and many other famous elite athletes have used floating as an essential part of their training. The Australian Institute of Sport has been using floatation tanks since 1983.
As few as three floats bring significant benefits, but there is no doubt in my mind—or in the minds of anyone who has floated regularly—that regular floating provides a phenomenal improvement in personal well-being and mental attitude.
“It’s great at any time just for general maintenance,” Karen explained, “but it’s especially helpful when your body is under physical, mental or emotional stress. It’s also a wonderful and supportive complement to anything else that enhances health and well-being.”
While it is true to say I am totally biased, my bias comes from direct, personal experience! If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out on a real treat. Your body will thank you, big time, if you decide to check it out for yourself. And who wouldn’t be tempted by such a blissful indulgence?
Al “Reality is madness, this state is true paradise.”
Peter “If it’s possible to feel 200% I’m at that stage!”
Susan “This was my first floating experience. Even after years of self-healing, positive thinking and Tai Chi, nothing has made my heart sing tears of joy like this float.”
Roxanne “Blissful womb-like experience of safety and serenity.”
Kellie “This is my first float. It was truly wonderful. Being 25 weeks pregnant I felt at one with myself and my baby. Not only was I so relaxed I could hear and feel my own heart, but that of my baby’s as well.”
Elise “I’m six months pregnant, so I enjoyed the experience very much. I felt
totally in touch with my baby, I understand what it must be feeling.”
Kaz “I feel soothed and sweetened a little. (It was good to spend some time with the real me.)”
Image courtesy of the wonderful ‘The Float Space’ (Maroochydore, Qld, Australia)