Credited for helping with anxiety, depression, chronic pain and other health problems, float therapy has been evolving as a wellness treatment since the 1950s. Similar to meditation, floating in a salt tank or pod may hold an advantage over other methods of mindfulness because of how it affects the human brain.
It’s simple. Strip down. Hop into a float tank or “pod.” The high concentration of salt in the float tank has impressive buoyancy. You will peacefully float on soothing, body-temperature water.
There is no light in the float tank, so you get a sensory deprivation experience as well. It’s like you’re in the womb. How can this not be healing?
The evidence is mounting that float therapy does have healing properties.
In an ongoing study, doctors used fMRI technology to scan the brains of 40 healthy, non-depressed people. Half the group floated in salt water for 90 minutes, the other half spent the time in another type of restricted stimulation experience, such as meditation.
When all participants received a second fMRI brain scan afterward, they also completed tasks to assess attention span, reward processing, and emotional reactions. One key takeaway from the second scan was a higher level of “interoceptivity,” or awareness of internal sensations such as heartbeat and breath, among the float group.
Float therapy candidates should know:
Multiple sessions are usually required to gain a benefit. With commitment, mental health professionals and patients may find that regular floatation sessions can open up new roads to recovery for the following conditions:
Float therapy can help patients with eating disorders, including overeating, because deep mental relaxation may calm triggers, past traumas, and clarify habits affecting food habits. Research on float therapy will soon specifically study those suffering with anorexia, some of whom have documented that consistent visits to the flotation pod have aided recovery.
Float therapy can not only help anxious people sleep, but also understand how an absence of environmental stimuli such as light and sound can improve sleep at home. Many sleep-challenged floaters use recorded guided meditations, visualizations, counting and other sleep-inducing techniques while in the pod.
Panic attacks, self-mutilation, and other stress-related conditions may be aided by float sessions that soothe the patient and invite him or her to gently consider actions and events leading to episodes. The solitary experience of floating alone in darkness inevitably leads to curiosity and — in some cases — epiphanies about how to solve personal problems.
The inability to concentrate or focus can also be addressed by float therapy. By committing to an hour or more in the pod, a patient with ADHD may benefit from the lack of distractions and enjoy a purer level of concentration and thought than normally possible. Ideally, an improved ability to concentrate will slowly begin to emerge in daily life.
Curious? Go to a float therapy center and sink into a pod of warm, briny water for an hour or more of REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy) and decide for yourself. You’ll likely find a float spa in a strip mall near you.
Anyone interested in float therapy should read The Float Tank Cure: Free Yourself From Stress, Anxiety, and Pain the Natural Way by Shane Stott.