If you’re a lover of swimming, playing, or just floating in the pool on hot summer days, know that you’re doing your body good. Maybe you have a natural intuition for what your brain and body needs.
Flotation Therapy or Sensory Deprivation Therapy
But if you really want to maximize the health benefits of doing nothing, consider flotation therapy. Also known as sensory deprivation therapy, floating is no new-fangled health phenomenon. Dr. Roderick Borrie, continuing his mentor’s research on sensory deprivation and brain washing, coined the term flotation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) in the 1970s. Shortly after, Dr. John Lilly invented and made popular the sensory deprivation tank, which is now widely used in Europe and the United States.
The Secret to Brain Bliss: The Theta State
What makes sensory deprivation so effective? The theta state.
The theta state is a slower brainwave, similar to the state meditators achieve during deep practice. Researchers also compare the theta state to the deep relaxation we experience just before falling asleep, in deep sleep or upon waking. Other indications that one has reached the theta state include vivid imagery. Theta brainwaves are slower than gamma, beta and alpha brainwaves, but faster than delta brainwaves.
During flotation, there’s an increase in full body circulation. Oxygen is delivered to cells with greater efficiency, and the brain is better able to function. The act of floating actually encourages the body to relax and allow its systems to function unimpeded. Known as vasodilatation, the blood vessels dilate, decreasing blood pressure. The process works to heal the body, reducing inflammation, and increasing endorphins.
Floating works to heal the body on a number of levels. With an increase of blood flow, all major organs receive more oxygen, and are therefore able to function at a higher level. Diseases such as congestive heart failure and hypertension are alleviated.
With the secretion of endorphins, hormones made famous by their role in exercise, practitioners may experience euphoria, which can lead to pain and stress relief.
What Does A Flotation Therapy Session Look Like?
Though the act of casually floating in your own bathtub or pool has its benefits, flotation therapy is a bit more involved. It means spending a good hour or more naked in a deprivation pods. Clients seeking flotation therapy visit spas like Hope Floats in Maryland and set up an appointment just as they would for massage.
During their session, a client will relax, suspended in skin-temperature water (about 93 degrees) with a large amount of Epsom salts. The salinity allows the body to float effortlessly. Clients are giving earplugs to block out any and all sound. The highly intentional environment puts the body in a kind of coma. That is to say, It’s during this process that the theta brainwaves increase.
Floating Pros for Professional Athletes
Scientists have also documented the positive effects of float therapy on athletic performance, especially in sports that require visual-motor coordination. Basically, float therapy encourages the brain to drop to the theta brainwave, to a resting brain state where difficult problems are synthesized. Additionally, the anti-gravity environment increases blood circulation which, in turn, speeds recovery.
The deep state of relaxation is also referred to as the ‘twilight’ state, a level of consciousness that can be likened to daydreaming. Increasing theta brainwaves has a similar, positive effect on creativity. The theory is that the brain makes up for the lack of external stimuli during floatation therapy. Clients may ‘see’ shapes and sounds during treatment.
Studies also show that flotation therapy decreases stress hormones such as cortisol. Other benefits include reduction in arthritis, balancing of the left and right brain, regulation of sleeping patterns and detoxification.
Featured photo credit: Štefan Štefančík via unsplash.com