"And we'll all float on OK." Although you may recognize this line as lyrics by Modest Mouse, it turns out that we can all really float on—and flotation therapy is becoming more popular than ever. By promoting healing and total relaxation, sensory deprivation allows us to disconnect from our hyper-active world.
It’s the age of information. It’s also the age of too much information, and getting away from sensory overload can seem impossible. More than ever, we’re seeking ways to get away from it all. That could be the reason restricted environmental stimulation therapies, most commonly flotation therapy, are becoming increasingly popular.
Designed in the 1950s, the treatment involves floating in about 1 ft (30 cm) of water, face up, in an enclosed tank. Because the water contains huge quantities of dissolved Epsom salts, it allows even the heaviest among us to become super-buoyant, providing gentle support for the entire body.
The tanks vary in size and shape, but all are designed to create complete darkness and maintain water temperature at around 93 F (34 C). Users may leave the light on if they wish and are free to leave the tank at any time. Floating in the nude is recommended, but it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a bathing suit.
Who can float
Floating is safe for almost everyone. Travis McLaren of Cloud 9 Float Spa in Coquitlam, BC, says women in their last trimester of pregnancy and people with uncontrolled seizure disorders should avoid flotation. He points out that those with stable medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, can float safely.
McLaren says his clients use flotation for a whole range of reasons. Many find the treatments help them deal with conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, meaning they need less pain medication. Others come in to get a break from the stress in their lives.
Research exploring the benefits of flotation therapy has been positive. Early studies indicate that flotation creates feelings of well-being, reduced pain, increased relaxation, and enhanced sleep. More recent studies have found flotation to be helpful in relieving symptoms associated with whiplash, stress-related muscle pain, and depression. A Swedish study found that a treatment program with both flotation and psychotherapy may be helpful for people experiencing work-related burnout.
People’s experiences of floating vary. Some fall asleep, some drift into a meditative state, and others simply exist with their thoughts. In this environment of complete darkness and silence, we’re free to focus on our sense of touch—the feel of the water against our skin and the complete relaxation of our muscles.
Turns out, even in this age of sensory overload, it’s possible to recharge our batteries by unplugging for an hour or so.
Prepare to float
- Avoid shaving the day before, as Epsom salts might be uncomfortable against newly shaven skin.
- Cover small scratches with petroleum jelly, since the salty water can cause stinging.
- If you dye your hair, postpone floating for a couple of days, as excess dye can filter into the water.
- Refrain from caffeinated beverages for at least three hours before your appointment; they might counteract flotation’s relaxing effects.