Salt water has long been known as a cure-all, nourishing and healing for both body and mind; being near or in water is a calming, meditative experience. The combination of these two elements results in a treatment recently popping up everywhere: Flotation therapy.
Slipping into stillness and darkness via a float tank is an escape, utilizing sensory deprivation to free the mind from the chaotic swirl of the daily grind. Epsom salt-saturated water is exactly at body temperature and super buoyant, making it impossible not to float. The setting is typically dark; intrigue lies in how the brain responds to these unusual circumstances. If spending time without sight, sound or distinct feeling in the body seems scary, don’t worry, it’s the opposite. Rather, floating emulates the experience of drifting in the ocean, experiencing quiet, peaceful freedom and acute mindfulness. Flotation therapy is also attributed to soothing a myriad of issues, numerous health benefits and said to be the ultimate meditative state.
“Many people who have wanted to meditate but found it difficult to get started with a formal practice can use floating to enter a deep meditative state without any effort,” says Joel Granik, LAc, Co-Founder and Director of New York City’s Floating Lotus, the wellness spa where I tried my first-ever foray in floating. Granik explains: “When you float, your brain thinks that you are back in the womb again. The brain produces more serotonin and endorphins as a result. This means that just about everyone leaves the float session with a huge smile on their face; this sudden feeling of euphoria that lasts for 24-48 hours is a very pleasant surprise that few people expect!”
Floating is attributed to Dr. John C. Lilly, a neuroscientist best known for his research and work with dolphins. He is credited with having invented flotation tanks in the 1950s while researching how the brain would react when denied external stimulation. More recently, studies have shown that floating helps reduce stress and stress-related illnesses such as insomnia, depression, anxiety and chronic pain; research has also proven direct benefits to people who suffer from ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome. Those who utilize flotation therapy find it easier to focus, concentrate and deal with social interactions, according to Granik.
“In terms of physical health, published studies have demonstrated that floatation provides significant reductions in pain and muscle tension, even for those suffering for years with chronic muscle tension pain. In particular, it’s shown to help people suffering from symptoms of Fibromyalgia, in which fatigue, widespread muscle pain and tenderness are common,” says Granik. “Other studies have shown it to help with rheumatism, fertility, high blood pressure, migraine headache, improvement in sleep quality, pre-menstrual tension and post-natal depression.”
At Floating Lotus, the water is composed of 800-lbs of pharmaceutical grade Epsom salt. Granik says: “We do not use any chlorine in our float rooms. In fact, the water is cleansed through our advanced filtration system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The system sends the water through a powerful UV light and ozone sanitation system and a 5-micron filter. Additionally, we use food grade hydrogen peroxide and enzymes to further purify the water.” After hearing about the cleanliness, I had no qualms heading to my private float room to start the treatment.
First, I made a pit stop at the restroom (you don’t want to spend an hour of zen worrying about having drunk too much water) and next, I hit the shower adjacent to my float room. After rinsing off, I dabbed on the petroleum on a small paper cut (to avoid any stinging from the salt) and popped in the provided earplugs, dimming the lights all the way down. Opening the door to the room is akin to stepping into your own mini wading pool; I easily slid into the water and chose to use the provided inflatable neck pillow for the majority of my floating time. Once encased in the water and darkness, I felt much like I do when I practice or teach Savasana (final relaxation pose) or Pratayahara (withdrawal of the senses) in yoga. I could feel my muscles melting, my body dissolving completely from any tension or stress and a quiet sense of complete clarity in mind. The hour passed in what seemed like no time; I took another shower to rinse off and went to the reception area, where Granik commented on how “blissed out” I looked. Indeed, I felt similar to after an intense meditation session, paired with the ease and restoration that I usually only feel when coming back from a trip to the Caribbean. I also noticed a difference in how much better my sleep was that night. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead, find a treatment near you and float away to a healthier body and a refreshed mind.
Breathing salts through the air is another great way to clear your mind and improve your health.