The word deprivation and stress relief hardly sound like they go hand in hand. To me deprivation reminds me of being on a diet, not my favorite thing. Maybe that is why “sensory deprivation tanks” are now known as “float tanks”, which actually sounds like something you might want to do.
I first heard about float tanks two months ago when planning a trip to Denver for a travel writers conference. I was looking for something unique to write about when I discovered this new form of relaxation. Not being able to snag a last minute appointment while in the mile high city, my husband and I set out to find one the minute we got home. And that is how we found ourselves at the Chicago Stress Relief Therapy Center in Northbrook, Illinois to try out our first float.
WHAT IS FLOATING?
Floating, for those unfamiliar with it, involves lying in the dark in 93.5 degree super-saturated salt water, which allows your body to float in zero gravity, resulting in a state of complete relaxation that brings positive changes to your brain and body.
I was escorted into the float room by an attendant who explained everything. I was pleased to see that instead of the coffin type tank I was anticipating, this one was a large walk-in model, wide enough and long enough to lay in without touching the sides, and tall enough to feel like I was in a walk-in closet. Inside there was a choice of a bright overhead light or a dark starry night sky, for easing the transition from getting in to total darkness. (Or you could leave either on if desired.) The lights were operated by easily reachable buttons inside the tank, as well as an emergency/panic button.
On the bottom was 10 inches of water in which 1000 pounds of epsom salts had been added, creating the buoyancy necessary to make the body float. The water is heated to the exact temperature of your skin, 93.5. Earplugs and a neck pillow were provided with instructions to shower before and after entering the tank.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND FLOATING
Floating or Restricted Environment Stimulation Technique (REST) is supposed to do many positive things for our bodies. According to Dr. Weissman, “when you lay in the tank you are in a zero gravity environment. In the 93.5 degree water you lose a sense of your body in space. You don’t know where your skin ends and where the water is.” He explains this is where your perceptions begin to blur and that is when your body begins to let go and relax.
Float tanks have been around since the 1950’s. The first one of its kind was pioneered by neuroscientist John Lilly. He wondered what would happen if you could totally remove the stimulation of the outside world. In a sensory deprivation environment (no sound or light) would the brain totally shut down or would it continue operating?
What he found was the brain does not shut down in the absence stimuli. Instead, when the brain has no sensory input, the mind becomes highly creative. Since then studies have expanded the research and found the benefits from floating come from the body being free of gravity, changes in the brain, and floating’s ability to put the body into a state of homeostasis.
WHAT IT WAS LIKE
After showering I opened the door and stepped into the warm water. I turned the lights off and viewed the starry sky for a few minutes before turning everything off in hopes of getting the full sensory deprivation experience. I got comfortable and music began playing. Music is played for the first ten minutes which allows you to gradually adjust to the environment. It seemed like the music played forever. I wondered if they had forgotten to turn it off. How long is ten minutes anyway? And then there was silence. Darkness. Nothingness. Nothing to look at, listen to, or think about, but my breath and the beating of my heart.
I figured it was probably like meditation where freeing your mind of thoughts is the goal, so I tried not to think about anything. When I focused on my breathing, like in yoga, my heart fell into a slow rhythmic beat. The minute a thought entered my head, I felt my heart beat quicken, distracting me with its pounding, before calming it down by going back to focusing on my breath. The absence of thought seemed to be the most relaxing state. I tried not to think about anything.
As Dr. Weissman said in an interview afterwards, after a while I lost track of where my body ended and the water began. Sounds very new-agey, but it was true. My body felt like it was cradled in nothingness. It felt great on my frequently sore back. It just felt great in general. I felt like that few minutes before I drift off to sleep at night, or that pleasant feeling of anesthetic that lasts about two seconds before you pass out, but the feeling went on and on and on.
DR. WEISMANN’S UNIQUE BUSINESS MODEL
Floating is great for relaxation, stress relief, and pain management. Dr. Weissman is unique in that he also uses floating for therapy. A clinical psychologist with a subspecialty in “Health Psychology”, he works with people with a variety of conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, irritable bowel, people with cancer, and of course his clinical population of people with various psychological conditions.
With a specialty in Traumatic Stress Disorders he uses a combination of therapy, flotation, massage, acupuncture, and various bodywork on his clients. He even has the capability of doing talk therapy with a client while they are in the float tank. More typical, clients float first and then see him for their session.
No therapy is required however, to visit the center. Services such as floating and massage are all offered separately.
I’m not a particularly high stressed individual, but at 59 it seems something always aches or hurts or just needs the kinks worked out. Massage is great, but floating to me has even more benefits and feels equally as good. I recently visited my daughter in Austin where I tried floating for the second time. This time we were in a giant pods instead of the walk in closet variety at Dr. Weissman’s. It felt even better the second time, since I knew what to expect and was able to quickly sink into the state of complete relaxation. Dr. Weissman claims the more regularly you float, the more you get out of it and the greater the benefits.
Floating is a chance to unplug, let go, relax, recharge, and do nothing while your body is releasing endorphins, making new brain connections, and putting the body in a state of bliss. The only thing you are deprived of is stress, as it quietly leaves your body.
Why not schedule a float session today?
Dr. Weissman, Chicago Stress Relief Center
1440 Techny Rd, Northbrook, IL 60062
Check back 12/18/2015 for more of my interview with Dr. Weissman.