We’ve all done it. Whether you remember it or not, at some point in your life you have floated. Maybe it was in your backyard pool as a kid, daydreaming as summer clouds rolled by. Most definitely you floated before you were born, in the amniotic fluid of your mother’s womb, where the sounds of everyday life outside were nothing more than muffled whispers. For humans, the ability to relax completely – elusive as it may seem – can have a profound effect on re-setting the nervous system during times of both physical and emotional stress. After my experience at AquaTonic Float Spa I can say for certain that flotation therapy is a great way to access the nirvana of total relaxation.
I recently visited AquaTonic for a float session because it seemed like an idea right up my alley. I am a swimmer and so, usually when I’m in water, it’s because I’m swimming laps at Deep Eddy, trying to stay warm. The idea in flotation therapy, however, is to stay fairly still and, as the company’s literature says, “just float.” Ok. I think I can do that. And then some mild flotation performance anxiety set in: “But, wait – what if I can’t just float?” Not to worry. I learned that the flotation “pods” are filled with a hypertonic Epsom salt solution to make the question of buoyancy a non-issue. Just about anyone can do it and without much effort at all. So the ear plugs go in, the pod lid is closed, I turn off the light inside and am ready for blast off! Approximately 50 minutes later, I emerge from the pod, having lost all track of time and in a ridiculously good mood over this new discovery.
Based on the research of neuroscientist John C. Lilly, flotation therapy is nothing new. The principle behind this type of sensory deprivation technique is that if one removes the perception of everyday stimuli – lights, sounds, tactile sensation, gravity, etc. – the body and nervous system have a chance to relax and re-calibrate. For those of us caught in a pattern of sympathetic dominance (“fight or flight” response) due to work-related and/or personal-life stress, this is good news. Floating can help the brain ease into a theta wave pattern – a type of twilight consciousness which usually occurs just before falling asleep and again just before waking. This type of therapy can help reduce pain, lower blood pressure and potentially help those with substance abuse issues like nicotine and alcohol, among other things.
I will be the first to admit that meditation is not easy. As a practitioner of mind-body medicine, I am always trying to engage my patients with the idea of adding some type of meditative practice into their lives. I can give them all the acupuncture and nervine tonics in the world, but the incorporation of some type of relaxation/meditation therapy usually compounds the effects of what I’m able to do in my office. I often assign “homework” to my patients and encourage them to find some format for meditation that works for them. Studies have demonstrated the benefits of meditation time and again for everything from reducing stress, pain and anxiety to improving immune function and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. For longevity and anti-aging, we, as humans, must learn to de-stress. I usually recommend yoga, tai chi or qi gong to my patients and now, after visiting AquaTonic, I will add flotation into the mix of adjunct therapies useful for helping us all to live longer, happier lives.
As always, thanks for reading and stay well!
-Tama Henderson, L.Ac., ACN