Floating Away Stress

Isolation Tanks Induce Deep Rest and Healing


Sensory isolation in a floatation tank is known for inducing deep relaxation with subsequent improved health. A 2014 study published in the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry investigating the effects of a series of flotation tank treatments for 65 participants, showed it to be an effective measure in decreasing stress, depression, anxiety and pain, while enhancing a sense of optimism and quality of sleep.

The Book of Floating: Exploring the Private Sea, by Michael Hutchison, reports on 20th-century research suggesting the therapy can help allay ailments like chronic pain, migraines and sore muscles. There’s also evidence for enhanced meditation, creativity and spiritual experiences.

Float therapy was invented by Dr. John C. Lilly, a neurophysiology specialist. The individual enters an enclosed tank containing 11 inches of water heated to 93.5 degrees—a normal temperature for human skin—and some 1,000 pounds of dissolved Epsom salt. The effect is like buoyantly floating in the Dead Sea, but in a clean, quiet, private realm. The water is typically filtered three to five times between each session and sanitized using UV light; some also use peroxide and ozone gas to purify the water.

Without any sensory input—no sight, sound or tactile sensations—the floater typically enters a profound deeply calm state of theta brain waves that tends to bring the subconscious to the surface. It can take experienced meditators years to learn to consistently achieve this condition, remarks Bryan Gray, of Float North County, a spa in Solana Beach, California.

Ultimate Meditation Venue

Scientific research has shown that floating can release the feel-good neurotransmitters endorphins and dopamine, and lower the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Studies performed by the Laureate Institute of Brain Research, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which maintains a float clinic, have found the therapy is an effective treatment for patients with anxiety disorders.

“It frees your mind of distraction and puts it in a zone,” explains Gray. “It removes the need for fight or flight, so those hormones are reduced. That part of the brain mellows out.”

Marvelous Magnesium

Lying for an hour in water infused with Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, the body receives a huge infusion of magnesium, a mineral essential to optimal health. While calcium and vitamin D deficiencies get more attention, it’s even more likely most of us are low on this element due to magnesiumdepleting drugs and inadequate farm soils. Many ailments shown by research to be helped by floating have also been linked to magnesium deficiency. The mineral is also essential for heart health, strong bones and central nervous system function, as reported in The Magnesium Miracle, by Dr. Carolyn Dean, a physician and naturopath in Kihei, Hawaii.

Wide-Ranging Healings

Chronic pain sufferers often find relief through floating because the lessened gravity allows the body to fully relax. The accompanying serenity releases the brain’s natural endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, into the bloodstream, reports Hutchison.

The sheer tranquility of floating can alleviate some mental health issues. “We’ve had several people with post-traumatic stress disorder. One man has returned six times and says he’s advanced more in the last three months while floating than he did in the prior five to 10 years,” says Andy Larson, owner of Float Milwaukee.

Athletes also appreciate floating because it shortens injury recovery periods through enhancing blood flow, helping to heal sore muscles. The way it facilitates a calm state ideal for implanting ideas into the subconscious mind enables them to better visualize improved performance.

Discoveries Within

Floaters can fall into what sleep specialists call the hypnagogic state, meaning they are apt to have lucid dreams while awake. Also known as Stage 1 sleep, it is the drowsiest condition we experience while still consciously aware. This is the scientific explanation for reports of visions or “Eureka!” problem-solving moments in the tank, says Hutchison.

This phenomenon can be especially beneficial for creative artists. “We have a girl that always emerges from the tank with an idea for a new painting,” says Gray. He also regularly hosts a composer that has worked with famous singers, who has experienced innovative musical breakthroughs while floating.

Floating is among the rare healing modalities that can benefit body, mind and spirit in just one hour, with repeat benefits.

Gina McGalliard is a freelance writer in San Diego, CA. Connect at GinaMcGalliard.com.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings


As we age, our oil glands produce less oil, causing our skin to become drier, which can lead to wrinkles and sagging. Other factors, including genetics, diet, lifestyle, sun exposure and smoking can affect how our skin changes as we age.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was formally recognized by clinicians in the 1980s as a form of depression most commonly noticed in the winter. Research shows SAD to affect 4 to 6 percent of the general population with up to 75 percent of these individuals noted to be women.

Food Allergies:

Food allergies have become a growing public health and safety issue, with reactions to peanuts and tree nuts doubling in the past decade. True food allergies affect 15 million Americans, including 6 million children, with one in six at significant risk of anaphylaxis.

How to Relieve Stress Naturally

Stress, especially chronic stress, can negatively impact our health and lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even cancer.

Launch a New Career in Healing Massage

Massage is a wonderful tool for relaxation, but too often we think of it as a luxury. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine knows that massage can improve many health issues, from injury rehabilitation to oncology and cancer treatments, and be a powerful form of healing.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

See More »This Month

Pumpkin Festival Benefits Make-A-Wish

The city of Highwood will be hosting the eighth annual Fall Festival kickoff event, the Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival, from October 6 through 8 downtown.

Cocodaco Dance Project

Like so many other people, dancing has always been a deeply meaningful form of expression for Ronn Stewart.

The Legacy of Bruno Groening Lives On

The Bruno Groening Circle of Friends is one of the largest associations for healing on the spiritual path worldwide. Five lectures will be held in October throughout Chicago.

Functional Medicine

Dr. Kim Martin is board certified in integrative medicine with specialties in nutrition, neurology, and functional medicine, and is the head chiropractor at North Shore Health Solutions.

Great Haircuts Adapted to Individual Head Shape

Organic Roots Eco Salon, in Skokie, now offers Head Shape Matters (HSM) haircuts, the only patented hair-cutting system.

McHenry County College Green Living Expo Marks 10 Years

McHenry County College (MCC), in Crystal Lake, will host the 10th anniversary Green Living Expo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., November 4th.