Float your boat

The best bath you’ve ever had or the gate­way to the Up­side Down? Stranger things have hap­pened. Jes­sica How­ley dives into flota­tion ther­apy...

Women's Health Australia - - NEWS -

Floata­tion ther­apy ain’t just for ac­cess­ing the Up­side Down now!

When as­tro­nauts talk about space, they al­ways seem to come back to the float­ing thing. There’s some­thing spe­cial, they say, about be­ing alone with your thoughts in a body that feels weight­less. I haven’t been to space, but I do feel like I’ve done the next best thing.

The idea of float­ing in an iso­la­tion tank is noth­ing new. If Ab Fab made it cool the first time around (the ISO

Tank ep – en­joy), Stranger Things is re­spon­si­ble for the sec­ond com­ing of this trend. But even though float­ing in a tank won’t trans­port you to the Up­side Down, when it comes to float­ing and men­tal health, it’s not all sci­ence fic­tion.

Un­til fairly re­cently, its stress­re­liev­ing ben­e­fits were purely anec­do­tal. But ground­break­ing re­search from neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists at the Lau­re­ate In­sti­tute for Brain Re­search in the US has shown that some­thing spe­cial hap­pens in the brain when the body floats. The re­search is on­go­ing, but early stud­ies sug­gest that it dims anx­i­ety in the brain in a way that could ri­val pre­scrip­tion drugs and med­i­ta­tion.

I’m in­trigued. Af­ter a pe­riod of anx­i­ety attacks a cou­ple of years ago, I was re­ferred to a mind­ful­ness course by my doc­tor. While it made a huge dif­fer­ence, I’ve been on the look­out for anx­i­ety-eas­ing tech­niques ever since – and I’m yet to find one that’s stuck.

Pic­ture an alien’s bed and that’s the pod-like pool I climb into one dreary Tues­day evening. The wa­ter is 25cm deep and filled with Ep­som salts; and both the air and the wa­ter are heated to skin tem­per­a­ture (35.5°C), mean­ing it’s im­pos­si­ble to tell which parts of your body are in the wa­ter and which aren’t.

It’s un­like any bath I’ve ever drawn (even when I use the fancy bub­bles). I pull the door closed be­hind me so that I’m float­ing in to­tal dark­ness. I ex­pect to feel claus­tro­pho­bic, but it’s al­most like I’m back in the womb.

It’s right about now that things are qui­eten­ing down in my amyg­dala. Back at the Lau­re­ate In­sti­tute,

FMRI scans done on the brains of vol­un­teers be­fore and af­ter tak­ing a dip show that float­ing qui­etens the ac­tiv­ity in this re­gion – the same one that’s ac­ti­vated by the fight or flight re­sponse. And I feel as calm and placid as the wa­ter around me.

I go in feel­ing ap­pre­hen­sive about the 55 min­utes stretched out in front of me. But by the time I’m sip­ping on a green tea in the chill-out room af­ter­wards, I’m so at peace that I feel al­most ner­vous step­ping back out into the big wide world. In the fol­low­ing weeks, I re­turn, and each time I slip into the wa­ter, that fa­mil­iar calm washes over me. And it isn’t con­fined to my time in the tank. The mind-spin­ning chaos of my com­mute is no­tably absent; dead­lines no longer fill me with dread. It could be a placebo ef­fect, or per­haps it’s just the knowl­edge that, in the act of book­ing my next ses­sion, I’m carv­ing out an hour of my week to be to­tally alone with my thoughts.

I’m fully sub­merged in this well­ness trend. When buy­ing in bulk, an hour in a flota­tion tank costs about $60, or the same as

I’d spend at the pub on a Fri­day. Know­ing that one will leave me peace­ful and the other, well, pissed, it’s a no-brainer re­ally.

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