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

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Time to get your float on

When as­tro­nauts talk about space, what they al­ways seem to come back to is 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 while 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 n euro psy­chol­o­gist sat the Lau­re­ate In­sti­tute for Brain Re­search in the US shows 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 at Float­works in South London. 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 an ex­pe­ri­ence 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 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, I’m so at peace that I feel al­most ner­vous step­ping back out into the big wide world again. 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 alone with my thoughts. I’m fully sub­merged in this well­ness trend. When buy­ing in bulk, an hour in a flota­tion tank costs around £30 – about the same as I’d spend on a ses­sion in the pub on a Fri­day. Know­ing that one will leave me peace­ful and the other, well, pissed, it’s a no-brainer.

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