Float Away

As life gets more in­tense, work­ing moms are look­ing for some­thing to take them away, if just for a lit­tle while. Float tanks, which are grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, are giv­ing them their Cal­gon mo­ment. Here’s why.

Working Mother - - Contents - BY KAREN J. BANNAN

Sensory-de­pri­va­tion tanks might be the se­cret to eas­ing your stress and re­duc­ing anx­i­ety.

Teresa McAlpine strug­gled with sleep is­sues for years. At night, she would lie down tired from the day but have trou­ble nod­ding off. Thoughts rac­ing, she would fo­cus on work, par­ent­ing, life. Her chronic back and neck pain didn’t help, either.

“I have a brain that doesn’t shut off. I lie down, and my brain starts fo­cus­ing on all this stuff that I can’t get it to stop think­ing about,” says the busy fi­nan­cial ad­viser and mother of two in She­boy­gan, WI. “It got to a point where I couldn’t fo­cus dur­ing the day, and I was ir­ri­ta­ble. Do­ing home­work with my 9-year-old, I would be frus­trated when she wouldn’t get a con­cept. I tried yoga; I med­i­tated. I had mas­sages, cup­ping and chi­ro­prac­tic, but noth­ing seemed to quell my chronic anx­i­ety.”

This past fall, Teresa went to a lo­cal Women in Man­age­ment net­work­ing group where she heard a speaker dis­cuss float ther­apy and how it changed her life. The woman de­scribed climb­ing into a clamshell-shaped cham­ber and float­ing in a dark, quiet pool, feel­ing her mind shut off com­pletely.

At the time, the clos­est float cen­ter was sev­eral hours away from Teresa, so she dis­missed try­ing it out. This Jan­uary, how­ever, a new cen­ter popped up in her town, so she signed up for a pack­age: 10 floats to be used over a six-month pe­riod.

It was hard to set­tle down dur­ing the first 30 min­utes of her maiden 90-minute float. “I kept think­ing: Can I touch the wall? Can I touch the bot­tom? Will the salt get in my mouth and eyes? But af­ter 45 min­utes, some­thing mirac­u­lous hap­pened: “My neck and back and hands didn’t hurt, my eye wasn’t twitch­ing, and I wasn’t pro­cess­ing an end­less stream of thoughts in my head.” She slept re­ally well that night, and the ef­fects lin­gered for sev­eral weeks, she says. Float­ing has also helped her man­age pain. Re­cently, she was in a car ac­ci­dent that to­taled her car. Float­ing has helped her heal men­tally and phys­i­cally, she says.

Jump­ing In Feet-First

Modern float ther­apy—some­times re­ferred to as re­stricted en­vi­ron­men­tal stim­u­la­tion ther­apy (REST)—has been around since the 1950s when neu­ro­sci­en­tist John C. Lilly sub­merged peo­ple in large wa­ter-filled tanks to see if iso­la­tion could help them at­tain a deep rest. (It did.) Dur­ing the ear­li­est ex­per­i­ments, he cov­ered the study par­tic­i­pants’ heads with la­tex masks, giv­ing them a small straw from which to breathe.

Float ther­apy has changed quite a bit since then— and lost the scary head­gear. Ac­cord­ing to the 2017 State of the Float In­dus­try re­port, there were 193 float cen­ters open by mid-2017, with an­other 250 ex­pected to open within two years. The prac­tice has been writ­ten up in The New York Times and GQ, and celebs such as co­me­dian Kris­ten Wiig and model Elle Macpherson are devo­tees. Un­like the swim­ming-pool-like float tanks of yes­ter­year, to­day’s tanks look like pods or small rec­tan­gu­lar boxes de­void of light and sound. En­thu­si­asts get into their

“You don’t even feel like you’re in wa­ter. It’s like you’re in a very deep sleep state.”

tanks alone and lie on their backs in about

8 to 12 inches of body-tem­per­a­ture wa­ter with enough Ep­som salt ( be­tween 25 and 30 per­cent) added to cre­ate buoy­ancy. With nearly 1 in 5 Amer­i­cans ex­pe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety, and de­pres­sion listed as the lead­ing cause of dis­abil­ity, it’s no won­der float tanks are catch­ing on.

Once in­side, the en­tire head and body float gen­tly above the tank, a feel­ing Stacy Walsh, a small-busi­ness owner in San Diego, says helps her to re­lax im­me­di­ately. “It com­pletely calms me down,” says Stacy, who first tried float­ing as a way to ban­ish anx­i­ety about an up­com­ing cataract surgery. “When you’re in the tank, you don’t even feel like you’re in wa­ter. It’s like you’re in a very deep sleep state float­ing in noth­ing­ness.”

So far, in­sur­ance doesn’t cover float­ing, al­though there are some float cen­ters that mix float­ing with mas­sage, which means you might be able to use your health sav­ings ac­count to fund your float habit.

What’s Go­ing On?

Float­ing-re­lated re­search is still in its in­fancy, but a few stud­ies sug­gest pro­po­nents might be on to some­thing. A Fe­bru­ary 2018 study pub­lished in the PLOS Jour­nal found that a mere one-hour float led to sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in anx­i­ety, stress, mus­cle ten­sion, pain and de­pres­sion, in ad­di­tion to in­creases in seren­ity, re­lax­ation, hap­pi­ness, en­ergy and over­all well-be­ing. The most anx­ious par­tic­i­pants ac­tu­ally saw the largest im­prove­ments, and nearly three-quar­ters of par­tic­i­pants re­ported they were more re­laxed af­ter float­ing than with any other treat­ment they had tried in the past. An­other study found that float­ing helped anorexic women im­prove their body-im­age dis­sat­is­fac­tion.

Researchers have also found float­ing to be a worth­while treat­ment for chronic pain, addiction, in­som­nia and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, says San­deep Prakash, a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of In­te­gral Stud­ies, who is in­ves­ti­gat­ing how float­ing can help speed heal­ing.

But while researchers know there are ben­e­fits to float­ing, no one has been able to fig­ure out what’s go­ing on in the brain or why float­ing in a dark tank filled with salt wa­ter is so sooth­ing. “The short an­swer is we don’t ex­actly know why it works,” ex­plains Sahib Khalsa, M.D., Ph.D., the direc­tor of Clin­i­cal Stud­ies at the Lau­re­ate In­sti­tute for Brain Re­search.

Some researchers be­lieve the ex­pe­ri­ence of sensory de­pri­va­tion helps quiet neu­ral trans­mit­ters in the brain, while oth­ers say it puts float-tank users into a deep state of med­i­ta­tion, which has been clin­i­cally proven to be ben­e­fi­cial across the board.

Float en­thu­si­asts don’t seem to care about the sci­ence be­hind the ben­e­fits though. They just like the prac­tice’s af­ter­ef­fects.

“Some­times af­ter a float, I can work out so­lu­tions to prob­lems I’m hav­ing or just feel like I’m less stuck in the same old rou­tine,” says Abi­gail Lewis-Bowen, a direc­tor of tech­nol­ogy at a Cam­bridge, MA-based parochial school. In fact, she cred­its float­ing for help­ing ease the tran­si­tion into her cur­rent role. “It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to find an en­vi­ron­ment of com­plete calm and dark­ness. Even if you med­i­tate, you’re still hear­ing things. Float­ing gave me the lux­ury of think­ing through things with­out the out­side in­trud­ing.” It’s been so suc­cess­ful that her hus­band tried it too.

Even with real and per­ceived ben­e­fits, ex­perts con­cede that there are some peo­ple who should not float. Any­one who gets se­verely mo­tion sick, and those with spe­cific med­i­cal con­di­tions such as chronic or large wounds or skin con­di­tions, psy­chosis, claus­tro­pho­bia, or un­treated epilepsy might want to skip it al­to­gether.

It also might take a few floats be­fore you get used to the sen­sa­tion of “noth­ing­ness,” says Cara Boyd, a hair­styl­ist and mom of two from Ma­comb, MI. “I re­ally had to con­cen­trate on my breath­ing, but once I did that, I felt like I was float­ing down a lazy river.”

Abi­gail adds: “It seems like an in­dul­gent lux­ury, but I know that float­ing has re­ally helped my hus­band and me be more con­nected, re­laxed, and fo­cused with each other and with our chil­dren. They say you should put your oxy­gen mask on first—this is one way you can ac­tu­ally do it.”

A typ­i­cal ses­sion costs $62 for an hour of to­tal si­lence.

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