Float to better health
WHAT good is nothing?
Advocates of flotation therapy say an hour of nothing — floating in an enclosed pod with absolutely no external distractions, also known as sensory deprivation — is invaluable.
While closing yourself off from the world in a dark pod is the stuff of nightmares for those suffering claustrophobia, for others it’s the exact opposite and offers a deep relaxation that has physical and mental health benefits.
Flotation tank therapy, also known as sensory deprivation or restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST), has been around for more than 50 years but is currently enjoying a surge in popularity.
A float tank looks like a large, enclosed bathtub containing 1000 litres of water and 500kg of Epsom salt and magnesium sulfate.
The water, about 25cm deep, is heated to skin temperature of 35.5C and when the lid of the pod is closed the inside is devoid of light, sound and tactile sensation.
The super-saturated Epsom salt solution allows you to float effortlessly on the surface of the water and enjoy a feeling of weightlessness.
Advocates of the practice say floating can reduce the pain of arthritis, migraines and injury, reduce mental and physical stress and enhance creativity.
There are hundreds of claims made about the mental and physical health benefits but there are few large-scale studies to back up the entire list of positive assertions.
The science behind flotation therapy is that cutting all external stimuli takes a person to a deeply relaxed state and their mind to enter a meditative state.
For some it’s simply a chance to disconnect with the hectic demands of a busy life.
In recent years, the relaxation and enhancement of this sensory deprivation has become more popular with at least seven centres offering flotation therapy in Melbourne.
Prices are generally under $100 for an hour-long float. Experts advise first-time floaters to start with an hour though some float veterans spend far longer in the sensory deprived state.
A recent study found most people say doing something relaxing is the most effective way to deal with stress.
“Floating is like training wheels for meditation, so if you have ever tried meditation without success but still want to feel zen, try this relaxing alternative first,” says Nick Dunin, owner of the Beyond Rest flotation centre which will soon open in Prahran.
“Apart from the benefits of stress and pain relief, floating energises and revitalises, which improves motivation and productivity. Athletes in particular are drawn to floating to help heighten their visualisation and clarity,” Mr Dunin says,
“That simply translates to better performance.”
Athletes are known to use flotation therapy to enhance concentration and visualmotor coordination.
Several West Coast Eagles and other AFL footballers, Australian cricketers and AIS athletes are known to use flotation therapy locally, while in the US many NFL teams including Superbowl champions the New England Patriots use flotation therapy for recovery and focus during the demanding season.