By Angie Comer
Stepping into the pitch black tank, wearing earplugs and nothing more, I tried not to panic. For someone with a mild case of claustrophobia, it was going to be a challenge. I decided that I wanted the full experience of total sensory deprivation, so I hesitantly closed the the big metal door and slowly relaxed into the water. After the first few minutes of lying in total silence with my eyes closed, I realized that I couldn’t feel my body, or the water and wasn’t sure how much of my body was submerged and how much wasn’t. Immediately, my heart began to race as I had no sense of orientation. I quickly sat up and started feeling my way around until I found the large metal handle to the door, pushed it open, and took a deep breath. I gave in to my fear and left the door cracked just enough to see a slither of light to keep me oriented and calm for the duration. Attempt #2 to lie back and relax was much more successful. I tried to clear my mind and just BE. However, the harder I tried, the more random thoughts kept coming. Slowly, I became distracted by the vivid sound of my breathing and heartbeat, and my focus shifted from the thoughts running through my mind to the sound of my breathing. I drifted into complete relaxation: never asleep, but definitely relaxed and less anxious.
One of the most widely researched benefits of flotation tanks is their ability to help users release stress and anxiety. Studies conducted in the 1980s found that flotation therapy helped reduce levels of stress hormones in the body and decrease blood pressure and other stress-related health problems. More recent studies have confirmed that flotation tanks may actually be more effective than some types of meditation for inducing a relaxed state. The mechanism behind this state is the increased production of theta waves, which are produced during REM sleep, in the brain during floating. These waves help reduce stress, increase creativity and memory and improve mental and physical energy. This increase in production makes REST an option for the treatment of stress and anxiety. Floating can also help reduce joint pain, increase muscle recovery, and assist with pain relief. Because the water in a floatation tank is super-saturated with magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt), the user also experiences the many benefits of supplementation with this mineral. Magnesium has been shown to have incredible health benefits including reduction of muscle cramps, blood pressure normalization, hormonal regulation, increased sleep quality and even reduced cancer risk. Overall, I don’t think this experience was totally life altering. However, I do believe that taking time to disconnect and allowing your mind to be silenced can have monumental benefits to your physical and mental state. They say it takes practice and experience to improve at sensory deprivation therapy, and I plan to incorporate this into my healthy lifestyle journey.