Online journal of my experiences in a float tank or sensory deprivation tank. With adjacent observations that come with managing a flotation business.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When is the best time to float?

Well, you could say almost anytime is a good time to wallow blissfully in a float tank, but I’m going to try and break some things down from my own experience, and also draw from the last three years of running a float center. A float session will always leave you feeling better than when you came in, but sometimes the difference between a good float and an absolutely wonderful float can be a matter of timing and a bit of common sense. Let’s start with some of the more obvious things and move on from there.

One thing many people will ask me is "What time of day is the best time to come in?". This is a challenging question to answer because everyone is different and will have varied results coming out of a session. Each float experience will be different depending on your energy levels and what kind of stress you’re currently under. The best way to figure this out is to actually float a few times and get a feel for it, but there are some things that I can point out. For instance, if I get the feeling that a person is what you would call a “type A personality,” then scheduling a session in the afternoon or evening after a full day of activity would be advisable. For those that have trouble letting go of their mental activity, scheduling a session in the evening after the work day will mean less to worry about. Plus, the body will be more conducive to relaxing and shutting down. Floating in the evening can also prime one to get a deeply restful night’s sleep, as improved sleep is a common benefit I hear about often and experience myself. I’ve also found that floating after a workout or a good yoga session is an excellent time for some float therapy. Not only is it easier to release the mind after a workout, but it can also help the body speed up recovery time. That being said, if one does not have any obligations that day, floating in the morning can allow you to enjoy the rest of the afternoon in a nice serene state of mind, and enjoying a languid day can be just what the doctor ordered. So generally speaking, floating in the morning versus the evening comes down to the degree in which you have control over your mental activity and what kind day you have planned. This can include preparing for something like a presentation or a final exam. I will often see university students schedule appointments before and after midterms for example.

Timing a float session before and after a long flight or a road trip can also do wonders for minimizing stress levels, including muscle tightness and/or pain. A float session can just put one in a much mellower mood, which can be helpful for everyone during travel. Speaking of travel, one thing I wanted to cover real quick--as it happens to be flu season at the moment--is please don’t float at a public center when you are sick or contagious. Although most float centers are very good at keeping their space very clean and hygienic, the inside of a float tank is still a warm, moist environment. So in other words, please be considerate if you have the sniffles and wait until you are completely back on your feet. Your bio-computer is constantly overcoming bugs, viruses etc. and you usually become sick when its processes become overwhelmed. Some of the main benefits of float therapy are preventative when it comes to stress and your immune system. The idea is to de-stress and allow it to work optimally and not let your system get run down in the first place. One last note concerning sinuses and allergies: I would avoid doing a float session if your nasal passages are agitated or swollen, as this can detract from an optimal float experience. This is because your breathing will become a distraction that will be difficult to ignore.

Again, there’s no better teacher than experience, therefore, getting a couple float sessions under your belt will go a long way in helping you figure out the best times to get away from the world.

Let’s move on to some other basics concerning the body. I always tell my clients not to eat a big heavy meal within an hour or so before a float session. Being inside a float tank right after stuffing yourself will only magnify your discomfort. On the other hand, if you haven’t eaten in a few hours it’s okay to have a light snack before you come in. That means a handful of nuts, a smoothie or a fresh apple-kale juice; something along those lines; not something greasy or heavy on your digestion. I also tell people to avoid caffeine before a session for a couple reasons, but mainly because it can make for a counter productive float in terms of getting your mind to shift gears. This would also apply to any other type of stimulant, such as an energy drink and so on. I also want to address the issue of cannabis, but it deserves it’s own little paragraph, so lets move on for now. Being well hydrated is always important but you don’t really need to drink any more water than normal before a session. Doing so can result in having to interrupt your session to go to the bathroom. I should point out that Epsom salt is not actually a salt but magnesium sulfate, and unlike spending a long time in a bathtub, it won’t dry you out and leave you like a prune afterwards. Also, I don’t recommend drinking any alcohol before a session for the same reasons as caffeine, however a single glass of wine would most likely be okay, but nothing more than that.

Now let’s address the issue of cannabis. With the changing attitudes towards cannabis use, more people will be asking about this. First of all, most float centers will have a policy of not allowing someone to use their facility under the influence of alcohol or other mind altering substances in the first place, so prudence in this area goes without saying. That being said, ingesting small amounts of cannabis before a session can have extremely interesting and pleasant effects during a float. What I’ve found is that moderation is the key in this regard. Also, vaping or eating a small amount is preferable to smoking, as smoke can agitate the sinuses, which can detract from an optimal float experience. The consensus about optimally heightening your float experience with cannabis is through ingesting edibles. Another word of caution, if you are new to cannabis use when eating it: Eating cannabis can have a much different effect and can last significantly longer. So, ascertaining your tolerance levels is the intelligent approach. Again, this is changing but depending on where you live, basically the worst thing about cannabis can be getting caught with it. So please be careful and always err on the side of caution.
If the words life

Now that we’ve covered some of the fundamentals, let's explore some other areas that could be overlooked. One of the most amazing aspects of floating is the introspection and mental clarity that can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time. If you are new to sensory deprivation tanks, testing the waters with shorter sessions in the beginning is logical but I’ve found that a good number of people come out of their first sessions wishing they would have booked a longer float. Clients often report that they were just beginning to really get into the deeper levels of relaxation when the session came to an end. What I generally recommend is for a person to float at least three times to fully appreciate what a float tank can offer, with one of those sessions being a ninety minute or two hour float.

zen adage

Let’s briefly dive deeper into the psychological benefits and how to use a float tank for mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, because of the current culture and our busy lifestyles, many people simply aren’t prone to taking time out of their schedules to simply “do nothing”. Although with float tanks, meditation and other practices like yoga gaining in popularity, the value of a little solitude is definitely being more understood and appreciated. However, with floating there’s really not any effort or discipline required on your part in order to achieve the same levels of meditative clarity. A float tank simply offers one of the most comfortable and salubrious environments for the human bio-computer to achieve those states and there’s really nothing else like it. I’ve experienced profound states of mind myself and clients will tell me all the time about the clarity and emotional balance they feel afterwards.
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first  you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
~ Joseph Campbell ~
A good analogy that most today can relate too is the idea of rebooting your computer. To start a new program or reset a computer back to it’s original settings, you’ve got to shut it down. When your computer is acting “buggy” sometimes, one of the best things to do is just unplug it for a little while. You could say that is kind of what happens inside a float tank. Not only do the muscles get to completely relax from the stress of gravity, but because a float tank is designed to significantly reduce sensory input, the nervous system is allowed to shut down as well. So one of the things that can happen when you simply allow yourself to move into a state of being…is insight. Without the luxury of distraction (and aren’t there so many these days?) psychological stress and emotional issues will present themselves in order to be resolved. Bathed in silent awareness, a clarity begins to happen and boy does it feel good! I have literally had clients come out of a float session in tears of gratitude.  
So what is it about a little solitude and silence that can have such amazing results? Well, that’s quite the question and it deserves its own blog entry to really do it justice. For now, I hope this short entry will help you choose the best times for a float session so that you’ll get the most pleasant and rewarding experience. If you’ve already floated a few times and would like to add any other tips or insights please feel free to comment!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Snake Oil and The Seven Theories of Floating

My copy of “The Book of Floating” by Michael Hutchison is beginning to look very worn and used.

The Book of Floating

I’ve probably read it three times by now and it’s filled with notations, highlights and has plenty of dog eared pages. I’m continually astonished at the amount of information regarding the benefits of floating. This posed a bit of a challenge for me when I was beginning to put the website together. Thinking that most people were like me and would appreciate all the research I was making available to them. Luckily after a back and forth conversation with my web guys they finally convinced me that my website needed to have just enough information to create interest and not lose people or overwhelm them with tons of extra text, how ever well intentioned. So instead I’ll use this blog as a way to share more of the many documented benefits. Sometimes I can get on a roll explaining how many ways the float tanks can be used to improve one’s well being and I often think I must sound like a snake oil salesman! But nothing could be further from the truth as there is plenty of research material that is sourced. I’m very grateful for Michael’s book as it’s been the best organized source of that research that I’ve found so far. If you are really interested in becoming a float tank aficionado I highly recommend you pick up a copy. Make sure and get the second edition as it has an extra chapter detailing the authors own struggle with a spinal cord injury and how his float experiences were related to his recovery and his realization of the spiritual component of floating as well.

In the meantime I thought I would share excerpts from the book on the seven theories of various researchers and their approach on how and why the tanks work so well. So here they are with a brief description after the title.

1. The Anti-Gravity Explanation

The buoyancy afforded by the dense Epsom salt solution eliminates the body's specific gravity, bringing the floater close to an experience of total weightlessness. Gravity, which has been estimated to occupy 90 percent of all central nervous system activity, is probably the single largest cause of human health problems - the bad backs, sagging abdomens, aching feet, painful joints, and muscular tension that result from our unique but unnatural upright posture. This theory asserts that, by freeing our brain and skeletal system from gravity, floating liberates vast amounts of energies which accelerates healing and frees large areas of the brain to deal with introspective matters of mind, spirit and enhanced awareness of internal states.

2. The Brain Wave Explanation

More interesting than well known alpha waves generated by the brain in moments of relaxation, are the slower theta waves, which are accompanied by vivid memories, free association, sudden insights, creative inspiration, feelings of serenity and oneness with the universe. It is a mysterious, elusive state, potentially highly productive and enlightening; but experimenters have had a difficult time studying it, and it is hard to maintain, since people tend to fall asleep once they begin to generate theta waves. One way of learning to produce theta waves is to perfect the art of meditation.  A study of Zen monks conducted by Akira Kasamatsu and Tomio Hirai, in which the monk's brain waves were charted as they entered meditative plateaus from alpha to the more sublime theta. Those monks with over 20 years of meditative experience generated the greatest amount of theta; the monks were not asleep but mentally alert. However, since many of us are unwilling to spend 20 years of meditation to learn to generate theta waves, it's helpful to know that several recent studies (at Texas A & M and the University of Colorado) have shown that floating increases production of theta waves.  Floaters quickly enter the theta state while remaining awake, consciously aware of all the vivid imagery and creative thoughts that pass through their minds; and after getting out of the flotation environment, floaters continue to generate larger amounts of creativity-promoting theta waves for up to three weeks.

3. The Left-Brain Right-Brain Explanation. 

The two hemispheres of the neo-cortex operate in fundamentally different modes.  The left hemisphere excels at detail, processing information that is small-scale, requiring fine resolution: it operates analytically, by splitting or dissection.  The right hemisphere, on the other hand, is good at putting all the pieces together: it operates by pattern recognition – visually, intuitively, rapidly absorbing large-scale information.
Just as in the sunshine of a bright day it is impossible to see the stars so are the subtle contents of the right hemisphere usually drowned out by the noisy chattering of the dominant verbal/analytical left brain, whose qualities are the more cultivated and valued in our culture.  But recent research indicates that floating increases right-brain (or minor hemisphere) function.  Floating turns off the external stimuli, plunges us into literal and figurative darkness – then suddenly the entire universe of stars and galaxies is spread out before our eyes.  Or, as brain researcher Dr. Thomas Budzynski of the University of Colorado puts it, "In a flotation environment, the right hemisphere comes out and says, Whoopee!"

4. The Three-Brain Explanation. 

In a series of seminal studies produced over the last twenty-five years, Paul MacLean, chief brain researcher at the National Institutes of Mental Health, has produced convincing evidence that the human brain has three separate physiological layers, each corresponding to a stage in our evolutionary history.  In this "Triune Brain Theory," the most ancient layer is called the reptile brain, and it controls basic self-preservative, reproductive and life sustaining functions.  Sitting atop the reptile brain is the limbic system, which MacLean has dubbed the visceral brain, because it generates all our emotions.  The most recent part of the brain to develop is the "thinking cap" of convoluted gray matter called the neo-cortex, seat of our abstract, cognitive functions: memory, intellect, language, and consciousness.
While these three separate brains have many overlapping functions they are all quite different in chemistry, structure, action, and style.  Three brains should be better than one, but unfortunately, due to a ruinous "design error," there is insufficient communication and coordination between the neo-cortex and the two older levels.  This lack of communication results in a chronic dissociation between the higher and lower brains, which MacLean calls schizophysiology, and which we experience in the form of conflicting drives – unconscious and conscious, savage and civilized, lusty and loving, ritualistic and symbolic, rational and verbal.  There are times when the levels do act in harmony, as in peak experiences when body and mind unite in exhilarating moments of vitality, when our actions come effortlessly, spontaneously.  But it's hard to predict when these perfect moments will occur. Now there is evidence that suggests that, due to heightened internal awareness and decreased physical arousal, floating increases the vertical organization of the brain, enhancing communication and harmony between the separate levels.  Floating, it has been hypothesized, can provide us with peak experiences almost at will.

5. The Neurochemical Explanation. 

Neuroscientists have recently discovered that the brain is an endocrine organ that secretes numerous neuro-chemicals which influence our behavior.  Our brains secrete hormones that make us happy, anxious, depressed, shy, sleepy, sexy.  Each of us creates different amounts of these various neurochemicals, and those who create, for example more endorphins – natural opiates – experience more pleasure as a result of a given experience than those who create fewer endorphins. Tests indicate that floating increases the secretion of endorphins at the same time as it reduces the levels of a number of stress-related neurochemicals, such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, ACTH, and cortisol – substances that can cause tension, anxiety, irritability, and are related to ailments such as heart disease, hypertension, and high levels of cholesterol. One other neurochemical theory is the "return to the womb" explanation.  Since pregnant women produce up to eight times the normal endorphin level, the fetus experiences true prenatal bliss.  When a floater is suspended in the dense, warm solution, enclosed in darkness, body pulsing rhythmically and brain pumping out endorphins, it's possible that subconscious memories are stirred and profoundly deep associations called up.  It is no coincidence that at least one commercial float center is named "The Womb Room."

6. The Biofeedback Explanation. 

Because of biofeedback research (including Johns Hopkins researcher John Basmajian's conclusive study of subjects consciously firing off single motor-unit neurons), we now know that humans can learn to exercise conscious control over virtually every cell in their bodies.  Processes long thought to be involuntary, such as the rhythm and amplitude of our brain waves, healing, blood pressure, the rate and force of heart contractions, respiratory rate, smooth-muscle tension, and the secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters are now thought to be controllable.
The way biofeedback machines work is by enhancing concentration: by focusing on a single, subtle change in the body, which is being amplified by the machine, we are able to shut off our awareness of the external environment.  This shutting-off  of external stimuli is exactly what the flotation environment does best – almost as if in an "organic" biofeedback machine, in the tank every physical sensation is magnified, and because there is no possibility of outside distraction, we are able to relax deeply and focus at will upon any part or system of the body.

7. The Homeostasis Explanation. 

The human body has an exquisitely sensitive self-monitoring and self-regulating system that is constantly working to maintain the body in homeostasis – an optimal state of balance, harmony, equilibrium, stability.  Considered in these terms, we can define stress as a disruption of our internal equilibrium, a disturbance of our natural homeostasis.  Research now indicates that many of fthe float tanks most powerful effects come from its tendency to return the body to a state of homeostasis. When we view the mind and body as a single system, it becomes clear that external stimuli are constantly militating against the system's equilibrium: every noise, every degree of temperature above or below the body's optimal level, every encounter with other people, everything we see and feel can disrupt our homeostasis.  But when we enter the tank, we abruptly stop this constant adjustment to outer stimuli.  Since there are no external threats, no pressures to adapt to outside events, the system can devote all its energies to restoring itself.  The normal state, of course, is health, vigor, enthusiasm, and immense pleasure in being alive.  The way the body gets there, and stays there, is homeostasis.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Youtube Channel

I just got started putting together a youtube channel that will feature good videos about floating. I will also be uploading testimonial videos from people who come to Escape Your Body and have awesome experiences they would like to share. I'm also going to add videos that deal with related material as well. It's only got a handful of vids right now but over time I hope to add a substantial amount of material from a variety of viewpoints. So here's the link: and here's a sample video that I thought was really good. Enjoy! (some adult language)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nothing quite like the feel of something new...

Okay so this will be my first venture into the world of blogging. In this blog I hope to share my ongoing experiences using a sensory deprivation tank or float tank as they're also called. Not only am I excited on an individual level to see how regular use of the tank effects me physically, psychologically and spiritually but I'm equally excited to see if I am able to map out the effects on my local community both personal and at large.

For those of you who don't know anything about sensory deprivation tanks here is a quick six minute video that does a good job presenting some introductory information featuring commentary from someone who is brand new to floating, an artist, and a float business owner as well. Hopefully, it will be enough for newbies to get an idea until I get a chance to write up a more comprehensive post on the flotation experience.


For this first entry I just want to jump right in and talk about my recent trip to Arizona where I got to try out an i-sopod, the newest model of float tank on the market. This is the model that I'll be making available to the public and using myself on a regular basis. The i-sopod tanks are a much sexier and updated design compared to the older model tank featured in the video but in the end they are pretty much functionally similar.

I can really say that my journey to Arizona could be split into two parts, pre-float and post-float. Considering I had the pleasure of traveling with my parents and that there were lengthy amounts of time where I had no choice but to be in confined spaces with them whether it be in a plane or rented vehicle...lets just say that by the time we arrived in Scottsdale the edges were a bit frayed. Which in hindsight actually allowed for an astute observation as I could really feel a significant shift for the better in everyone's mood and our general interaction with one another after just an hour in an i-sopod. You might be asking yourself why we had to travel all the way to Arizona in the first place. Well, True REST in Scottsdale was the closest float center that had the i-sopod model tanks, the same tanks we'll be using here in Lubbock. So the trip was a very enlightening experience in many ways.

So we had to fill out some quick paperwork and after we watched a short instructive video the girl at the front desk gave us a towel and walked us back to our own tank rooms. She made us aware of the earplugs sitting on a wooden shelf to the left of the tanks and encouraged us to use them if we didn't like water in our ears. She also directed us to a bathroom at the end of the hall if we needed it, wished us well on our first float and promptly went back up through the dimly lit hallway.

Walking into the room I noticed the tank was a bit bigger than I had perceived it to be from the pictures on the website. The other thing that hit me right away was the very warm and humid air. So after taking about thirty seconds to just stand there and really observe the room I shut the door, turned down the lights and began getting undressed. Once the room lights were off I noticed the tank itself was glowing from the inside and gave off a really cool blue ambient light. I was actually giddy! I stepped into the shower on the right of the tank and quickly washed and rinsed myself off.

Stepping into the tank a smile came to my face as it felt like I was stepping into some kind of futuristic space pod. I grabbed the lid and pulled it down with me as I knelt down and began to sit back into the warm water. My muscles naturally hesitated to fully let go at first but the more you lay back the more you realize how buoyant your body is in the dense salt water. It's a bit challenging trying to describe the feeling of floating on water. One way I found myself describing it was if you could imagine lying on top of a water bed but without the bladder being between you and the water. Of course that really doesn't do any justice to the actual feeling of being suspended by liquid. Anyway, I'm adjusting my arms and trying to find the best position for them as soft music wafts in the background. The tank has a sensor that can tell when you enter the tank and shortly after begins playing soft music. Actually, this model of tank has a built in mp3 player and although silence is the best it'll be interesting to experiment with different soundscapes. After ten minutes it fades out and at the end of the session it fades back in to let you know you have five minutes left. So once I started getting my bearings I pushed a rubber button to my right and turned off the ambient glow of the tank light. I'm now in total darkness, a complete cessation of visual stimulus and there's not any difference whether I shut my eyes or leave them open. Without any visual distraction my attention moves back to my body.

My neck is still a bit taut and I slowly lay my head back into the water adjusting my arms laterally to get into the most comfortable position for my shoulders and neck. After a few minutes I find what seems to be best position for my arms. This is all done slowly as any sharp movement sends you drifting into the boundaries of the tank. Okay, now I'm really beginning to relax. The more comfortable I am the more I become aware of the tiny micro muscles in my legs and lower back that are still flexed. So I let them go and my legs slowly drift apart a couple more inches and now my body is totally suspended. There isn't a single muscle that is engaged and it feels incredible. It's pitch black, the music has faded away and the only movement is my breath and the beating of my heart which is beginning to slow. I let out a deep sigh and it feels great. It becomes so still and quiet in the tank that my breathing actually starts becoming a bit of a distraction! My mind flashes Darth Vader and I try and slow my breathing down a bit to dampen the sound. I find myself wishing I could stop my breathing somehow but I finally just let that go and Vader soon drifts away as well.

For the most part I didn't have substantial difficulty keeping a handle on my mind. From what I have read and the advice I received about getting the most out of my float was that the first couple sessions would really be about getting oriented with the float experience and trying not to let the chattering mind overwhelm you. Which is what my parents expressed to me after we were done but more about that later. Due to the lack of sensory stimulation in the tank a person's mental activity tends to increase but usually will subside within thirty or so minutes and will be less and less of a factor during subsequent floats unless one intentionally engages the enhanced creative capacity the tank allows you to access but again much more about those aspects in a later blog.  Fortunately, I have several years of meditation practice under my belt and have a certain amount of discipline over my brain activity which went a long way in making my first float so rewarding. 

In fact I think one of the more interesting things is the distinction in the perception of time between myself and my father. Actually, this aspect in general will be something I'll be interested in investigating further. So one clear difference between my float experience compared to my father's was how the hour of time seemed to pass for us. My father reported that he thought there was no way an hour had passed. He said that he was just beginning to truly sink into the experience when the music came back on to indicate the end of the session. Myself on the other hand thought that surely someone had made a mistake and we had gone way over an hour's worth of time. I felt we had been in the tanks for at least 90 minutes or more.

I have some ideas as to the reasons behind the difference in our perception of time such as the meditation training I have and so on but I'm going to wait until I have bigger pool of feedback to draw from and I'll save that for a future blog. But in the meantime and when you get a chance here is an interesting little video about time that is tied in with what I'm talking about here: The Secret Powers of Time 

So getting back to my float. Although I was trying to just let my mind go for the most part I did notice an enhanced ability to visualize. Of course one of the things that began to occupy my mind was my own business location. As I began imagining what it would look like I realized how effortless it was to conjure up the details. I had read about the enhance learning and visualization capacities of the tank but I have to admit was bit skeptical as to the extent of it but now as I think back to some of the testimonials from musicians to architects I can easily see the potential for creative visualization. Now that I'm thinking about it I recall that athlete Carl Lewis reported using visualization techniques in a float tank to prepare for the 1988 Seoul Olympics and went on to win gold. Although it was fun engaging my mind I let that go fairly quickly as I was really more interested in getting a rejuvenating effect from the tank. And that aspect is something all three of us were satisfied with. After getting back to the resort we had a great meal and like I said earlier everyone's mood was much more uplifted and jovial. The resort had a great outside setup and we all ended up lounging by the pool enjoying the balmy night air. 

You know it's funny because I've only floated once so far and as I comb my memory for this blog my body will react even though it's been a couple months since I was in the tank. I hate to repeat myself here but the depth of release I felt is simply nostalgic and I can't wait to get into a tank again because one thing I realized from my first float is that relaxation and rejuvenation are seemingly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to flotation. 

My tanks will arrive in the next few weeks so stay tuned!