Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Float Tank

A glimpse of the float pod

My Experience, What is a Float Tank? and Why You Should Try it.

Every so often I will be highlighting some complementary and alternative medicine treatments, or what is referred to as CAM. The Mayo Clinic defines CAM as "the popular term for health and wellness therapies that have typically not been part of conventional Western medicine. Complementary means treatments that are used along with conventional medicine. Alternative means treatments used in place of conventional medicine." As a certified Professional Yoga Therapist (PYT) and licensed Athletic Trainer (AT), I wholly believe in conventional medicine and it does a great job with acute care and emergency situations especially. However, with chronic diseases and injuries conventional medicine can sometimes fall short for some patients and this is where I think CAM plays a role.

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This first piece will highlight my recent experience with a float tank, which you might also hear to referred to as an isolation tank or sensory deprivation tank.

My Experience:

In January I tried floating for the first time and just last week I floated for the second time; and I'll tell you it seems to only get better and I already can't wait for my next float. The first time I went to Portland, ME to Float Harder and the session was 90 minutes. Most recently I went to Meredith Whole Living Center in Meredith, NH and I did a 60 minute session, though this session felt longer. An hour or an hour and a half in this little pod might seem scary, and the first time I did have a little anxiety going into as to what would happen, but the time goes by quick and the experience of just floating without outside distraction was so blissful. I kept the light and music on the first time, but went dark and quiet the second time; the choice of the light and music is really based on what will help you relax more and how much sensory deprivation you want to experience. During the first float, I was pretty still once I got comfortable and was in that in between state of awake and dreaming, maybe it was a good meditative state; during the second float, I moved a little more and focused more on my breathing, I even practiced some yogic breathing which was pretty awesome!

After this second float I reflected on my feelings post-float and these were some of my feelings : light, relaxed but not heavy, freedom, memories of summer vacation as a kid. Nothing about that sounds scary, but rather quite relaxing and fun, right?! Although I was nervous going into the first float, I finished with similar feelings of feeling light and relaxed, but did feel more blissful the second time around. I must admit, I did enjoy the setting of Meredith Whole Living Center better than Float Harder for the simple fact that their sitting area was secluded with a wonderfully inviting covered porch that allowed for a more gentle return to reality. Both locations are new and the rooms were set up pretty much the same - a bench for your belongings, a corner shower to clean off before and after, and the pod (or room, I was able to check out what the float room looked like at both locations).

I will also say that your post-float activity plays a role in how long you might feel some of the benefits. After the first float, we went out to eat for some great wood fired pizza, but it was loud and crowded. Following the second float, we sipped tea, had a relaxing snack and then I had a beautiful drive back to the Upper Valley; much more conducive to staying relaxed.

So, what is a float tank?

There are two options as far as I understand it, a float pod (pictured above) or a float room (it literally has a door that opens up and you step right in. The interior dimensions are just over 4' wide by 7' long for the pod, and the same width by 8' long and just over 7' tall, for the room (there are many models, but these photos and specs will give you a little better idea of what I'm talking about). The height of the pod is never listed or given, but it felt like it was at least 3' above the level of the water. While I don't easily get claustrophobic, I never felt like I was in too small of a space and the lid lifts up with ease on the pod. There is a light and music, and both can be controlled in the tank. At Float Harder we had the choice of color and five music tracks to choose from, at Meredith Whole Living Center we didn't get to choose light color or music track. We were told that the pod and the room both take 6lbs of Epsom salt/gallon of water, while the numbers I found when researching seem closer to 4lbs of Epsom salt/gallon of water; either way it's A LOT of salt so needless to say you float with ease! And the water is body temperature, so if you have no sound and no light, you kind of feel like you're just floating in space - hence the term, sensory deprivation tank.

Why You Should Try it:

So what is so great about this float tank? I feel like it's revolutionary, but also so ordinary. What wouldn't be relaxing about floating for 60 to 90 minutes right? But at the same time, when was the last time you were uninterrupted for 60 to 90 minutes and will you make time to do it, or are you just too busy or maybe too afraid to be alone with your own thoughts for that long? Although it was developed in the 50's it seems even more necessary and revolutionary today which might be why these float centers are popping up everywhere.

We have constant connection, which also means constant distraction and with social media the pressure to always be doing something awesome is also constant; so what better way to balance that than with a total timeout with no distraction and maybe even no sound or visual input? This time to tune out is great for relaxation and up-regulating our parasympathetic nervous system which is our rest and digest response, and, therefore, down-regulating our sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight response, that is typically on overdrive. This alone has a cascade effect on the mind, emotions, breath, and body - think decreased stress, slower breath rate, lower blood pressure, better digestion and sleep, and the list could go on of potential effects. On top of that floating in water high in levels of magnesium is great for arthritis, fibromyalgia, and headaches/migraines. There are numerous benefits listed all over; Float Harder and Meredith Whole Living Center each have their own page explaining some purported benefits.

So there you have it, if you have heard of a float tank and have always wanted to try it, I highly recommend it; and if you haven't heard of it, now you have! Whether it's a complement to some ongoing treatment or a preventative treatment, your mind and body will thank you! A quick Google search will bring up others in the surrounding area, but Float Harder has one room and two pods and Meredith Whole Living Center has one room and one pod, so if you are going with someone else you can be floating at the same time which is nice. I went the first time with my husband and the second time with my sister-in-law; I found it nice to have someone to reflect with afterwards, but you might choose to make it a total solo experience.

And as Modest Mouse sings, "we'll all float on okay."

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