Floatation: the newest tool for improving mental and physical health?
Touted as the water therapy for everybody, floatation chambers have been gaining popularity over the years. The high epsom salt content in the water keeps you buoyant during sessions, the peaceful environment lends itself to meditation, and the experience is meant to support one’s physical and mental health.
But how does it work—and does it even work? We spoke with Chris Plowman and Ed Hawley, co-founders of Floatworks in London to see whether or not floatation might be the next big thing in mental health self-care.
FOR STARTERS, WHAT EVEN IS A FLOATATION CHAMBER?
Floatation chambers are large pressurised pods, filled with epsom salt-laden water at a ratio that keeps the body above water at all times. While floating, the participant is encouraged to relax their muscles, close their eyes, focus on breathing calmly, and just let go—due to the salt content of the water, you’re consistently suspended above the water.
“Floating is the ultimate practice for reducing stress, reaching deep states of meditative calm, and understanding your own consciousness,” Plowman said. It can lead you to a state of serenity that is hard to reach through other practices.”
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The water is heated to 35.5 celsius, with the air in the tank heated to the same temperature—the goal is for participants not to feel where their body ends and the water begins, creating that “floating” feeling. Floatation tanks have been around since the 1950s, so while they’re not a new concept, they have gained more popularity in recent years as a new form of relaxation.
“The density of the water allows you to float effortlessly,” Hawley said. “After a while, you can’t feel where the water begins and ends as it’s the same temperature as your skin.”
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Similar to meditation, floatation offers the chance to relax, calm the brain and just chill for a session. It can help decrease cortisol, also called “the stress hormone,” and the support of the water helps dissipate muscular tension. Its main goal is to alleviate stress and rejuvenate the body, and allow the mind a safe place to process any problems with one’s mental health.
Based off research done by the Laureate Institute of Brain Research (LIBR), Hawley said that, “floating can have a greater impact on the symptoms of anxiety and depression than pharmaceutical intervention, and that it can last longer.
“The LIBR team found that the greater the level of anxiety, the more pronounced the impact of floating, they also found this to be the case in treatment-resistant people that had tried many other therapeutic interventions.”
WHO SHOULD TRY A FLOATATION SESSION?
Plowman recommends floats for anyone seeking stress-relief, relaxation, consciousness exploration or enhanced physical and cognitive performance.
“The pace of modern life, and the proliferation of ‘always on – always connected’ technology is disrupting the ability of human beings to reconnect with the simple happiness found in the present moment,” he said. “We believe that floating is the ultimate practice for connecting with the present moment.”
SO, WHAT DOES A TYPICAL FLOAT SESSION LOOK LIKE?
Participants can take a shower at the location beforehand, and float naked or in the bathing suit—but no clothes is the preferred method, since pods are in private rooms. During the float, your only requirement is to… well, float, giving you plenty of time to relax your mind and body. Some participants fall asleep while some rethink their lives, but whatever you choose is completely up to you.
In Plowman’s experience, “Usually, first-timers are very excited when they see the size, spaciousness and design of the pod. When they lay back and feel the perfect temperature and buoyancy of the water, worries start to drift away. We recommend having no expectations—it can take some time to get used to and that’s totally normal—focusing on the breath can help to anchor you into the experience.
HOW CAN YOU MAXIMISE THE BENEFITS OF A FLOATATION SESSION?
Come after having a light meal and some ice water, and if you’re feeling daring, get some exercise beforehand to get the maximum benefit from your float. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes or any other stimulants before your session, and enjoy a cup of herbal tea afterwards to help ground yourself.
HOW MANY SESSIONS SHOULD YOU ATTEND TO GET THE FULL BENEFITS OF FLOATATION?
“As with any practice, regularity is key,” Hawley said. “We would recommend floating at least once per month, preferably on the same day and at the same time. This way they can develop a consistent routine to get the most out of their floats.”
If you don’t have space in your schedule for multiple floats, don’t fret, because even a single float “has immediate effects that can last for days” and is “great for breaking a stress cycle, recuperating or simply feeling good.”