With more and more people exploring the world of holistic healing every day, flotation tanks (otherwise known as isolation or sensory deprivation tanks) seem destined to get their time in the spotlight sometime in the near future.
I recently enjoyed a session at Great Lakes Flotation in Swartz Creek, Michigan, just outside of Flint, and experienced the incredible benefits of sensory deprivation, and the total relaxation and mental focus it provides, first hand.
After my hour-plus-long first session, I spoke with Great Lakes Flotation owner and holistic health teach Terri Stangl about the benefits of flotation tanks and also where people can find out more information about this exciting and emerging holistic health technology.
AHW: So Terri, how did you first hear about flotation and what was appealing about it to you?
TS: I came to flotation by initially learning about the work of the inventor of the float tank John Lilly who did a lot of research on the mind and he had a whole model of the mind as a bio computer, and through learning about that and finding ways to apply it to my own thinking, I ran into people who ran float tank offices. I knew it could be used as tool for a powerful healing program and I started Great Lakes Flotation in 2007.
AHW: What are some of the changes or benefits you noticed?
TS: Well…I found it helped me slow down a lot, and I can be a pretty fast-paced person and be prone to being stressed. I had a stressful job and I found that floating helped relax me and helped me get calmer. It also slowed down some of the inner dialogue in my own head so I wasn’t thinking all the time and I just generally found things I might be more reactive to and more frustrated by didn’t affect me in the same way. I was also combining the floating with some continued work and understanding in applying to the tool of (mental) programming, and the two of them together were very powerful for me.
AHW: Are flotation tanks slash isolation tanks something that are widespread or still catching on right now? I know only two locations Michigan for example.
TS: In Michigan it’s been slower but there are a number of centers on the West Coast. I’m aware of more coming up around the country though through the National Association of Float Centers. Outside of the U.S. it’s been very popular. Sweden for example is not a very big country but they have 120 float centers there. It’s really become part of the community and overall wellness strategy that many (health practitioners) use.
AHW: Can you walk people through what going into a tank entails and what you do and what you feel once you’re inside there?
TS: Sure, well I always do a little orientation when people come to the float center here. Basically the tank is a fiberglass box with ten inches of water and an Epsom salt solution of 25 to 30 %. You float completely effortlessly; even if try to put a leg or arm in the water you bounce right back up. A flotation tank is usually heated to skin temperature, a little cooler than a bath but as one begins to relax into since and darkness you start to lose the boundaries of water, skin and air. It feels like a very large space and it’s a very relaxing sensation.
So when you’re in the tank you’re not taking up any brain power with light or sound or gravity or temperature. It frees up brain circuitry, which most people find very relaxing so they can use their brain for other things whether it’s creativity, problem solving or just to enjoy the calming effect.
People shower before and after going in the flotation tank, and use ear plugs if they choose, then usually lie down in the tank for about an hour. That might sound like a long time but most people, once they find a comfortable position, are very surprised at how fast the time can go.
AHW: I would definitely have to agree with that. It took a little while to find my bearings in the tank but once I did, the time flew by. I even had something resembling a dream where I felt like I was waking up and getting something out of the fridge, even though there’s no fridge here.
But anyway, is it possible to go longer than that, especially without passing out?
TS: Oh yes, we do book longer appointments and when I first started floating I’d regularly go for a three-hour float session in the tank. I’ve had people float as long as five hours, although I would say that most people start out with the hour-long session.
One to two hours is about right, for many people an hour and a half is a really nice time, it gives them the chance to decompress from their drive or day and relax into slower states.
AHW: Is there any risk to staying in the flotation tank too long?
TS: No, there really isn’t, you can stay the whole night really. I slept six hours and was in there the whole time; I know people who have done that.
AHW: So there’s no way you can go under?
TS: If you do, it will be irritating to the eyes and you’ll wake up. The other thing about Epsom salts is that even if you’re in there a long time the skin doesn’t wrinkle up like the lake or ocean. That often surprises people, that their skin looks fine after being in the tank for a while.
AHW: Is there any certain type of person particularly benefit from spending some time in the isolation tank?
TS: People use them for lots of different reasons, some like to be less stressed and more relaxed for example. In modern society many people are stressed and there’s a (tremendous) effect on their bodies. So having a chance to slow down and feel relaxed is a treat for them. There is some evidence that medical conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia; the tank can be useful for that. There is some evidence of its usefulness for ADD and ADHD as well as its use as a tool for focusing the mind. All research is relatively new and with small sample sizes.
One thing is it appears to do is, it does cause some chemical changes in the brain, it helps reduce pain and stress hormones as well. These are pretty system things that have a lot of effects throughout the body.
AHW: Even weight loss; stress is big when it comes to weight loss.
TS: Yes, it’s great for all things and the flotation tank seems to be great for reducing stress hormones. I’ve read some other research that suggests it seems to be helpful for reducing compulsive behavior such as smoking or eating. I think it may be because people get down to some emotional reasons for the behavior. I’ve had some smokers come through and then come out of the tank; I had a father and son both come out saying, I’ve talked to you for 20 minutes and I don’t feel like a cigarette, this is really unusual. It made me wonder if he might have been smoking for stress, and now that he’s not stressed he didn’t feel the need of a cigarette to calm himself down.
AHW: What is your recommendation for a schedule, or what’s the optimal schedule?
TS: I think it’s good to do three floats fairly close together initially so you can get comfortable. It takes three or so times to really become fully relaxed and feel comfortable and enjoy it. After that on spacing it out, some clients go once a week or once a month.
Some go for health conditions. I have some people coming in for 2-3 weeks, a short period of time and then tapering off, which is true for a lot of wellness practices but I find that clients kind of know what feels right for their own bodies and their own emotional states.
AHW: Are there any certain things people should focus on mentally when they get in the flotation tank?
TS: I’m kind of a believer that the tank is a very personal space. Each person does with it what they should do. We generally don’t suggest what people should do or what course of action they should take. I think they know in their deeper selves what they need to think about or take care of for themselves once they get in there.
AHW: There’s also the potential use of having a projection screen in there so people can focus on different images, right?
TS: Yes, there are some tanks equipped with audio or video that have been used for learning (in other practices). Because you get down into slower brain waves, there are models for that learning or programming within those lower brain waves.
Athletes also use them to visualize their plays or their sport, so that certainly has been done.
Personally I don’t have a projector screen or audio; I think what’s really unique about the space is the silence. The deepest places people go to is when they’re not stimulated by light or sound.
AHW: Excellent, and I would definitely agree with that after my session. So where can people go if they want to find out more information about flotation tanks?
TS: Well GreatLakesFlotation.com is our page, and we’ve got links to different sites that will tell you more about flotation tanks and the science behind them. We’ve also got a Facebook page where we post articles and videos talking about the tanks.
Then there’s a national site called FloatforHealth.net; they link to a number of studies on how flotation tanks can be beneficial for different health conditions, that’s a great resource as well.
AHW: Thanks for the information Terri, it was certainly a relaxing and interesting experience in the tank today.
TS: Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it.