If you want to get away from it all and relax, but don’t have the time for a full-fledged vacation, an hour in a sensory-deprivation float tank might be just the solution.
What is a Sensory Deprivation or Float Tank?
Float tanks are actually elongated capsules that shut out all light and sound, and are filled with soothing, warm water infused with magnesium salts. The shape of the tank and the depth of the water allow you to lay back and float easily. The saturation of salt is so high that the water supports you easily, so there is no effort on your part to stay afloat during your session.
The sensation is very peaceful and womb-like, and designed for those who want to completely relax, or go deeper into meditation.
Benefits of Float Tanks
The magnesium/Epsom salts in the tank water can soothe and relax aching muscles. Some magnesium can actually be absorbed through your skin, which can also help with relaxation. (Many people are deficient in magnesium, which is an essential mineral for multiple body functions.) The extra magnesium can reduce stress and inflammation and help you get good quality sleep.
Sensory deprivation and floating in the relaxing warm water can help you reduce physical, mental, and emotional tension. The only things you can hear inside a flotation tank are your breathing and often your own heartbeat. These natural sounds can help you focus on your breath, making it deeper and smoother, which is a natural form of meditation.
For those who enjoy them, sensory deprivation benefits are indeed very much akin to the benefits of meditation. Our brains can finally relax, and we can rest, or engage in restorative imagination or daydreaming, or reconnect with the sensation of being in our own body.
Float tanks have been shown to speed up physical and psychological recovery from sports injury, and some evidence suggests that float sessions can improve mental focus and learning capability.
One study showed that a one-hour float session resulted in mood improvement and lower anxiety in a group of 50 anxiety-prone individuals. Anecdotally, some people often report feelings of euphoria or increased well-being and optimism after a float session.
Epsom Salt and Skin Health
There is no evidence that soaking in Epsom salts, the type used in a floatation tank will cure or treat symptoms of a skin condition. However, many who suffer from acne, eczema, TSW or psoriasis, might find that the soak softens their skin a bit, reducing discomfort and itchiness.
The biggest effect of Epsom salt baths or floats on skin health may be in reducing the stress that can often trigger a flare-up, reducing anxiety, as well as promoting both relaxation and better sleep.
Drawbacks of Float Tanks
Although you are never trapped inside a float tank and can easily exit any time you want, some folks experience claustrophobia inside the tank. Needless to say, this can be stressful and negate any benefit, preventing relaxation. If you know that you are claustrophobic, a float tank might not be for you.
Other people find it unnerving to float in total blackness and silence, and it can sometimes prompt fear, internal discomfort or racing thoughts. Without the comfort of familiar sensations around them, some people feel untethered or lost. For others, sensory deprivation can cause hallucinations, as the brain tries to fill in the emptiness with its own sights and sounds. If you find this happening for you, or experience any distressing feelings, don’t suffer through the whole session – get out and chalk it up as a “one-time” experience that you don’t have to repeat.
The high salt saturation makes the risk of any infection from a float tank very small, but not absent. Also, some people experience slight nausea or vertigo after a float session that’s akin to motion sickness.
How to Experience a Float Tank
If you live near a city or large town, you might find either a float tank facility or a spa offering float sessions near you. You can expect to pay from $50 – $100 per one-hour session. And, if you really like it and have the resources and space for it, there are float tanks for sale for home use.
Before a float session, don’t eat a large meal or ingest caffeine or alcohol. Be sure to wear earplugs (which may be provided for you), remove your contact lenses, and shower before and after the session. Don’t shave or wax right before a float session, as the salty water will irritate your skin.
The potential benefits outweigh any risk in trying a sensory deprivation float session if the idea appeals to you. It’s not for everyone, but if you discover it works for you in promoting relaxation or a better mood, why not? It could become part of your toolkit for self-care.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.