Like many people, I’m affected by stress. It can be difficult to find customs that truly allow our bodies to relax. In the 1950s, physician and neuropsychologist John C. Lilly spent much of his time researching the effects of sensory deprivation and isolation on stress and the human body.
Though times have changed since the ’50s, sensory deprivation, or restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST), float tanks have taken on a whole new reputation. According to an article in Men’s Journal, the target audience has also changed from hippies to city dwellers and stressed-out, technology-laced individuals looking to decompress while turning themselves off to their phones, computers and the world around them.
In a float tank you’re, quite literally, sensory deprived. The goal is to eliminate noise, light and any distractions in the tank as you lay suspended in 10 or so inches of skin temperature Epsom saltwater. (See pg. 152 for this month’s float tank-themed “Try This.”)
Dr. Peter Suedfeld, a leading researcher in REST, mentioned in Men’s Journal that float tanks have been “promising in tackling the autonomic nervous system, such as insomnia, stress symptoms, dysfunctions of the skeletomuscular system, chronic headache, and the like.”
The tanks haven’t always gotten the best feedback, mainly because of reports that it caused anxiety attacks and hallucinations, but criticisms have changed as more people are seeing relief from chronic pain and migraines, among other ailments, and even reports of helping with PTSD.
I was definitely skeptical during my first tank experience. Though I couldn’t completely let go of my mind and control, I was enjoying the feeling of weightlessness that’s aided by the salt. It absolutely gave my joints a break from the struggle of life with arthritis; however, I did have a few aches after my body readjusted to being out of the water.
Float tanks have potential to complement any medical regimen, but I advise seeking the approval of your medical professional before jumping, or floating, into anything.