Our reporter tests out a sensory deprivation float tank to examine the treatment's health benefits.
Have you ever felt like you’ve been swallowed by a beluga whale and are just floating around in a dark abyss? No? I’d like to say “Me too,” but then I’d be a liar.
I wasn’t actually swallowed by a whale, or anything at all for that matter. I simply voluntarily stripped to the buff, put in earplugs and stepped into a pitch-black, fully enclosed tank of salty water.
I know, this sounds like the beginning of a horror movie, but the experience is actually part of a spa treatment designed to help people relax.
MindSpa Integrative Wellness Center, located at 5632 Bee Ridge Road, offers sensory deprivation flotation tanks where clients float in individual pods filled with 10 inches of water and 850 pounds of dissolved magnesium-enriched Epsom salt. The service costs $60 for an hour in the tank.
After a person enters the tank, the lid is closed to create total darkness. The idea is to reduce stimuli and create a relaxing atmosphere through water that rests at about 95 degrees, a completely quiet setting (hello, earplugs), total darkness and a zero-gravity environment.
The treatment, which has been around commercially since 1972, is said to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, arthritis, insomnia, sports injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also help with high blood pressure, migraines and pre-menstrual tension.
A 2018 study by the National Institutes of Health found that a one-hour session can lead to significant reduction in anxiety and improvement of mood. Because the epsom salt contains an abundance of magnesium, other benefits include detoxification of the body, strengthening of the immune system and heightened endorphins release.
However, Angela Chittum, the manager of MindSpa, said the best benefits are those in the brain.
According to several studies, chronic stress can impact the brain’s function by killing brain cells, disrupting synapse regulation and reducing the size of the brain. It also can reduce the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for memory and learning.
Aside from the stress-relief benefits on the brain, a 2014 study in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine states the tanks have been proven to increase imagination, originality and creativity.
“The brain controls everything,” Chittum said. “It’s the most important organ we have, but we often don’t treat it as such.”
Although researchers have reported limited risks, some people have experienced hallucinations within the tank that are often described as psychosislike.
After ensuring I didn’t have disqualifying circumstances — such as epilepsy, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or having open skin wounds — I was asked to take a quick shower before getting into the pod.
As someone who usually floats like a boat, it was not difficult to get comfortable. For those who are, shall we say, not so buoyant, no need to worry. The large salt quantity means it’s as easy to float as if you were in the Dead Sea.
However, after flipping off the lights, it took me awhile to relax. As someone with anxiety, I couldn’t stop my mind from wondering.
Did I ever call that source back? How am I going to have time to make dinner before a school board meeting? Are those the lyrics to “Sleigh Ride”? I’m supposed to be relaxed. Am I doing this wrong? How much time is left? God, why did I open my eyes?!
Chittum said first-time floaters often have the same experience I did, so I decided to give a second float a try, and I’m glad I did.
It was euphoria.
I have tried many activities to relax — meditation, massages and even an infrared sauna — but nothing worked as well as the floatation tank. And I’m not alone.
Jessica Childs, a licensed massage therapist at MindSpa, also uses the flotation tanks, often pairing them with a massage.
“It’s amazing. You just hit a new level of relaxation,” Childs said. “You relax your muscles and then move all the toxins out of your body with the Epsom salt. It’s like a total body relaxer.”
Aside from the immediate relaxation, I felt fewer aches and pains in my body, I focused more on work, and I slept well the week following.
Although this therapy might not be for everyone, I would recommend giving it a try. Just remember one thing: Always keep your eyes closed.
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