INTRODUCTION TO FLOATING
The Zero Gravity Float Room is a light-proof, sound-insulated 8' x 6' x 7' room which contains a shallow 10-12 inch pool of 25% saturated pharmaceutical epsom salt solution - five times denser than the dead sea. Lying back, you float effortlessly on the surface with all parts of your body perfectly supported. Your body is no longer affected by the constant downward pull of gravity, the single greatest cause of wear and tear to bones, joints, and body tissue. As muscle tension melts away, you find yourself floating weightless and free, like an astronaut in zero gravity.
Floating and the Mind
When you change your body, you also change your mind. The reduced stimulation of the nervous system has a direct effect on the hypothalamus, the brain's chemical control center. Research has shown that internal events (thoughts and emotions) translate into measurable changes in body chemistry, and vice versa. The production of endorphins and the removal of undesirable chemicals during floating stimulates feelings of confidence, happiness and well-being, which helps you pursue your goals in life with maximum vitality and effectiveness. When floating, you achieve a level of physical relaxation which is even deeper than sleep. In the floatation tank your mind remains awake and dreamily alert, just above the threshold of sleep. Large areas of the brain are suddenly liberated from their normal task of processing signals from the nervous system and organs. There is a sharp drop in the level of electrical activity of the brain (measured on an EEG) from the usual 20-25 Hz down to 4-8 Hz.; a slow, rhythmic wave pattern known as the theta state. The "dream state". For most people, the theta state is almost impossible to enter without falling asleep. In the tank you enter this elusive state effortlessly and enjoyably, and stay in it for most of the float session. This is a profound state of consciousness, a zone of inspirational thought processes and hyper creativity, where your learning abilities are at their highest and powers of visualization and auto-suggestion are greatly enhanced. Because your mind is freed from all external distractions during floating it can absorb new information quickly and on a very deep level. The learning process is accelerated by the theta state and by increased access to the efficient large-scale learning abilities of the right hemisphere.
EEG measurements on floaters show that the level of activity in the two hemispheres of the brain become more balanced and synchronized. This can produce a shift in awareness away from the normally dominant "left-brain" (logical, linear, analytical) towards the more intuitive, creative and large-scale specialties of the "right-brain". The tank does not inhibit the left hemisphere, but simply changes its role from one of dominance to one of cooperation with the other hemisphere, enabling floaters to use more of their cognitive potential. To fully exploit this mental potential, many modern floatation tanks are equipped with powerful underwater speakers and often with in-tank video. Any skill or information can be learned more effectively and efficiently while the floater is in a deep state of relaxation. Sophisticated audio or video based programs (such as SyberVision) can be used to guide the floater to peak performance in anything from language skills to golf swings. Learning has never been easier.
The mental and physical effects of floating profoundly improve your powers of emotional control and sense of well being. Negative emotions and unwanted habits melt away in the tank along with the physical tensions and stresses that accompany them. Smoking, alcohol dependence and weight control problems can be easily and effectively overcome or lessened, - sometimes totally spontaneously. Research suggests that compulsive behavior patterns such as these are linked to a low endorphin level in the body. In fact, according to experts at The National Institute of Mental Health, the float tank "is the only technique ever shown by controlled studies to be effective over extended periods of time". Studies show success rates of 81% in eliminating or sharply reducing smoking, 61% in reducing alcohol consumption, with similarly impressive results in combating weight control problems. In the deep theta state you have increased access to and control over subconscious mental processes. You become master of your own mind.
Floating, Fitness, and Sports Training
Carl Lewis, said to be the world's greatest athlete, used in-tank visualization techniques to prepare himself for his gold medal long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympics: the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys have been using floatation tanks since 1981 to develop the physical and psychological skills of their players; the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) has been using tanks to train their successful Olympic squads since 1983.
Peak athletic performance depends on a coordination of physical, mental and emotional skills. Modern training methods focus on helping the athlete to master "the inner game", to develop that cool synchrony of mind, body and emotion which is the hallmark of a champion. The most potent psychological technique for building up skill and confidence simultaneously is visualization. In the tank, an athlete can achieve the level of concentration necessary for visualization to have a dramatic impact on performance. This is one of the most exciting new developments in sports science.
Floating maximizes the benefits of fitness training. High intensity exercise stimulates the muscles to grow, but the actual growth and strengthening takes place during relaxation - usually 30 to 40 hours after the stimulation occurs. The deep relaxation of the floatation tank improves circulation and accelerates the growth and regeneration of muscle tissue. Strenuous physical exercise can also cause a rapid build-up of lactic acid in the muscles; a toxic by-product of anaerobic glycolysis. This is experienced as fatigue, pain and cramps, which can last for days; it is also linked to feelings of depression and anxiety known as "post-game letdown", which can even affect recreational joggers. Floating is one method of reducing the effects of lactic acid and removing other waste materials from the body. This reduces the risk of over-training.
When floatation tanks are used for sports training they are frequently equipped with in-tank video facilities. In the tank the athlete enters a relaxed, focused and highly receptive theta brain state. Instead of simply visualizing perfect performance, the athlete watches repetitions of perfectly executed sports moves on the screen - up to 1,000 repetitions in one hour. Perfect sports technique can be "programmed" into the neuromuscular system as a conditioned response. Studies at Stanford University have indicated that one hour of this "muscle memory programming" method is superior to ten hours of repetitive field practice. This technology is now available to the amateur sportsman through a company called SyberVision, who produce sophisticated audio-visual training packages for golf, tennis, bowling, self-defense and most other popular sports.
Since they were first introduced, float tanks have been used in clinical laboratory conditions. They are unique in this respect. The effects of Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (R.E.S.T.) have been researched and documented at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and countless other universities, hospitals and sports training facilities around the world. Many studies have been published on the effects of floating on human
physiology. (see our Benefits and Science page for more info)
Q & A's
So, How Does It Work?
It seems counterintuitive that something so simple could be so effective. But, scientists estimate that up to 90% of the brain's normal workload is caused by the effects of routine environmental stimulation, the combined effects of gravity, temperature, touch, light and sound on the muscles, nervous system and sense organs of the body. The floatation room screens out these external stimuli, creating a pure state of "sensory relaxation". Under these unique conditions your body has a chance to restore its natural powers of self-regulation, while you simply lie back and rediscover the latent abilities of a deeply relaxed mind.
The water/solution temperature is kept at a constant 93.5 degrees - relaxed skin temperature. As a result, the nerve endings, which cover the surface of
the skin, no longer perceive a separation between the skin and the silky mineral solution which surrounds it. In the dark, weightless tranquility of the Zero Gravity Float Room the boundaries of your body seem to dissolve and vanish. Because of the sharp reduction in signals being transmitted through the nervous system to the brain, you enter progressively deeper levels of relaxation. Your body seems to "disappear" from conscious awareness.
The sudden lack of stimulation to large areas of the nervous system triggers a spontaneous chain reaction throughout the body known as the parasympathetic response. Muscle tension, blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption all drop dramatically. The entire chemistry of the body changes. The parasympathetic response is the body's natural mechanism for healing and regeneration. It can only occur during deep relaxation. Floating is the fastest, easiest, and most effective way of eliciting this response and enjoying its dramatic health benefits. Floating "resets" the body's chemical
and metabolic balance, strengthening its resistance to the effects of stress, illness or injury.
Blood vessels including capillaries dilate, improving cardiovascular efficiency and increasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to every cell in
your body. This is called the vasodilatory effect. People who lead demanding lifestyles run the risk of developing high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. This disease has no symptoms, but eventually manifests itself in the form of strokes, heart attacks, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) - all potential killers. Floating can produce an immediate reduction in blood pressure and heart rate; regular floating may maintain this.
The endorphin is literally the essence of pleasure, sometimes called "the body's natural opiate". The endorphins released while floating create intense feelings of well-being, alleviating fatigue and chronic pain, as well as improving many of the higher brain functions such as memory and learning. The body's endorphin level is what makes some people naturally happy and others less so. Happiness is not an illusion - it is an endorphin.
Stress related chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, ACTH and lactate are removed from the bloodstream and replaced by beneficial endorphins. High levels of cortisol and ACTH are known to weaken the body's immune system and create feelings of depression, while lower baseline levels are associated with feelings of dominance and confidence. Apart from being the ultimate "stress buster", floating has been shown to alleviate asthma, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular disorders. Tension related problems such as migraine, back-ache, and insomnia. These biochemical changes occur naturally and spontaneously as by-products of deep sensory relaxation. No special techniques or training are required. Just lie back and let it happen. (read more on the Benefits and Science of floating page)
Are There Any Negative Side Effects of Floating?
There are virtually no negative side effects of floating. All the effects of deep sensory relaxation are wholly beneficial and work simultaneously at a
physical, mental, and emotional level. Floating is the fastest, easiest, and safest means of achieving a dramatic improvement in the quality of day-to-day living by helping you to make the most efficient use of your mind and your body.
How Often Should The Float Tank Be Used?
First-time floaters generally pronounce it as one the most enjoyable experiences of their lives, although it may take 3 to 5 float sessions before
an individual becomes fully acclimatized to the tank environment. During the first few float sessions, massive amounts of accumulated muscle and nervous tension - often unconsciously "locked into" the body - are discharged, allowing the body to begin to restore and optimize its natural metabolic balance.
The law of diminishing returns does not apply to floating. The float tank triggers a natural physical reaction in the body known as the parasympathetic response. Every time you float, this response is reinforced. Regular floating produces cumulative benefits as the body "learns" to relax deeply.
The frequency of floating is also a matter of individual preference or requirement. Individuals who lead high-pressure lifestyles (athletes, business people, creative artists, performers and other professionals) may wish to float at least once or twice a week to keep mind and body in perfect tune. Similarly, there are situations in everyone's life which create special demands - such as starting a new job, studying for exams, recovering from illness, injury, pregnancy, extra-long working hours, (to name but a few) - where deep relaxation is particularly beneficial or even essential.
We instinctively know that in every aspect of our daily lives - our work, our personal relationships, our leisure activities - things go better when we are
relaxed. The Zero Gravity Float Room gives you immediate access to the natural rewards of deep sensory relaxation - the purest form of relaxation on Earth.
History of the Floatation Tank
In 1954, physician, neuroscientist and psychoanalyst Dr. John C. Lilly devised the floatation tank as part of his research at the National Institute of Mental Health. He was testing the premise that mental activity would cease in the absence of external stimuli. Instead, he found floating to be profoundly relaxing, and that it facilitated the discovery of richly elaborate states of inner experience. Since then, many people have discovered the multiple benefits of floating.
With more study and use by both researchers and the public, the initial terminology for floatation, "sensory deprivation", was changed to
Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy. R.E.S.T. Therapy. With the research that followed came a greatly enhanced understanding of the many benefits for those who practice floatation. A great volume of published work continues to show improvements for users in managing stress, lowering blood pressure, reducing the presence of stress-related chemicals in the bloodstream, ceasing addictions, controlling chronic pain, enhancing creativity and mental acuity, among other known benefits.
Such studies and their results merely confirm what veteran floaters have known for years—floating is a natural, healthy way to relax and rejuvenate.
Meanwhile, floating has caught on in America, Australia and, more recently, Asia and Europe as a powerfully productive and creative form of recreation in
its own right.
The Seven Theories of Floating
by Michael Hutchinson, author of “The Book of Floating”
There’s no doubt that floating works – as a therapeutic, educational and entertainment tool it has powerful effects on a number of levels, including the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. But why is the floatation environment so effective? What can be so actively beneficial in an essentially passive device? This is a question that has intrigued scientists, and today there is floatation research going on in laboratories around the world. The evidence accumulated so far falls into a number of distinct, though interrelated explanations. Among the most important are as follows:
1 The Antigravity Explanation.
The buoyancy afforded by the dense Epsom salt solution eliminates the body’s specific gravity, bringing the floater close to an experience of total weightlessness. Gravity, which has been estimated to occupy 90 percent of all central nervous system activity, is probably the single largest cause of human health problems – the bad backs, sagging abdomens, aching feet, painful joints, and muscular tension that result from our unique but unnatural upright posture. This theory asserts that, by freeing our brain and skeletal system from gravity, floating liberates vast amounts of energies and large areas of the brain to deal with matter of mind, spirit, and enhanced awareness of internal states.
2 The Brain Wave Explanation.
More interesting than the well known alpha waves generated by the brain in moments of relaxation, are the slower theta waves, which are accompanied by vivid memories, free association, sudden insights, creative inspiration, feeling of serenity and oneness with the universe. It is a mysterious, elusive state, potentially highly productive and enlightening; but experimenters have had a difficult time studying it, and it is hard to maintain, since people tend to fall asleep once they begin generate theta waves. One way of learning to produce theta waves is to perfect the art of meditation. A study of Zen monks conducted by Akira Kazamatsu and Tomio Hirai, in which the monks’ brain-waves were charted as they entered the meditative states, indicated that the four meditative plateau’s (from alpha to the more sublime theta) “were parallel to the disciples’ mental states, and their years spent in Zen training.” Those monks with over twenty years of meditative experience generated the greatest amount of theta, the monks were not asleep but mentally alert. However, since many of us are unwilling to spend twenty years of mediation to learn to generate theta waves, it’s helpful to know that several recent studies (at Texas A&M and the University at Colorado) have shown that floating increases production of theta waves. Floaters quickly enter the theta state while remaining awake, consciously aware of all the vivid imagery and creative thoughts that pass through their minds, and after getting out of the floatation environment, floaters continue to generate larger amounts of creativity-promoting theta waves for up to three weeks.
3 The Left-Brain Right-Brain Explanation.
The two hemispheres or the neocortex operate in fundamentally different modes. The left hemisphere excels at detail, processing information that is small-scale, requiring fine resolution: it operates analytically, by splitting or dissection. The right hemisphere on the other hand, is good at putting all the pieces together. It operates by pattern recognition – visually, intuitively rapidly absorbing large scale information. Just as in the sunshine of a bright day it is impossible to see the stars, so are the subtle contents of the right hemisphere usually drowned out by the noisy chattering of the dominant verbal/analytical left brain, whose qualities are the more cultivated and valued in our culture. But recent research indicates that floating increases right-brain (or minor hemisphere) function. Floating turns off the external stimuli, plunges us into literal and figurative darkness – then suddenly the entire universe of stars and galaxies is spread out before our eyes. Or as brain researcher Dr. Thomas Budzynski of the University of Colorado put it, “In a floatation environment, the right hemisphere comes out and says, ‘Whoopee”.
4 The Three Brain Explanation.
In a series of seminal studies produced over the last twenty-five years, Paul MacLean, chief brain researcher at the National Institute for Mental Health (US), has produced convincing evidence that the human brain has three separate physiological layers, each corresponding to a stage in our evolutionary history. In this “Triune Brain Theory,” the most ancient layer is called the reptile brain, and it controls basic self-preservative, reproductive and life sustaining functions. Sitting atop the reptile, brain is the iambic system, which MacLean had dubbed the visceral brain, because generates all our emotions. The most recent part of the brain to develop is the “thinking cap” of convoluted gray matter called neocortex, seat of our abstract, cognitive functions; memory, intellect, language, and consciousness. While many of these three separate brains have overlapping functions they are all quite different in chemistry, structure, action, and style. Three brains should be better than one, but unfortunately, due to a ruinous design error, there is insufficient communication and coordination between the neocortex and the two older levels. This lack of communication results in a chronic dissociation between the higher and lower brains, which MacLean calls schizaphysiology, and which we experience in the form of conflicting drives – unconscious and conscious, savage and civilized, lusty and loving, ritualistic and symbolic, rational and verbal. There are times when the levels do act in harmony, as in peak experiences when body and mind unite in exhilarating moments of vitality, when our actions come effortlessly, spontaneously. But it’s hard to predict when these perfect moments will occur. Now there is evidence that suggests that, due to heightened internal awareness and decreased physical arousal, floating increases the vertical organisation of the brain, enhancing communication and harmony between the separate levels. Floating, it has been hypothesised, can provide us with peak experiences almost at will.
5 The Neurochemical Explanation.
Neuroscientists have recently discovered the brain is an endocrine organ that secretes numerous neurochemicals which influence our behavior. Our brains secrete hormones that make us happy, anxious, depressed, shy, sleepy, sexy. Each of us creates different amounts of these various neurochemicals, and those who create, for example, more endorphins – natural opiates – experience more pleasure as a result of a given experience than those who create fewer endorphins. Tests indicate that floating increased the secretion of endorphins at the same time as it reduces the levels of a number of stress-related neurochemicals, such as adrenaline, nordpinephrine, ACTH, and cortisol – substances that can cause tension, anxiety, irritability, and are related to ailments such as heart disease, hypertension and high levels of cholesterol. One other neurochemical theory is the “return of the womb” explanation. Since pregnant women produce up to eight times the normal endorphin levels, the foetus experiences true prenatal bliss. When a floater is suspended in the dense, warm solution, enclosed in darkness, body pulsing rhythmically and brain pumping out endorphins, it’s possible that subconscious memories are stirred and profoundly deep associations called up. It is no coincidence that at least one commercial float centre is named “The Womb Room.”
6 The Biofeedback Explanation.
Because of biofeedback research (including Johns Hopkin’s researcher John Basmajian’s conclusive study of subjects consciously firing off single motor-unit neurons), we now know that humans can learn to exercise conscious control over virtually every cell in their bodies. Processes long thought to be involuntary, such as the rhythm and amplitude of our brain waves, healing, blood pressure, the rate or force of heart contractions, respiratory rate, smooth-muscle tension, and the secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters are now thought to be controllable. The way biofeedback machines work is by enhancing concentration’, by focusing on a single, subtle change in the body, which is being amplified by the machine, we are able to shut off our awareness of the external environment. This shutting-off of external stimuli is exactly what the floatation environment does best – almost as if in an “organic” biofeedback machine, in the tank every physical sensation is magnified, and because there is no possibility of outside distraction, we are able to relax deeply and focus at will upon any part or system of the body.
7 The Homeostasis Explanation.
The human body has an exquisitely sensitive self-monitoring and self-regulating system that is constantly working to maintain the body in homeostasis – an optimal state of balance, harmony, equilibrium and stability. Considered in these terms, we can define stress as a disruption of our internal equilibrium, a disturbance of our natural homeostasis. Research now indicates that many of floating’s most powerful effects come from its tendency to return the body to a state of homeostasis. When we view the mind and body as a single system, it becomes clear that external stimuli are constantly militating against the system’s equilibrium, every noise, every degree of temperature above or below the body’s optimal level, every encounter with other people, everything we see and feel can disrupt our homeostasis. But when we enter the tank, we abruptly stop making constant adjustments to outer stimuli. Since there are no external threats, no pressures to adapt to outside events, the system can devote all its energies to restoring itself./ The normal state, of course, is health, vigour, enthusiasm, and immense pleasure in being alive.