Floating to Let GoOct 29, 2021 09:31AM ● By Sara Garvin
The pressures of modern life are continual. Work deadlines, traffic, the daily grind and being connected all day, every day, along with the state of the world, contribute to our everyday stress and anxiety levels. Fortunately, with floating, a decades-old trend has come around again, and new research is carrying it to a new audience.
Floating involves lying on one’s back in a small shallow pool super- saturated with Epsom salt so it is dense like the Dead Sea making floating effortless. The tank is kept warm, at body temperature, dark and quiet, and most people find it very relaxing.
Floating for Anxiety
Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in this country. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, an estimated 31 percent of U.S. adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives—and this research was done prior to a worldwide pandemic. But recent research from the Laureate Institute of Brain Research (LIBR), in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shows real promise for floating as a treatment for anxiety.
During the study, 50 participants reported significant improvements in serenity, happiness, relaxation and overall well-being after only one hour-long float session. The participants were divided into anxious and non-anxious groups; half floated, while the other half settled into a comfy recliner and watched a nature documentary. After a week, the groups switched.
The study participants reported much higher levels of serenity and relaxation after floating and much lower levels of muscle tension and in-the-moment anxiety, compared to the nature documentary experience. And the effects persisted about 20 hours after floating, which is about four times the length of many anti-anxiety medications. One participant, identified as Subject 14, reported, “It was amazing. It was like floating on air. No cares in the world. No worries.”
The brain dedicates 30 to 40 percent to processing what we see, and taking all of the other senses into account; a full 50 percent of our gray matter is always handling what it gets from the outside world. Dialing down that load allows the brain to rest. In another study published this year, functional magnetic resonance imaging before and after floating suggests that floating allows the brain to let go of the hard work of constantly keeping track of our current states. Letting go is a theme that crops up in float enthusiasts’ anecdotes.
Interestingly, while the brain may be relaxing away from its tight control over bodily perception, the LIBR study participants reported increased awareness of their heartbeats and their breathing. “I really felt I was one with my heartbeat, and I could hear it,” said one subject, “but it wasn’t like when I’m having an anxiety or panic attack. So, it wasn’t a negative thing. It was a very in-tune-with-myself kind of feeling.”
Ever-increasing digital connectivity might hinder a strong body-mind connection, but there are ways to reclaim it. A complicated problem, and a complicated environment, requires a full and varied toolbox. Floating is an excellent tool. Some float to feel grounded and to strengthen their connection to their bodies. For many, that sense of connection expands outward, encompassing their communities, the environment and the well-being of the world around them. That’s a lot of positivity and light for a box of darkness and salty water.
Sara Garvin is a co-founder of FLOAT Boston, located at 515 Medford St., Somerville, MA. For more information on the benefits of floating, call 844-44-FLOAT or visit FLOATBoston.com.