For those not fully satisfied with the level of chill brought by adult colouring books and all that, there’s something a tad stronger to loosen your mind: Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy, or REST, or ‘Floatation Therapy’.
There’s scientific research to suggest that floating around in a ‘Sensory Deprivation Tank’ for an hour, or three – immersed in lukewarm, Epsom Salt-spiked water – can greatly improve your wellbeing, with reported benefits including stress relief, greater concentration, boosted energy levels and a better night’s sleep.
With this in mind, we tried on a tank for size… with interesting results.
BUT FIRST, A BIT OF HISTORY:
John C. Lilly (not to be confused with John C. Reilly) invented the tanks in the mid-1950s, for science experiments on self-reflection. As a neuro-psychiatrist, Lilly used himself (and later his wife) as the test subject for many of his floatation studies, submerging himself for long periods in these first-gen tubs, which he called ‘isolation tanks’:
Dude was fucking controversial.
HOW ‘FLOATATION THERAPY’ WORKS:
Eventually the tanks were modified to resemble the pod-like chambers of today. Here’s Lilly speaking a bit about his design:
“The idea is to separate yourself from society through solitude and confinement of a scientifically-controlled tank. There should only be 10 inches (25cm) of water, heated to 93F (33.8C) – just right for maintaining the proper brain temperature, with enough Epsom salts so your hands, feet and head all float.” – via People magazine, 6 September, 1976
Instead of falling asleep when all his senses were deprived of stimulation Lilly reported having all kinds of transcendent and transformative *sensory* experiences in the float tank. Then sometime in the 1960s, he got hooked on LSD and vitamin K, got into the tanks while on said hallucinogens (), had an epiphany about how he could make dolphins talk to humans, floated with them, fed them LSD… and yeah, that was the end of Lilly’s credits.
THE ‘SCIENCE’ BEHIND FLOATATION THERAPY:
Carol Stuart, owner of Bondi Junction Massage & Floatation Centre, one of the first floatation clinics in Sydney, says it has to do with the solution in which you’re floating. Epsom Salt is a common name for magnesium sulfate, which relaxes the muscles, relieves stress and improves circulation.
She goes on:
“They discovered that this solution, with its high volume of magnesium, could make you float effortlessly. You’re not fighting gravity when you’re in there so you can just let go. After a while of floating, a chemical effect happens in your body because you’re not using any muscles; all the physical processes slow down, and you start to release endorphins to balance everything out. It affects your neurotransmitters so you stop being anxious and fearful.”
Magnesium is a mineral we’re all lacking in these days, thanks largely to our consumption of processed foods. By lying in these tanks, Carol says your skin absorbs a little bit of it through osmosis.
BUT DOES IT ACTUALLY WORK? A P.TV ROAD TEST:
Expecting to experience some sort of Nirvana, health and fitness editor Wendy Hoang signed up for an hour-long float in a sensory deprivation tank.
Here’s what happened:
Firstly, the tank is surprisingly spacious so claustrophobia isn’t an issue, which is great because you was freaking out about that. You have a quick shower and scrub off – and then, you’re in the tank: naked, floating, wondering what fresh hell this is. It’s not difficult to float, in fact, it’s quite easy, but you struggle anyway and spend the next 10 minutes craning your neck, trying not to drown in the 25 cm-deep pool of water. Solid start.
Fifteen minutes in and you’ve calmed down a little. You lie back. Kind of. The water feels like it’s bobs up and down quite ferociously (you could just be imagining, tho), and you can hear your heart beat in your ears – it’s very quick. You wonder if it’s always like that, you’re pretty highly strung. Your right leg tingles and your thoughts take a turn for the morbid. On the upside, your skin is fabulously silky and smooth in the water so you focus on that.
Twenty minutes in and you’re feeling even more relaxed. You decide to explore your surroundings and feel out the tank. It’s huge. Bigger than you remember from 20 minutes ago.
30 minutes in and a lot of crazy starts to happen, both physically and mentally. With your eyes shut, all spatial awareness is gone and you’re unable to differentiate between water and air. You start to lose your shit.
You’re fully horizontal now; straight as a plank. You feel like your body is a log drifting down a river rapid, when really, you haven’t moved. Your heart rate has settled, but you start having weird AF sensory experiences of your own. You wonder if this is what old mate Lilly was describing. You get the creeps. Your stomach feels unusually bloated and you regret drinking so much water before this spiritual experience – you’re also wondering what time it is. (i.e. Is it time to get out?)
After an hour, you don’t feel relaxed exactly, or maybe you do – it’s hard to tell after an hour of zero stimulation with nothing by your neurosis for company. Also, you stood up too quickly and now you have to sit for 30-minutes because you’re still under the float spell and you’re shaking. Though, it was nice to have an hour to yourself.
But the *real* interesting stuff happens that night. You fall asleep easily and deeply, and have the most vivid dreams. A really insightful glimpse into your psyche, but probably not one you want again any time soon on account of the fact you’re pretty rattled for the next 48 hours.
For more information on floatation therapy, visit Bondi Junction Massage & Floa
Photo: What Lies Beneath.