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Northwest Floatation Center

Floatation’s Effect on the Brain

Floatation’s Effect on the Brain


Floating is proven to improve health, decrease stress, and detox the mind. But what exactly is going on in the brain when we float in a floatation tank? Visual cortexes become active, different senses are activated, and vasodilation improves overall brain functionality. There is science behind why people feel better mentally after a floating session. The following are a few of the ways the brain is affected from floatation:

  • Increased blood flow. The body temperature water that surrounds one during a floatation session serves to expand blood vessels throughout the body, increasing blood flow to every extremity and getting oxygenated blood to the brain more quickly and with less effort. The heart rate slows down as well, providing oxygenated blood with the slow, powerful beats associated with good health. This stronger blood flow to the brain helps promote more efficient mental activity, and the lower heart rate calms the body and relieves physical, emotional, and mental stress.
  • Increase in Theta waves. This is one of the most consistent findings of floatation studies. Theta waves are also shown to be more prominent during meditation and during REM sleep, and are indicative of drowsiness. Theta waves are also associated with the vivid lucid dreams and imaginings of the time just before falling asleep and just after waking up, as well as the vivid brain activity of deep sleep.

By encouraging the brain to fall into a Theta rhythm, floatation can help to inspire creativity and imagination and provide an enjoyable and restful experience. It can also maintain Theta waves, which many scientists have trouble doing, as the period between being awake and sleeping is typically very short.

  • Decrease in stress symptoms. Three of the hormones commonly seen in stress responses, cortisol, ACTH, and epinephrine, were all shown to decrease during time in the floatation tank, as well as for some time after the floating experience. Corticosteroids, which are produced in higher volume during stressful situations and have been linked to stress-related illnesses, have also been shown to decrease during floatation.

By decreasing the levels of stress-related hormones in the brain, one can guard against a variety of issues, including anxiety disorders, depression, and various physiological problems. Floatation has also been shown to decrease chronic pain and improve mental health conditions like addiction.


Want to Reduce Stress? Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously

I worked as a New York City public high school science teacher for eight years before doing iFloat full time. During the first two years I remember my students taught me a lot. One of the things that often happened was they would make fun of the way I talked or looked. They were all Latin American or African American and I was a liberal arts educated white guy from the suburbs of Boston. As time progressed I began to embrace their sense of humor, such as, “David you’re just too white,” or “Why do white people always do this or that?” What they were often doing was challenging me to not take myself so seriously. When I would laugh or smile at such statements they would also laugh or smile. It’s like they were saying, “We have to poke fun at the seriousness of the ethnic/racial divide in order for us to be close.” They were right. Bit by bit, I loosened up and I was more comfortable.

I had a similar experience when I was in the Peace Corps. I was a Christian living in Morocco – a country where almost everyone is10.2.14 guy laughing Muslim. The people there made fun of me for all sorts of reasons. First, they laughed at my inability to speak their language. Later, when I could speak the language, they laughed at me for not being a farmer or not being a Muslim. Bit by bit, I began to see their laughter was the way they could relate to me. Guys would often joke around with me and say, “You just need to convert, be a Muslim, be a farmer like us, and everything will be okay.” We would laugh about stuff like that. Instead of me saying, “How dare you. I was raised Catholic. Don’t you understand what that means?” I said, “These guys are funny,” and we would often hold our bellies joking about me being one of them, converting, etc. The reason it was funny was because they knew I was not going to do it. They knew I was eventually going to leave, but it was light hearted because it was their way of saying, “We like you. We want you to be one of us. But it’s okay if you’re not (even though we are still going to try).” If I had remained serious about “who I was,” I would have missed all the fun and all the unspoken attempts at them relating to me and cultivating a friendship with me.

It is when the personality we attach ourselves to gets threatened that there is an opportunity for growth. I am not just “from the suburbs,” “catholic,” or “white.” I am much more complex than any of those things. First and foremost, I have an essence like all people (whether you call it the Soul/spirit/universal essence) that flows through me and that flows through everyone. My students in New York City and my friends in Morocco were keenly aware of that essence. Through their joking they were saying, “That stuff you hold onto about ‘who you are’ is a bunch of crap. It gets in the way of you relating to us. Let it go. Be our friend. We like you.”

One of the things we cultivate at iFloat is to not take ourselves so seriously. When people spend time in a sensory isolation tank mid dark Mikethe “I’m important” script gets challenged. You’re not important in the float tank. There is no time, no phone, no meeting, almost no external stimulus to remind you of “who you are.” You could be anywhere in the float tank. In many ways, you are “nowhere.” The experience of floating is threatening to the places where we make ourselves more important than the people in our life. However, as a person clocks more time in the float tank (whether it is in a single session or over the course of many sessions), their mind begins to let go of where they are attached to disadvantageous patterns. I often observe people who come regularly to iFloat relaxing the self-imposed rules they have placed on themselves. When they toss the rules to the side, they are more fun, lively, and engaging with other people.

Megan sproats

We don’t use neck pillows in the float tank at Cocoon!

floating-pillowWhen I first started floating there was a neck pillow in the float room. I used it because it was there. I could never get comfortable with using it and my neck would always feel tense and ache for most of my floats and I would end up throwing the pillow out of the tank mid-float.

Then I went to America and floated in several centres that did not use pillows. After 3 or so floats, I got used to physically letting go and not needing support, which was so much better. There has been no tension, for extended periods, in my neck while floating since.

I figured it was training people not to need one, which is why we don’t use neck pillows at Cocoon. From the hundreds of people we have had through, there has been 3 people who have continued to have a sore neck after their 6th float. I have noticed it usually takes at least 3 before it’s no longer an issue for people and it’s not always an issue for everyone anyway.

We will teach you some techniques when you come in on how to adjust and help your own body to get used to this new environment when you first start floating in our float tanks. For some people it’s just a little persistence.

Northwest Floatation Center

The Effects of Zero Gravity on the Body

Before floatation tanks became more popular in spas, they were primarily used by astronauts in training. NASA still trains astronauts with floatation chambers. This is because floatation chambers simulate a zero-gravity environment. The water in a floatation chamber contains about 1,200 pounds of magnesium sulfate, causing the body to easily float on top of the water. Especially combined with the darkness and lack of sound integral to the floatation experience, it’s no wonder astronauts train in a chamber.

The effects of weightlessness are very different between a floatation chamber and long term space travel, however. Floating in space long-term can have some serious negative effects on the body. In a zero gravity environment, muscles shrink. This can lead to deteriorating joint function, and can also lead to pain felt throughout the body. Bones suffer as well, significantly decreasing in mass in proportion to the time spent in space. The body’s most important muscle, the heart, is not exempt from this shrinking effect.

The heart is designed to work with the gravity of Earth. The heart pumps blood strongly upward to combat the force of gravity so we can have adequate blood flow to the head. With no gravity, the heart’s upward force would be too strong. This can create swelling in the eyes and face.

The immune system also suffers. Astronauts can experience recurrence of childhood illnesses, such as chicken pox. Diseases that occur in zero gravity are also difficult to treat, as medicines don’t necessarily work the way they do on earth.