Does Float Therapy Really Work?

Last updated April 4, 2024

Remember when indoor tanning was all the rage? Imagine a similar experience except instead of lying on a tanning bed that emits ultraviolet rays to produce a cosmetic tan; you are lying in a float pod filled with highly concentrated Epsom salt water that induces deep relaxation. 

Also known as sensory deprivation, the idea behind float therapy is to remove all stimuli from the senses and drift into a meditative dream-like state that rejuvenates mind and body. 

The float pod shuts out noises, lights and other distractions that prevent you from fully being present.  

Add to this a high dose of magnesium sulfate dissolved in lukewarm water meant to match your body temperature and voilà—an environment that allows the body to float effortlessly free from gravity, taking all pressure off joints, bones, muscles and mind. 

Pod Life & Floating Away

So just floating around and doing nothing is apparently good for us? 

Float therapy is not some mumbo jumbo. The study of sensory deprivation originated in Canada in the 1950s, but it was American neuroscientist and psychologist John C. Lilly who invented the float tank in 1954.

Lilly’s water-filled tank was an experiment with sensory deprivation to discover what happens to the brain when deprived of external stimulation. 

Since Lilly’s eccentric experiments, further studies on sensory deprivation have been conducted evaluating restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) as a purported treatment for a number of health issues.

Floatation REST not only temporarily limits sensory input but also slows down the brain rhythms and releases theta waves resulting in increased creativity and enhanced problem-solving. 

Now, ancient wisdom cites that salt therapy is an effective cure to ease stress and muscle soreness; modern wisdom, on the other hand, alleges that sensory deprivation is a therapeutic tool used for better sleep, more happiness and improved athletic performance.  

Experience Nothing; Gain Everything 

Float therapy is backed by decades of science and offers positive benefits for healing body, mind and spirit. 

Jamie Dorn is a personal trainer and holistic life coach at Elevated Life Coaching based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Taking a holistic approach to wellness means she addresses all aspects of her client’s life—honing in on dietary, physical and emotional goals and needs. 

“Float therapy has grown in popularity in the holistic health scene and can provide the same benefits as other New Age alternative healing modalities such as yoga, sound baths and acupuncture,” says Jamie.  

The experience floaters enjoy even after one float is described as eye-opening. Being submerged in a near-zero gravity environment allows the body to feel weightless and the brain to be free. 

“Pure curiosity drew me to my first float experience,” says Jamie. 

“I am a lover of meditation and was interested to learn how floating would help me experience the present moment. I was also interested in learning how floating could be a complementary treatment for anxiety and back pain.”  

Jamie quickly discovered three benefits that float therapy has on mental and physical well-being.

Don't Stress Worry Less

1. Relax

Floating is a good stress outlet and can ease symptoms of anxiety. Floating activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing the heart rate and helping you get into relaxation mode. When this nervous system is in use, that’s when healing, replenishment and relaxation can begin.

2. Revive

Floating can benefit people with chronic pain conditions like arthritis as well as play an important role in sports recovery. It also flushes out toxins, which in turn helps ease muscle pain. Most importantly, floating helps you bounce back faster from workouts by decreasing the build-up of lactic acid. 

Muscle recovery

3. Focus

Floating facilitates creative insights and heightens visualization to help reach the “flow state.” As your brain cycles between theta and alpha wave patterns, you can gain total mental clarity. 

What to Expect as a First-Timer

While float therapy is not for everyone, getting tanked is easier than you think. Jamie shares pointers to help you embrace a float mindset. 

  • Go in with an open mind and remember that you can always keep the door of the float pod open if you struggle with claustrophobia. 
  • A floatie behind your neck helps with feeling more secure and can prevent you from tensing up. Your first instinct is that your head will sink, but it won’t even without a floatie behind your neck. 
  • Some hardcore floaters are against music. If you feel music will help you get into the zone then by all means listen to music. Most pods have a shelf for your phone. 
  • It is best to avoid caffeine for a few hours before your session. However, it is suggested to eat something small prior to your float so that your stomach doesn’t growl (distracting you from the moment). Make sure you have at least 30 minutes to digest your food before your appointment. 
  • If you start to panic, bring your attention back to your breath. 
  • Wear a swimsuit if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe in your birthday suit.
  • Take a shower pre- and post-float. 

Jamie highly recommends float therapy to those who are open to experiencing their body in a different way. “We spend a lot of time moving via resistance training and connecting through traditional meditation. Float therapy is the perfect add-on to any wellness routine.”

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