As life gets more intense, working moms are looking for something to take them away, if just for a little while.
Teresa McAlpine struggled with sleep issues for years. At night, she would lie down tired from the day but have trouble nodding off. Thoughts racing, she would focus on work, parenting, life. Her chronic back and neck pain didn’t help, either.
“I have a brain that doesn’t shut off. I lie down, and my brain starts focusing on all this stuff that I can’t get it to stop thinking about,” says the busy financial adviser and mother of two in Sheboygan, WI. “It got to a point where I couldn’t focus during the day, and I was irritable. Doing homework with my 9-year-old, I would be frustrated when she wouldn’t get a concept. I tried yoga; I meditated. I had massages, cupping and chiropractic, but nothing seemed to quell my chronic anxiety.”
This past fall, Teresa went to a local Women in Management networking group where she heard a speaker discuss float therapy and how it changed her life. The woman described climbing into a clam-shell-shaped chamber and floating in a dark, quiet pool, feeling her mind shut off completely.
I am suspended in absolute darkness—one so complete that when I raise my arm, I see absolutely nothing, not even a suggestion of an outline where my arm might be. I let my hand drop back to my side. It makes a splash, which is the only noise within the eight-by-six-foot tank I am floating in.
Completely void of external stimuli, here I am forced to rely only on what my body is telling me. Each inhale that expands my lungs sends shallow ripples in the 96-degree water. Each exhale echoes throughout the chamber. I literally feel my heart thudding inside my chest. My mind feels like it is moving in slow motion. They may call this sensory deprivation, but in the absence of outside chatter, all I experience is sensory enhancement. And it turns out this absolutely still state has unique health benefits.
Sensory-deprivation tanks—aka floatation therapy, aka REST (restricted environmental stimulus therapy)—promise relaxation, stress relief, and muscle recovery. They rose in public awareness in the late ’60s as a prime location for LSD trips and other psychedelic experiences. But the fact that these enclosed, lightless, soundproof pools of saline water are enjoying a resurgence in 2018 says less about a return to tripping and more about just chilling.
When you open the door to the float room, you’re hit with warm air heated to the temperature of your skin. In the middle is a small, circular pool the size of a hot tub filled with 2,000 pounds of Epsom salt. Sit down, and you’ll bob like a buoy; lie back, and you’ll float without tensing a muscle. Press a button on the side of the tank, and the blue lights fade off into black.
You can’t see anything while you float. But what Feinstein can see going on in your brain is astounding.
In his research, he has floaters stick small waterproof sensors and an EEG device on their forehead to measure their brain waves, wirelessly. Down the hall is an MRI machine that people enter after they float.
Feinstein and his team are more than halfway through the first experiment ever to combine fMRI brain imaging and float tanks. They’re scanning the brains of healthy people before and after they float, and by comparing the two images, they’ll see how floating changes areas of activation in the brain.
Recent advances in neuroscience have allowed scientists to look inside the human brain during practices like meditation and see how brain activity changes. Research from fMRI studies show that meditating activates parts of the brain associated with attention and decreases activation in the amygdala, the part of the brain that kicks off the fight-or-flight response to a real or perceived threat—though the changes are more pronounced in expert meditators than beginners. Plenty of other research demonstrates the benefits of the practice, and its acceptance by the medical establishment has followed. The stance of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is that research supports meditation for lowering blood pressure, easing symptoms of anxiety and depression and more, and the agency funds research on the topic.
Our series Pay Attention looks at how to retrain our focus and recapture our attention under the bombardment of technology and information that distracts us. The average person scrolls through 300 feet of mobile content a day, according to Facebook's global creative director, Andrew Keller. That's almost the length of a football field. We wanted to explore some of the ways people are trying to short-circuit the noise, from the mundane to the extreme – and that's how "CBS This Morning" co-host John Dickerson ended up floating in a sensory deprivation tank in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Floating in less than a foot water, buoyed by 2,000 pounds of salt, Dickerson felt weightless, unsure where his limbs end and the water starts. And at some point, the sensation is one of losing himself, never falling asleep but moving into a state of a clear but empty mind.
Sensory deprivation is about as far as a person can get from the chirpy world of breaking news, social media, email and the rest of what pinballs through our heads these days.
FLOATATION THERAPY PROMISE FASTER RECOVERY AND IMPROVED PERFORMANCE BY (LITERALLY) TAKING A LOAD OFF YOUR MUSCLES AND YOUR MIND. WE DIVE IN FOR THE FACTS.
New England Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady, 40, has a float tank in his house. The five-time Super Bowl-winning football team incorporated floatation therapy or restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) into its training and recovery protocol in 2014 and now have two tanks to help the athletes relax, recover, and get game ready at their Gillette Stadium facilities. Other NFL players and professional athletes from all fields of sport including cycling, tennis, soccer, and running have also fallen for floating. It's no surprise that pro athletes have access to the latest recovery techniques, but it begs the question: Should you try floatation therapy too?
“Awkward, isn’t it........nothingness”.
We have this idea that life is like packing a suitcase for a trip, we have a fixed amount of space and a fixed number of tasks we try to fit in. Some of us who are more organised manage to fit everything in, then there are the rest of us who are disorganised and end up sitting on the suitcase to try and force it shut.
We have become victims of information overload, with very little time for excursions into our inner world. In our age of connectivity, we have become disconnected from ourselves. Introspection and reflection are a distant memory to many people, the balance between being active and inactive is leaning heavily to being overly active. Yet it can be extremely beneficial to, ‘Not Be Busy!’. Doing nothing can be great for our well-being.
Busyness can also be a very effective defence mechanism for warding off disturbing thoughts and feelings. It is when we are truly doing nothing that we can finally confront what matters.
Celebrities love it. Trainers swear by it. But are sensory deprivation tanks actually legit?
Most athletes will do just about anything to step up their game and get better, bigger, faster, and stronger. But the latest performance and recovery trend that's sweeping the sports world doesn’t require you to do anything at all.
Floating takes place in a light-proof, soundproof tank, also known as a “float tank” or a “sensory deprivation chamber”. While it used to be a practice reserved for the New Age hippie crowd (John Lennon used float therapy to kick his heroin habit in 1979), it’s rapidly gaining popularity in the fitness world, with some of the world’s strongest athletes swearing that regular float sessions are key to everything from decreased muscle soreness and anxiety to a noticeable performance boost during workouts. Steph Curry, for instance, recently floated in a commercial for Kaiser Permanente, and the New England Patriots have used float tanks as part of their pre-Super Bowl conditioning (Tom Brady is a particularly big fan).
But what, exactly, is floating? How does it work? And, perhaps most importantly, is it worth all the hype?
When I mentioned to a friend that my baseline neurosis has evolved from daily stress into anxiety, her response was – "Go for a float!"
Yes — spend an hour in a dark, soundproof room floating in a body-temperature warm pool. "The heavy salt concentration does the work for you," my friend told me. "You just lie there and meditate."
As a doctor wary of overprescribing medications, I was intrigued by the idea that floating can combat stress and anxiety, but I wanted to know if there's any science to back up this claim.
So I visited the lab of neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla. Feinstein is investigating float therapy as a nonpharmacological treatment for people with conditions like anxiety and depression.
"These are individuals with PTSD disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety — we covered the whole spectrum of different types of anxiety," he says.
Before volunteers get in the pool, Feinstein maps their brains using functional MRI, which provides images of the brain's metabolic activity. Feinstein takes images again after a 60-minute float. And he's finding that floating seems to quiet activity in the amygdala, the brain's center of fear and anxiety.
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON
“You are not really aware of how much is really happening inside – how much you project and everything going on, until there is nothing going on, and then you realize it is all coming from the inside.”
All I have to do is float in the tank? Is it completely dark in there? Is the water warm? What if I start to freak out? All of these questions ran through my mind as I embarked on an excursion into sensory deprivation. Traveling can mean many things: de-stressing, seeing old friends, or simply enjoying the scenery of a foreign region. This particular mode of travel wouldn’t be quite so literal. This was a journey into the mind, far more influential than any road trip or vacation could ever be. Traveling through my subconscious, floating, would send me down paths I didn’t even know existed. Thank you for joining me on this journey.
MAYBE YOU HAVE watched Stranger Things but maybe you haven't. I've seen it, and I thought it was great—and not just because there's lots of science in it. Don't worry, I'm not going to talk about multiple universes or quantum tunneling. Instead I am going to talk about salt.
Small spoiler alert (but not really a spoiler): In season 1, the Stranger Things kids need to build a makeshift sensory deprivation tank. The essential component of this "tank" is a kiddie pool filled with water such that a person can easily float. Of course, normal water will make a human just barely float. To fix this problem, they add a bunch of salt to increase the liquid density to accommodate a floating human. According to Mr. Clark (their science teacher), they need 1,500 pounds of salt.
But was he right? Let's take a look at the science.
"You just lay back," Edelman said. "You gotta trust it. A lot of guys get anxiety for the first few times because your head doesn't go under. But once you get comfortable with it, it feels like you're just on a cloud or something because there're no pressure points. For athletes, I'm 120 percent all in on it."
'YOU GET TO JUST BE TOTALLY RELAXED'
Why, though, would a professional football player be interested in feeling like he's floating through space? How does that provide him an edge against his competition when he's either trying to hit someone or avoid being hit on Sundays?