By: Jenna Soliani, IML Guest Writer
Back when my husband was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, I worked part time as a floatation therapy specialist and receptionist at a floatation therapy spa in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina. Interested in what a ‘float spa’ was, I had floated a few times soon after the spa opened and was immediately hooked – which is what led to my employment at the very same spa. Although we no longer live in the area I am still a huge float advocate and wherever I go, whoever I meet, I sing the benefits of float therapy because it is that good.
What is floatation therapy?
Floatation therapy, clinically known as Floatation-REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy), is a form of sensory deprivation therapy…I know that sounds super weird but hear me out. To participate in float therapy you get a private room to yourself, equipped with a shower and float pod like the one pictured below. After you shower to rinse off any impurities you enter the pod and spend 60 – 90 minutes immersed in 12 inches of water and 1,000 pounds of epsom salt. The salinity of the water makes your body completely buoyant, and the temperature of the water is strategically set at about 93oF – 95oF, the temperature of our skin. With the perfect temperature and buoyancy combination we cannot feel where our body ends and the water begins. It is recommended to float naked so there is no sensation on your skin but you may wear a bathing suit if you would like. Float pods have three buttons on the inside that allow you to change the color of the UV light (or turn it off), to turn the meditative music on or off, and to buzz the front desk in case of an emergency. You are also free to close the pod if you wish. Doing so will raise the temperature of the air inside the pod to the same temperature as the water – eliminating the feeling of cooler air on our skin – but that is completely up to you and how you are most comfortable.
This environment acts as a sensory deprivation chamber that allows your mind to fully relax while alleviating any and all pressure on your body. With no physical stimulation on your skin and no psychological stimulation on your mind you are able to fully relax and drift away. I know this sounds crazy, but I bet that more than once today you wished for just 10 minutes to yourself in a quiet room with nothing to do – which is exactly what floatation therapy is, time to yourself to focus on yourself.
It’s important to mention that your first float most likely will not be life-changing. I used to tell our clients that their first float is a trial run and to not get discouraged if they weren’t hooked by the end of their session. This is because you are getting used to a very new environment that provides little to no physical or mental stimulation, not to mention it can be extremely difficult for us to be alone with our thoughts, especially for 60 to 90 minutes.
That first float is your time to get acquainted with the pod, the light and music features, how your body is most comfortable (some people like floating with their arms above their heads, other like their arms down by their sides), and what you may need to do mentally to help turn your mind off. That second float though – that’s when all the magic happens. You already know how you’re most comfortable so you will drift into relaxation that much quicker and easier. Once comfortable, you may even fall asleep – which is amazing because a one hour nap in the float pod is equivalent to 4 hours of restful sleep.
It is also important to note that you do not have to ‘float’ the entire time. Many of our guests liked to journal while sitting in the float pod because they felt increased peace, clarity, and creativity. For instance, we had a regular guest, a pastor, who would spend 90 minutes in the pod writing sermons. You can pray, meditate, write, draw, or fall asleep – your body will tell you what it needs. There is absolutely no wrong way to float.
What are the benefits of floatation therapy?
Mountains of academic research have been conducted on Floatation-REST therapy and it is evident that floating is a valuable tool for managing stress, lessening stress-related ailments, and accelerating physical recovery. Justin Feinstein, Clinical Neuropsychologist and one of the forefathers of floatation therapy, has performed countless studies on the effects of floatation therapy. In the video below, Feinstein discusses the results of his most recent study.
So here’s what we’ve learned…
Floatation therapy can decrease:
- Muscle tension
- Pain & inflammation (such as fibromyalgia and arthritis symptoms)
- Blood pressure
- PMS symptoms
- Pregnancy pains
- Some skin conditions
Floatation therapy can improve:
- Strength & flexibility
Floatation therapy can treat anxiety and stress-related disorders such as:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
Overall, floatation therapy allows thousands of individuals a natural alternative to medication.
What does this mean for military spouses?
As mil-spouses we are constantly on the go. We raise little-ones, manage the household, maintain careers, deal with the uncertainties and stressors of military life, and do everything else in-between. We are the perfect floatation therapy candidate because we know what the weight of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion feel like – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Believe it or not, some people cry during their first float because that emotional release is just so strong and so, so necessary. Even one float a month can restore our restfulness, elevate our attitudes, and alleviate stress.
An added bonus for us as women is that floating is safe during pregnancy. It can be incredibly difficult to get comfortable while pregnant, but because of the buoyancy of salt water not only will you feel as if you’re floating on air but you will also be able to float on your stomach (while keeping your head up, of course). Within the float pod there is typically a styrofoam pillow or small pool noodle that floaters can use to support their heads, but if needed you can place this under your lower back for extra support.
What does it mean for our service members & veterans?
Service members and veterans have experienced the extremes of both physical and mental exertion. Their bodies ache from all the training they have endured and their minds are weighed down with the heaviness of deployments, traumatic events, and the stress of leaving loved ones behind. These men and women can experience undeniable benefits from participating in floatation therapy.
When I was a floatation therapy specialist, our spa was located right outside of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune so service members and veterans were our most frequent guests. We were so fortunate that the wellness coaches down the street at Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) recognized the benefits of floating and routinely sent their Raiders to us so they could experience mental and physical rehabilitation. With such quick deployment cycles, these men desperately needed the relaxation facilitated by floatation therapy to keep their minds clear, their bodies energized, and muscles and joints pain free.
Below, Lydia Caldwell, researcher for Ohio State University and the Air Force Research Lab, discusses the positive effects of floatation therapy on military operators in her presentation at the 2017 FLOAT Conference.
Another positive attribute of floatation therapy is that it is completely safe for amputees. Many float spas have walkers or other tools that can help an amputee climb into the pod, as well as small pool noodles that they can place under their legs, back, neck, or arms to help stabilize their bodies.
So what now?
I know that was a lot of information, but I cannot stress enough how amazing flotation therapy is. Even if you’re thinking that you don’t need it, I promise you that you still will feel like a brand new person coming out of that float pod. Plus, not only will you benefit from floating but with decreased stress and increased energy, your family will benefit from this ‘new you’ as well. So please look for the floatation therapy center nearest you and give it a try – or tell someone you know about it and encourage them to give it a shot. You never know how life-changing something can be until you try it 🙂
The link below, Clinical Floatation, is an excellent collection of information and research about Floatation-REST Therapy. Take a look!