The best relaxation therapy you’ve (probably) never tried

Float tank, isolation tank, health news
Source: Health Space

Imagine being shut in a cocoon-like metal tank, then floating for ages in warm bath-like water while your mind empties and drifts listlessly away… Unless you’re an extreme claustrophobic, it sounds like relaxation heaven, right? Well, even better, research now shows float tanks actually work clinically to reduce stress, improve insomnia and fast track injury healing.

Former professional runner, now chiropractor and kinesiologist, Dr Kate Wood has tried almost every alternative therapy in her quest for solutions to the things that ail patients at her Health Space clinic. She also bases everything she recommends on proven science. So when she says something’s worth trying, it’s worth us taking notice!

Here is Dr Kate’s take on why all of us should try a float tank at least once

In my opinion, float tanks (aka isolation tanks) are one of the most amazing things you can do for yourself to get healthy and stay healthy. They are undervalued and not many people have even heard of them. I was in introduced to floating as an athlete. With all the training I did, I used to get sore muscles and sometimes found it hard to recover between training sessions and when traveling for races. The floats tanks helped infuse magnesium and other important minerals back into my tired and often aching body as well as give me much needed relaxation. I recovered faster, felt better and trained harder as a result. A float complements other treatments, such as massage, acupuncture and even yoga, so don’t be afraid to team a float with other therapies for even better results.

What are float tanks used for?

Anyone can benefit from floating, but the tanks are especially used for decreasing stress, anxiety and jet lag, increasing relaxation and improving recovery from intense exercise. It even improves the healing time of injuries. Anyone with magnesium deficiencies, those having problems with sleep, those that exercise a lot or people under huge amounts of stress will particularly benefit.

Are there any other names for a float tank?

They’re also known as an isolation tanks, think tanks, sensory attenuation tanks floatation tanks, sensory deprivation tanks and REST tanks.

What is so special about a float tank?

The tank contains water that is saturated with Epsom salts at body temperature (water is usually 37.5 degrees). The density of the Epsom salt solution, very similar to that of the Dead Sea, allows you to float face up in the water. The tanks are designed to subdue the senses by blocking out all light (although if you are claustrophobic, you can leave the door open), minimising sound (although some tanks do play relaxation music), ensuring very little smell (there is no chlorine) and decreasing skin sensation by having the water, air and body at the same temperature (37.5? C).

This helps to decrease stress in the body and the mind, assist muscle relaxation and improve blood flow. The high density Epsom salt mixture at body temperature also means that there is an uptake of magnesium into the cells via osmosis (which is hugely advantageous for people who’ve had Lyme Disease, as I have).

How do I use a float tank and what should I expect?

Most places that provide float tanks will explain everything to you and orientate you with floating. The key things to remember are:

  • Have a cold shower before you get in the tank (that way, it will feel warm when you get in and your body temperature will adjust back to your normal basal body temperature quite quickly and comfortably).
  • Use ear plugs and a blow up neck pillow so you can fully relax your head in the water.
  • Put Vaseline on any cuts or open wounds so they don’t sting (the salt is very good for these things but not so pleasant!)
  • If you are claustrophobic, you will be able to leave the door open slightly with most tanks (over time you will often be able to close it all the way).
  • Let your mind and body relax, and don’t be surprised if you fall asleep.
  • The first float can be a bit weird (I didn’t like it the first time I did it, but I felt so great afterwards that I kept it up and became addicted!)
  • Most sessions last 60-90 minutes, but often people get out early on their first one, as it’s an unusual experience.
  • Often you can feel twitchy and itchy but it subsides, so just relax (be careful if scratching your face as the salt will sting your eyes if it gets in them).
  • It takes multiple sessions to get used to the sensation of floating as well as get the maximum benefit. Like anything, floating just once is great, but to get results, you need to do it regularly if you can.
  • In the last 20 minutes or so, your brain will usually transition from beta or alpha brainwaves to theta, which is known to assist creativity, relaxation, problem solving and improve learning.

Is there any research to confirm the benefits of floating?

Yes, there is. Most of it comes from Europe and America, but a basic Google search will turn up some great case studies and research.

Image credit: iStock
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Dr Kate Wood
Born and raised in rural Northern NSW, Kate's love for health and the body started when she won her first athletics race at age 8. During her many years of study – a Masters of Chiropractic and post grad training in acupuncture, clinic neurology and advanced injury rehabilitation, amongst other things - Kate also developed a passion for family wellness, in particular pregnancy and paediatric care. In any one day, Kate will perform adjustments, mobilisations, soft tissue techniques, dry needling, kinesiology, diet and lifestyle advice, and even meditation for her clients; and what sets her apart is her commitment to not only addressing the physical ailments of her patients but also the chemical, emotional and spiritual connections they have to the issues and ailments they are facing. Together, she and husband Nick Wood own and run Healthspace Clinics, a series of healthcare clinics across Sydney.