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Why Float?

Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) has fascinated many researchers, clinicians, and explorers of consciousness, promising something special - a powerful transformation, a mystical peak experience, an intense change in biochemicals, improved performance, or a healing of our ills. Beyond the fascination, Flotation REST has established itself as a unique method in the field of applied psychophysiology. Flotation REST has proven to be a technique with predictable psychophysiological effects and powerful clinical and performance applications.

Flotation REST serves as a powerful relaxation inducer and has clinical potential in working with patients who have stress-related disorders. There have been several clinical studies that have employed REST as a treatment. The disorders treated include essential hypertension, muscle tension headache, anxiety disorders, chronic pain, psychophysiological insomnia, PMS, and rheumatoid arthritis (Fine and Turner, 1985; Rzewnicki, Alistair, Wallbaum, Steel, Suedfeld, 1990; Fine and Tumer, 1985; Goldstein and Jessen, 1990; Turner, DeLeon, Gibson, & Fine, 1993). The treatment paradigms used in these studies were similar, with REST serving as the primary method of relaxation induction and training. All of these studies demonstrated positive results from the use of REST. One of the unique effects of REST demonstrated in these studies was that chronic pain patients frequently experienced an absence of all pain during flotation, and that this spontaneous anesthesia could remain for up to several hours after the session.

A separate, exciting area is the use of Flotation REST in the enhancement of human performance. Several studies, carried out primarily in the research programs of Peter Suedfeld at the University of British Columbia and Arreed Barabasz at Washington State University, have demonstrated enhancement of scientific creativity, instrument flight performance, and piano performance. Several studies of sports performance have had positive results including studies of basketball, tennis, and skiing.

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The Use of Epsom Salt

Magnesium - the key component of Epsom Salt -- performs more functions in more systems of the human body than virtually any other mineral, including regulating the activity of more than 325 enzymes. Studies show that magnesium is: • An electrolyte, helping to ensure proper muscle, nerve and enzyme function. • Critical to the proper use of calcium in cells. • An aid in helping to prevent heart disease and strokes by lowering blood pressure, protecting the elasticity of arteries, preventing blood clots and reducing the risk of sudden heart attack deaths. Medical research also indicates that magnesium may: • Increase the effectiveness of insulin, helping to lower the risk or severity of diabetes. • Reduce inflammation and relieves pain, making it a beneficial in the treatment of sore muscles, bronchial asthma, migraine headaches and fibromyalgia. Although magnesium can be absorbed through the digestive tract, many foods, drugs and medical conditions can interfere with the effectiveness of this deliver method. Therefore, soaking in an Epsom Salt bath is one of the most effective means of making the magnesium your body needs readily available. Epsom Salt also delivers sulphates, which medical research indicates are needed for the formation of brain tissue, joint proteins and the mucin proteins that line the walls of the digestive tract. Studies show that sulphates also stimulate the pancreas to generate digestive enzymes and help to detoxify the body's residue of medicines and environmental contaminants. Studies indicate that sulphates are difficult to absorb from food, but are readily absorbed through the skin.

Scientific Research

Sports

Baker D.A. (1990). The Use of REST in the Enhancement of Sports Performance-Tennis. Restricted Environmental Stimulation: Research and Commentary. pp.181-187. Toledo, Ohio: Medical College of Ohio Press.

Bond J. (1997). "To float or not to float"... is that the question?
How to maximise your use of the Sport Psychology float tanks.

McAleney P. & Barabasz A. (1993). Effects of Flotation REST and Visual Imagery on Athletic Performance: Tennis. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives. pp.79-86.New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc.

Richardson S. (1997). Enhancing Rowing Ergometer Performance Through Flotation REST. 6th International REST Conference. San Francisco.*

Stanley J., Mahoney M.& Reppert S. (1982). REST and the Enhancement of Sports Performance: A Panel Presentation and Discussion. 2nd International Conference on REST. pp.168-183. Toledo, Ohio: IRIS Publications.

Wagaman J. & Barabasz A. (1993). Flotation REST and Imagery in the Improvement of Collegiate Athletic Performance: Basketball. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives. pp.87-92. New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc.

Anxiety
O’Toole P. & Barabasz M. (1997). Effects of Rational Emotive Therapy and REST on Social Anxiety. 6th International REST Conference. San Francisco. Pudvah M.B. & Rzewnicki R. (1990). Six Months in the Tank: The Long-Term Effects of Flotation Isolation on State Anxiety, Hostility, and Depression. Restricted Environmental Stimulation: Research and Commentary. pp.79-85. Toledo, Ohio: Medical College of Ohio Press.
Children with Autism
Harrison J. & Barabasz A. (1993). REST as a Treatment for Children with Autism. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives. pp. 269-280. New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc. Suedfeld P. & Schwartz G. (1980). Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) as a Treatment for Autistic Children. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Vol.4, #3, pp. 196-201. William & Wilkins Co.
Pre-menstrual syndrome
Goldstein D.D. & Jessen W.E. (1990). Flotation Effect on Premenstrual Syndrome. Restricted Environmental Stimulation: Research and Commentary. pp.260-266. Toledo, Ohio: Medical College of Ohio Press. Jessen W. (1993). The Effects of Consecutive Floats and Their Timing on Premenstrual Syndrome. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives. pp. 281-288. New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc.
Chronic Pain, Rheumatoid Arthritis
Borrie R. (1997). The Benefits of Flotation REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) in a Pain Management Program. 6th International REST Conference. San Francisco. McCormick B.A., Shafransky D.R., Fine T.H. & Turner J.W. Jr. (1997). Effects of Flotation REST on Plasma Cortisol in Rheumatoid Arthritis. 6th International REST Conference. San Francisco. Mereday C., Lehmann C. & Borrie R. (1990). Flotation For The Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Restricted Environmental Stimulation: Research and Commentary. pp.255-259. Toledo, Ohio: Medical College of Ohio Press. Shafransky D.R., McCormick B.A., Fine T.H. & Turner J. Jr. (1997). Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) on Serological Markers of Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis. 6th International REST Conference. San Francisco. Turner J. Jr., Deleon A., Gibson C. & Fine T.H. (1993). Effects of Flotation REST on Range Motion, Grip Strength and Pain in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives. pp. 297-306. New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc.

Known Benefits of REST Therapy

Muscular-skeletal and rheumatic conditions

The main benefits derived from Floatation therapy in muscular-¬skeletal and rheumatic conditions are primarily based on two factors. The first is the elimination of the force of gravity that the body experiences inside the float room. This allows a relaxation and expansion of multiple inter-articular spaces enabling a better blood flow that will improve the general conditions of affected joints. This applies for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic injuries, and also chronic degenerative problems like osteo-arthritis. Chronic and acute pain of neck, shoulders, and lower back generally experience substantial improvement through the release of accumulated muscle tension and increase of blood circulation to the affected areas. It helps conditions such as fibromyalgia, tendonitis, bursitis, etc The second factor, which benefits substantially these muscular-skeletal conditions, is the release of endorphins into the system. Endorphins are natural painkillers that block the transmission of pain at the synaptic level. These decrease markedly the perception of pain and improve the frame of mind of patients, helping to break the vicious circle of chronic pain/depression that we often see in these cases.

Anxiety
O’Toole P. & Barabasz M. (1997). Effects of Rational Emotive Therapy and REST on Social Anxiety. 6th International REST Conference. San Francisco. Pudvah M.B. & Rzewnicki R. (1990). Six Months in the Tank: The Long-Term Effects of Flotation Isolation on State Anxiety, Hostility, and Depression. Restricted Environmental Stimulation: Research and Commentary. pp.79-85. Toledo, Ohio: Medical College of Ohio Press.
Relaxation
The term "relaxation" is vague and subjective. It can be used to describe any activity that brings temporary release from the pressures of life - watching TV, pursuing a hobby, drinking a 6-pack of beer, surfing the net, soaking in a bath, dancing till dawn... Is there such a thing as true relaxation from a scientific perspective? Eminent stress researcher Herbert Benson MD of Harvard Medical College showed that meditation and yoga cause measurable changes to heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, hormone balance, and brainwave activity. At the time, it came as something of a surprise to learn that an individual could exert control over these normally unconscious processes that are regulated by the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system. However, a major limitation to the efficacy of yoga and meditation was that these techniques required training, practice, and persistence. Benefits were not immediate. Relaxation required some hard work! Benson's studies did not include floatation REST because it was largely unknown at that time. Since the early 1980s, however, research has demonstrated that floatation REST elicits a significantly more powerful relaxation response than any other technique known to science, and does this automatically, passively, and without the need for training or practice. The brain is a network of cells that constantly exchange electrochemical messages with one another. Brainwaves are the electrical activity generated when hundreds of cells "fire" at the same time in the same part of the brain. The human brain has four distinct brainwave patterns, which are associated with four distinct states of consciousness Electrical activity in the cortex of the brain can be recorded with an EEG (electro-encephalograph) and is measured in Hertz (frequency or cycles per second). The beta state (13 Hz and above): Low amplitude, high frequency brain activity associated with normal waking consciousness and externally directed, linear-thinking mental activity. The alpha state (8 - 12 Hz): Higher amplitude, lower frequency brain activity associated with mild relaxation, daydreaming, reverie and light meditation. The alpha state is relatively easy to access. The theta state (4 - 8 Hz): Very high amplitude, very low frequency brain activity just above the threshold of consciousness, associated with deep mental processes, creativity, inspiration, and illumination. Theta is a highly elusive state. Although we fleetingly pass through the theta state as we fall asleep at night and again as we wake up in the mornings, it is practically impossible to enter this state at will and remain in it without falling asleep. One of the unique features of floatation REST is that after 10 to 20 minutes of floating, theta becomes the predominant level of brain activity, and remains so for the duration of the float session. The Delta state (0.5 - 4 Hz): This state of minimal brain activity is associated with deep dreamless sleep. The brain-state associated with floating - where the whole brain is balanced, synchronized, and resonating at the theta level - is something unique.
Physical Rehabilitation
Floatation tanks are used in sports medicine to accelerate an athletes' recovery from sports injuries. An article in TIME Magazine (Australia) in 1995 featured the story of Brett Dennis, a promising young cyclist who cycled off a cliff in the US Tour DuPont road race in 1994, falling 4 metres and smashing his femur through his hip socket. Doctors gave him little chance of walking properly again. Back home in Australia two weeks later, with a steel pin through his shattered pelvis, Dennis was understandably depressed and near to giving up his sporting ambitions. However, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is justifiably famous for its advanced training techniques and facilities. At the AIS, Dennis was put onto a program of intensive physiotherapy. He also spent an hour a day playing "mind games" - closing his eyes and visualizing a blue light traveling from his chest to his hip joint, washing away damaged tissue and replacing it with new cells. Three times a week, he lay suspended in one of the AIS floatation tanks. Above him, a custom-made videotape played highlights of his own best races and those of his cycling heroes, with his favourite music playing in the background. Seven weeks after the accident Dennis started training again. Seven weeks after that, he won gold and - with his three teammates - smashed the Australian record in the 100 km team time trial at the Commonwealth Games.
Stress Relief
People who lead demanding lifestyles run the risk of developing high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. This disease has no symptoms, but eventually manifests itself in the form of strokes, heart attacks and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) - all potential killers. Floating can produce an immediate reduction in blood pressure and heart rate; regular floating may maintain this. Modern research has established clearly the interrelationship between high levels of distress and a depression of the immune system. In addition, conditions like pain and depression impair the immunological functions. Floatation therapy is very useful in these cases since the deep relaxation attained by patients releases negative stress, helps chronic pain and depression giving a natural boost to the immunological system both at the cellular and humoral level. Some digestive tract conditions are associated with high levels of stress that will be benefited by Floatation therapy such as the case of well-known psychosomatic disorders like Duodenal Peptic Ulcer and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Both are associated with high levels of neurosis/anxiety and psycho-emotional conflict.
Weight Loss
The float tank is an effective tool in a weight reduction program, as well as treatment of addictive behaviours. Scientists think that floatation is effective in weight loss programs and for treatment of addictive behaviours because of its positive influence the production of endorphins. The natural opiates of the body decrease the stressful withdrawal symptoms of addiction and replace the need for addictive substances with the pleasurable feelings produced while floating. Similar results have been achieved in weight loss programs developed for the float tank. There are two elements necessary for motivating oneself to accomplish certain goals and be free of non-adaptive or stressful behaviour. The two elements are relaxation and focused attention. The float tank is an effective tool for positive self-motivation because it provides the following:
  • Eliminates all external stimuli so you can concentrate on yourself
  • Produces a very deep relaxation so you can be open to suggestion and open to positive thoughts and attitudes
  • Produces chemical changes in your body which favour clarity of thought, improved memory and problem-solving
Combined with complementary modalities, the float tank is an effective tool for self improvement.
Athletic Performance
Floating maximizes the benefits of fitness training, exercise, and workouts. Although exercise stimulates muscle growth, the growth occurs during relaxation, some 30-40 hours after exercise. The deep relaxation of floating improves blood circulation, and accelerates the growth and regeneration of muscle tissue. In 1981, the Dallas Cowboys, regular Superbowl winners, became one of top-line sport's first advocates of floatation REST as a technique for developing the physical and psychological skills of their players. As sports psychology assumed an ever-growing role, along with a realization of the importance of relaxation training, many other eminent USA sportspeople - including the legendary Carl Lewis - started to incorporate floatation into their training regime. For its relatively small size, Australia does disproportionately well at Olympic-level competitions. The training techniques of the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) are regarded as amongst the finest in the world. Since 1983 the AIS has been consistent proponents of floatation REST and has done an immense amount of research and case studies that demonstrate its efficacy. Jeff Bond (sports psychologist, AIS) goes so far as to describe the floatation tank as "a new dimension in sports training for the elite athlete". World-class athletes are highly motivated individuals. In the run-up to an important competition, an athlete may train for over 40 hours a week. Rigorous physical and mental training puts an enormous amount of stress on the athlete's body and mind. There is a strong tendency for athletes to over-train and this can have as disastrous an effect on performance as under-training. Strenuous physical training creates a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles. Lactic acid is a toxic by-product of glucose metabolism. It begins to accumulate in the muscles within one minute of peak or anaerobic effort, and can remain in muscle tissue for three days. An athlete training every day will accumulate increasingly large amounts of lactic acid, experienced by the body as increasing fatigue and chronic muscular tension or pain. Recent studies have directly linked lactic acid to high levels of anxiety and emotional arousal. By its rapid evacuation of lactic acid from the body, floatation enables the athlete to train without strain. The floatation tank offers the athlete an unprecedented degree of control over mood state, helping him or her achieve and sustain an optimal level of arousal during competition. In a study by Dr Peter Suedfeld (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), recreational basketball players - tested one day before and one day after a single session of floatation plus visualization - showed an astonishing mean improvement of 37% in free-throw success compared to control groups. Suedfeld followed this up with a study of recreational darts players' ability to throw "bull's-eyes". The subjects - tested immediately before and immediately after a single session of floatation plus visualization - showed an impressive 13% improvement in accuracy compared to control groups. Interestingly, another of the test groups in Suedfeld's dart-throwing study - one assigned to floatation without any visualization exercise - showed an 11% improvement. REST researchers have documented the effect of floatation in improving motor skills across a wide range of activities: basketball throws, rifle shooting, bowling, tennis, gymnastics, dart-throwing, and even performance in a flight simulator.
Creativity & Enhanced Learning
In a study in Texas A&M University in 1982, Dr Thomas Taylor selected 40 well-matched subjects from 450 volunteers and split them in to 2 groups. Both groups underwent a series of 70 minute learning sessions using audiotapes. One group (the control group) listened to the tapes while sitting on sofas in quiet darkened rooms. The other group listened while floating in floatation tanks. Taylor tested both groups on 3 levels of learning performance:
  • basic memorization
  • application level (the ability to understand a concept and use it)
  • synthesis thinking (the ability to put together several concepts and come up with a new idea or an original solution to a problem).
A static analysis of the results showed that on the first level, floaters did better than the control group. On the 2nd level, the gap between floaters and non-floaters widened. On the 3rd level, the superiority of the floating group was greatest of all. Taylor also recorded the brainwave activity of both groups while learning. He recorded several 'Eureka events' - flashes of sudden insight or creative problem-solving. He noted that these tended to occur in the deep theta state.
Pregnancy
Parents and Mothers-to-be are often held in tension through situation and changing bodies. Floatation is a wonderful respite and great for a quick rejuvenation that is more integrated than sleep provides. Pregnant mothers are also often tense due to experiencing many bodily changes. As the baby grows and begins pressing on the mother's body, a place to relieve the pain might become necessary. It is also important for first time mothers to take the time to become familiar with their bodies. During labour, the mothers who are "in touch" with their bodies experience far lesser pain than those who are introduced at the point of labour. While floating one has greater inner-vision. One has the ability to bring awareness to parts of the body never before discovered. In doing this, nerves are sensitized and feeling comes which is the doorway for muscular control. As the woman lay their floating, her insight will allow a greater connection to the baby. Mothers tell of babies becoming more active while in this communion.
Habits & Addictions
Recent discoveries, especially in neurochemistry, indicate that addiction is not restricted to what are usually thought of as "addictive drugs". Addiction is simply a compulsion to continue doing something - whether taking a particular substance or indulging in certain behaviour - combined with the occurrence of stressful withdrawal symptoms if the ingestion of the substance or the behaviour pattern is suddenly ended. Scientist have made great advances lately in identifying the mechanism of addiction. Biochemists have found, for example, that addiction is a result of changes in the body's ability to experience pleasure, its reward system - changes in the number and activity of the opiate receptors of the nerve cells, and in the levels of the body's internally produced opiates, the endorphins. It is also known that the symptoms of withdrawal are associated with sudden oversupplies of the neurochemical norepinephrine in the limbic system, and that drugs that block the action of norepinephrine alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal. Such discoveries give scientists hope that they will soon develop chemical ways of overcoming addiction. Taking a different angle of approach, behavioural and cognitive therapists and researchers have recently developed highly effective methods of attacking addictive mental processes and behaviour, and it now seems clear that all who have a serious commitment to overcoming their addiction can do so, provided they follow some of the techniques for behavioural control. Generally, the worlds of the behavioural/cognitive therapists and the neurochemists are far apart, one group trying to change the imperfect actions and ideas of imperfect people in an imperfect world, the other exploring, mapping, and "correcting" microscopic electrochemical processes in the nervous system. With two completely different worldviews, these groups rarely agree on much. So it is significant that both behavioural/cognitive psychologists and the neurochemists now agree that Floatation tank is a powerful tool for overcoming addictions, both by changing addictive behaviour and personality characteristics, and by bringing about rapid and striking changes in the human biochemistry. In the period immediately after quitting a habit, the tank alleviates the pains of withdrawal and enables the user to feel some pleasure. Floating also reduces the level of such anxiety-related biochemicals as norepinephrine, which is released in great quantities during withdrawal. A session in the tank alleviates some of the depression and anxiety usually associated with "crashing" or cutting off consumption of the drug after a period of use. Even long after we have quit an addictive behavioural pattern, there are circumstances that will cause us to want to return to the addiction: stress, anxiety, depression, a certain individual, whatever. When we realize there is a chance that we return to our addictive behaviour, we can simply take a float, stimulate our pleasure pathways, and avert the return to the habit.
Enhanced Learning
Although your body enters a level of physical relaxation which is even deeper than sleep, in the float room your mind remains awake and dreamily alert, just above the threshold of sleep. Large areas of the brain are suddenly liberated from their normal workload of processing signals from the nervous system and sense organs. There is a sharp drop in the level of electrical activity of the brain (measured on an EEG) from the usual 20-25 Hz down to 4-8 Hz. EEG readings show a slow, rhythmic wave pattern known as the theta state. This is where your learning abilities are at their highest and powers of visualisation and autosuggestion are greatly enhanced. Measurements of the brain waves produced by experienced zen meditators in deep satori show large amounts of theta activity across the cortex. For most people, however, the theta state is almost impossible to enter without falling asleep. In the float room, you enter this elusive state effortlessly and enjoyably, and stay in it for most of the float session. EEG measurements on floaters show that the level of activity in the two hemispheres of the brain also becomes more balanced and synchronized. This can produce a subtle shift in awareness away from the normally dominant "left-brain" thought patterns (logical, linear, analytical, and detailed) towards the more intuitive, synthetic and large-scale thought modes of the "right-brain". The tank does not inhibit the left hemisphere, but simply changes its role from one of dominance to one of partnership with the other hemisphere, enabling floaters to use all their mental powers. In a study at Texas A&M University in 1982, Dr Thomas Taylor selected 40 well-matched subjects from 450 student volunteers and split them into two groups. Both groups underwent a series of 70-minute learning sessions using audiotapes. One group (the control group) listened to the tapes while sitting on sofas in quiet darkened rooms. The other group listened while floating in floatation tanks. Taylor tested both groups on three levels of learning performance:
  • basic memorization level
  • application level (the ability to understand a concept and use it)
  • synthesis thinking (the ability to put together several concepts and come up a new idea or an original solution to a problem).
A statistical analysis of the results showed that on the first level, floaters did better than the control group. On the second level, the gap between floaters and non-floaters widened. On the third level, the superiority of the floating group was greatest of all. Taylor also recorded the brainwave activity of both groups while learning. He recorded several "Eureka events" - flashes of sudden insight or creative problem solving. He noted that these tended to occur in the deep theta state.
Sensitivity Buffering
Some of us are known as introverts while others are extroverts. Introverts who float can gain a feeling of safety and security, they often enjoy the break from constant stimulation in which they are usually hypersensitive to. Extroverts can develop greater internal sensitivity from floating, typically they are always seeking extra stimulation and paradoxically through depriving the senses the nervous system's response is to "turn up the volume" to try and feel more. Since minimal input is coming in they are able to develop greater sensitivity to their internal reality and over time they may not feel the need to be constantly stimulated; i.e. it may heighten their "dulled" senses, and won't need to be constantly stimulated.
Increased immune function
Immune function is enhanced by suppressing stress hormones which not only weaken the immune system but also suppress the digestion and reproductive systems, affect regeneration processes, and decrease insulin sensitivity.
Sense of Happiness
The tank suppresses the functioning of the sympathetic nervous system which when active produces our 'fight or flight' response. And it then activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for relaxation, healing, replenishment, etc. Some physical symptoms of the relaxation response are decreased muscle tension, decreased blood pressure, decreased stress hormones, and increased endorphins. Regular floating can alter the set-points in the endocrine homeostatic mechanism which can cause adjustments such as a lower adrenal activation threshold. This means that we become more resistant to the stimuli of chronic stressors bombarding us in modern urban settings and modern lifestyles and literally we have a physiological higher threshold. The modern urban life-style won't affect our stress response as much.