Sensory Deprivation

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Sensory Deprivation Tank
Sensory Deprivation Tank

‘Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax’ ~ Mark Black

In today’s urban chaos that most of us live in, relaxation is a luxury and these words of Mark Black could hardly ring truer. Naturally there are myriad relaxation techniques that are available today. However when I heard about ‘Sensory Deprivation’ my interest was piqued. Imagine this – floating in an enclosed cabin defying gravity. Well, I am not talking through my head. This is quite akin to a pearl in an oyster – yes as exotic as that! Float tanks are also known as isolation tanks, sensory deprivation tanks & REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) chambers. Sensory Deprivation is a float therapy done in a water-based environment where the pod is filled with 2000 litres of water and 800 kgs of Epsom salt. There are two effects that are reversed in this environment – the effect of gravity and the effect of sensory overload. This mimics the Dead Sea of Israel which is so dense in minerals that you can actually float in the water. Did you know that 90% of the time our body fights gravity which also brings about aches, pains and injuries which take time to heal? Also we live in an age, which is overloaded with information from all sources of sight, sound, taste and smell, in forms of noise, pollution and anxious people. Any form of stress can affect us physically, mentally or spiritually and our state of balance. Imagine letting go of all this at one shot. Well this is as easy as it sounds and Sensory Deprivation tanks do exactly this.

Flight of fantasy

The premise of floating comes from the thought process that once your body is freed from external stimulation, it can achieve a state of deep relaxation that is even more beneficial than sleep. “In the Float Pod you experience zero gravity and zero sensory information – no light, no sound, no smell, no touch (water is heated to average human body temperature) that gives you a chance to disconnect and allow yourself to recover and relax. Epsom salt is very good for fast recovery and reset. This process can also be used for purposes of healing, transformation or relaxation,” explains Amitabh Swetta, Founder, 1000 Petals, Bangalore. Floatation therapy is one of the most unique and natural ways to de-stress, manage muscle pain, exfoliate, meditate and boost creativity all at once. “It has also been proven to deal with symptoms of insomnia, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, anxiety and muscle recovery by studies conducted at Laureate Institute of Brain Research (LIBR) and Ohio State University in the US and Karlstad University and Gothenburg University in Sweden. The water’s anti-inflammatory properties are also beneficial for treating symptoms of skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne,” says Chirag Lilaramani, Founder, & Owner, Liquid Sanctuary, Delhi’s only float center. Naturally customers are thrilled. “This was such a surreal experience. It takes a while to get used to the idea that gravity isn’t playing any role as you float without any support, but eventually your mind and body give in, enabling a really unique (and ridiculously relaxing) experience,” says Surabhi Tandon, a client at Liquid Sanctuary, Delhi.

Hope Floats

The health benefits of floating in these tanks are immense. Perceived stress can be correlated with increased levels of cortisol and in flotation therapy there is a natural tendency for cortisol to be reduced. “For this reason, flotation therapy is one of the few noninvasive techniques available to manage stress when it is a factor in reducing a person’s ability to cope with normal life. There are some similarities with the age old long hot bath. It has recently been discovered that there is a secondary effect which is important to flotation therapy. Magnesium is absorbed through the skin due to natural molecular diffusion. This tends to correct magnesium deficiency Magnesium is absorbed from the diet but in many areas of the world, over-cropping without adequate replacement of magnesium makes the normal diet low in magnesium,” avers Binny Paul, Founder & CEO, Relaxopod Systems India Pvt. Ltd. Shalom float and mind spa is the first dedicated float centre to open in India at Pune. Relaxopod Systems India is the first company in Asia to design/develop/manufacture sensory deprivation pods and tanks in India with brand names Relaxopod and RelaxoRoom. “I personally float once a week as it helps me to forget myself and get free from all worries and stress. It also helps in creativity, problem solving, and giving me new ideas,” adds Paul. Pods and tanks for floating use an epsom salt (magnesium) solution to make the water extremely saturated. “In fact, the water in a float tank has a relative density of about 1.25, making it essentially impossible not to float. Almost a thousand pounds of epsom salt is dissolved in a couple hundred gallons of water, creating an almost zero gravity environment. This allows anyone to be able to float effortlessly in the pods, plus the usual benefits of using magnesium on the skin or soaking in a magnesium bath apply. In particular, magnesium is known to help balance calcium levels in the body, reduce stress, balance hormones, normalize blood pressure, reduce risk of cancer and other diseases and much more,” says Swetta.

Research Matters

Flotation therapy has been academically studied in the USA and in Sweden with published results showing reduction of both pain and stress. The floatation tank with its research data of over 60 years has shown that with regular use one can reduce anxiety, stress, improve sleep quality, rapid physical recovery, PTSD, Weight loss, depression relief, speedy jet lag recovery, fibromyalgia, eating disorders, arthritis, osteoarthritis, increased blood circulation, pre and post-natal relaxation. “Small scale studies provide some initial scientific backing for the idea of floating and sensory deprivation. One study showed increased activity in the visual cortexes of participants while other studies found increased creativity in university professors and students (measured by standardized tests for creativity). A more detailed study in the 1980s found reduced levels of stress hormones and blood pressure after floating and noted that these effects were sustained for weeks after the actual REST experience,” says Swetta. A 2005 meta-analysis confirmed that floating is an effective stress-relief activity and that it was at least as effective (or more effective) than relaxation exercises and some types of meditation, while a 1999 study showed an increase in Theta waves during floating (the same waves found in REM sleep and meditation). From that study, plasma and urinary cortisol, ACTH [adrenocorticotropic hormone], aldosterone, renin activity, epinephrine, heart rate, and blood pressure, all directly associated with stress, consistently decrease. Recent research published in the Journal of Complimentary & Behavioral Medicine now suggests that sensory deprivation may actually work by reducing the body’s stress response, inducing deep relaxation and quieting mental chatter.  A slew of research is now showing that “floatation therapy” is an effective, noninvasive method for treating stress-related illnesses and pain, more so than a placebo or even many other methods currently used in complimentary medicine. So get ready to float your stress away!

Did You Know?

The first floatation tank was developed in 1954 by the American neurophysiologist Professor Dr John C. Lilly while working and studying psychoanalysis at the National institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland USA.

Tips

  • Try not to shave right before arriving.
  • Do not wear contact lenses.
  • Avoid caffeine before you float as it may interfere with your ability to relax.
  • Eat a light meal about 90 minutes to an hour ahead of time.
  • Low blood pressure, open wounds and a recent tattoo are the known contradictions to this therapy.

This story appeared in the Feb 2018 issue of Smartlife Magazine here:

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