UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com

Float tank benefits: Does this therapy actually help?

Flotation tanks cut off the outside world and offer an inner immersion.

By Anne Bokma

Beatles icon John Lennon did it to kick his heroin habit. Quarterback Tom Brady does it to stay on top of his game. Actor Russell Brand has compared it to “being in the belly of a whale.” And comedian Joe Rogan, whose hugely popular podcast draws tens of millions of listeners, is almost single-handedly credited for its renaissance. He describes sensory-deprivation float tanks, where you drift like a gently bouncing fetus in an amniotic pool of salt water, as one of “the most incredible pieces of equipment for self-help and introspective thought that you could ever find.”

Invented in 1954 by the quirky neuroscientist John Lilly (he was also a proponent of telepathic communication with dolphins), the water-filled pods offered a trippy experience for early enthusiasts who believed they could expand their consciousness and creativity. The tanks fell out of favour during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s because of public health fears, but improved technology, the mindfulness trend and celebrity endorsements such as Rogan’s have them making a splash once again.

There are dozens of float centres in cities across Canada, from Drift Float in Sherwood Park, Alta., to Rest Nest Float Club in Toronto and the Floatation Centre in Halifax. You can even buy your own personal tank (prices range from $2,000 to more than $30,000). The Bright Float Pod, for example, boasts “a sleek, modern sanctuary” with a cavernous interior and piped-in sound. There’s also an annual Float Conference, “the world’s largest float tank event,” held in Oregon every year. In Sweden, where there are more float tanks per capita than anywhere else in the world, physicians will write prescriptions for their patients to bob around.

“There are a lot of stories about how floating has changed people’s lives — a guy came in the other day for back pain, and when he came out he said it was the most transcendent experience of his life,” says Jay Ziebarth, owner of Zee Float in Hamilton. “Some people see visions, and others go back to their early childhood memories.” Users float naked in water that’s been heated to body temperature and saturated with about 400 kilograms of Epsom salts (making it twice as buoyant as the Dead Sea). The closed container blocks out all light and sound, offering cocoonlike comfort, meditative bliss and sometimes a spiritual awakening. It’s thought that time in the tank allows brain waves to transition from the logical beta state to the dreamlike theta state, thus paving the way for visualizations, inspiration and insight.

Some people may take years to achieve a deep theta state in meditation, says Ziebarth. “With floating, you can get there in 45 minutes.” One convert describes the tanks as “portals into the swirling depths of the psyche” or “spacecrafts to take you face-to-face with the void.”

The research is thin, but a meta-analysis of 27 small studies shows that float therapy has a positive impact on mood, blood pressure and stress levels. It’s currently being studied for its therapeutic potential to relieve chronic pain, and some suggest it could also help with symptoms of PTSD and ADHD.

In a float tank, you are truly disconnected. That can be challenging for people who find it difficult to be alone with their thoughts for more than an hour. Ziebarth says some of his millennial clients who are glued to their smartphones can’t always make it through 90 minutes. But for a host of others, it’s a release from the constant swirl of thoughts that threaten to drain them. They’re able to just go with the float.

Anne Bokma is a journalist in Hamilton.

This story first appeared in The Observer's April 2018 edition with the title "Escape Hatch."


Author's photo
Anne Bokma is a Hamilton-based journalist. Her column, "Spiritual But Secular," appears monthly in The Observer.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Faith

Attendees at the Parliament of the World's Religions conference enjoy a simple langar lunch prepared by Toronto's Sikh community. (Photo: Will Pearson)

Interfaith conference illuminating, but those who needed it most weren't there

by Will Pearson

Observer editor Will Pearson learned a lot at the Parliament of the World's Religions gathering in Toronto, but wondered about its long-term impact.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Why we've decided to capitalize B for Black

by Jocelyn Bell

It may not be Canadian Press style, but it shows respect and recognizes a shared identity and experience among Black people.

Promotional Image

Video

Meet beloved church cats Mable and Mouse

by Observer Staff

They're a fixture of Kirk United Church Centre in Edmonton.

Promotional Image

Faith

November 2018

The first Black moderator of the United Church faced racism that still resonates today

by Mugoli Samba

Very Rev. Wilbur Howard didn't speak about the discrimination he experienced in the church. Decades later, Black clergy are opening up about what is still a big problem.

Columns

November 2018

Anti-Semitism is why I’ll always be a proud Jewish atheist

by Joshua Ostroff

On the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, this Canadian Jew reflects on the ongoing hate that has helped define his identity.

Faith

November 2018

Interfaith conference illuminating, but those who needed it most weren't there

by Will Pearson

Observer editor Will Pearson learned a lot at the Parliament of the World's Religions gathering in Toronto, but wondered about its long-term impact.

Promotional Image