Increasingly, wellness seekers explore the myriad health benefits offered by float therapy, also sometimes known as isolation tank therapy. With more than 300 float centers available in the United States, it’s getting easier to experience the weightless sensation of floating. In Europe, The online WeFloat community also keeps an up-to-date directory of centers located throughout Europe, making it easy to find a place to try it for yourself or to keep up with an existing practice.
Dr. David A. Berv is a board-certified chiropractic sports physician, acupuncturist and the chief experience officer at The Float Zone in Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Berv discovered the value of floating after a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. When surgery was advised, he sought a less-invasive, more holistic modality for addressing his pain and discomfort. Floating has since become one of his most valuable tools — a discovery shared by others faced with their own health challenges, or who’ve decided to be proactive in self-care with this powerful, holistic aide.
Wondering how it works? Below, Dr. Berv shares his expertise and answers our questions. But first, a short science recap. The human autonomic nervous system is divided into two main parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. While the sympathetic nervous system controls and activates our fight-or-flight response and releases adrenaline to help us cope with that state, the parasympathetic nervous system relaxes muscles, decreases heart rate and allows the body to enter a state conducive to healing. Floatation therapy can be a valuable aide to increasing our parasympathetic response. And before you ask: Yes, the water for each session is fresh, pristine and absolutely clean; and no, the salts used in the water are not a problem for those on a salt-restrictive diet.
Whereverfamily.com: As a healing professional with decades of firsthand experience, what have you seen as the most beneficial aspects of flotation therapy?
Dr. David Berv: The top benefits include stress relief, reduced anxiety, improved sleep and alleviation of pain. When you float on a regular basis, the benefits accumulate. Floating can help you hack your stress response, helping bring the pendulum back to a healthy state between the sympathetic and parasympathetic system responses.
Chronic stress states damage our adrenal glands, activating cortisol levels that are bad for so many chronic conditions. It’s like being in chronic fight or flight mode all the time. Floating reduces that state, while increasing dopamine and serotonin hormones that contribute to feelings of serenity. There is a measurable physiological effect that happens.
When I was pulling tools out of my bag to avoid surgery, this was one of them. I floated almost daily for a year. My own case studies at The Float Zone, done from my perspective as a specialist in musculoskeletal issues, revealed additional benefits include a boost in energy levels and focus, and relief from symptoms of depression.
WF: What’s your advice for getting the most from a floatation experience?
DB: First, identify your goal and set an intention. Do you have a long trip ahead and know you’ll be exhausted at the end? Are you experiencing stress, poor sleep, pain or anxiety? Set a conscious intention to address these or other issues while in the tank. Next, don’t have a large or heavy meal prior to floating. You’ll be far more comfortable, and less distracted by digestive activity in your system.
Finally, arrive early. Give yourself ample time to transition from a busy alpha/beta brain state to a healing theta state. Don’t rush to your appointment, and perhaps play soothing music along the way. Even the time of day and the day of the week can be important factors. For instance, it might not be most conducive to a transformative experience if you choose to float directly after work while your mind is still processing a day filled with hectic meetings and deadlines.
WF: What about potential floaters who already deal with issues of claustrophobia, and are apprehensive about being closed up in a small space?
DB: The water temperature is 94 degrees, which approximates skin at the body’s most relaxed state. This alone is helpful, but those who can’t endure small spaces might be surprised at how they are able to tolerate the tank environment. While the large, egg-shaped pod tanks are found at many float centers, some have cabins with tall ceilings.
Even if the center has older, smaller float tanks, there are things you can do to be more comfortable. Leave the top propped open with towels, or open all the way. Leave the lights in the room on, or keep the lights within the tank on. Some tanks, like ours, are equipped with different colored lights you can experiment with to find one that’s personally soothing.
Our tanks also have a music option, with music that we’ve specially created with a local mindfulness group to produce the ideal music for guided meditation. You can even bring your own music — we provide the best underwater headphones available. We also provide pillows and pool noodles for use within the tank to maximize comfort, or provide a reference point for those who float in the dark. You can try all of these methods, or combine them to find what works for you.
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