On this weeks show we “dive in” to the hottest health craze that can help you reboot your brain, increase creativity, and let you tap into other states of consciousness.
Kevin Johnson is the owner of Zero Gravity Institute, the float spa in Austin, Texas where I go for my weekly one-hour floats.
You may be scratching your head thinking, “What in the heck is a float?” Well, unlike what might come to mind for many of you– ice cream scooped into root beer, this kind of float is incredibly good for your body, mind, and spirit. Maybe you’ve seen the float references plastered all over the blogosphere lately. If not, here’s the basic idea:
It’s total sensory deprivation. You slip into a chamber that’s about the size of a large walk-in closet or a small room where you float in about twelve inches of highly salt-saturated water in complete silence and darkness.
The water has been filled with 1,200 pounds of Epsom salt, so you become incredibly buoyant, to the point that gravity is nonexistent. The water is warmed to skin receptor neutral, 93.5˚F. You register neither warm nor cold. Without gravity, temperature, light, or sound, you fall into a state of complete relaxation.
Sound good? Let me tell you, when you walk out of the float spa you feel like you’ve had the best massage of your life… but even better! In this show, Kevin and I talk about:
- How a good float gets creative juices flowing.
- The past, present, and future of floating… from the deprivation tank to float spa!
- The major benefits of floating for athletes.
- 100 floats in 100 days: Kevin’s exploration of the mind.
- Tapping into other states of consciousness.
- Why our overstimulated brains need time to reboot.
When I first walked into the float spa, I have to admit, I was skeptical. How could something so ridiculously simple actually help? I was completely blown away.
In 1954, a neuroscientist, physician, and psychoanalyst at the National Institute of Mental Health, John C. Lilly created the sensory deprivation tank to explore human consciousness. Without stimuli, would I cease to exist? Would I shut off? He set out to answer some of these questions.
Why would this process be beneficial for the average Jane or Joe?
The float tank removes 90% of the brain and body’s workload. At any given moment of your regular life, you are operating in sympathetic response mode. That means you’re sensitive to all the flashing lights, beeping sounds, bodies around you, air conditioning, hot stove, etc. etc. This is good for survival. It helps you navigate the world without walking out into traffic or putting the food in the wrong orifice.
As society gets more and more filled with sensory stimulation (think smartphones, microwaves, car horns, music, flashing screens, barking dogs, TV newscasters), we spend less and less time in a parasympathetic environment. Our brains are so overwhelmed that we can’t shut off.
Your body and brain need time to do the background work, to heal and rejuvenate. The floating tank gives you that time. Once your body switches into that healing mode, it starts to reallocate its resources. You get extra digestion, enzyme production, endorphins, and neurotransmitters.
Even in a really good massage, you’re still responding to stimuli. With floating, you come out feeling completely rejuvenated. Your endorphin load is boosted up and your brain chemistry is in balance. It’s like “fasting for the brain.”
What do you DO for sixty minutes in total darkness and silence? First off, all concept of time disappears. It’s like you’ve been in a dream state. When you “wake up,” you recall moments of clarity but have no real sense of time. When the light comes on slowly and gently, it’s the closest thing you’ll ever experience to heaven on earth.
People might have images of the cult sci-fi film “Altered States!” What is it actually like when you walk into the spa? At first, it’s very much a spa-like experience.
You sit in some of the most deluxe massage chairs you’ve ever seen and get a fifteen minute, very relaxing massage.
Moving into your private room, you shower and wash your hair. Then you climb into the float tank and lay down on your back in the satiated salt-water. Don’t worry, it would take serious core strength to flip yourself over… so no need to fear drowning. This water is five times denser than the salt water of the Dead Sea!
You close your eyes and the camber closes. The lights dim and finally, you are in complete sensory deprivation. A parasympathetic environment.
When the lights come gently back on, you step out of the tank and shower again. Dressed and ready to meet the world, everything outside the room will seem sharper. Your senses will be heightened, but not in a tense fight-or-flight kind of way. Your creative juices might be flowing, and your body will feel rejuvenated.
Instead of taking a pill to attack specific symptoms, the deprivation tank removes all of the body’s extra work so it can focus on healing.
Some of the reasons people seek out the float spas are:
- Recovery (especially athletes)
- Cognitive function
- Boost creativity
- Increase intuitive mind
- Increase problem solving skills
- Become a super-learner
- Help with attention deficit/ learning ability
- Healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Mind expansion
- Altered states of reality
Even though the positive effects of sensory deprivation are well documented, the practice is just now reemerging. Why? It seems like it would be all over the schools, hospitals, retreat centers… From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, sensory deprivation tanks were mainly tucked away in the basements of University psychology departments to be used for drug and teaching methodology research. But in the late 70’s, sensory deprivation became a commercial venture.
Kevin: I started working for Samadhi in L.A. in the mid 1980’s. I went in and did my first float… and whoa. I never would have believed I could reach that state of consciousness. I made another appointment, and the owners offered me a job. I learned a lot from talking to people when they finished their sessions. You’d have fifty people and fifty different stories.
It’s amazing when you suddenly realize, “Oh, I’m driving!” You are totally in charge of where your consciousness goes.
What are the benefits of floating for athletes?
First off, the Epsom salt is a muscle relaxer. When you achieve zero gravity in that Epsom bath, your muscular system lets go, allowing your skeletal system to readjust.
When you remove gravity, you experience a vasodilatory effect. Your veins, muscles, and blood vessels expand leading to a drop in blood pressure and heart rate and increased circulation.
Everything is suddenly working. Fresh blood cells are moving through tissues and muscles, and the system is moving oxygen around the body to feed the muscles.
When you’re in a flight-or-flight stress mode (as many of us usually are), your blood rushes to your extremities. In sensory deprivation, your blood seeks the core, which promotes rapid healing.
The reason floating is recently regaining popularity is because we are all so technologically overstimulated. We love our smart phones and laptops, our navigation systems and coffee makers. But such things are constantly shouting at us… we are nailed by a steady stream of beeps! What we will see over the next few years is a return to simplicity. We will get back to the core, back to nature. We NEED to come back. Until then, we need a time to reboot, even if it’s just for an hour a week.
The technological age takes place in an evolutionary blink of the eye. We used to spend hours every day sitting at the edge of a grassland waiting for dinner to walk by. We had time to contemplate, to think, to daydream. It’s really remarkable that we can even survive in today’s stress-filled world.
I’ve been able to get to the parasympathetic state a few other times in life, through music and meditation. But it’s not quite as deep, and it’s not as quick. As a musician, or any kind of artist, coming out of a float gets you straight into a creative mode.
The goal of floating is long-term: It allows you to eventually put yourself into a deep meditative state whenever and wherever you need it. This is the reprogramming of the brain that is clearly illustrated in John Lilly’s book “Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer.”
For people who don’t or can’t meditate, the float tank is like the “easy button.”
Kevin tells the story of floating healing symptoms of PTSD: There was a veteran whom had been suffering from PTSD for six years, and was heavily medicated. He found floating, and after just four sessions was taken off all of his meds by his doctor. The doctor called Kevin to learn everything she could about the practice. Now she sends patients to Zero Gravity Institute for treatment. There is also a group of vets that come by van every month from Ft. Hood, and a group from Wounded Warriors in San Antonio that use floating to treat post-traumatic stress.
Soldiers, police, firefighters, and other emergency responders can’t get into parasympathetic mode easily. They are always “turned on,” hyperaware of their surroundings. Floating helps them reboot and relax.
Is there a best time of day to float? Based on experience and feedback, when you float in the morning you have a focused energy and concentration throughout the rest of the day. If you float at night, you experience a deep relaxation that helps you wind down and sleep.
Also, your intention dictates your experience. You can go into your float with certain tasks in mind and achieve an outcome congruous with your intent. People go in wanting to work on some writing project, heal a relationship, process business issues, or explore other states of consciousness.
Kevin did 100 floats in 100 days. This experience goes into the book that he’s currently working on, along with an amalgamation of different people’s ideas regarding sensory deprivation. The idea of the 100 floats was to explore different states of consciousness. In that space, he was able to image that life didn’t exist, that there was an empty nothingness, and that he could touch this unified feeling of universal consciousness. In this space, you wonder, “Who is doing the creating?”