“How can sitting in a dark salt bath be therapeutic? I’ll just fill my bathtub with Epsom Salts and call it a day.”
Anyone who has tried to describe floatation therapy to the uninitiated is familiar with those dismissive retorts. An all-natural, wonderfully simple holistic therapy that boasts a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional benefits? Sounds too good to be true.
Not to Dr. Justin Feinstein, a neuropsychologist with the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR), whose research on anxiety and flotation therapy is giving skeptics pause.
While he was familiar with floatation therapy as a fringe fad, Dr. Feinstein had his first personal experience with floating while studying cognitive neuroscience at California Institute of Technology. His interest in anxiety, the evolution of brain structures, and theories of consciousness lead him to pursue an understanding of interoception.
Interoception is our sense of and connection to our internal physiology. Interoceptive stimuli are responsible for hunger, respiration, and immune system response, for example. Quite simply, interoception helps us relate to our physiological status and provides a psychological bond to our bodies as a part of ourselves.
Our sense of interoception is also deeply connected with our sense of exteroception – externally originating sensations like touch, sight, and motor awareness that also provide valuable information about our physical status and safety.
Through the courses of his research, Dr. Feinstein found that patients with anxiety disorders experienced a disruption in their interoceptive pathways. He hypothesized that the currently rising rates of anxiety are caused by a flood of external stimulation.
In short, our smartphones are distancing us from ourselves.
Society clearly isn’t going to reverse the tide of technological change, but Dr. Feinstein pursued floatation therapy as a potential antidote to the stimulus overload. Could floating restrict external stimulation and heighten our sense of interoception, effectively treating the root cause of psychological distress?
Early testing shows promising results; Dr. Feinstein and his associates at LIBR’s Float Clinic and Research Center have seen positive outcomes for those experiencing anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. Participants in these exploratory studies not only report feeling better after three sessions, but results from fMRI and EEG scans taken both before and after floating support claims that floatation has a real impact on our brains. In some cases, the difference in pre- versus post-float brain scans mirrors the effects of medication used to treat clinical disorders, without potentially harmful side-effects.
Still think all you need is an hour away from your e-mail to reap the relaxation benefits? Think again. The control groups in Dr. Feinstein’s studies were also placed in a dark, soundproof room, reclining in an anti-gravity chair. While many of the control participants report feeling more relaxed after each session, the physiological effects just don’t stack up when compared to those of the floating group.
It’s still too early to claim floatation therapy as a psychological cure-all, but research is starting to verify what your local float guru has been saying all along: Floatation therapy offers the purest path back to your true self. Schedule a float in Relaxopod or RelaxORoom to Experience Nirvana