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Float Science

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Antiquite

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While ancient civilizations like the Romans and Persians used water for therapeutic and recreational purposes, such as the Roman aqueducts and bathhouses and the use of the Dead Sea for its mineral-rich waters, the practices are not the same as flotation therapy. The concept of using water for health benefits is ancient and widespread, but the specific practice of flotation therapy in isolation tanks is a modern development.

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Father of Flotation Therapy

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Flotation therapy involves floating in a sensory deprivation tank filled with Epsom salt and water to create buoyancy and reduce sensory input. 

 

The flotation therapy being used at Blue Sea Float Center and other float spas was developed by American physician and neuroscientist Dr. John C. Lilly. He created the first isolation tank to study the effects of sensory deprivation on the brain.  Dr. Lilly was born on January 6, 1915 in St. Paul, Minnesota.  After four decades of research, Dr. Lilly retired in the 90’s to Los Angeles, and passed away on September 30, 2001 at age 86.

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Space Race

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Dr. Lilly began his study of human reaction to sensory deprivation by using an isolation tank filled with Epsom Salt in 1953 during the Cold War, a space race era, long before the first satellite Sputnik went into space in 1957. While the isolation tank does create a sensation somewhat akin to weightlessness (due to the buoyancy provided by the high concentration of Epsom salt), Lilly's main goal was scientific exploration rather than simulating space travel. 

Consciousness

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Lilly's research into sensory deprivation and isolation tanks intersected with broader themes of consciousness and the mind, but his work was generally separate from direct involvement in projects like CIA’s MKUltra and SRI’s remote viewing project with Ingo Swann.  While Lilly was deeply interested in altered states of consciousness and explored various ways to expand the mind's potential (including the use of substances like LSD), there is no direct evidence to suggest that he was involved in formal remote viewing or MKUltra projects.  

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Human-Dolphin Communication

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However, Lilly was deeply interested in the study of human-dolphin communication.  Margaret Howe (later Margaret Howe Lovatt) was Lilly’s research assistant who worked with Lilly in the 1960s at the Dolphin House in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She was part of an experiment to teach Peter, a bottlenose dolphin, to understand and mimic human speech. Lilly’s interests in studying dolphin in Virgin Islands with immerse blue sea around, and thus Blue Sea Float Center was created to honor his scientific research efforts.

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence SETI Project

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Lilly’s interests were diverse.  He was also involved with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project by discussing the use of radio astronomy to detect evidence of intelligent life outside the solar system.

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Mental Health

Anxiety and Stress Relief

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A 2018 study found that flotation therapy can have a significant anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effect. Participants with high anxiety sensitivity reported reduced stress levels and a greater sense of relaxation after 90-minute float sessions​ 

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Cardiovascular Health

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Flotation therapy may benefit cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and heart rate, which are often elevated due to stress. This relaxation response can contribute to better heart health over time​ (Verywell Health)​.

Depression Symptoms

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Some evidence indicates that flotation therapy can reduce symptoms of depression. Participants in studies reported a significant decrease in negative emotions and an increase in overall well-being following therapy sessions​ (Verywell Health)​.

Enhanced Creativity and Focus

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  • The therapy is also believed to boost creativity and improve concentration by reducing external distractions, allowing the mind to access deeper levels of introspection and creativity​ (Verywell Health)​.

PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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  • Research on the use of flotation therapy (also known as sensory deprivation or REST - Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) for PTSD shows promising results in reducing symptoms and improving overall well-being.

  • Dr. Justin Feinstein, director of the Float Clinic and Research Center at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, has conducted extensive research on the effects of flotation therapy on anxiety and PTSD. In one study, Feinstein's team found that flotation therapy significantly reduced anxiety, muscle tension, and blood pressure in patients with anxiety disorders, including PTSD. Patients reported increased feelings of serenity and relaxation, which persisted up to 20 hours post-float​ (Thrive Global)​.

  • Another study highlighted the potential benefits of flotation therapy for veterans suffering from PTSD. Floating in a sensory-deprived environment helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, shifting the body from a 'fight or flight' state to a 'rest and digest' state. This transition is crucial for reducing PTSD-related symptoms such as nightmares, night sweats, and insomnia. Veterans reported significant relief from chronic pain and PTSD symptoms through regular float sessions​ (I-SOPOD)​​ (Thrive Global)​.

Benefits

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NaCl vs. MgSO4 - Floating in the Dead Sea exposes one to high concentration of sea salt, which is sodium chloride, NaCl.  Floating in a sensory deprivation pod, however, would expose one to high concentration of Epsom Salt, which is magnesium sulfate MgSO4. Human skin is semipermeable and would facilitate both transdermal absorption and osmotic water potential gradient effects. 

Transdermal absorption refers to the process by which substances penetrate the skin to enter the bloodstream. This method is often used for delivering medications via patches or topical applications. Key factors affecting transdermal absorption include:

  • Skin Integrity: Intact skin serves as a barrier; damaged skin can enhance absorption.

  • Molecular Size: Smaller molecules typically penetrate the skin more easily.

  • Lipid Solubility: Lipophilic (fat-soluble) substances tend to absorb better due to the lipid-rich nature of the stratum corneum (the outer layer of skin).

  • Concentration Gradient: Higher concentrations of a substance can drive increased absorption.
     

Osmotic water potential gradient effects relate to the movement of water across a semipermeable membrane, driven by solute concentration differences. This principle is critical in biological systems, influencing:

  • Cell Volume Regulation: Cells can swell or shrink depending on the osmotic gradient, affecting their function.

  • Nutrient and Waste Transport: Osmotic gradients can help in the transport of nutrients and waste products across cell membranes.

  • Transdermal Drug Delivery: In the context of transdermal systems, osmotic gradients can enhance drug delivery by maintaining a consistent concentration of the drug at the skin surface.

Dr. Lilly practiced medicine for years when he came up with the flotation therapy idea, and he definitely knew well of the transdermal and osmotic effects as humans consist of over 50% to 60% of water, and the part of the body (skin, muscle, and blood) closest to the Epsom Salt have even higher (60%+) water concentration than that in the pod water (about 30%).  He used Epsom Salt rather than Sea Salt, which has high concentration of sodium which has hypertension side effects.

 

The benefits of magnesium, however, are: 1) Supports Muscle and Nerve Function; 2) Boosts Energy Production; 3) Maintains Heart Health; 4) Enhances Bone Health; 5) Supports Immune System; 6) Reduces Inflammation; 7) Supports Brain Health and Mood; 8) Regulates Blood Sugar​ Levels; 9) Improves Sleep Quality; 10) Aids in Digestive Health.

 

Reearch on flotation therapy, or sensory deprivation tank therapy, indicates several potential mental and physical health benefits. Here are some notable findings from various studies:

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Pain Reduction

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Research has shown that flotation therapy can alleviate chronic pain. A randomized clinical trial found that it effectively reduced chronic pain symptoms, potentially by decreasing muscle tension and increasing endorphin production​

Improved Sleep

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Several studies suggest that flotation therapy can enhance sleep quality. Participants reported better sleep and reduced insomnia symptoms, likely due to the overall relaxation and stress reduction provided by the therapy​.

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The following are a few other titles and abstracts of NIH (National Institute of Health) published papers regarding flotation therapy:

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Title: Efficacy of Flotation-REST in Patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): A Randomized Controlled Trial

Abstract

This study investigates the efficacy of flotation REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy) in treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A randomized controlled trial was conducted with participants diagnosed with GAD. The intervention group received 12 sessions of flotation REST over six weeks, while the control group received usual care. Results showed significant reductions in anxiety levels and improved mood in the intervention group compared to controls. These findings suggest that flotation REST can be an effective complementary treatment for GAD.

2. Chronic Pain

Title: Effects of Flotation Therapy on Chronic Pain: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

Abstract

This meta-analysis evaluates the effects of flotation therapy on chronic pain across various conditions. Data from multiple randomized controlled trials were pooled and analyzed. The results indicate that flotation therapy significantly reduces pain intensity and improves quality of life in individuals with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and musculoskeletal pain. The study concludes that flotation therapy is a promising non-pharmacological intervention for chronic pain management.

3. Psychological & Physiological

Title: Psychological and Physiological Benefits of Flotation Therapy: A Systematic Review

Abstract

 This systematic review synthesizes the psychological and physiological benefits of flotation therapy. The review included studies examining outcomes such as stress reduction, mood improvement, and enhanced sleep quality. The findings suggest that flotation therapy leads to significant reductions in stress and anxiety, improved mood, and better sleep patterns. The review highlights the potential of flotation therapy as a holistic treatment approach for mental and physical well-being.

4. Cardiovascular Health

Title: The Impact of Flotation Therapy on Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health

Abstract

This study explores the impact of flotation therapy on blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Participants with pre-hypertension and stage 1 hypertension were enrolled in a six-week flotation therapy program. Results showed a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and improved cardiovascular markers such as heart rate variability. These findings suggest that flotation therapy may be beneficial for managing hypertension and improving overall cardiovascular health.

5. Insomnia

Title: Flotation REST as a Treatment for Insomnia: A Pilot Study

Abstract

This pilot study examines the efficacy of flotation REST in treating insomnia. Participants with chronic insomnia underwent a four-week flotation therapy program. Sleep quality was assessed using subjective measures and polysomnography. The study found significant improvements in sleep onset latency, sleep duration, and sleep efficiency. The results indicate that flotation REST may be an effective intervention for improving sleep in individuals with chronic insomnia.

Benefits combined flotation and sauna therapy (sauna immediately after floating

Combining flotation therapy with a wet sauna session can enhance the overall benefits of both treatments due to their complementary effects on the body and mind. Here’s a breakdown of the science and benefits of using a wet sauna immediately after flotation therapy:

Science Behind the Combination

1: Enhanced Relaxation:
 

  • Flotation Therapy: Involves floating in a sensory deprivation tank filled with Epsom salt water, which promotes deep relaxation, reduces stress, and alleviates muscle tension.

  • Wet Sauna: Involves exposure to high humidity and heat, which further relaxes muscles and promotes detoxification through sweating.

2: Improved Circulation​
 

  • Flotation Therapy: Buoyancy reduces pressure on the body, improving blood flow and reducing inflammation.

  • Wet Sauna:Heat causes blood vessels to dilate, improving circulation and enhancing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscles and tissues.

​3Detoxification

  • Flotation Therapy:  Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) can be absorbed through the skin, aiding in detoxification.

  • Wet Sauna: Promotes sweating, which helps eliminate toxins from the body.

​Benefits of the Combination

1: Enhanced Muscle Recovery and Pain Relief:  Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) can be absorbed through the skin, aiding in detoxification.

  • Synergistic Effect: The muscle relaxation from flotation therapy combined with the heat from the wet sauna can significantly reduce muscle soreness and accelerate recovery from physical exertion.

  • Supporting Research: Studies suggest that both flotation therapy and sauna use individually help with muscle recovery and pain

2: Increased Stress Reduction and Mental Clarity:

  • Deep Relaxation: The profound relaxation achieved from flotation therapy can be prolonged and deepened by following up with a sauna session.

  • Mental Benefits: Both treatments are known to reduce stress hormone levels and promote a sense of well-being. Combining them can amplify these effects.
     

3: Improved Sleep Quality: 

  • Relaxation: Both therapies are known to improve sleep quality by promoting relaxation and reducing stress.

  • Supporting Research: Research shows that sauna use can improve sleep by promoting relaxation and reducing muscle tension.
     

4:Detoxification & Skin Health
 

  • Skin Benefits: The detoxification process is enhanced by sweating in the sauna, which can help clear pores and improve skin health.

  • Magnesium Absorption:The absorption of magnesium from the flotation tank can help with skin conditions and overall health.

Benefits of having a quick cold shower after combined flotation and sauna treatment

Taking a cold shower after a combined flotation and sauna treatment can amplify the effects somewhat similarly to cryotherapy. The contrasting temperature exposure—hot sauna followed by a cold shower—can enhance various physiological and psychological benefits.

Benefits of Cold Exposure After Sauna and Flotation

1: Improved Circulation:

  • Vasoconstriction and Vasodilation:The hot sauna causes vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), improving blood flow and oxygen delivery to tissues. Following this with a cold shower causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), which can help flush out metabolic waste and reduce inflammation. This contrast therapy can boost overall circulation and cardiovascular health.
     

2: Enhanced Recovery & Reduced Muscle Soreness:  

  • Cryotherapy Effect: Cold exposure, similar to cryotherapy, can reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. This is particularly beneficial after the deep relaxation and potential muscle relaxation achieved during flotation and sauna sessions.

  • Injury Prevention and Recovery: Athletes often use contrast therapy to enhance recovery and prevent injuries by reducing muscle stiffness and promoting faster healing.
     

3: Boosted Immune System

  • Immune Response:  Regular exposure to cold has been shown to boost the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells, which can help the body fend off illnesses.
     

4: Enhanced Mental Clarity & Mood

  • Endorphin Release: The sudden cold exposure can trigger the release of endorphins, improving mood and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. This can complement the mental clarity and relaxation achieved through flotation therapy.

  • Adrenaline Surge:  Cold showers can stimulate an adrenaline surge, providing a natural energy boost and heightened alertness.
     

5: Improved Skin and Hair Health

  • Pore Tightening: While the sauna opens pores and promotes sweating, the cold shower can help tighten pores and reduce puffiness, benefiting skin health.

  • Hair Benefits: Cold water can make hair look shinier and healthier by closing hair cuticles and reducing frizz.

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Medical Insurance

Despite all the benefits mentioned above, flotation therapy is not a treatment that can be easily qualified for reimbursement by medical insurance. However, it is considered as a medical expense under IRS rules and can be covered by Publication 969 Health Savings Account HSA.  So customers can use their insurance issued charge cards to pay for services at Blue Sea Float as a qualified tax-exempt expense.  

Scandinavian countries are known to be progressive for their comprehensive healthcare systems, and in most circumstances would cover flotation therapy.  While Canada seems to become more accepting of the treatments recommended by doctors particularly for PTSD, patients in the U.S. generally find it difficult to have any insurance companies accept flotation therapy for any treatments.

Given the fact that acupuncture treatments were finally approved by MediCare in 2016 after decades of practices that were generally uninsured for pain management.  Flotation therapy perhaps may someday receive widespread acceptance as more and more people are treated by flotation therapy and they come to recognize its efficacy as validated by the National Institute of Health.

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