Imagine a state of perfect relaxation, one where your body and mind are free from any distractions. No sight. No sound. Even the pull of gravity no longer a hindrance.
Floatation therapy provides just that environment, allowing the body to heal and the mind to create.
Also known as sensory deprivation, restricted environmental stimulation therapy or simply floating, floatation therapy has been linked to improvements in arthritis, sleep disorders, depression, blood pressure, muscle and joint pain, and more.
Louisvillians can discover the benefits of floatation therapy thanks in large part to the efforts of Greg Ellis and his partner Chelsea Powers. The pair worked for more than a year to update local health regulations, and they opened Weightless Float Center in Distillery Commons April 11.
“It’s an experience that your mind has never encountered before,” Ellis says. “This is totally different to the human experience.”
The sensation of defying gravity is created by a high concentration of Epsom salt dissolved in about 10 inches of water in a float pod or tank.
The water temperature and room temperature are maintained at around 91 to 93 degrees, about the same as your skin. “The air and water are really seamless,” Powers said. “You lose track of where your body ends and the water begins. You can really get outside your body.”
While floating, the body lowers its levels of the stress-producing hormone cortisol and releases dopamine and endorphins – the so-called happy hormones.
Epsom salt is not actually salt. It’s a mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate that has long been used in homes for a variety of health and beauty reasons.
Since magnesium – one of six essential macro-minerals in the human body – is readily absorbed through the skin, a float can be an optimal way to increase levels that studies have shown to be deficient in 80 percent of Americans.
Floatation therapy has been used for pain management for chronic conditions including arthritis and fibromyalgia. The increased blood circulation accelerates muscle tissue repair and the Epsom salt draws out toxins.
The buoyancy of the water takes pressure off the spine and joints, allowing them to relax and realign.
Benefits are mental as well. “Your brain is like a house with all the lights on,” Ellis relates. “30-40 minutes into a float you attain Theta wave state. It’s like you’re going through and clicking off the lights you don’t need for a while.”
Theta state is one of very deep relaxation, usually only attained during REM sleep or through extensive meditation training. Theta brain waves are associated with memory and creativity.
Weightless Float Center offers two different style tanks: One is a box-like unit while the other is an ADA-compliant float pod. “It’s a ‘Mork and Mindy’ space-pod looking thing,” Ellis says with a laugh. “It’s not as intimidating.”
Each tank contains controls for lights and music, but “the original concept was sensory deprivation,” says Ellis. “I highly recommend lights off and no music.”
Floating evolved from the 1954 sensory deprivation experiments of neuroscientist John C. Lilly. Although his experiments were a bit outré, the unintended discovery of numerous health benefits from the practice spurred interest.
The first commercial float tank center opened in Beverly Hills, California, in 1973, and the Float Tank Association was formed in 1981.
Although still not mainstream, floating is becoming more common. Ohio State University football players use floatation therapy to reduce pain, muscle tension, blood pressure and inflammation.
According to Aaron Thomson with Floatation Locations, there were 85 float centers in the U.S. in April 2011. “We currently have 325 float centers in the U.S. listed on our site and 662 worldwide,” he says.
Float tanks are sanitary. With 900 pounds of Epsom salt, “the water is more dead than the Dead Sea,” says Ellis. “No microorganisms can survive in it.”
Beyond that, the water is filtered three times between each client and treated with UV light. Clients shower before entering the tank to remove any lotions, oils, or sweat. Ellis assures, “It’s cleaner than any pool or Jacuzzi you’ve ever been in.”
“It’s been really cool to see the demographics of people coming in,” Powers adds. “It’s not just one type. We’ve had everything from people suffering with PTSD to athletes, to couples coming for date night.” VT
If You Go:
Weightless Float Spa & Wellness Center
600 Distillery Commons
Open daily 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.
Floats start at $65 for 90 minutes. Memberships and discounts available, call for details.
By Jenna Esarey