If you want to learn more about the proven medical benefits of floatation therapy, just Google "Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy" ("REST"). REST is the term the scientific community uses to refer to floating in an isolation tank. There are hundreds of peer-reviewed medical journal articles touting the benefits of floating with respect to all sorts of health problems, running the gambit from chronic pain and other musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular conditions, psychiatric disorders, autism, smoking, weightloss, and more.
Furthermore, the mental peace that can be obtained with the aid of regular floatation outweighs the numerous physical benefits for many floaters. There is no lack of scientific evidence in support of the mental benefits of floating. Several articles speak of the benefits of floating with respect to anxiety, addictive behaviors, and other mental disorders. One such article concluded:
The characteristics of the REST experience that make it effective in treating addictions are discussed as follows: (1) the induction of a general relaxation response, (2) substance misusers find serenity and relief by nonchemical means, (3) internal refocusing to concentrate on personal problems, (4) disruption of habits through removal of trigger cues and response possibilities, (5) increased feelings of control over addictive behaviors, and (6) enhanced learning processes. REST is a versatile, cost-effective treatment modality with demonstrated effectiveness in modifying some addictive behaviors and promising applications with others.
Why would floating be useful in treating addiction? Perhaps understanding how addiction affects the brain would be helpful. In a recent article published online on the Public Library of Science, the mechanism for addiction is examined more closely. The author, Marc Lewis, sets for the proposition that addiction is associated with a dopamine response in the brain:
Specifically, the dopamine system is altered so that only the substance of choice is capable of triggering dopamine release to the nucleus accumbens (NAC), also referred to as the ventral striatum, while other potential rewards do so less and less. The NAC is responsible for goal-directed behaviour and for the motivation to pursue goals.
Lewis goes on to explain that "every experierience that has potent emotional content changes the NAC and its uptake of dopamine" and that these "[p]hysical changes in the brain are its only way to learn, to remember, and to develop." Thus, he concludes:
addiction (whether to drugs, food, gambling, or whatever) doesn’t fit a specific physiological category. Rather, I see addiction as an extreme form of normality, if one can say such a thing. Perhaps more precisely: an extreme form of learning. No doubt addiction is a frightening, often horrible, state to endure, whether in oneself or in one’s loved ones.
So Lewis essentially concludes that addiction acts on the brain in the same way as the mechanism for learning, albeit in an extreme form. It follows then that it might be useful to "unlearn" these behaviors in an environment that is particularly suited for learning: a floatation tank.
Of interest, many of our floaters report that floating increases their ability to learn and study, and that they obtain a peaceful, calm mental state after floating. One reason might be because floating encourages the brain to shift into lower frequency brain waves like those of the Alpha and Theta states. These frequencies are associated with meditation, increased mental clarity, creativity, problem-solving, and learning.
If you are predominantly interested in the mental benefits of floating (as opposed to the physical benefits), it is generally recommended that you float once per week.
We would love to hear from you and about your experience with the mental benefits of floating. Please comment below and share your experience!
Borrie, RA. "The use of restricted environmental stimulation therapy in treating addictive behaviors." Int J Addict. 1990-1991;25(7A-8A):995-1015.
Lewis, Marc, "Why Addiction is NOT a Brain Disease" PLOS blogs, <http://blogs.plos.org/mindthebrain/2012/11/12/why-addiction-is-not-a-brain-disease/> (visited March 31, 2014).