Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos, a Melbourne-based GP and co-author of the textbook A Guide to Evidence-based Integrative and Complementary Medicine, agrees the practice is bursting with benefits.
She says flotation therapy can lead to intense feelings of relaxation for both mind and body and that this in turn can help people feel calmer, sleep better and experience fewer muscle aches and pains.
So what is the practice exactly? According to Float Therapy Australia (a not-for-profit industry association), flotation therapy was developed by neurophysiologist Dr John C. Lilly in the 1950s.
Zammit explains that it involves lying in a tank that contains about 550 kilos of premium magnesium sulphate (known as Epsom salts) dissolved into filtered water which is heated to body temperature. The effect, he says, is that you lose track of where your body ends and where the water starts, making it feel like you’re “floating in space”.
Kate Engler gets why flotation therapy is so popular. When the 54-year-old stepped inside a flotation tank for the first time about 10 years ago, she was more than a tad hesitant. Worried she’d sink, Kate was relieved to find that she floated like a cork, but then became concerned about being alone for an hour with nothing but her thoughts.
Kate opted to have music playing for the first 10 minutes of her float. After that, she lay in silence. Then she closed the tank, meaning she was bathed in complete darkness. So flotation tanks also function as sensory deprivation tanks, which Kate loves.
But you don’t have to lie in darkness and silence when you float, says Kate, adding that all the tanks she’s gone to let people choose if they want their tank open or closed, or to have music (or other calming sounds) played.
It didn’t take long for Kate’s worries to subside. As she relaxed, she savoured how wonderful it felt to be shut away from the outside world and how incredible it was to float. That night, she was enveloped by the “most refreshing, deepest sleep”.
But flotation tanks aren’t for everyone. Kotsirilos says people with certain medical conditions and those with open wounds should avoid them. If you’re unsure about whether floating is a good fit for you, Kotsirilos advises talking to your doctor.
Some may find the experience anxiety-inducing. Kate understands those concerns, but says with the tank open and music on, the experience is far from claustrophobic.
But, Kotsirilos adds, you don’t have to soak in a flotation tank to reap benefits. She says similar perks can be found by simply having a “comfortably hot” bath. Of course, you won’t float in a household bath, nor will you be able to experience the sensory deprivation of a tank. But you can emulate the deep sense of relaxation by softening the lights, playing calm music and dedicating time to lie back and relax.
Kate now visits flotation tanks about once a month and finds the experience heavenly. “It really is quite a treat.”
Evelyn Lewin is a qualified GP and freelance writer.