As I told you in my last post, I am going to a 90-minute flotation session on Tuesday. (For those in Melbourne, you can get a 90-Minute Relaxation Package with Flotation Session and Infrared Therapy for $55 from LivingSocial.com!!!!)
Flotation REST is a form of Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) that uses a shallow pool of heavy water. The water is made heavy by super-saturating it with Epsom Salt (MgSO4) to the point that a person floats on his or her back effortlessly on the surface of the water like a cork. The water is heated to skin temperature and the pool is enclosed in a lightproof, soundproof environment.
This device, invented by Dr John C Lilly, effectively removes external stimulation and creates a neutral environment that gives the feeling that one is floating comfortably in space. In using this type of therapy, you are given a private room with a shower where you can undress, shower; and step into the pool enclosure. After sitting in the water and lying back to float on the surface, you can then turn out the lights.
The reduced stimulation encountered in the flotation pool refocuses the individual’s attention to internal stimuli. At first this includes the novel sensations of floating effortlessly in darkness and quiet. The sensations of the body become much more salient making flotation REST a walk-in biofeedback device. This natural biofeedback initiates a self-regulation process leading toward relaxation.
This relaxation is augmented by the trans-cutaneous absorption of magnesium that elicits the release of muscle tension. As physical sensations become less salient mental activity can come to the fore. For those not used to being alone with their thoughts this can be difficult. However, even unpleasant thoughts become more palatable as the body enters a more deeply relaxed state. Eventually even the parade of thought subsides and the mind arrives at a meditative state.
A few years ago, anecdotes began to circulate from people with fibromyalgia, that float tanks provided remarkable relief for them. This caught the attention of float researcher Rod Borrie and his collaborators, who noted the remarkable alignment between the effects and benefits of flotation, and the symptoms of fibromyalgia:
In 2011 Borrie, Tamara Russell, and colleagues started the Fibromyalgia Flotation Project, with no money, all volunteers, to try to test this treatment on as scientific a basis as possible. Is there an immediate effect from the float sessions, and if so, does it last?
They sought volunteer subjects with fibromyalgia, and float centres willing to contribute free time in their tanks. Each volunteer took three hour-long float sessions over three weeks, and answered a questionnaire before and after each session about ten variables:
- Stress Well-being
- Bothered by pain
- Muscular tension
- Freedom of movement
When they discussed intermediate results at the 2012 Float Conference, they had had 81 participants across five countries (US, UK, SWE, GER, NL).
The results were astonishingly positive: “Without exception, the immediate intervention effects (average pre-post change) are highly significant for all variables in the expected direction (e.g., pain ratings decrease on average by 2.3 points on an 11 point scale from pre- to post-intervention).” There was no control group in the first phase.
(Want to see some figures and pretty pictures?)
These results are exciting, but caution is due as this was not a randomized, controlled study. One particular item to be cautious about is drop-outs — if the people who didn’t see benefits were to drop out, that alone could cause an impression of improvement of symptoms in the later sessions.
The Fibromyalgia Flotation Project is continuing into a second phase to follow up on these very promising results, still with no funding. They’re trying to push both for greater numbers of participants, to better persuade the medical establishment, and also for a longer test period (ten weeks instead of three) to see how sustainable the results are. It’s all being organized via the internet; sign-up and more information is at Fibromyalgia Flotation Project.
And, hopefully, after Tuesday, I will have my own successful(?) story to tell.