Floating Your Way To Optimal Brain Health
As described in our sections on Meditation & Creativity and Stress Relief & Relaxation, floatation therapy has incredible impacts on the brain while inside the float tank. But a perhaps overlooked area might be on the ongoing effects of floating on how the brain performs after a float session. Does floating actually induce physiological changes in the brain that improve mental performance?
The answer is yes.
Floating & Vasodilation
Michael Hutchinson, author of “The Book of Floating,” describes how an increase in full body circulation and oxygen delivery to all the cells in the body directly aids the brain’s capacity for higher mental function. “Floating promotes vasodilatation, facilitating blood flow to all the parts and systems of the body, including the brain. It creates a whole body healing effect.”
Vasodilation has a number of beneficial health effects, including reducing hypertension, angina, congestive heart failure, and erectile dysfunction. For the brain, though, floating produces a vasodilation effect similar to that created by supplements you may be aware of for brain health:
- “A float session could be compared to taking a cocktail of all of these brain enhancing substances all at once.”
- Ginkgo biloba
- Coenzyme q-10
- Lipoic acid
Though you may not know them as such, these are all vasodilators, aimed at increasing blood flow to and oxygenation of the brain. A float session could be compared to taking a cocktail of all of these brain enhancing substances all at once, but in a way that is more direct-effect and “natural”, without the body having to ingest and process supplements through the digestive system.
The effects of stress on the brain and body
Stress itself, of course, also has a physiological effect – an increase in what are called corticosteroids – that has been associated with the cognitive deficits seen in human aging. That is, stress fuels the degradation of cognitive functioning. The effects of an excess of corticosteroids are pervasive:
- Neuropsychiatric: anxiety, depression, sleep disorders.
- Cardiovascular: hypertension, kidney dysfunction, fluid retention.
- Metabolic: dysfunctions in movement of body fat, diversion of amino-acids to glucose
- Endocrine: hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus, erectile dysfunction, hypogonadism, amenorrhoea.
- Skeletal: osteoporosis
- Visual: cataracts, retinopathy
- Immune: predisposition to infection, such as candidiases
- Pregnancy: teratogenic effect, sometimes causing birth defects
This isn’t to say that floating is a cure for any of these conditions. But regular floating is a proven way of reducing stress, which is directly associated with all of the health conditions described above.
Floating Your Way To a Theta State
The Holy Grail, as it were, of floating is inducing your brain into a theta state. This a slower rate of brainwave, normally experienced during deep meditation, just before falling asleep, when waking up, and during deep sleep. A theta state can be accompanied by vivid imagery, very clear and creative thoughts, sudden insights, inspirations, and much more.
There is also a Delta state, but this is typically induced during sleep and isn’t associated with the more conscious experiences we strive for with floatation therapy. Not to say that inducing a Delta state isn’t incredibly useful – it is estimated that one hour of sleep in a float tank is equal to 8 hours of regular sleep – but that it is more fun to experience a conscious theta state.
Training Your “Endorphin Muscle”
Floating, like laughing, induces the release of endorphins, euphemistically known as the brain’s “happy chemicals”: neurotransmitters found in the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and distributed throughout the nervous system. Secretion of endorphins leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation of appetite, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress.
And just as hitting the gym regularly stimulates consistent release of endorphins, so does floating. Effectively, regular float sessions train your “endorphin muscle” and rewire your brain to more regularly secrete endorphins, resulting a more consistent state of happiness, relaxation, and sustained positive energy levels. And it’s far easier than 90 minutes on the elliptical machine!