Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST), or better known- float tank, has started gaining popularity in mainstream culture as a therapeutic exercise. But do they really do what they claim to, or is it all just marketing mumbo-jumbo?
Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy essentially translates to isolating oneself in a dark tank filled with about ten inches of water. About a thousand pounds of Epsom salts have been dissolved. The salt solution's temperature is the same as your skin, and you are supposed to lay in there for a certain time simply.
This might sound scary when put this way, but the idea is to deprive the body of any sensory stimulation so that you can relax in an almost meditative trance. The amount of salt dissolved in the tank ensures that you can comfortably float. That's all that meets the eye, but private float tank entrepreneurs advertise that having just a few sessions a week can yield a host of benefits to the user.
Although there has been little research, and there are a few things that have been proven. Without a doubt, the float tank has been advertised with a healthy mix of fact and fiction.
Float tanks claim that even spending one full session, usually about 45-60 minutes, in the isolation device changes your neurochemistry to better handle stress. They declared,
"A single session in a floatation tank causes your brain to release endorphins, replacing stress with a sense of well-being."
Research suggests that the float tanks might reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, but going so far as to say that they stimulate the release of endorphins is quite an overstatement. There were no changes in endorphin levels of the subjects before and after the REST. Patients with muscle tension pain did, however, experience some relief.
The sessions also claim that they dilate the blood vessels to increase oxygen and nutrition to every cell in the body. We have studies showing that the tanks do normalize the blood pressure, but there is not enough evidence to claim that the blood carries increased amounts of oxygen or nutrients.
Apart from that, Joe Rogan of "The Joe Rogan Experience" also claimed that the tank made his skin considerably smoother because of the Epsom salt. This salt is also credited to relaxing the muscles. Besides these benefits, some claims seemingly have no evidence backing them.
For instance, it is not clear how much Epsom salt is absorbed through the skin. We also don't know if it is actually a good way to rehabilitate injuries as they claim it to be.
The businesses that provide floating services also promote REST to revitalize the body by reducing depression and anxiety while reinforcing positive emotional states. They advertise,
“floating diminishes depression, anxiety, and fear and facilitates freedom from phobias and addictions.”
Reduced anxiety and depression was a consistent finding during the course of our research. So, floatation can be a complementary treatment to certain mood disorders and tackle compulsions and addictions. However, the guidance of a trained medical professional is highly recommended.
Although it has not been thoroughly researched and tested, floatation can also be associated with treating skin related problems like psoriasis. REST companies ' fictional or rather unverified beneficial claims include treating obesity and even alleviating unspecified negative symptoms of pregnancy.
The REST service providers have also claimed that floating is the most relaxed state that one can be outside of their mother's wombs. They argue,
“floating is a method of attaining the deepest rest that humankind has ever experienced!”
Relaxation has always been central to the float tank experience. This might be why such bold claims have been made by the companies when it comes to REST's relaxing properties.
Claims like "floating are like hitting the reset button on your life," "one hour stay in a float tank can be compared to a week-long holiday,” and even “Unless you’re planning a trip to outer space, our flotation tanks are as close as you will get to weightlessness,” have been made on behalf of these devices.
It is not at all surprising to find out that these statements are exaggerated. However, floating has been a very relaxing experience that considerably reduces stress in the body.
Ironically, stress-reducing techniques are the hardest to perform on people who need it the most. Nevertheless, the effortless nature of a float tank ensures a stress-free experience. Some qualitative studies have also recorded subjective experiences of weightlessness to be common when floating.
Floating To Develop The Mind
Without sufficient evidence, the float tank owners also claim to be at our best and utilize our potential to the fullest with floatation. They expressed,
“While we normally only use 11% of our total brainpower, a session in the float tank enables us to tap into the other 89% previously unreachable source of creativity.”
Studies have shown a boost in creative abilities and originality after floating, making the quote a little truthful. Research states that this improvement can be credited to the reduction of secondary processes of one's mind. Secondary processes include things like abstract thoughts and thoughts about everyday life. Also, REST promotes the primary processes such as intuition, imagination, and awareness. This is thought to be the reason for the creative boost.
Floating has also been used in sports where athletes have shown fewer unwanted effects of stress, increased restoration after training and competition, and increased athletic performance.
An altered state of consciousness
By now, you must have noticed that the advertisements are exaggerated to a great extent. It is almost as if their claims are 11% true and 89% exaggeration. It is a similar case with this aspect also. Adverts claim that floating is a shortcut to the spiritual zen state. They said,
“This is the state-of-mind that Buddhist monks attempt to reach through hours of meditation and years of training.”
The advertisers claim that floating would deepen the ongoing meditation practice. Still, it could also be an alternative for those that cannot muster the determination to do more traditional meditation. The subjects then experience a profound realization. Several cases of ASC have been recorded during the course of flotation tank research. In rare instances, subjects went as far as to claim that they underwent spiritual experiences.
There might be a lot of literature out there that these establishments cite to advertise their service and claim that this therapy has no negative side effects. However, in fact, there is only limited research done on this subject, and every piece of promotional material should be taken with a pinch of salt. As of right now, there is more fiction than fact on REST.