By Daniel Ritz
Originally used to test the effects of complete sensory deprivation in the 1950s, floating via modern float tanks is becoming a popular physical and mental health practice for South Orange County residents.
“Floating” is the act of floating in a pool, or pod, of body-temperature water and Epsom salts in a room of equal temperature. Epsom salt-infused water provides adequate flotation.
Once inside the pool, or pod, a user is met with a variety of options. Some users will choose to go the way of complete sensory deprivation by turning off the lights, soundproofing the pod and eliminating all external sensory input. This assists the user in achieving a completely internal experience, alone with their thoughts and without the possibility of external distraction. Many practitioners describe this as rapid encouragement to reaching a meditative state.
Justin Feinstein, director of the LIBR Float Clinic & Research Center, the principal investigator at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research and an assistant professor at the University of Tulsa, believes floating could be a shortcut for many people to reach a meditative state and reap some of its proven benefits.
“Floating gives me hope that a whole chunk of our population that normally would never be able to meditate could now achieve those sorts of deep meditative states,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein and his team perform experiments combining fMRI brain imaging and float tank patrons. They scan the brains of healthy people before and after they float, and by comparing the two images, can see how floating changes areas of activation in the brain.
Recent advances in neuroscience have allowed science to look inside the human brain during practices like meditation and see how brain activity changes. Research from fMRI studies done by Harvard Medical School, affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital, show that meditating activates parts of the brain associated with attention and decreases activation in the amygdala, the part of the brain that kicks off the fight-or-flight response to a real or perceived threat; though the changes are more pronounced in expert meditators and floaters than beginners.
Acceptance by the medical establishment of these demonstrations and their proven benefits have followed after studies supported by the National Institute of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found links between meditation and reducing anxiety and hostility, reducing stress and assisting in relationship development.
Others, commonly beginner “floaters” or those looking for the more physical benefits, choose to have a more sensory “isolation” experience as compared to deprivation.
Float Easy in San Juan Capistrano, which now services more than 600 local residents through their seven unique float tank rooms, utilizes a variety of options to best suit their customers.
Float Easy sees itself a part of a new wave of float facilities offering a more spa-like experience than science experimentation or solely intense meditative training.
Users can choose between a variety of “dreamscapes” such as “Mental Detox,” a meditation program, and “Trim and Slim,” a health consciousness mantra program. The pods can be tuned to a variety of colors through soft lighting inside the pods, and users have the option to have the pods cracked or completely open to their comfort.
Float Easy, offering a quiet room to decompress from the outside world before entering into their private individual and unique private rooms, sees itself ready to cater to a wide variety of South Orange County residents.
“Try not to have expectations of what your experience will be like,” said Maria Fernandez, a Float Easy employee at their San Juan Capistrano facility. “Some people float for transcendental purposes, some just float to relax. You will enjoy it more if you let it be whatever it is for you, and know it might be different every time.
“We had a young boy come who had just come in after running in the Los Angeles Marathon,” Fernandez continued. “He was terribly sore, and when he came in, he was limping. When he left, he wasn’t.”
Jon Hodlung, who has floated more than 100 hours, said he started coming the first day Float Easy opened. The 50-year-old Dana Point resident suffers from Fabry disease, a lysosomal storage disorder that causes chronic fat build up in vital organs, causing him chronic pain as well as a variety of other symptoms.
For Hodlung, and many others, floating has been his only medical salvation.
“I was on literally tens-of-thousands of dollars of pain medicines a month,” Hodlung explained. “I physically feel better and I am able to settle down, forget about all the pain for a little while. I can close it all down for an hour or so.”
“In essence, floating has saved my life,” Hodlung said. “When I’m here, it makes my days better.”
Float Easy, 27231 Ortega Hwy., Unit C, San Juan Capistrano. 855.568.3279. www.floateasy.com.
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