There are many studies showing the benefits of floating in an isolation tank on both mind and body, and I suggest you go do some research into these studies yourself. However, here are some interesting facts that I have found so far in my research on the effects of the flotation tank experience.
Ok, let’s start with the electrical signals released by the brain. These are called brain wave patterns and can be measured by an instrument called an EEG scanner, which is a cap with electrodes built into it that you put on your head! It’s not dangerous though; it just sounds a bit crazy. Anyway, these brain waves correspond to different mental states that your brain is in throughout the day. The one that interests us is the one that is increased when you are floating – the theta brain wave.
The theta wave oscillates between 4 and 7 Hz, and is experienced naturally just before you fall asleep and as you’re walking up. As you may recall, if you can remember anything from these moments, you sometimes experience vivid images (called hypnagogic images) and a kind of openness where you think of things you usually don’t think about. These are your unconscious thoughts coming into your conscious experience, which is why you can remember them.
However, as you may have noticed, it is very difficult to remember exactly what happened in these fleeting moments later on, just like dreams. But, we are in luck! As I say, floating has been found to increase the duration of theta after one hour so that this brain wave can be experienced and sustained for much longer than usual. This means that you can remember more of it.
So what’s so good about theta except for buzzy thoughts and images? Well, the theta state has been found to be associated with feelings of mental and physical well-being, improved relationships, social adeptness, and decreases in stress levels and other negative emotions such as anger, anxiety etc. In turn, this helps decrease your chances of stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and mental problems such as feelings of insecurity, depression, anxiety attacks and so on.
But how exactly does this happen in the theta state? Well it’s because the theta state allows for the secretion of neurotransmitters, such as endorphins (the feel-good chemical), and the inhabitation of stress-related neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline and cortisol (which are only really useful to you if you’re in a fight or flight situation).
The problem is that our busy and stressful lifestyles in the modern socio-economic system pushes us to the edge – you’ve got to get the bread on the table somehow, right? Well, the more stressed you are in life, the more your brain secretes the associated neurotransmitters, and so the more your brain gets used to them. Just like a drug addict, your brain reprograms itself to ‘desire’ these chemicals even when they are not necessary, and this is why you may feel stressed, angry, or anxious in situations that should not really provoke such a reaction. Did you know that you can actually get addicted to emotions? Every emotion has a particular (or group of) neurotransmitters it’s associated with, and the brain can rewire itself to crave these chemicals, just like any drug.
Apart from being the ideal brain state for balancing your neurotransmitters to more natural levels, the theta state associated with floating is also perfect for creativity because it allows you to become a lot more open to new thoughts and ideas, and has been found to promote intuitiveness and spontaneity. This makes perfect sense when you consider that the theta state is very common in children up until the age of about eleven, which is when the dominant brain state becomes beta instead (the brain state associated with focusing on the world outside of oneself and dealing with concrete problems). This is also why memories from childhood are common in the floatation tank; because our brain recalls memories from other times that we were in the theta state.
The theta state has also been found in very high and sustained levels in Buddhist monks during meditation – the more practiced they are, the longer they can sustain the theta state. They require years and years of training to achieve this at will though, but you can cheat and have yourself a float instead! Now that we understand the theta state, it becomes perfectly clear why spiritual people say “be like a child” so often. I think that the benefits of the theta state are exactly what they are referring to.
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