If you’ve been looking for a new way to meditate, you’ll definitely want to consider sensory deprivation. If you haven’t heard of it, just picture floating blissfully in a room filled with salt water, in total darkness, devoid of sound. The temperature of the water perfectly matches your skin temperature, which tricks your mind into not being able to sense where your body ends and the water begins.
At first, it might seem a little intimidating to close yourself in from the outside world and experience being alone with nothing but your thoughts and your own heartbeat. But, after a few minutes, your body and mind will get acclimated to the sensory deprivation tank, and you will slip away into a state of non-being that you might not have been able to reach during “normal” meditation due to outside stimuli.
These Things Happen When You Try Sensory Deprivation
Consider this 1997 analysis of 1,000 descriptions of sensory deprivation. According to the participants, over 90% found the experience deeply relaxing. But, what exactly makes this relaxing, and what happens during sensory deprivation?
Well, Dr. John C. Lilly, a researcher and neurophysiologist working for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the 1950’s, found a few answers throughout his studies of the brain/mind and the origins of consciousness. He developed the flotation tank as a way to block out external stimulation from the mind and measure the effects of this isolation on the brain.
Flotation therapy originated about a half century ago, but people have begun to flock to these places because of a increasing interest in mindfulness and sensory deprivation. In addition to the relaxation of total silence and darkness, the Epsom salt packs on even more benefits. According to the Epsom Salt Council, applying the salt to the skin can help you to maintain adequate magnesium levels, since Epsom salt is high in magnesium, improve heart rate and blood circulation, lower blood pressure, relieve stress, improve nerve function, flush toxins from the body, and much more.
As far as sensory deprivation goes, many studies have proven the benefits of immersing yourself in total silence for a short period of time. Our overstressed and overly loud world wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds, as they still haven’t learned to fully adjust to modern living in our evolution. So, with that in mind, the benefits of sensory deprivation don’t seem all that surprising.
Part of why flotation therapy works is because the brain doesn’t have to worry about processing visual stimuli. In fact, the brain starts to create its own with an absence of external stimuli, which can spark creativity and enhance cognitive function. In 2000, one study found that volunteers’ visual cortexes were far more active after just an hour of sensory deprivation..
Another study involving 40 university students proved the theory of higher creativity after a flotation experience, as their standardized test scores increased with just an hour of sensory deprivation.
Also, flotation tank therapy could help you to acquire new skills in a shorter amount of time, and boost memory as well. Research shows that during resting states, the brain continuously goes over newly learned skills and compartmentalizes these ideas for long-term use.
Probably most importantly, flotation tank therapy can relieve stress and anxiety, which in turn, can positively affect blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels, and reduce the amount of ‘brain fog’ people commonly experience. In the early 1980s, several psychologists at the Medical College of Ohio performed a series of experiments that analyzed the physiological responses to Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy, or REST. Looking at many flotation sessions, the researchers found that blood pressure and levels of stress-related hormones dropped, and this lasted long after the participant’s flotation experience. In 2005, a meta-analysis further confirmed that flotation reduced stress more effectively than other popular methods such as relaxation exercises, biofeedback or relaxing on the couch.
After seeing positive results from these studies, researchers wanted to see whether flotation could help patients with stress-related disorders. Flotation tank therapy was used as the primary treatment for disorders such as hypertension, headaches,insomnia and rheumatoid arthritis; all of these studies showed positive effects in small sample sizes. Those suffering from severe chronic pain benefited from weekly REST sessions as well: their pain levels decreased, sleep improved dramatically, and they reported feeling more vibrant and less anxious.