By Donna Gregory Burch
Ever wish your cares would just float away and disappear? Well, that’s not possible, but I may have found the next best thing: flotation therapy!
Earlier this week, I finally redeemed a Christmas gift certificate for a 90-minute flotation therapy session. Developed in the 1950s by a neuroscientist, flotation therapy (technically known as flotation REST - reduced environmental stimuli therapy) involves floating in an isolated water-filled tank. The water is heated to body temperature and contains so much Epsom salts (active ingredient: magnesium sulfate) that floating is effortless.
I added the gift certificate to my Christmas wish list after I read about the benefits of flotation therapy for fibromyalgia and chronic pain. A 2012 study involving 81 fibromyalgia patients found that flotation therapy “provided significant temporary reductions in pain, muscle tension, stress, anxiety and sadness, as well as significant increases in relaxation, feelings of well-being, energy and ease of movement,” read the study. “There was also significant improvement in the quality of sleep.”
A larger research study called the Fibromyalgia Flotation Project is ongoing.
When I arrived at East Coast Float Spa in West Chester, Pennsylvania, I was shown a short video with instructions for before and during my float and given a brief tour of the facility. When I was researching flotation facilities in my region, I chose East Coast because they have float rooms instead of float tanks. (Float tanks are much smaller and may not be suitable for those who are claustrophobic.)
Each of East Coast’s three float rooms includes a small area to disrobe and a shower to be used before and after the float. After showering, I lowered myself into the dimly lit float pool and began my session. The pool is about the size of a king-size bed, and it contains around 12 inches of water saturated with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts.
I have to admit there were a few moments when my anxiety kicked in during my float session. The pool area is dark except for a small blue light that reflects through the water. There’s no music or sound whatsoever. All I could hear was my own heartbeat as my ears sunk below the water. If you’re prone to a racing mind, like I am, being in the silence with nothing but your own thoughts for 90 minutes can be a little disconcerting, but the feelings of anxiousness ebbed and flowed, and eventually disappeared as my session progressed. At some point, I thought, “This must be what it feels like when you’re in your mother’s womb, and all you can hear is her heart beating.”
It required absolutely no effort to float, and for the first time in such a long, long time, I wasn’t in pain. Let me repeat that: I wasn’t in pain! My body was suspended as if there was no gravity, and there was nothing to do but just enjoy the warm water, the solitude, the peace. I wondered why did I wait so long to do this.
And then a bright overhead light clicked on to signal my session was over. (The only negative about my experience was that darn light! They should install red or gold light bulbs so it’s not so jarring.)
As I stood up from the pool, my body felt heavy as gravity took hold, and the pain returned - not as severe as it had been, but still a reminder of my life with chronic pain.
East Coast also offers an oxygen bar and zero-gravity massage chairs as add-on services. I tried both, but wasn’t a big fan of either. I will probably skip them on future visits.
But notice I mentioned “future visits.” Yes, there will definitely be future visits because my first float resulted in less pain and less stress. Days later as I write this, I’m still feeling the benefits. I can’t wait for my next session! I have a feeling my hubby’s going to be buying me flotation gift certificates for years to come.
If you’re interested in trying flotation therapy, click here to find a location near you.
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.