We strongly recommend float therapy to relieve the stress of modern life. There’s no relaxation more profound than the relaxation you feel floating in a sensory deprivation tank. It’s like a vacation from everything that might be bothering you. People from all walks of life can benefit from floating, so it should come as no surprise that it is beneficial for athletes, too.
The Peculiar Stress of Training
It’s easy to understand the stress of competing. But most people don’t realize how much stress there is in the training that precedes the competitive event. Training means testing yourself day after day, and if you’re doing it right, most days you come up short. That’s because you cannot help but hope to see improvement in your numbers and performance every time you work out. But that’s not the way training works. Day to day improvements are incremental at best.
In fact, serious training means a regular deterioration in performance! That’s because when you reach your performance maximum, you will inevitably need to make a change in order to move toward the next level. The change might be bilateral breathing in your swim stroke, a higher cadence on the bike, a forefoot stride in the run. Any change like that is going to slow you down at first. Even the world’s best self-talker is bound to feel some creeping anxiety when their speed declines while they’re mastering next-level skills. Ultimately, this kind of stress can undermine your motivation, and that’s dangerous territory for a competitive athlete.
What It’s Like to Float
Any little aches and pains you bring into a float session will quickly fade. Your thoughts will focus on your own internal processes: your breathing, the beating of your heart, the unwinding of your muscle tension. Within minutes, you will be more relaxed than you’ve ever been.
A floating session is a 45-minute interval devoid of stress. You lie back and discover you are so buoyant in the salt water that it’s impossible to sink. You’re floating, so you don’t have the stress of gravity. The water is heated to body temperature, so you don’t have the stress of heat or cold. You’re by yourself, so you don’t have the stress of traffic, demanding people, world news, or personal responsibilities. There’s nothing you can do but lie there, and even the stress of training begins to melt away.
The Science Behind Stress Reduction
Recent research shows that the way sensory deprivation reduces stress is by reducing the activity of the amygdala. The amygdala is a small part of the brain that governs the “fight-or-flight” response. You have no fight-or-flight response in a float session. Living without it for 45 minutes is a liberating experience.
And a study at the Float Clinic and Research Center at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma found that the reduced activity of the amygdala persists after the float session is over, meaning once you’ve floated, life continues to be less stressful even after you’ve showered away the epson salts. For at least a week afterward, you find that you sleep better, you have less anxiety, your blood pressure declines, and your muscle tension fades, taking a lot of little aches and pains with it. And those physical effects will likely make your workouts easier and more productive, further reducing your stress.
If you’re an athlete and have begun to feel the effects of stress in your training, book a few float therapy sessions and see if the experience doesn’t up your game.