Ordinary movement consists of muscle contraction followed by relaxation, a cycle that can lead to fatigue but not tension. It’s when you contract a muscle and keep it contracted that you put it at risk for muscle tension pain. Hunching toward your computer monitor at a desk is one way you can get muscles stuck in contraction or semi-contraction for extended periods. But stress is another way. Emotional stress causes you to begin assuming a fight or flight posture, which contracts your muscles. When the stress is persistent, your muscles never get the chance to relax. Typical sites for muscle tension pain include the neck, the shoulders, and the back.
There’s a multibillion-dollar industry that wants to convince you that you can manage this kind of pain with over-the-counter medicines. And those kinds of medicines may be just the thing to help you if your muscle tension pain is a one-time thing. But if you return daily to the postures and stress that create your pain, you may need something more permanent. If you can’t correct your posture or eliminate your stress (and who can?), you need to find some way to relax regularly.
There are, in fact, innumerable ways to relieve tension: massage, meditation, acupuncture, aromatherapy, chewing gum, laughter, music, deep breathing, and sex can all relieve tension for some people, if not everyone. There’s only one practice I know that unfailingly relieves tension for everyone: flotation REST. REST means restricted environmental stimulation therapy, and flotation REST may be the most profound relaxation a human being can experience.
“Flotation REST in Applied Psychophysiology,” an article by Thomas Fine and Roderick Borrie, summarized research that found flotation REST reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. Many tension relieving techniques can achieve similar results, but flotation REST is exceptional in that the reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension persist after the floating is finished. Furthermore, Fine and Borrie found a decrease in stress mediating hormones, particularly cortisol, during flotation REST sessions. They also found the cortisol reduction to persist between sessions, which they suggest could mean that REST actually resets the hormone to a more healthy level.
It stands to reason. While you are in the float pod, you can arrange to be completely cut off from the rest of the world, which means you are completely cut off from all your stressors. And with flotation REST, the floating even eliminates the stress of gravity! I can tell you from experience that at some point in your float session you will lose track of where you end and the rest of the world begins. If that sounds like a state very close to nirvana, it is. Your muscle tension pain would have to be particularly fierce in order to survive that.
Try it and see. Book a float pod session at Peak Recovery & Health Center. You will spend 60 minutes without your muscle tension pain, and then you will likely spend at least the next several days without it. You might never be able to find it again.
Given the stresses of modern life, you don’t need to go to a war zone for your muscles to feel like that rope.