Float Therapy as Described by an MS Patient

I had heard alot about the health benefits of floatation therapy, but have never tried it myself. Float therapy is nothing new. Athletes have been using it in sports therapy for a number of years, and scientists have conducted numerous studies on its affects on chronic pain, generalized anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  My colleagues in the wellness industry urged me to experience floatation therapy firsthand:

“Try it!” they said.

“It’s life-changing!” they said.

“I am afraid of the water!  And claustrophobic!” I said.

I declined.  No way was I going to get into a giant pod full of water and close the lid.  Nope.

But I did.  And I don’t regret it.

What is Floatation Therapy?

Floating is more formally known as flotation restricted environmental stimulation therapy.  It involves a person lying down in a ‘sensory deprivation tank’ that is that is designed to reduce distractions, including lights, sounds, gravity and tactile sensations.  The tank contains water that is heated to skin temperature and is filled with 1000 pounds of Epsom salts. The high density of the salt water content guarantees that you will not sink.

The last sentence in that paragraph is critical to my story.  I have an intense fear of not being able to float.  This stems from some sort of repressed memory from my childhood, I suppose.  I can’t swim and and truly believe I am not buoyant.

How I Ended Up in a Sensory Deprivation Tank

I recently met Dr. David Berv, the owner of the the Float Zone in Richmond, VA. The reason for our meeting was to chat about wellness and potential collaboration and our respective MS diagnoses.    He explained how his MS symptoms and subsquent diagnosis helped to guide his career path from well-established chiropractor to owner of a floatation therapy business.

We drank tea and commiserated and realized just how much we had in common.  And then he asked if I was ready.  Ready to float.

Let me remind you:

  1.  I have an intense fear of not being able to float.
  2.  My MS causes chronic pain in my face, right arm, and my right hip and groin.
  3.  Another symptom of my MS is brain fog.  This happens more when I am stressed or anxious.  I will occassionally find it challenging to communicate with others, as simple words escape me.
  4.  See #1.

But this was a great opportunity for me to experience float therapy – which has exploded in popularity over the past few years, so there must be something to it.  Also,  I didn’t want to be rude.  So into the pod I went.

How I Felt Before the Float Session

Prior to the floatation therapy session, I had my usual litany of physical issues directly related to my MS.  Spasticity/muscle tightness in my right leg, hip, and groin.  Spasticity in my right arm and hand.  Pain and neuralgia in my neck and right side of my face.  And brain fog.  The type of brain fog that causes simple words to be right on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t quite remember them correctly, so you start to refer to things as ‘thingy,’ and ‘dohickey.’  On top of all that, I was anxious.  I was about to get in a tank full of water and supposedly float.  And – I will remind you: I have an intense fear of not being able to float.

How I Felt During the Float Session

The pod looked like a giant egg that is filled with water.  As I stepped in and initiated my floating experience, it became pitch black and eerily quiet. Before long, I was floating in a foot of salt water. I became incredibly buoyant – my feet and legs were floating on the surface – and I held onto the edge for dear life.  After a minute, I had convined myself that I could let go.  The sensation was weird.  The air and the water were about the same temperature as my skin, so I couldn’t really differentiate between my body and surroundings.  I honestly felt a little nauseous – a little dizzy – which lasted a minute or so.

I then spent what I think was 10 or 15 minutes trying to find my zen. A flurry of thoughts raced through my mind.  ‘I’m ok.  I’m not going to sink.’ ‘I think I want the light on.’ ‘I think I want the music on.’ ‘No, light off, music on.’ ‘I keep bumping into the side of the tank.’ ‘No, light on, music on.’ ‘I’m not going to sink.’ ‘Why do I keep bumping into the side of the tank?’  ‘Definitely light off, music on.’ ‘I think I need the neck pillow.’

And then, zen.  It was so remarkably easy to focus on my breath, and I felt myself going into a meditative state.  I would argue that using the term ‘sensory deprivation’ to describe float therapy is actually a misnomer – as I was able to tune into my own body, including my breathing and heartbeat – so in actuality a more appropriate term could be ‘sensory enhancement.’

And before I knew it, the hour was over.  I wasn’t asleep in the pod, or even dozing off. I just completely lost sense of time.

How I Felt After the Float Session

As I exited the pod, I felt calm and incredibly relaxed.  Moreover, my muscles felt less tense and looser, and I felt less pain in areas that haven’t felt right in years.  I practiced my float therapy in the morning – and throughout the afternoon, I had more energy to complete the tasks that I needed to complete, and less brain fog, allowing me to have coherent conversations without stumbling over my words.    And that night I slept very well – I spent more time in deep sleep (at least, according to my FitBit) and woke up feeling refreshed.

My experience coincides well with the points described in Dr. Berv’s recent blog article, ‘Five Ways that Floatation Therapy helps Multiple Sclerosis.’  While his blog article is written with the MS patient in mind, the therapeutic value of floatation therapy can be extrapolated out to almost anyone with a condition that causes fatigue and chronic pain.

I can say with confidence that my first float session will not be my last.