Dr. Feinstein’s Float Clinic and Research Center
In the lower level of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR), which itself occupies only a small parcel in a much larger medical compound, are a pair of expertly crafted, drool-worthy, circular float tanks, as well as a very comfortable chair. These are right around the corner from two of the most advanced fMRI machines in the world, which feed into a control room that looks like it was taken straight out of an X-Files set.
Down the hallway is a pre- and post-float lounge overlooking a placid lake and adorned with a large mural painted by Sandra Calm, one of the owners of the Float Shoppe. This is Dr. Justin Feinstein’s Float Clinic and Research Center, where the world’s most advanced research on floatation is currently being run.
The Laureate Institute of Brain Research was founded by the William K. Warren Institute with the goal of finding alternative treatments for those suffering from mental illness. Rather than following the usual path of incremental progress with its research, LIBR is tasked with pursuing alternative treatments that have a chance of “shooting the moon” and making potentially large leaps in medical progress.
Float tanks are just the kind of technology they’re looking to explore.
We visited the research center back in 2015, and it was a pleasure to see additions to the facility and hear updates on the studies that are being run. Dr. Feinstein seemed in high spirits, and we spoke at length about the state of the industry, the state of research, and exciting dreams for the future.
By the end of this year, he hopes to see results from the first magnesium absorption studies, lockdown a method of effectively and affordably getting EEG readings mid-float, and begin the process of running a 600 float experiment with 60 participants.
The lab itself continues to get cooler and cooler. It has three “Float Rooms,” the first two of which are the laboratory’s open and closed lid, circular float tanks. The third float room houses an incredibly cozy zero gravity chair, which is the control condition for the float studies being run there.
According to Dr. Feinstein, they’ve already been finding differences between the control condition of the chair and the experimental pool conditions. “And who knows what the next 5 or 10 years is gonna reveal as we start working with people who have pretty severe issues.”
New research he’ll be running will measure more changes within subjects, and it will attempt to explore the depth of relaxation that people can get to while floating. The rough plan is to have people start in the chair condition to get a baseline, then float them over several weeks, then bring them back to the chair condition.
Will the benefits of floatation cross over to a non-float condition?
How extreme can the biological relaxation response go when people are floating regularly?
“[The original float researchers] didn’t have the technology to measure these things,” Dr. Feinstein explained, “and now we can measure all the of the physiological systems, and we can do it wirelessly and non-invasively. And now we can say, ‘people aren’t just saying they feel relaxed, but here’s what their entire visceral systems actually do in this environment.’
“And that’s one of the nice things about LIBR, and why I love it so much, is we have so many biological measures that we can tap into, and then you can kinda see how they all relate together. That’s never been done, really, with floating before.”
The first study they’ve completed ran 40 participants through, who each floated five times in the lab. All of the data has been collected, and it is about to go through a process of intense data analysis. With their large amount of biological measures and questionnaires, there is an intimidating amount of variables to be cross compared.
In their next study, they’ll be floating 60 participants, 10 times each, for a total of 600 floats. That’s a lot of people to get through two pools (and a chair), but when they’re in full swing they can handle 5-8 floats per day, per room. In addition to their test subjects, they’ve also run hundreds of floats for colleagues, researchers, and staff.
LIBR’s float tanks themselves have an incredible attention to detail. They are able to tell when someone is in or out of the tank by sensors tracking water height. Lights turn on automatically if you raise your hand or stand up in the tank, and in the closed pool you can now control the humidity levels separately from the airflow and temperature.
The tanks auto-dose themselves with H2O2, and even more impressively, they top themselves off with water at the end of the night. They track the amount of time people spent with the lights on, and how long they spent in and out of the tank. The closed float pool can even tell when you’re moving, so it can track activity and stillness levels in the tank.
In direct contrast to this, we talked about the very first float research that Lilly and Shurley conducted in their original tanks. In case you’re not familiar with them, there was no salt, so you would float fully submerged. You wore a mask which would block out all of the light, in addition to providing you with air. It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that the first lay down float tanks, as we know them now, were introduced.
“There was something magical about the early days at NIMH, like 1954,” Dr. Feinstein stated, “You know, you can probably imagine how this went down. These are two psychiatrists – they’re young, they’re imaginative, extremely creative, and smart.”
Jay Shurley had a laboratory and practice in Tulsa through the 70s, and Dr. Feinstein spoke (a bit incredulously) about how he keeps running into people who used to know Dr. Shurley. There was a psychiatrist who flew in from India, explaining that he had been out in Tulsa back in the 70s and had studied under Shurley. The first item in his book is a “thank you” to Jay Shurley for teaching him how to practice.
Then there was another gentleman Dr. Feinstein met who ended up being the one responsible for shutting down and dismantling Shurley’s lab at the VA Hospital when it was no longer in use. We don’t actually know where their old equipment was put, and the three of us agreed that at some point we’d take a little time to go on a hunt together for the pieces of the missing lab – Shurley’s Lost Treasure.
Thanks so much, Justin, for taking the time to hang out with us and catch us up on all of the exciting updates to your facility.
Here’s to plenty of great research coming out of Tulsa for years to come!