Watching everyone reunite, hug, and share what’s been happening in their lives since the last Conference almost seems commonplace this year. It’s become such a natural part of the event, and despite being in a different city, this year is no different.
The love and laughter fills the hall as everyone registers. The new Board of Directors for the Float Conference was at registration, taking silly photos this year, same as ever (see above).
We weren’t the only Conference at the Hyatt, but we certainly stood out from the other people looking to learn from their businesses. While all of the talks will be posted online as they get edited, I thought it’d be nice to write a summary of events for everyone as the Conference unfolds so everyone who wasn’t able to make it can share in some of the excitement.
After the welcoming, every gathers into the Ballroom and Stephen Johnson takes the stage to share how the schedule is going to work, what to expect, and helped set the stage for the Conference.
“We gather together again to celebrate each other.”
Stephen Johnson’s opening words were characteristically thoughtful, straightforward, while carrying a quizzical weight to them that seemed to set the mood for everyone present and presence was certainly a theme of his statement, and certainly would be for the rest of the day.
Glenn & Lee
Opening with warmth and a macabre tease to the audience, “we’re here, but not for much longer”.
Glenn read from his new book, sharing thoughts on consciousness, aging, He talked about relearning to walk, maintain balance, and everything else that people learn in their first few years of life.
In a charming moment of humility, Glenn shared that he was having a hard time reading his notes because of the lights in the ballroom.
Glenn shared his meditations on consciousness and what it’s like to stop and think about why we do the things we do that come automatically to everyone: Walking, talking, and as he said, even arguing. The “default mode network”, that part of our brains that combs through our past experiences to handle current situations. He encouraged everyone to restart this process and question what we do without thinking about what we’re doing.
Even his jokes bring into question the nature of consciousness. He shares a simple story about cooking omelettes for some guests he’s hosting.
He has to cook “the omelettes, not the guests” he reminds us. Even though that would be obvious, even the joke reminds us to think about what we take for granted.
This default mode network is suspended while on psychedelics or while meditating. Mindfulness creates opportunities to explore our assumptions. It returns us to a more malleable brain that operates similarly to children.
“Young children are better at solving problems that require thinking outside the box.”
Children’s jobs are to learn things from their experiences and those around them. If you want to understand what expanded consciousness looks like, have tea with a 4 year old.
Expanded consciousness is good for exploring, not explaining, he says. He goes on to paraphrase Einstein (a pretty good source by all accounts) “Most problems can’t be solved by the same minds that caused them.”
Floating and meditating turns off this neural network as well, helping us solve problems in new ways and allowing us opportunities to explore how we’re thinking.
Lee chimed in towards the end to share a story about dancing on stage as a child. While on stage, her pants had fallen and the audience started laughing. She didn’t know what to do, so she picked up her pants, and finished the dance. She made a new decision in that moment that helped her to never be afraid of public speaking, and naturally this has been extremely helpful.
As Glenn continues, he emphasizes the importance of remaining conscious and not allowing our unconscious brain to make decisions about our experiences.
If you log onto Samadhitank.com you can get half off of Glenn & Lee’s new book, and as Stephen Johnson says “should be required for all human beings”.
Dr. Jerry Walker
Dr. Jerry Walker shares a story about Tactical Floatation working with the U.S. Air Force. In 2016, he was sent to an air base which one of the highest stress populations in the country. So he was brought in to come in and fix it.
They didn’t care what he did, how much it cost, or what he needed, he just needed to fix it. These intelligence people that he works with air not working remotely, instead they are placed directly in aircraft collecting data in real time to help keep people alive. These are high stress positions and they functionally override everything else in people’s lives.
Our bodies are designed to maintain homeostasis. In high performance situations, we operate in a heightened state. When this becomes chronic, it becomes difficult for the body to go back to normal.
This is where Dr. Walker comes in. He had to sell the Air Force on using float tanks to help his patients. The fact that sensory isolation is associated with torture in the military was certainly a barrier, but he managed to do it.
He put together a pilot study for floatation therapy as a treatment. Given the history of floating, he was confident that this could help. His participants saw dramatic benefits within 3-7 one-hour session. He didn’t exclude anyone from his study. While some of his results are confidential, he was able to share some pretty great results.
He’s confident that the conditions he was asked to measure for, that these results can be extrapolated to depression, anxiety and stress disorders, and many forms of chronic pain.
After one session, the average rate of stress reduction was 60%, which is unheard of in his type of work. Pain reduction dropped drastically as well. He proves pretty conclusively that the more frequently you float, the greater the benefit you experience. You also stay better longer. Second order effects, like self medicating with alcohol, dropped drastically as well. Floating helps get rid of the need for self-medicating.
General mental health indices showed general improvement, but not the effects were subtler. General interest and enjoyment increased and they were able to sleep longer and better. Again, the more they floated, the better the result. Relationships improved, people engaged, they weren’t irritated as much anymore. They had their lives back.
And while they can’t make people love their jobs, but they did make them more bearable. While so much of this is retreading old territory in float research, having military science data to validate past results.
Dr. Justin Feinstein
“This is a profound undertaking done by a profound man.”
Stephen brings Justin Feinstein on with these words, setting the bar high in which no doubt Justin wouldn’t disappoint.
Justin opens by talking about the very first conference related to floating, where the keynote speakers were John Lilly and Jay Shurley.
This year also marks the anniversary of the first moon landing. Dr. Feinstein shares that the astronauts were dedicated floaters, as part of their training. NASA collaborated with John Lilly to throw astronauts in submersive standing float tanks.
Justin focuses today on the Float Research Collective. While the clinicalfloatation.com website has been a marked success, he wants to emphasize how important it is to get additional researchers replicating studies that already exist.
The labs that research floating have almost exclusively been the Float Lab at LIBR and at Karlstadt University in Sweden. For the past 20 years, that was it.
However, in the last year, Tom Fine has reopened the floatation lab at the University of Toledo. They’re not the only ones either! The Medical College of Wisconsin opened a lab, in Hannover Medical School they’re researching chronic pain with floating, Chapman University is using float tanks to study consciousness, Waikato in New Zealand and Ohio State are studying performance enhancement and exercise recovery, and Washington University is using them to study concussions and TBI. We have a collective of researchers now!
Justin talks about how in the information age, anxiety and depression have run rampant. The United States ranks #116 on the World Happiness Index and it could be that access to smartphones and being bombarded with information are the reasons. Floating has been shown to be an excellent tool to combat these very issues.
In his current research, Dr. Feinstein uses reclining in a chair to act as a control for his clinical trials, he’s now incorporating a dry float tank, which uses a membrane to separate patients from the water. This can be an excellent way to examine the effects of the float condition.
He’s recently been given a grant to explore this in what’s called an “R34 study” from the NIH. It’s a randomized trial, a crucial element to establishing benefits. It’s also going to be with patients with severe anxiety disorders, which means clinical populations are going to be examined. It’ll be repeat treatments as well. 6 sessions. This is a small first step to a much larger research grant from the NIH to study the efficacy of treatment.
In addition to self-reporting, they’re going to be taking biometric data to see how people’s bodies are physically changing because of floating. In addition to studying cortisol levels and markers of inflammation, they’re also going to be researching magnesium levels. We may finally find out how exposure to magnesium baths in floating affect us.
Justin expects the study to take two to three years to complete, but is excited to potentially update some of the findings next year.
He also took a retrospective on some of his early research that he shared a few years ago at the Float Conference. He studied the effects of floating on the brain when anticipating a monetary reward in a sort of game show environment.
Post float, reward centers were significantly increased in the brain, meaning that people experienced greater levels of positive feeling. Additionally, the greater effect on the brain, the higher people rated happiness levels in self-reporting.
These reward centers are blunted in people with depression, meaning it’s possible that floating can act as a treatment for patients that might be resistant to other forms of mood elevation treatments.
One of the strongest effects they’ve been able to study is blood pressure reductions. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the #1 predictor of heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Treatment for this is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Recently, the ICD-11 (the world’s leading diagnosis manual) identified Burnout as a condition, as well as marked it as one of the most pervasive issues in mental health throughout the world. It’s possible that floating could be used as a treatment for both of these conditions and have it covered by insurance. While this may seem far off, it’s already the reality in Australia. Justin Feinstein actually went out and gave a talk at a medical wellness conference out there and saw how much farther ahead they are there in comparison to the United States.
Justin Feinstein thinks that floating can replace common anxiety, blood pressure, and pain medications. There’s a looming crisis of patients becoming addicted to benzodiazepines in much the same way that the opiate epidemic has played out. He suggests using a head-to-head study with floating and benzos to show the scientific community just how effective this treatment can be.
In the next year, he’s going to be fundraising to do this exact type of research. He’s going to need all of our help to make that happen. If you want updates, sign up for the newsletter at clinicalfloatation.com.
Alex Greico & Kyle Robins
This is a sponsored talk for the Float Conference.
Kyle and Alex, AKA Maximum Floats is sharing what they think is the major difference between successful and unsuccessful floaters.
They have a marketing service that has worked with several float centers to help new customers find their businesses.
Check out Maximum Floats for more information.
Dr. Roy Vore
The microbiologist at the CDC that has become a central figure in the discussions of regulating the float industry. He’s dedicated to keeping our customers and staff safe and the health departments out of our businesses.
He starts with doom and gloom about the dangers of lax sanitation and the ever present danger of how bacteria can bring down our centers. While he treads some old territory about what the risks are with exposure, the environment, and what the dosage of a pathogen is required to infect someone.
He gave us an important update on water activity, now that we have new data on the water activity of float tank solution. He warns about fungi in our solutions, as well as salt-resistant bacteria. While I can’t keep up with the scientific terminology (sorry, this really is LIVE), but I can say that he conclusively states that if we aren’t careful, float tanks can become infected with bacteria that can get our customers sick.
After taking his float tank talk on the road with Graham and Ashkahn, he’s now on the NSF-50 Task force, meaning that a microbiologist that’s familiar with float tanks will now be helping inform regulatory standards, but that’s not what he’s talking about today.
He’s talking about pathogens. Pathogens exist in tepid or warm water, open exposure, and presented with biomaterial (aka living organisms). This is why hot tubs, spas, and swimming pools all have such drastic regulatory standards and why they require chlorine for recreational water.
A well run float tank has a solution that functions much more like alcohol (aka an antimicrobial agent) than hot tub water, but that’s not what health departments see. They see float tanks as hotbeds for pathogens.
With adequate water treatment (without chlorine), it is possible to demonstrate that float tanks are more like a keg of beer than an untreated pool. The major point of contention between float centers and health departments is the use of chlorine.
Roy Vore points out that even he, the leading expert on recreational water sanitation, doesn’t know how effective chlorine is in float tank water. He can’t test for it because of the magnesium sulfate. Regardless, he says if your health department requires it, use chlorine anyway. Follow all their procedures. Test water as if you were a recreational pool. Keep records for 5 years.
He also covers the outbreak in a float tank of pseudomonas in a float tank in British Columbia. It was a tank without a functioning filtration system. There was so much pseudomonas in the tested water that it tipped the scale. He points out that magnesium sulfate levels weren’t tested.
A well managed float tank has a solution is safer from infection than a lemon wedge found in iced tea. There has been major progress in the world of float tank sanitation and so long as the industry works in conjunction with health regulators, then the future is looking good!
Dr. Josh Hagen
At the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, Dr. Josh Hagen is an engineer that creates wearable technology. He’s passionate about floating and is focusing on the challenge of collecting data in the float environment.
He’s been researching telomere technology to measure physiology. While our chronological age is a fixed constant, our biological age is something that we can control, and measuring it is the first step towards doing that. He works directly with Special Ops in the military and in those high performance positions, which is one of the most difficult groups to research. Josh wants to shift their focus from pain pills towards alternative treatments to the physical stress of such demanding positions.
With the proliferation of wearable data, he’s able to track biofeedback markers in the field and show how much stress is being taken on. Now that he’s able to track this stuff, he wants to start to shift the focus in mentality that physical recovery needs to be part of their routine.
While wearable technology has its limitations during a float, it can still be remarkably useful in demonstrating efficacy of floating as a treatment. Floating can help especially with heart rate variability and sleep efficiency.
He’s been advocating for years for the use of float tanks for athletes and he’s been able to see first hand that it’s effective in physical recovery from high intensity positions.
Photobiomodulation is another recent treatment technology that improves physical recovery that Dr. Hagen has worked on. It has applications in physical recovery, chronic pain, and reducing inflammation.
When he was introduced to floating, it fundamentally changed his life and changed his research. He put float tanks in a research setting and now he’s able to do some studies, including the work done by Lydia Caldwell (check out her 2017 Float Conference talk). The results he’s been able to find demonstrate beneficial results in heart rate variability and post-float cortisol levels.
He’s now doing a clinical trial to examine the effect of floating on concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.
In addition, he’s checking how floating can affect sleep efficiency with people completely unfamiliar with it. He’s also adopted some new wearable technology to track EEG data during the float to see how the float tank affects floating.
Dr. Sahib Khalsa
One of the LIBR researchers, Sahib focuses on the effects of floating on anorexia nervosa. While a rare condition, it has the highest rate of mortality of any psychiatric disorder. It’s vastly understudied and most of the current available treatments are only minimally effective.
Anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessiveness are consistently recorded as symptoms of anorexia, but isn’t included as a diagnostic symptom since they aren’t the primary predictors of the condition. We know, however, that floating is very useful in treating anxiety conditions.
One of the primary outcomes they examined was orthostatic hypotension, a very common symptom in anorexia patients. They measured their heart rate in conjunction with blood pressure.
The clinical trial consisted of 21 patients, primarily female (women are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa). After the 90 minute float, they found that none of their anorexia patients had any evidence of experiencing orthostatic hypotension. There were no adverse effects in the study. No one fell, no one feinted.
Blood pressure normalized or reduced. Heart rates were higher and their breathing slowed down. People with anorexia normally have low heart rates, so an increase is actually normalizing it to a more healthy range.
Heart rate variability in patients with anorexia nervosa shows an imbalance were parasympathetic nervous system metrics tend to be much higher than healthy ranges. In other words, they tend to have much higher heart rate variability than healthy populations.
The research found that heart rate variability reduced in these patients and brought it down to normal levels.
Dr. Khalsa has a second study that is focusing on the clinical efficacy of floating in anorexia nervosa. He’s already been able to demonstrate that floating is really effective on anxiety, but one of the more surprising results was that floating helped these patients visualize their bodies more accurately and started to see their idealized bodies as a bit more normalized. This result was only studied over the course of three floats, so it’s unclear whether this effect gets stronger with more floats.
His next study’s hypothesis is that floating will positively affect body image disturbance. He’s also going to be studying inpatient populations, meaning their currently in treatment for eating disorders instead of already recovering. He’s going to see how long these effects last, if at all. They will be checking in after a month, six months, and a year.
He also developed a new way to assess body image called Somatomap, which just got approved. It uses self reporting and 3D models to assess body image, instead of the older system that used standardized images of bodies to make these measurements.
The study is ongoing and is going well. It’s about halfway complete and has had minimal dropout and has high engagement with his patients. Hopefully, at the next Float Conference he’ll be able to share the results!
Ashkahn Jahromi & Graham Talley
“If you listen closely, you can hear the rustling of performance artists.”
Stephen Johnson introduced the Float On boys as both “orner” and “brilliant”. Graham and Ashkahn dove right in talking about how they formed the Float Conference nonprofit organization. This Conference is officially owned and run by the industry, instead of any one organization.
They explained how they decided to create a system of making decisions. The Float Conference uses score voting as opposed to first-past-the-post (the system the US election system works).
They’ve made all of this publicly available on the website in addition to the financial data for the last five years of The Float Conference.
Passing along ownership of everything from Float On over to the non-profit took a lot of effort, but it’s been going very well.
A special shout out to these amazing industry people who helped organize the Float Conference this year. I can’t list them here because it’s going by so quickly, but it’s been an amazing experience and getting to see just how many people have worked so hard to make it possible. To see everyone listed, go to the about us page on floatconference.com
They closed the thanks by thanking everyone who came out to the Conference, since it’s everyone in attendance that makes it possible. It belongs to all of us now, and it’s up to us to make sure that everything happens.
So if there’s something you’d like to see different in the future, reach out to make a change. You don’t have to be on the board of directors to help make decisions for this. The Float Conference has released a survey along with applications to host the next Conference in your city. If you’d like to be a local liaison, you can apply directly at the site.
The absolutely best way to contribute to the Conference is to continue to come out it. It’s your float conference now. It belongs to all of us, as Ashkahn said “not just in spirit, but legally as well”.
Day Two Begins…
Mindful Employee Onboarding
Floating from the Heart: Understanding the relationship between biomarkers of Cardiac Activity and Floatation REST
Dr. Matt Driller
Floating to Victory: floatation-REST for Athletic Recovery
- Reported muscle soreness and fatigue
- Pressure to pain algometer recording
- Isometric mid thigh pull
- A series of sprints
- Power measurement, counter movement jump
Tribute to Marvin Zuckerman, PHD (1928-2018)
- sports and vocations
- social, sexual, and martial relationships
- tastes in art
- habits of smoking, drug use, etc
- extended into the areas of psychopathology and street
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