Something in the world of floating have you stumped?
Most float centers have to deal with the difficult problem of describing the benefits of floating to those who haven’t tried it yet or are just starting their float journeys. What is safe and accurate to say? Obviously, you don’t want to be advertising false claims if you can help it, but it can be difficult to find accurate information that tells a full story about floating.
Graham and Ashkahn dive into the resources available and clear up some of the confusion surrounding our salty practice. Check out the show notes for a list of great resources!
FTS Product – Scientific Research List (Free)
FTS Product – About Float Tanks Guide (Free)
Float Conference Talks:
Listen to Just the Audio
Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)
Graham: We got a nice softball today, and it is, “What are the health benefits we can say for sure come from floating?”
Graham: I was kidding about the softball.
Ashkahn: This is good. I’m happy you’re asking this question, dear listener, because we should be asking this question. It’s really, it’s too easy.
Graham: If you are a float center owner, you get asked it all the time.
Ashkahn: You just could ask why would someone float? It’s real easy to go off with all sorts of different things that you hear or you’ve heard somebody else say or you’ve read somewhere on the internet or whatever. You know, not all those are entirely backed up by actual research.
Graham: My favorite is probably still the two hours in the float tank equals eight hours of sleep.
Ashkahn: Of sleep, yeah. You hear that thrown around a lot.
Graham: Seemingly from nothing, because I can’t find any place that came from other than it’s just referenced in “The Book of Floating” of it having existed before that.
Ashkahn: Magnesium being absorbed into your skin, we don’t actually know. There’s not any great, credible research so far out there about backing that up. It might or it might not be happening, but people say that as if there’s been studies and studies and studies showing transdermal magnesium absorption, which there hasn’t been.
Graham: Yep. Addiction treatment. That’s another one that sadly, we don’t really have much research for, just saying it helps with being addicted to cigarettes or it helps with withdrawals from opioids or whatever it is. Again, there’s a decent amount of anecdotes for that, but no hard research to back it up, really, at least in the float tanks.
Ashkahn: Yeah, and the funny thing is that you read a lot of research and you see these titles and what you need to pay attention to is sometimes this research was done with other forms of REST, other forms of restricted environmental stimulation therapy.
Back in the early days, people were doing a lot of research with dry rest, like float tanks that you get into basically a float tank except the water is inside of a membrane that you lie on, or Chamber REST, where they had an entire room that you’d go into for usually much longer periods of time, like 24 hours inside of one of these.
When you read about smoking addiction and smoking cessation, and there is a study out there about floating or REST specifically helping people deal with smoking addiction, that was actually a Chamber REST study where they had people in there for a long time, and they actually couldn’t replicate it in an actual float tank.
It’s not to say that these things wouldn’t be true were we to test them. Basically it’s just saying that a lot of times it’s that these tests haven’t been run. There’s a lot of research to do out there, and there’s only so much of it that’s actually happened, or even some of the stuff that has happened has been very small studies with just a few people and maybe not the same scope of empirical data that you’re used to seeing when you’re looking at more substantial research for other topics.
Graham: Yeah, which is a good lesson, too. Just the fact that there’s a research article out there, even if it’s specifically on floating, not on Chamber REST, doesn’t mean that necessarily the results of that singular study are applicable to a more generalized statement. You can find, again, a lot of small-scale articles that got published on maybe even four to eight participants, or sometimes it’s even case studies with just one or two people who are being studied in-depth and how floating helps them.
I guess just something for your own mind to keep there is people running studies on things and showing positive effects still doesn’t mean that we can just claim those outright as for sure benefits.
Ashkahn: Yeah, be careful. Especially when you’re writing things on your web site and your brochures. When things are entering a public sphere.
Ashkahn: Yeah, when you’ve hired an airplane to list float facts in the air. These are places to especially take the time and be diligent and make sure that what you’re putting up there is something that is a little bit more substantial than just anecdotes.
Graham: In that sense, getting into some of the benefits, I will totally direct you to a couple resources on our site that have been updated over the last year which are really great. One of those is just the scientific research list. Its most recent update actually has, next to every article, whether it’s about Flotation REST or Chamber REST or original sensory deprivation way back in the day, pre-’50s, and divides them up into those and also whether they’re scholarly articles or spoken presentations, things like that. If you haven’t looked at that recently, that has a really nice breakdown of the articles that actually exist on flotation specifically, not mixed in with Chamber REST. Definitely check that out.
Another good one, if you haven’t read it recently, is the “About Float Tanks” guide, which got a massive update this last year. Specifically in the science part, too, just because we thought this conversation was one that needed to happen and be looked into a little more in depth. Check that out. Flip to the back for talking about the scientific benefits, and same thing. We actually broke down benefits by Flotation REST, benefits by Chamber REST, and then just anecdotes that we tend to hear from our customers and that might likely have results should they be studied but we don’t have hard evidence for. Both of those are a great jumping-off point that’ll go way deeper than we’re going to talk about today.
Ashkahn: With the “About Float Tanks” guide, which is free, it’s on our Float Tanks Solutions site, that one we actually had reviewed by some of the researchers out there, so it wasn’t just us being like, “This seems right.” We had actual people who had been doing that research go through and make sure we were accurately portraying the information.
Graham: Yeah, so Tom Fine, who of course did some early float research, reviewed the whole thing. Dr. Feinstein looked over his sections. Dr. Kjellgren from over in Sweden looked over things. Actually a really nice reviewed set of information there. Actually the same thing for the scientific research list too. We had that looked over by Tom Fine for accuracy and making sure that we weren’t listing articles that had been on there twice.
Some of the stuff is from back in the ’80s and things that he was creating and it’s a little hard to piece it together on your own. Yeah, definitely both of those are free downloads too, just on the Float Tank Solutions site, if you just click our free resources area, that’ll just pull you right there.
Ashkahn: Yeah, another good thing to check out is Peter Suedfeld, one of the founding fathers of float research, did a bunch of the big research back in the day. Came and did a talk at the Float Conference, where he gave a presentation basically breaking down the research that’s been done or the benefits of floating, and he broke them into categories of “what can we say is backed by data”, and he went over that, and he made another category of “what do we think is true but maybe needs a little bit more substance behind it”, and “what do we not really have data for right now”.
It’s a good talk. It’s his talk from the 2015 Float Conference, so if you go to the Float Conference web site or if you just go to YouTube and type in Peter Suedfeld, Float Conference, and look for the 2015 talk, that’s a great little primer for learning about float knowledge.
Graham: Yeah, that’s an awesome talk. Honestly, even for your staff members. I would recommend everyone go through and listen to the Peter Suedfeld talk and read that “About Float Tanks” guide summary, and those two combined just really arm you with a great set of information on what has actually been studied out there.
Ashkahn: We actually do, we require, when we hire employees, that’s part of their training because we want to make sure that our employees are not spreading misinformation or rumors and stuff like that out there. That’s part of what we feel like is our responsibility as a float center, is making sure our staff also is knowledgeable and knows what to say and what not to say.
Graham: Definitely if you have other resources you like, email them our way so we can put them up in the show notes, but in my mind those two are the big summary overview benefits.
Ashkahn: Yeah, those three.
Graham: Those three. I guess I was excluding the research lists. That’s nice for knowing what titles are out there and stuff, but benefits-wise, yeah, Suedfeld and the “About Float Tanks” guide. That said, we’ll take a little bit of time just to cover some generalities of common areas that are touted as being beneficial to float tanks and a little bit of what’s out there.
I’d say the biggest one that has a lot of studies backing it up in some kind of ways is stress relief, or just relaxation. You see this just across many of even the smaller studies, many of the larger studies, Justin Feinstein’s most recent studies. Just a sense of reduced anxiety, reduced stress, or especially increased relaxation just seems to be present in almost everyone, even if they were trying to measure for something totally different, also relaxation went up, according to the surveys. That’s just pretty ubiquitous across everything.
When you start getting into more specific claims about relaxation, things like that, stress relief, I’d say especially with Justin’s most recent stuff, talking about anxiety, it’s probably one of the best-studied areas that you can now reference people to.
Ashkahn: Yeah, which his research currently is just about a single float session and the effects of that, so again, in terms of being careful about what you’re saying, if you’re trying to make sure you’re saying things that are backed by data, his data’s really about that, a single float session, not about long-lasting effects or multiple floats or things like that. This is his most recent research.
Graham: Yeah, and in clinical populations too, so not just your average human beings.
Ashkahn: Yeah, he’s got healthy populations too.
Graham: Again, it does seem to extend. I guess with the second paper he has coming out, he does the healthy populations, yeah.
Pain reduction, another one that I think you can pretty safely claim, at least for certain disorders. I mean, both for chronic pain conditions and also just pain relief from acute pain that you might have from exercising or something like that. Both of those seem to both show nice relief in the float tanks. That’s backed by research from Tom Fine and John Turner and also by Anette Kjellgren and some other people over in Sweden, too, have shown some nice results about that.
So many of these are not going to sound crazy, especially if you’ve run a float center or if you float yourself.
Ashkahn: I know. You just hear this all the time from people.
Graham: Yeah. You’re like, “It helps with pain,” and you’re like “Yeah”. You could see dozens and dozens more studies completed on this and the anecdotes are still probably the stronger part of this, which is so often you just hear people coming out and it’s helped with really serious pain relief that they’re not expecting it to help with, like they’ve tried 10 other treatments and are totally convinced floating is just another in a line of things that’s going to fail and it succeeds.
Ashkahn: Yeah, and you know, I feel comfortable saying stuff like that. When people ask me things, I’m like, “You know, we have a lot of people who float with us who say they get a lot of pain relief.”
Graham: That’s a great out, too.
Ashkahn: I’m comfortable making a statement like that, because it’s true. We get a lot of people floating with us who tell us a lot about pain relief. Whether there’s been a study or not that has data on that, it doesn’t change the fact that over and over and over again I see people coming to our center and telling us that afterwards. I’m not stating it like it’s some big research project that’s been done, either.
Graham: Yeah, and that’s a good lesson, too. We’re trying to go over some of the benefits that have actually been studied a little more in depth here, but just referring back to those anecdotal stories that you hear in your own center is totally a valid way to answer that question if you get it from clients. Often how they’ll phrase it is, “Will this help with anxiety?” or, “Hey, I got in a car accident three years ago, do you think this’ll help with my back pain?” or something like that. Just like, “We’re not doctors,” which I’ll give a little disclaimer here, we’re not. We’re definitely not doctors.
Ashkahn: You may have thought that we are, but no.
Graham: Unless you are a doctor, neither are you, is the other part of that. Don’t make medical claims. If that person asks, “Will this help with my back pain?” don’t say, “Oh, yeah,” or even, “Well, probably.” It’s much better to say, “It’s helped past clients with their back pain,” or “we just had someone come in here last week who had chronic pain from a car injury and it seemed really to help them, so hopefully.” That’s, I think, a much safer, more real, true answer.
All right, what else over here? I’m just going through our “About Float Tanks” guide for the general categories. Improved mental health was the next one I had on the list, both for anxiety and depression are two of the big things that have been studied now. A little bit of you’ll see some other symptoms and things pop up and some smaller studies, but definitely anxiety, depression, both with Justin’s current work and with some of the work coming out of Sweden. Both seems to be showing positive benefits across the board for a lot of the patients coming in.
Which is really cool. Again, listen to the Justin Feinstein episode, too, of the Daily Solutions podcast if you didn’t get a chance to catch that one, because he really goes into exactly what can be claimed about his studies, so this conversation but refined down to just the work that he was doing. Anything else on mental health stuff?
Just that, yeah, PTSD is another one you might hear claims being made for. It’s another one where I think that’s much more anecdotally supported than supported by any real studies right now. Definitely be careful with what you claim on the PTSD front. That said, initial pilot studies and also just anecdotal evidence and some small-scale informal surveys that we’ve been giving out at our center really seem to show that it is positive, at least for some people with PTSD, but again, since the question is “for sure,” I would exclude PTSD from that category.
Ashkahn: There has been some work done with actual improving performance across different sports and stuff like that. There was a marksmanship study.
Graham: Yep. Yeah, for sure. Marksmanship, yeah. Just general performance enhancement. Probably this is a silly anecdote of a study someone ran, but I really liked when we were over in Sweden, and I forget who was presenting. Maybe it was Norlander. No, it wasn’t.
Ashkahn: No, it was that other guy, Anders.
Graham: Yeah, yeah. Presenting on how they were studying floating and its benefits for swimmers. What they found was that it totally, absolutely, if they threw the swimmers in the float tanks, they’d do better at swimming unless they went to swim right after floating, in which case their performance dropped, which I just thought was hilarious for that study. It was like they’re just too chilled out to really get into that competitive swimming mindset or something, and if you waited a couple hours, then the effects came back.
Ashkahn: This is something that I imagine if you came to the Float Conference last year, and the talks are up online now, there’s research being done across a few universities, especially Ohio State University, in collaboration with the Air Force’s research lab, where they’re installing these float tanks for collegiate athletic groups and tracking their performance and biometrics and stuff through the process of them floating as part of their training.
None of that’s been published yet. This just started up not too long ago, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next few years, we saw some more substantial data about performance enhancement.
Graham: It’s some of the most exciting stuff that’s going on right now that I’m really stoked to see come out too, just because they have such a giant pool of control data. The university takes so many measurements.
Ashkahn: And they have so many students. If you want, the talks from last year are Bob Mangine is one talk and Lydia Caldwell is another. You can find those, just Float Conference 2017, and you’ll see their names on the videos if you want to watch those.
Graham: Yeah, just a giant pool of data because the university has already been measuring stats or the biometrics on their athletes for a while, which isn’t even super common for universities, so what a good control. Anyway, I hope some cool stuff comes out of there.
Similarly, on the military side, and a lot of this hopefully is going to be replicated now in the private field, and none of this has been released, so this also isn’t stuff that you can say for sure helps, but they seem to be showing a lot of help with hypervigilance for things like the Navy SEALs coming back where when you come back from a mission you have trouble sleeping, you’re just always on red alert and helping cool down your nervous system and get back to baseline. It’s also, again, a scientific anecdote coming out there.
Ashkahn: Yeah, we don’t know what they’ve studied. They’re not going to release the data. The Navy SEALs had some float tanks, so we really have no idea what actual studies they ran or anything. That was at least what they told us they said people were experiencing.
Graham: Yeah, so you can see how a lot of this hits that gray area. Even some of the most thorough studies that we have don’t have hundreds of participants. If we had a study that had a couple hundred participants, it would pretty much be the biggest float study that was out there. Take everything for what it’s worth. This is still a field very much being studied.
One of the cool things is that the effect sizes, despite being of such small sample sizes, are still pretty large, and it’s neat to see that the effects are so big that even a small population may become obvious for some of the reporting, which is cool.
Okay, last one here, which is women’s health is how we labeled it in here. Basically, helping with PMS symptoms is one of the things that’s been shown, and also pregnant ladies also seem to get a whole lot out of the float tank, and there’s been some kind of informal studies done to that regard as well. Especially around PMS and PMS symptoms, you can actually make some claims going back to Arreed Barabazs’s work.
Ashkahn: There’s actually another good conference talk from Kirsten and Lena, Kirsten Gerrish and Lena Kilic, who run a birthing center up in Alaska, gave a talk at the 2016 Float Conference where they just talk about their experience working with pregnant women.
Graham: Again, not a giant, controlled, peer-reviewed study or anything like that, but still some good information and definitely, again, anecdotally, for women coming through, we just hear so many good things from pregnant ladies, I’d be surprised if eventually that wasn’t something that really got shown to be a benefit of floating. Again, as far as for sure, we can’t really make too many claims in that area yet.
That’s it. That’s the categories, at least that we break it into for the stuff that we can say, us going through some of the more serious anecdotes that we have. Is there anything else?
Ashkahn: Yeah. Stay diligent. Keep looking stuff up. It’s good to always have that kind of skepticism.
Graham: Question everything we’re saying. We could just be lying to you right now. You don’t know until you go.
Ashkahn: Yeah, we did. One of the things we said is actually fake, so you’re going to have to go back and figure out which one it is.
Graham: Which one is it? It was our names at the beginning.
Ashkahn: Yeah. My name’s Graham.
Graham: I’m Ashkahn. If you have any more hard-hitting questions, go over to FloatTankSolutions.com/podcast.
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