FLOAT HOPES: The Strange New Science of FloatingBlog » FLOAT HOPES: The Strange New Science of Floating
STORY BY MANDY OAKLANDER
CINEMATOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL POTTER VIDEO BY DIANE TSAI
EXPERIENCE DIRECTION BY BRONSON STAMP
They started late one night, the tremors that shook Michael Harding’s whole body when he lay down to sleep. “A bit weird,” thought Harding, then a 23-year-old Australian soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Just days before, he’d been in an hours-long siege in which his second-in-command was shot and killed.
Harding soon started shaking so much that he had to ask a friend to light his cigarettes. He couldn’t drink water from a bottle without pouring it down his shirt, and in the mess hall, his twitches got so spastic that he’d sometimes flip his tray.
He was medically discharged from the army in 2012 with severe PTSD and left with a new personality: withdrawn and unemotional. His sleep suffered, too. He had nightmares and night sweats.
To handle his worsening symptoms, Harding tried two kinds of talk therapy, four kinds of medication, and large nightly doses of scotch and Coke. When each of those failed, he turned to yoga, juicing, meditation and medicinal pot. That helped a little, but Harding’s anxiety and muscle spasms still hadn’t abated.
Around that time, his wife did what any desperate person would: she started poking around in online forums for something else that may help with his PTSD. She found glowing testimonials for floating, the practice of lying belly-up in a tank filled with warm water so salty you float.
“To me, it seemed like a sham,” Harding says. But in March last year, he decided to try it anyway. He fell asleep in the tank, he says, and woke up an hour later feeling refreshed. By three floats, Harding says his anxiety and hyper-vigilance had subsided. By three months of floating, so had his night sweats. “After floating, I was really mellowed out,” he says. “I’m not really sure how it does it, but I do know that floating has allowed me to feel in a more confident, comfortable headspace.”
While floating has always had fans in the wellness world, it’s undeniably grown in popularity. In 2011, there were 85 float centers in the United States, according to Aaron Thompson, who runs an online directory of flotation centers, and now there are more than 250. Floating has also attracted the interest of a small group of scientists who are trying to figure out if it has a place as a kind of therapy for some kinds of distress, including PTSD. Any proof that this helps people with stress disorders is anecdotal at this point, but something special appears to happen in brain while the body floats. Now, some scientists, like the neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein, are trying to find out what.
Feinstein believes so deeply in the therapeutic potential of floating that he built his whole career, and laboratory, around trying to prove it. This year he opened the only float lab in the country: the Float Clinic and Research Center at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma Continue Reading…