Can You Float Your Way to Creative Flow?

Woman in floatation tank

Photos in this article courtesy of Floatworks

Did you hear the one about the microwave bed?

Eight hours’ sleep in ten minutes!

The nearest thing I’ve found to the microwave bed is a floatation tank. After relaxing for an hour in darkness, silence and what feels like zero gravity, it feels like I’ve been ‘away’ for much, much longer.

What Is a Floatation Tank?

Floatation tankA chamber filled with water supersaturated with Epsom salts – which means you can lie back and float on the surface, like your own private Dead Sea. And because the water is maintained at body temperature, after a while you don’t feel it. You’re left with a sensation of weightlessness, like floating in space.

You can leave the light on if you want to, but trust me, it’s better if you switch it off. And a pair of earplugs will block out any noises from outside.

Weightlessness. Darkness. Silence.

Bliss.

Eventually, some new age music will filter into your chamber, signalling time to rouse yourself and leave the tank.

When you emerge into the outside world, only an hour will have passed. But inside, it feels like eternity.

Why Float?

There are several theories about how floating works and many benefits are claimed for it. In The Book of Floating, Michael Hutchinson proposes ‘seven theories of floating’, including explanations based on antigravity, the left/right brain, neurochemistry, brainwaves and biofeedback.

Benefits claimed include stress relief, detoxification, improvements in various health conditions, enhancing meditation or athletic performance, better sleep – and you’ve guessed it, ‘creativity and imagination’.

During a float, you produce slower brain-waves patterns, known as theta waves, which are normally experienced only during a deep meditation or just before falling asleep and when waking up. This is usually accompanied by vivid imagery, very clear, creative thoughts, sudden insights and inspirations or feelings of profound peace and joy, induced by the release of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates.
(The London Float Centre website)

This matches my own experience fairly closely. For me, there’s a stage of floating which is very similar to falling asleep, when you can experience vivid flashes of hypnagogic imagery. (In my case, it’s more likely to be minor auditory hallucinations, like snatches of voices speaking – but when I asked some friends whether they’d also heard the ‘little voices’ in the tank, they all laughed, so I may be in a minority there.)

I can’t say that I’ve experienced any particularly clear thoughts or major insights while actually in the tank, but I definitely think it benefits my creativity, particularly during times when I’ve been floating fairly regularly.

When I come out of the tank my mind is much calmer and clearer than when I went in. It’s almost comparable to the feeling after a weekend meditation retreat. You never realise how busy you’ve been until you stop and relax – and the same goes for switching off your mind, which the tank does very well. So floating helps me approach all my work in a calmer, more considered fashion, which I’m sure enhances my creativity.

I also feel more centred in my body and relaxed after floating, so I can chill out and enjoy life more. If you live in the country, the effect may not be so dramatic, but for city dwellers like me, floating can be a wonderful antidote to the hustle and bustle of urban life.

For these reasons, I think floating could be helpful if you’re experiencing a creative block, particularly the kind brought on by working too long and trying too hard. I’ve not tried it under these circumstances, but if you’ve been tearing your hair out trying to crack a brief or write the next chapter of your novel, an hour in a floatation tank could be the perfect creative tonic.

If I’ve whetted your appetite for floating, there may well be a float centre in your nearest city where you can try it. Here in London, I’ve floated at Floatworks (who kindly supplied the photographs for this article) and The London Float Centre, both of which provide excellent facilities in a relaxed atmosphere.

Have You Ever Floated?

If so – did you find it beneficial?

Do you think it boosted your creativity?

If not – is it something you’d like to try?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

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Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. Very interesting. I’ve always wanted to try a sensory deprivation chamber, because the effects are supposed to be similar and your brain goes into hyper-imaginative mode to make up for the lack of stimulus. I’d like to give this a shot, but I don’t know if we have any of these in this part of the US. Sounds like a good place to have near work as a lunch time retreat.

  2. My friends have raved about this but I haven’t been moved to try yet. Your description is very compelling, I’m going to check it out! Thanks, Michael

  3. Hm. This is an interesting post. I have “floated” but didn’t know it. Favorite spot was Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda . Epsom salts in a nice candlelit bath does a great job too. No idea there were actual centers for this so wow and thanks. Great for creativity. Kind of a sensory meditation so necessary to, um, keep the flow going and to be kind to self. Pause for wonder, and quiet. and to listen.
    Sign me up.

  4. Wow, that looks awesome! There doesn’t appear to be one in Chicago, but that would be perfect. I think the unpleasant vibrations resulting from all of the noises of a city really attack your body.

    I think I experienced a similar feeling to what you described when I would hike through a redwood forest. It was as if the trees were oscillating at a frequency that was more relaxing to my body – if that makes any sense. Plus, all of that fresh air.

  5. I spoke too soon. Here’s one in Chicago if anyone is interested: http://chicagofloatationtanks.com/

  6. @kadavy-Dean Rieck just wrote about trees and creativity:
    http://www.directcreative.com/blog/2009/01/27/sharpen-your-creative-skills-hug-a-tree/

  7. I so want to try this, but haven’t yet found any tanks nearby.

  8. Interestingly enough, research studies in parapsychology on telepathy have the “receiver” sitting in a dark room, reclining in an easy chair, listening to white noise with halved ping-pong balls covering their eyes and a red light on their face. This state is called the ganzfeld, and it too is a kind of sensory deprivation:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganzfeld_experiment

    Perhaps this could be an alternative to floating?

    I’ve also heard of people using “brown” noise instead of white noise. This can be generated through a freeware PC program called Brainwave Generator.

  9. Sounds great, and believe it or not up here in Auld Reekie there is actually a facility!
    http://www.edinburghfloatarium.co.uk/

    Definitely going for it.

  10. I remember a movie called “Crossing Delancy” and one of the character was talking about isolation tanks. Anyway, I didn’t think they really existed until I read your post…which inspired me. I immediately found a floatation spa (recently opened — like in the last month) very near where I live in Santa Fe. I’m making an appt. tomorrow!

  11. Glad to hear floating fever is spreading across the globe!

    Maybe we could do a synchronised float and twitter from the tanks? Or maybe not. 🙂

  12. Hi Mark,

    My dad was a big fan of John C Lilly’s writings and installed a floatation tank in our house when I was about 13, so I got to have quite a few floatation tanks sessions back then.

    They look idyllic and at times they can be — from memory you’d get quite sweaty, the salts could get a bit itchy and condensation tended to form inside the roof of the tank to drop down like some kind of water torture! And then there was the run from the tank through the house to the bathroom — somewhat bracing on a winter’s evening!

    Those were the downsides. On the upsides, you could “disappear” for what seemed like ages. If you are not used to or able to easily put your ego aside, it can be a very freeing and liberating experience. I’d definitely do it again if I had easy access to a float tank nowadays.

    Alternative: I’ve just come in from a walk/run in deep snow. While I was out there, a few times I just flopped down on my back in the snow (to cool off), and gazed up at the sky. The snow perfectly supports and cushions your body, holding it still; there is no sound as there is no traffic, no bird sounds, and everything that could be making a sound is muffled — and there is enormous peace. In some ways it felt as restful and liberating as floatation…

    Did floatation boost my creativity? Hmm, hard to say. I was doing a lot of other things at the time — meditation, superlearning, autogenics, reading de Bono’s “Lateral Thinking” etc — all of which combined to make me think about and affirm that I was creative, and tapped me into a sense of the Infinite from which I could draw upon for creative energy and inspiration.

    Stay buoyant,
    Wily
    🙂

  13. Hi Wily, great story, thanks for sharing. I agree that with many creators it’s hard to separate out any one element of their lives as being the bit that ‘makes’ creative — they’re usually doing so many interesting and stimulating things that it would be hard for them NOT to be creative.

    In my dream home I’m going to have a floatation tank — I’ve now made a mental note to include an ensuite bathroom! 🙂

  14. I’m going to have to sleep on this one.

    I suppose I’d be open to giving it a shot, and maybe I’ll check to see if there is a floatation tank anywhere near where I live, but I have to say I would probably feel ancy after a few minutes. I have the same problem taking a bath or sitting in a hot tub, which is probably my problem anyway.

    It’s hard for me to slow my mind down, and things that try to force it upon me sort of irritate me.

    That probably means I need floatation therapy as much as anybody!

  15. Coffeeblogger — I’m the same as you, if I’ve not been for a while, it can take me two or three floats to really relax and settle into the experience. It’s a bit like the first two or three days of a meditation retreat — sometimes you have to be patient and let your mind unwind.

    Either that or cut down on the coffee before floating. 🙂

  16. A flotation tank in Los Angeles California saved my life.

    I was going to commit suicide due to my inability to make a living, support my family and a pain/disability I couldn’t stand any longer.

    By accident I came upon ‘The Book of Floating’ by Michael Hutshison (probably misspelled name) which convinced me to give it a try.

    When I found the book at the library I immediately searched for ‘pain-relief.’ After reading everything about the subject I thought ; BULL!!!!!

    After some thought I decided that I didn’t have a choice but to try it.

    I have been meaning to write about this experience and have never taken the time. I believe I will now take the time as it might help someone in a particular situation.

    God Bless all!

  17. Marc – thanks for sharing such a powerful experience. A story like that really puts things in perspective. Do let me know if you write more about it.

  18. Charmaine says:

    I wish I could find a place to float — but here in New Orleans…sheesh!! they probably never even heard of it.

  19. RE: “After some thought I decided that I didn’t have a choice but to try it.”

    I had walked with broken cartilage in my right knee for 2.5 yrs. (from a job accident) due to sixteen doctors’ inability in finding the source of the pain.

    After two operations (one, an athroscopy) to remove the damaged cartilage the pain remained the same, at times I couldn’t even sleep due to the pain. I went through about a dozen pain-killers after each operation with minimal results.

    When I emerged from ‘the tank’ about one third of the pain was gone. I felt like I was walking on clouds. Everything looked brighter and I felt about 90% of my stress vanish.

    Gradually within about 7-10 days I had ZERO pain! I could walk without the feeling of needles piercing my knee.

    The pain gradually set back in within about 9 months, By then I was in Texas and the part of Texas I was in was/is about 50-75 years ‘behind the times,’ no flotation tanks ‘in this part of the country.’

    I need to spread the word on these miracle Godsend ‘contraptions.’

    God Bless All!

  20. http://www.floatworks.com – Largest Center
    http://www.floatfinder.com – World list of Centers
    http://www.i-sopod.com – Modern tank
    http://www.floatforhealth.com – Comprehensive information

    I have been, I have seen and I have conquered = floatation is an amazing and profound experience, both personal and indescribable. I travelled a million miles, yet I didn’t move aninch.

    I have been 12 times now, each is different, each is amazing = you can have conscious thoughts, unconscious thoughts and subconscious thoughts all running along at the same time, dancing and crossing from one state to another……

    You need to go at least three times before you really understand how to play and go with the experience.

    The first session was mind blowing but now I realise that I hadn’t even scratched the surface!

    I honestly believe the world woulds be a better place if every town had a floatation center.

  21. How much does a session of this typically cost?

  22. Great article 🙂 Float tanks have allowed me to relieve anxiety without the use of medications .

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