Float Tank Therapy to Help Your Nervous System #234
Anxiety, depression, and stressors are very hard to handle. There are different ways to help you ease them but this therapy might help you even more.
In this episode, learn about the float tank therapy which is very helpful to the nervous system. Also, breathing exercise which is included in today’s podcast. Stay tuned!
Dr. Justin Marchegiani
In this episode, we cover:
00:12 Get to Know Float Tank
02:21 The Story Behind
04:03 Benefits of Float Tanks
20:13 Box Breathing
Evan Brand: Yeah, let’s have some fun. We’re gonna talk about float tanks today, which is something that I haven’t done as much as I should have since I moved back to Kentucky from Austin. When I was in Austin, I was floating all the time but since I got back here, I haven’t done it as much but I’m inspired. So let’s talk about this. This is a good tool to have in the toolbox.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: 100% man, yeah, 100% really excited to dive in. So one of the best things of float tank therapy, kind of the best things of it best aspects of it is a couple. So first thing is just decreasing all of the input the sensory input takes that sympathetic nervous system, that fight-or-flight nervous system response that’s taking in data, auditory, visually, tactile, it’s sensing everything and then it’s trying to see, should I be on alert, is this safe, is this not when we take all of the output and all the input. I’m sorry, audio-visual. Everything, one it comes down, the sympathetic nervous system, one to kind of realize that you’re in a safe place, then you’re not going to drown, so I remember, when I first got in the flow tank, I kind of freaked out for a minute because you’re like, where the heck am I, I’m in this like cocoon I-I’m stuck, it’s dark, I’m in water, and you kind of get freaked out a little bit but once you can kind of calm down and relax, it’s like, whoa, there’s no input coming in. Your nervous system can finally start to relax and then we have the benefit of hundreds of pounds of magnesium crystals or magnesium salts in the water, so then we have this massive surface area. Okay, your whole body sucking in all these minerals and the minerals is what allows you to be more floatacious, if you will, right, you’re on top of the water. You’re floating and then that’s gonna also drive more of a parasympathetic nervous system response, then we know how magnesium is a natural beta blocker relax the heart, it helps facilitate gaba working better, which is a really good inhibitory neurotransmitter. It turns down the sympathetic nervous response and activates the parasympathetic response.
Evan Brand: Yeah.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: They’re off the bad, Evan.
That’s all awesome. I’m gonna go way back in time before the flow tanks even happened and talk about how they came in because it’s kind of a cool story. Dr. John, he’s a neuroscientist, he’s dead now, he passed away in 2001. He was born in like, 1915. Anyway, John Lilly, he actually got hired by the National Institute of Mental Health in 1954, means a long time ago and the goal of the National Institute of Mental Health were they were trying to isolate the brain from external stimulation, so they hired John Lilly. They said, okay, we need you to get a brain completely away from all sources of stimulation and so, that’s how he developed the float tank and I’m sure they were very crude compared to the float tanks now. They’re amazing but then it became recognized as rest which is restricted environmental stimulation technique, and I mean that we’re talking 1954, this is a long time ago. He did some other stuff too, like he was working with dolphins. He was trying to communicate with dolphins inside of a float tank and he was doing psychedelics before getting in float a while, so he was doing some other interesting things but really he is the godfather and so now there’s float tanks everywhere, so if people just look up floatation locations or there’s another website where to float or just Google, you know, New York float tank and I’m sure you can find some places but really, what it is it’s basically a giant bathtub. My, my personal preference is what’s called the ocean float room. It’s the biggest they have, other ones like clam shell type tanks but the ocean float rooms are the best because they’re so big. It’s just a big door, it’s like 10 feet tall, 10 feet wide ,10 feet long, I mean, they’re just gigantic and that way you don’t bump into the walls but you know the water is the same temperature as your skin so they call it skin receptor neutral, so when you get inside of this about 10 inches of water you don’t even feel the water if you know after a while your, your skin gets use to that feeling and you’re not claustrophobic. You know that’s one fear people have about float tanks, as well I don’t want to be in a dark enclosed space that doesn’t sound relaxing to me, well after you’re floating for a while you have no sense of gravity because of the magnesium. You have no sgin of space or depth because of the darkness so really as far as you know you’re floating in outer space so I’d like to address that concern that people have with these float tanks because that was my concern at first but 5-10 minutes in, you’re fine and yeah, there.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: I had the same issue so it took me a few minutes just to kind of wrap my head around, okay, what’s this environment, like, am i okay, am i safe, you know, just am I gonna drown, am i art you know so it’s kind of getting your head wrapped around the safety of the place and then once you feel good about it, that magnesium just starts to creep in into your bloodstream and you just start getting really relaxed. Now one of the big things I would do in the flow tank is I would do a lot of wim hot breathing and that was super, super helpful and we can put an article or a video on how to do that but that was really, really helpful I would do a lot of meditation and or just visualization and it was just really great to calm my nervous system down, so I think typically, I would do a flow tank kind of therapy and then I would do a massage right after it’s my muscles are so relaxed, so if you guys want a parasympathetic weekend or afternoon, float a combine, my really nice massage afterwards, your muscles are like putty.
Evan Brand: Yeah, we’re vice-versa. Some people are too anxious to get into the float tank, you know, typically these float tanks are in a spa settings so you could always go in and there may be a massage therapist on staff where you could do a massage before to relax you enough to not be afraid of the float tank but really the fear is unwarranted. There’s really nothing to be afraid of. The biggest concern you may have is you get a little bead of sweat with some saltwater into your eye and then you got to wipe your eye out but beyond that, there’s really no concern for anyone.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: Yeah and Matt White kind of wrote in here on the YouTube chat, “Will help with muscles?” Yeah, definitely will, now Matt was talking about his serratus posterior, so that’s gonna be the serratus, that’s like a rib muscle, right, so that kind of connects into the rib so you’d want to get some myofascial release work done and if it’s hurting or kind of causing the problem while you’re in the tank. I’d probably get some myofascial release work done before and then go on the flow and take after but magnesium is known to help relax the muscles, so it kind of helps, you know, depolarize that muscle relaxants it so that’s a good first step and that should help you a lot that it allow you to enjoy the therapy better, because really, the goal is that we’re just trying to decrease the sympathetic nervous system responds so when we see patients with adrenal dysfunction, we’re doing the same thing, we’re not using flow tank therapy that’s an adjunct thing. We can add into it but we’re trying to clean up foods that are driving the sympathetic response inflammation giving nutrients to support healing using adaptogens which help the HPA access brain to adrenal communication loop but also affects the perception of stress, right. Some people deal with stress better and it’s part of it’s how they perceive it and part of using adaptogens, is adaptogens can help how you perceive stress so if you perceive it better then there’s less HPA access brain communication crosstalk between your adrenals and your brain, which means you’re less likely to over secrete cortisol or over secrete adrenaline and you’re more than likely to adapt to the situation, and one of the big things I tell my patients when you’re going into stress and it’s the same thing I’ll do in a flow tank, is the number one thing you have control over is controlling your breath. If you can control your breath for the most part, you can control that sympathetic nervous system response, so basically for breaths, into the nose and then out to the mouth. Some people say into the nose hold for a second and then out through the nose again for seconds so it’s kind of a four. In whole for a second and then for out hold for a second and that’s as box breathing but the breathing through the nose is what stimulates that parasympathetic nervous system response. This is granular number two in the in the nasal area which hits the brainstem and that activates that’s part of the vagus nerve system, right, so sorry the vagus plugs into the parasympathetic I think it’s like, one, two, five, seve,n nine, hit the parasympathetic branch and the vagus is the key one, that’s number ten, but number two which is the olfactory is really important it plugs into that parasympathetic response allows you to start hitting the breaks so that’s really good. So anytime you’re in stress really work on nasal breathing allowing the belly to distend when you breathe in that allows all the organs to move down it allows you to get a deep breath of air and your breathing through the belly you’re not breathing through these intercostal muscles. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Matt was talking about here you’re gonna put more stress on your chest and on your ribs when you’re a mouth-breather and when you’re, when your chest has to rise to breathe it should all be here it should all be in the belly.
Evan Brand: Yeah I love watching, you know, I’ve got a little girl who’s what, is she six weeks old. Now I love watching her breathe because she is 100% belly breathing. She hasn’t been conditioned yet with stress and fear and anxiety to be a mouth breather sI sent you a study so if you can check it outs I can’t put it in the YouTube comment because YouTube won’t allow me to put links, but I sent it to you Justin in the hangout chat, god I’m really cool, it’s a PubMed, you ought to look at the one, two, three, third picture in this study this was in the February of 2018, it was called Examining the Short-Term Anxiolytic and Antidepressant Effect of Floatation and there’s a third picture there, it’s incredible. It’s a huge list of all these different positive symptoms that were seen and so the biggest benefits were heightened creativity, heightened energy, feelings of euphoria, joy or happiness, heightened, focus, and ability to concentrate, a strong feeling of appreciation that you’re alive, a feeling of flow with the world around, you a pain-free existence, feeling completely refreshed, relaxation of body without muscle tension, a feeling of total serenity, and peacefulness, so in this study this is all the positive effects that we’re seeing and then of course a reduction of anxiety and fear and you know, we’ve used it a lot for trauma to my friend who had the float tank Center down in Texas. He had a lot of veterans that would come in with PTSD and they would get in a flow tank, and of course you can’t legally say cure, but let’s just say the PTSD was dissolving very rapidly with these guys, who if they heard a loud sound, for example, they would get freaked out because they were around explosions in war. This had calmed the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, enough to where they no longer had that for your response so to me, this is so cool. Now, some may ask, well why don’t you just get a flow tank in your house then you can just do it all the time, you know, I’m home so much now, I want to be out of my house, I don’t want to be home anymore so I like the idea of driving somewhere and having the 20 minutes of anticipation of going to visit a spa-like setting showering. They’re getting all clean and then having that 20 minutes of relaxed time by myself on the way back home. Now if you’re never at your house, maybe your story is different but for me, that’s why I like to go to a spa. I don’t want to deal with the maintenance of it, it’s expensive. I mean, you’re looking at ten grand to buy a flow tank versus sixty to seventy bucks to have one for an hour, you got salt water everywhere, that’s gonna be all over your floor. You’ve got to clean up, you’ve got a maintenance, it and focus on your water filtration system all the time, it’s just to me, buying one is just not something that’s worth it.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: Totally, and just a little correction, it’s creating whatever. Number one, is olfactory, so one, is the nose. Two is the eyes, that confuse them, and then in general, I’m seeing that it’s saying that. That number one cranial nerve, the olfactory does not plug into the parasympathetic nervous system, just an FYI, a little correction, but I’ve seen a lot of data where that nasal breathing does improve heart rate variability and does improve other markers of parasympathetic nervous system response, so I’m not sure if it’s just an anatomical thing, but it still may have an effect on the parasympathetic nervous system based on HRV and based on other brainwave data showing that you’re in a state of relaxation and healing and recovery, yeah, that makes sense, so the big nerves for parasympathetic are gonna be number three, which is gonna be the oculomotor, that’s the eyes, that’s the moving of the eyes. It’s gonna be obviously the vagus nerve, right, that’s number ten. That’s the big one that creeps throughout the whole entire body. We have number five, true general, which controls the face and then number seven, which controls the sensory on the face, and then nine, which controls the tongue, right. That’s why people say singing helps with parasympathetic or they’ll do tongue depressor or gargling because that works the number nine there and then of course number, 10 the vagus which same thing you’ll do the tongue depression in the singing for number 10 because they work the back of the palate as well and it creeps throughout the whole entire body, so number, so the vagus nerve is that parasympathetic branch and that really essentially creeps through your whole entire body like a spider web and it really works on promoting relaxation and I guarantee you, if we look a little bit more we’re gonna see the vagus nerve being upregulated with deep nasal breathing and then if you combine the magnesium salts in there and you decrease all that other sensory input, we’re really just driving a parasympathetic response and these types of therapies and you tell me if I you think I’m off a really great adjunct to a functional medicine program, they really help promote healing. They’re not gonna do it in and of itself, if you have infections or other stressors that aren’t being addressed or your diets poor it’s not going to be enough to overcome that, but it’s definitely a nice step in the right direction and maybe you can combine it with other healthy lifestyle factors and supplement, factors you’re really on the right direction heal.
Evan Brand: Yeah, I agree. I actually did a podcast this morning or it was a summit interview all about anxiety and the gut brain connection ,and I made the disclaimer because I was being interviewed for float tanks and the question, was the question that was presented to me was, well, how do float tanks help digestive problems and I said, well, hold on, you know, let me give the disclaimer that, yeah, float tanks may help calm the nerves and therefore calm the stomach, like, if you had irritable bowel syndrome or something like that, you know, when I had digestive issues and parasites and other problems and I would use a float tank, I would get some relief but I gave the disclaimer that look if you have gut bugs you still have gut box, you still got to get your testing done with your practitioner, you still got to get rid of h pylori, you still got to get rid of parasites. However, the stress on the system can be relieved by the float tank, so I just, the question was kind of like, assumed that the float tank would magically dissolve those problems, so I had to just tell the hosts, look, no, no, it doesn’t work that way. You still got to do the other work. I think a lot of therapies get, get that type of treatment where someone says, well, how does a massage help anxiety. Say, well it can, but you still, why’s the anxiety there is, it is, it something in the system creating anxiety. Like, we still have to work backwards to that and I think this is why so many people spend money on stuff but then they still need further help, it’s cuz that was a what do you always call it palliative care versus-
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: (Cross talking.) Yep, exactly, yep, it totally can so I draw that line.
Evan Brand: So I would recommend, you know, start out to do an hour. You can do an hour float tank session. I prefer ninety minutes, because ninety minutes you really have that extra time to really settle down. I find that it takes me a good 15, 20 minutes to settle in and then 40 minutes or so is left to relax, that’s just not enough, so the 90 minute session allows you to really get out of your body and I’ve had out-of-body experiences, where literally, I’m looking back at myself in the float tank from a third-person perspective, right. I was just gone now not everybody can relax and I’ve only had a couple sessions like that where, maybe, I was relaxed enough to leave my body but it can be very, very mind-expanding, like, if you’re stuck in a rut and you, let’s say, you’re trying to write a book or you’re don’t know what to do about your marriage or you don’t know where to move or you don’t know what to do about your job, you know this is a good place where you can go and really gather all those thoughts and kind of run through your rolodex, if you will of all the thoughts on your mind and basically reorganize your stressors. As opposed to most people, all the stressors get interweaved and tangled and you can’t really break apart your stress because it’s all this bottle of stress, like when we work with clients, you and I always ask about stress, like what are the sources of stress ,but for so many people, becomes this tangled ball, but a flow tank a massage myofascial work, as you mentioned earlier, those things can help kind of detangle the stress and then you can identify, oh it’s stress about money or it’s stress about relationship or stress about my job or stress about my parents who are sick, you know, it could be a good tool to help recalibrate your I guess or allow you to analyze your stress, if that makes sense.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: 100% I think it’s great. I mean, the more you can get that parasympathetic nervous system response down and you can be more into spective like that I think it really helps and it allows you to make better decisions the more your parasympathetic response and most people are in this chronic fight-or-flight, whether it’s from inflammation, whether it’s from blood sugar, the more fight-or-flight response you’re in, the more that sympathetic nervous system is activated. We have decreased blood flow and oxygenation to the frontal cortex. This is the neocortex, this is what allows us to have deeper thinking. The frontal cortex or the neocortex allows us to control poor decisions, we’re gonna make a bad action, we’re gonna say the wrong thing, we’re gonna do something physically that we’re gonna regret. The frontal cortex helps you basically prevent that action from happening. It allows you to look at consequences better and I think a lot of people, if the more sympathetic dominant they are the more their adrenals are incredibly stress on the cortisol and adrenaline side, you’re less likely to be able to control impulses. You’re less likely to look at the consequences of poor decisions so really important the more we can get that parasympathetic response going, the more our brain can look at outcomes better and help us make better decision which is really important.
Evan Brand: Yeah, we’ll think about our ancestors, they had a lot more time to be in that parasympathetic rest and digest right like the men were all hunting. They were in the woods, they’re in the fields, they’re hunting and looking for food. The women were socializing and hanging out with one another. Now you know if you’ve got two stay-at-home, mom who is just listening to our podcast, she’s socially isolated, so maybe we’re giving her some company. Hello, hopefully, we’re giving you some company. However, they’re still socially isolated, right, they’re not in their tribe anymore. In the men, you know, they’re stuck working and they’re not with their guys. They’re not with that tribe relaxing, so I think if we were to compare the amount of time our ancestors, let’s say five thousand years ago spent in parasympathetic versus today, I would say it’s completely flip-flopped. I would say it’s like 1% of the time people relax now where previously there was always relaxation built into the day because there wasn’t as many external sources you’re in the middle of the woods having a campfire cooking your elk and-
Evan Brand: That was it exactly. Well, glad that we at least kind of talked about some of the strategies. We can draw the line between palliative and root and if you’re working with a functional medicine practitioner or nutritionist that’s helping you get to the root cause of what’s going on adding, this therapy in, I think is excellent and I would recommend adding it in with some good box breathing, deep nasal breathing. Put your hand on your chest and your hand on your tummy, you want to make sure the bottom hand the tummy hand is what moves out when you breathe in and then back in when you breathe out and make sure, this top hand the chest hand, if anyone’s listening there’s a video YouTube video available in the description, make sure the top hands are not moving and make sure the bottom hands moving these are just really, really simple things you can do and then also keeping good alignment as well, I mean when you’re floating, it’s easier to keep good alignment cuz you, gravity’s like you know significantly less, it’s 2 to 3 X less when you’re already laying horizontal in the water and the water perfectly kind of, you know, comforts your body as well, which is great. This would be simpler.
Evan Brand: This would be something good for pregnant women as well, you know, if you’ve got that pregnancy belly growing, you know, a lot of women may report low back pain or just feeling uncomfortable with the growing baby and so I do recommend pregnant women use float tanks as well. I’ve had some women that where I was in the float tank center in Texas and then I would see a couple pregnant women come out, they always reported that they felt more connected to their baby and it was almost this sort of prenatal connection that they had to the baby while they were in there they said that they felt like they were almost in the womb with the baby so it was a really good emotional bonding experience too and of course it takes the weight off of you ,so women out there with pregnant bellies there you go, go try it out I think it could be very therapeutic.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: Excellent Evan, well anything else you want to mention today.
Evan Brand: I would just tell people do some Googling. Go find a place, look for the ocean float room if you can, there’s nothing wrong with the smaller tanks ,there’s nothing wrong with the clamshell style float tanks, they’re still good but for the best experience, the bigger ,the better, and so if you can find a place where you can fully extend your arms. Your arms are not gonna hit the walls you can just go and do gymnastics in there. You’re gonna feel great and make sure you’re still addressing the root cause though if you’ve got an anxiety problem, you can’t sleep, you’ve got joint pain, you’ve got arthritis, which some people wrote about in the comments. Here you know you’ve gotta find the root cause things, this may help but there’s a reason so feel free to reach out to Justin, his website is justinhealth.com. He works with people all around the world, so it doesn’t matter where you’re listening, you can get help and if you want to reach out to me, my site is evanbrand.com, we look forward to helping you. Wwe are very blessed to be able to help people and to put this in the toolbox because your doctor down the street, they don’t know anything about flow tanks so you’re never gonna get recommended that if you have pain, you’re gonna get a painkiller, if you have anxiety you’re gonna get an anti-anxiety med, we say no, that’s not the root cause it’s not a deficiency of pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: Exactly then we’ll give our friend a plug down in Austin. He’s over at the Zero Gravity Institute. I’ve gone there many times, is that, what, it’s zero gravity, right?
Evan Brand: Yes, Kevin, hello Kevin, if you, I talk to Kevin, like I don’t know a year ago and he and he’s like, man, you know he’s like you, know I still listen to every episode of your podcast, don’t you, and I’m like, oh great, so Kevin if you’re listening, hello, thank you so much, I hope you’re doing well and I miss floating out there at your place. It’s verym very awesome and high-tech, so go visit him if you’re in Austin, Texas.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: Yeah zerogravityinstitute.com, we’ll put it in the show notes if you go in there and let them know that we referred you guys in, and I hope you guys enjoy it and just kind of put this as one other tool in your metabolic toolbox to improve your health and get you guys functioning as optimally as possible.
Evan Brand: Good chat, take care.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani: Evan, have a good one. You guys take care and also I’ll be back for a live Q&A in just a bit , so if you guys want to hang out maybe thirty minutes to an hour, I’ll be back to answer some questions and to dive deeper in to help you guys improve your health. You guys take care, we’ll talk soon. See you later, bye.
Evan Brand: Bye.