A health practice birthed in the early 1950s is catching on in Salem.
Flotation therapy was developed by John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuro- psychiatrist who studied the effect of sensory deprivation on the human brain and mind. What he found was that taking a break away from gravity in a float tank releases endorphins — nature's pain relievers — and is a salve for stress.
“Floating is a sensory deprivation in that it allows your mind and body to get a chance for rest,” says Joe Thomas, owner of Soak Float Center in Salem. “You are in an environment without distractions or stimuli.”
Thomas has been into sports his whole life — snowboarding, mountain biking, and racing dirt bikes motocross and off-road endurance racing. He ran events for Nike, giving him time to focus on racing all over the West Coast. And then he hit a snag.
In June 2015, Thomas was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident while racing at Portland International Raceway. The collision broke his shoulder, back and every rib on his left side, collapsed both lungs, and severed 40 percent of his left lung, requiring its surgical removal. After a week on life support and several surgeries later, Thomas faced an extensive and painful time of recovery that consumed his life.
“A friend mentioned flotation therapy,” Thomas says of floating, a therapy he dismissed as something for other people — meditators, yoga enthusiasts, Zen seekers — but not for him.
“But I was willing to try anything to seek the slightest relief,” he adds.
After his first float, Thomas was able to sleep more than he had slept in three months. And after several more sessions, the magnitude of relief he felt was so powerful that he wanted to share the concept. In August 2016, Thomas opened his own float center, with state-of-the- art float tanks and a heart to help others.
According to Thomas, a float tank is essentially a spa tub, holding about 10 inches of water, saturated with 1,110 pounds of medical grade Epsom salt, creating “a solution more buoyant that the Dead Sea.”
“Epsom salt is a natural, pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate, two of the most important minerals in our body,” Thomas says. “The pain relief from the magnesium in the Epsom salt helps with inflammation and pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia.”
Floating is said to also help relieve discomfort related to pregnancy, sports injuries, headaches/migraines, and other painful conditions.
As the mind unwinds, brain waves shift from beta to alpha, theta and even delta, restoring sound sleep, diminishing depression, fear and anxiety, improving concentration and memory, and increasing creativity and learning.
The 90-minute process is simple, Thomas says.
“You shower in your own private room then step into a pool of water filled with Epsom salt,” he says. “This makes you pop up to the surface of the water like a cork. The water is set to your skin temperature around 94 degrees. All of this allows you to not have to process gravity.”
Water is completely recirculated at least three times between each float through a 1 or 10 micron particulate filter, and then treated with a combination of a germicidal UV lamp, ozone and hydrogen peroxide.
Prices range from $65 for an individual float, to $110 for twice a month, and $1,560 for a yearly membership that offers 52 floats. Go to soakfloatcenter.com for tips, more pricing and other information.