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Stressed out? UT researcher suggests floating as a way to relax

A University of Toledo mental health counselor says that people aren’t taking time to relax and enjoy life these days, in particular during the hectic holiday season.

While that might seem like nothing new, Thomas Fine, associate professor of psychiatry, said floating is making a comeback as an alternative mode of relaxation.

Thomas Fine

Thomas Fine

“If you are looking for ways to deal with stress, I would consider floating as a stress management activity,” Fine said. “Floating is so relaxing. The buoyance of the water allows your muscles to relax. As your muscles relax, your mind begins to shut off.”

Fine, who started researching flotation in the 1970s with UT colleague John Turner, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, said that it is promising that this once “hippie thing” is gaining credence as a possible source of relaxation. Fine was recently quoted in a TIME magazine article about floating as a therapy for distress.

Through the ’90s, Fine and Turner published studies on floating. Scientifically known as floatation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (REST), their studies looked at subjects who participated in eight 40-minute float sessions in salt water at skin temperature.

“In several studies we saw improvements in blood pressure, mood, pain and muscle tension as a result of the regular experience of deep relaxation that accompanies frequent floatation experiences ,” Fine said.

floatation-tankIsolation tanks, which are lightless and soundproof, designed for floatation relaxation are as close as metro Detroit.

“Interestingly enough, people want to relax, but don’t want to take the time to relax or make the drive to experience the best relaxation of their life,” Fine said. “What makes our research still relevant today is that the stress that humans are experiencing continues to ramp up as we become more immersed in technology. When I first started studying floating, we didn’t have smartphones or emails. We could go on vacation without having to check in at work or respond to questions or concerns. We live in a world filled with stress and overstimulation.”

Fine, who presented at the Portland Float Conference in August 2015, recognizes that not everyone will be able to experience an isolation tank, but yoga and meditation are activities that can produce similar results.

“You could also get into bed and put a pillow under your head and a pillow under your knees and lie there with no light and no sound for 30 minutes,” he said. “If you did that, you would be starting to approach the deep relaxation experienced by those who float.”


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