“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
Also known as Isolation Therapy, Float Therapy, Sensory Deprivation Therapy, REST stands for Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy and is typically experienced while floating in a warm, salt-saturated water in an enclosed tank without, or with very minimal, exposure to any other stimuli such as sights or sounds. This modern-day healing and rejuvenation method began as a series of experiments by the neuroscientist and psychologist John Lilly, with the purpose of understanding the impacts of stimuli on our mind and our sub consciousness.
Throughout the course of the studies, several unintended benefits began to emerge such as relaxed state, de-stressing, reduced anxiety, pain relief and much more. Subsequent studies showed an increase in creativity amongst musicians, improved accuracy of performance in test taking, and stress relief in the majority of those undergoing this therapy, just to name a few.
In its most current and typical iteration, REST is performed in an enclosed large floatation tank, with water being kept at a constant comfortable warm temperature – typically at a degree which does not require muscle activity to generate additional body warmth. Participants float on their backs (less typically on their stomachs with face propped on elbows), which allows for muscle relaxation and relieves pressure throughout the body.
Physically, the floating body experiences reduced blood pressure while the blood flow increases. Levels of stress hormone cortisol are also reduced, promoting a relaxed, blissful state. The water used in REST, or floats, is saturated with Epsom salts with an extremely high concentration, which leads to increased buoyancy and density, and allows the head to rest well above water contact line. The high content of magnesium in the water helps correct magnesium deficiencies by being absorbed through the skin, at the same time leaving the skin smooth and silky past the float experience.
However, perhaps the most impactful benefits from taking part in REST go beyond the physical experiences. With the elimination of stimuli, the workload on our nervous system is reduced by as much as 90%. The participants feel balanced, weightless and light during the therapy; strong, renewed and empowered afterward. Some REST experts provide an explanation for this using the brain wave analysis research.
When inside the floatation tank, the body quickly loses its spatial orientation. The absence of light and sound, heavy earplugs in ears, contributes to the movement and distance confusion – some may feel as if they are moving in circular motion, or spinning; some may feel like they are floating in a forward motion without any boundaries. The darkness of the tank leads the brain to create new and imagined visual stimuli – swirling shapes, nebulae, lines of varying degrees of darkness. Some report having hallucinations, both visual and auditory. Some drift off to a peaceful sleep. Falling asleep while floating is not dangerous as the buoyancy of the water keeps your head elevated at a safe level.
When we float, our brain waves enter what is known as theta frequencies of 4-7 Hz, which is typically the frequency of REM sleep, dreams, or deeply relaxed hypnosis. When we use that frequency in an awakened state, during the float, we tap into the resources of the brain that are typically unknown to us during our waking times. This enables us to experience deeper consciousness while in a relaxed, open state. Some participants report increased state of mindfulness, feelings of peace and euphoria; some share that these effects last well after the float session is completed.
The tanks vary in shapes and sizes, as well as the surrounding accommodations. Some have the lights and sounds that gradually fade as the session begins, while some cut off stimuli as soon as the participant enters. Some allow the participants to bring their own music to start the session, to add to the feelings of comfort and relaxation. Yet others allow the participant to control whether the lights and the sounds stay on and to what degree of intensity. All have a variation of a “panic button” or a way to end the session should the participant experience signs of discomfort.
After the REST experience, participants report a sense of peace and rest, physically and mentally. They tend to be more aware of the stimuli around them as their senses adjust to the constant signals – for example, a door closing may sound like a slam; the idling car may sound like the engine is revving up; the sun seems brighter etc. Others report a lift in their mood, boost in creativity, ability to put worries aside. That is one of the reasons REST is recommended as an option in a variety of treatment plans – for those with anxiety, PTSD, autism, victims of rape and other violent crimes; those recovering from an addiction or suicide attempt; and much more. The sessions can also be used for a more benign purpose of simply relaxing and disconnecting from the world in a safe, positive environment – and to return to their lives with a renewed sense of self and heightened perception.