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On the Floor at Float Conference 2015

Spilling out from a large performance hall in Portland State University, among food trucks, organic produce stands, psychedelic light therapy machines (courtesy of Traveling Light and their Lucia N3, who we hosted last year), ergonomic resonant sound therapy beds (courtesy of Biosound™, who we may be hosting later this year keepaneyeout), an array of new and old float tank, pod and chamber designs from space age to utilitarian, neuroscientists, entrepreneurs, small business owners, alternative practitioners and the generally curious, Float Conference 2015 was in full effect. I grabbed my name tag and swag bag from the registration desk on Friday afternoon, caught up with the transportive Lucia light machine and then took a test run on the Biosound™ bed, operated by 38 year float tank design veteran Dave Seefelt (the designer of the float rooms we have at Oakland Floats). Biosound therapy is an integration of biofeedback, music therapy, and resonant sound massage. It’s an incredibly comfortable chair/bed full of low frequency speakers teamed with noise canceling headphones, a heart-rate monitor and a large screen where you can watch graphs of your stress levels in real time. It was thoroughly enjoyable and extremely relaxing, but I couldn’t help but want them and the light machine people to build a hybrid device and let me listen to my record collection on there. Maybe some day. With a taster to de-stress from air travel and kick off the conference, I time traveled in real time to Saturday morning and the beginning of the conference proper.

The most exciting element of the conference were the presentations from floatation therapy researchers contemporary and veteran, illuminating the history and data obtained from academic research into REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) and delving into fascinating preliminary research from some of the first serious float tank research conducted in decades. Dr. Peter Suedfeld, one of the pioneering REST researchers and former Head of the Department of Psychology of the University of British Columbia highlighted the measured and documented beneficial effects of floating from studies past, before segueing into the present and future of float and REST research. Among the documented and quantifiable benefits of floating are: reduced pain, improved muscle tone, improved muscle control, improved muscle range, reduced stress and tension, lowered blood pressure, treatment for work burnout and improved creativity. Dr. Suedfeld pointed out that these outcomes were tested side by side with a series of control tests that strongly indicate floating is most definitely not just a placebo. Research also indicated REST improves memory recall and cognitive performance and even strengthened the improvisational abilities of jazz musicians. At the end of his talk, Dr. Suedfeld stressed the importance of only touting the measured benefits of floating and avoiding grandiose anecdotal claims. The documented and measured benefits of floating are impressive and applicable enough that it is detrimental and misleading to exaggerate or promote the practice with unverified information. In no means is this meant to discredit, ignore or invalidate the fantastic experiences floaters have reported after sessions, but that until research into other areas is more conclusive, let the tall tales be told by customers but not the practitioners and proprietors.

After Dr. Suedfeld, lunch and a bustling labyrinthine journey through the strange, wonderful and sometimes consternating world of the Portland Farmers Market were talks from Dr. Justin Feinstein, Dr. Sahib Khalsa and Dr. Kyle Simmons from the Float Clinic and Research Center regarding their current and ongoing research into floating. Dr. Feinstein opened the Float Clinic and Research Center in the Laureate Institute of Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma. With an incredible state of the art float facility, Dr. Feinstein and colleagues are mapping out the mind body connection as well as the future of float research. What Feinstein, Khalsa and Simmons are aiming to uncover are exactly how the mental and physical effects of floating work, as well as exploring its potential for treating anxiety, depression, addiction and other psychiatric disorders. The word of the day was “interoception,” how the body senses internal processes. Preliminary research indicates that many psychiatric disorders may be caused by or exacerbated by interrupted or “noisy” interoception. Dr. Sahib Khalsa, who asserts that floating is actually a form of “sensory enhancement” rather than “sensory deprivation” suggested that perhaps through floating, the body’s internal signals are amplified, posing potentially significant therapeutic uses for floating in the future.

Dr. Feinstein and the Float Clinic an Research Center are still just getting stared and it was captivating to hear the territory they aim their research to uncover in the next few years. As floating continues to grow in public awareness and popularity, it is very encouraging that research both old and new brings into focus and illuminates the benefits that floating can have for everybody.

Perusing through notes and pictures, there was much more to the float conference than summed up here. Perhaps I should float and try to put the rest together. In the mean time, Oakland Floats has many new developments in the works to watch out for.

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