Health alert: Floating for physical and mental health

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -- Logan Conti's journey towards float therapy started seven years ago when he enlisted in the United States Army.

"The day I graduated, June 5, 2009," says the Cosby High School graduate.

Conti ended up in the war zone not long after finishing boot camp and other training.

"It's a very sudden shock to the system, you know, when you wake up one morning, talk to somebody and then the next morning you wake up and you're told they're not there anymore," Conti recalls.

He has been battling post-traumatic stress disorder since his time in the Middle East but finds peace with floating.

"I call it my mental scrubbing, if you will," Conti describes.  "When you have so much stress that you just need to be, like, 'Hey, I gotta figure something out,' this is what I do. I come and float."

Float therapy originated in the 1950's at the National Institutes of Health, where Dr. John C. Lilly developed sensory deprivation tanks.  The practice fell out of popularity in the 1980's, but now what is old is new again.

Tanks filled with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt and warm, filtered water allow people to lie back and become buoyant.

"We've had a lot of people amazed at how good they feel physically when they come out," explains Dr. David Berv, who has operated Richmond's Back In Action chiropractic clinic since 1998.

Dr. Berv recently opened Float Zone after personally experiencing the benefits of float therapy; he used it as an alternative to back surgery.

Dr. Berv recommends floating to ease chronic pain, stress and sleep issues or to increase mindfulness and athletic performance.

"Anything that's going to help you kinda center yourself, you know, be a little bit more in the moment is going to help any athlete," says Mike Callahan, a midfielder with the Richmond Kickers.

Callahan used floating as part of his recovery from a concussion in May.

"For me, it helped quiet everything down," Callahan remembers.

Laura Giles, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Henrico, has seen many of her clients benefit from float therapy because it counteracts effects of an overstimulated society.

"Our lives are just so stressful.  The alarm clock waking us up, the traffic, the noise, the electronic stimulation. Our brains are bombarded all the time," Giles says.  "When you get into a float tank, there's nothing to see, there's nothing to feel, there's nothing to hear, and so your brain can just shut down."

Adds Dr. Berv, "So many people come in with the rush of daily life, and then they leave feeling so relaxed and it lasts for days.  A lot of people come out with a lot of inspiration and creativity, as well as relaxation."

Research has found those benefits and more, but there are some reports of people getting anxious in the tank.

Dr. Berv says that is why modern tanks leave the option of keeping the lid open and floating with or without lights and music.

"It's like sitting in the perfect bath," Conti illustrates.

Most studies on float therapy found it takes about three sessions for individuals to reach their fullest relaxed state.

Conti agrees, crediting float therapy for helping him get past a plateau in his PTSD treatment.

"It's kinda like a combination of mental health and physical health," he says.  "It always starts with you, and this is a great way to just start working on you."

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