Every single day seems to bring reminders that it is a really tough time to be in law enforcement. It has always been a profession that wears on the mind, body, and soul. But you don't need me to tell you how deep the stress runs right now. This is why I write these articles about maximizing your performance and advocating that you devote some time to purposefully recovering from the demands of the job.
To this end, when I run across anything that I think can help you — especially about recovery — I like to share what I have learned. I have found a way for you to spend some time decompressing from the rigors of the job that actually requires you to do nothing at all. Can you even imagine doing nothing? If not, let's discuss floating.
What the H*ll is Floating?
That's the typical response I receive from my brothers and sisters in blue when I ask them if they have tried floating. The less blunt people just give me that inquisitive look mixed with a hint of skepticism as they invite me to tell them about floating. That's always fun.
Here is what I tell them . . . floating occurs in a pod or chamber that is filled with approximately 10 inches of water that contains around 1,000 pounds of dissolved Epsom salt. This is called a flotation tank or a sensory deprivation tank. The air and water in these tanks is heated to skin temperature and, generally, the chamber is absent of light and sound. As the user, you simply lie supine in the tank while the salt water buoys your body. You float on top of the water for approximately 45 minutes to an hour. During this time, your body feels weightless so, in essence, it has nothing to "do," and the perfectly balanced temperature combined with the absence of light and sound mean that your senses have nothing to "do" either. As a result, you can purely and deeply relax.
Right now, you may be thinking that your mind would run wild if your body and your senses had nothing to do. But, I can assure you that my first experience with the flotation tank was much better than I could ever have anticipated. I felt truly weightless and relaxed. It did take several minutes for my mind to quiet down, but, once it did, the experience was like a floating meditation. As a 35-year meditation practitioner, I know that meditation can be hard to understand, learn and continue to practice. I left my first floating session convinced that the flotation tank can assist you with getting to that quiet place in your mind. Additionally, I slept deeply that night, and I experienced a great sense of well-being that continued into the next day. This continues to be my experience when I float.
In fact, I benefited from the experience so much that I recommended it to a fellow veteran law enforcement officer who is also a good friend of mine. Now he goes floating even more than me. He purposely schedules his time in the tank on his first day off at the end of his long work week. This practice helps him to reset and de-stress before enjoying his days off with his wife. He has told me that he loves the tank and will continue the practice even after retirement.
The Proven Benefits of Floating
Before planning my first floating visit, I did my research by reading the relevant literature, watching video interviews with experts, and speaking to sports scientists. I learned that the sensory deprivation tank has been around since the late 1950s. Neuroscientist John C. Lilly, M.D., is credited with creating the first isolation tank where he studied the benefits of floating in isolation. Since then, there have been a plethora of anecdotal and scientifically backed studies that have analyzed the benefits of using the flotation tank. This information shows that floating:
- Reduces stress
- Improves sleep
- Reduces anxiety
- Decreases pain
- Enhances the feeling of well-being
- Assists with relaxation
- Reduces blood pressure
- Balances the autonomic nervous system
- Assists with recovery
Through my research, I also learned that many professional and collegiate athletes use the flotation tank to help relax muscles, reduce tension, lessen stress, and assist with their overall recovery process. In addition, members of the elite military community have been utilizing the flotation tank to assist with resetting their sleep patterns and helping them recover from the effects of concussions. Flotation therapy has enjoyed incredible reviews from both camps.
Making Floating a Part of Your Recovery Regimen
With all this said, I realize that not everyone in law enforcement has access to a place that offers flotation tanks. Even though the practice has been around for decades and is used by elite athletes and military members, it has only been working its way into the mainstream for about 10 years. But, as my wife says, flotation centers are like cupcake stores and CrossFit boxes—they used to be a novelty and then, before you knew it, there were several within driving distance.
So, if you do have access to a flotation center or one ends up coming to your area in the near future, schedule an appointment that you think would best maximize your recovery process, whether it is on a day off or right after your shift. My nearest float center has extended hours that help with the law enforcement lifestyle. They schedule appointments in one-hour and 15-minute increments, and they are open from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., seven days a week.
Also, know that floating is not inexpensive and that the price for a float session varies depending upon the float center. Your personal budget will determine if this is something you can implement once a week or once a month. Additionally, you need to decide if the benefits are worthy of your time and money. But I have learned that once my peers experience the benefits of floating, they always find the time and the money to float at least every now and then.
Jeff Nichols, an exercise physiologist who is a former Navy Seal, suggests having zero expectations and committing to a couple of sessions just to get used to being in the flotation tank before you decide if floating is right for you or not. He also recommends that people float for a little while then get out, take a shower, and get back in the tank again. He says that this will help you to get adjusted to this new experience. This is a solid plan. That said, whatever works for you is OK.
Recovery Starts Now
Though proper recovery methods are not currently a priority in the law enforcement community, I believe they will be in time with more awareness and education. The use of the flotation tank may be your first step, or perhaps another effective step, in that crucial direction. Give it a try and share your experiences with your co-workers. There's not a more important time than right now to stress the importance of recovery.
Special thanks to Melissa Ryan who assisted in the preparation and writing of this column.
George Ryan is a sergeant with a major Southern California agency. He spent over 17 years in SWAT, and he created his department's Peak Performance and Recovery Training program.