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A sensory deprivation tank is the best way to shut out all of your senses. It is a soundproof dark “pool” with water that has over 350Kg (~770 pounds) of epsom salt dissolved into it in order to improve floating. Users report seeing hallucinations and even “beings” from other universes. It’s very similar to a psychedelic trip.

This is the description of sensory deprivation tanks that I came across while scrolling through my Facebook feed at work earlier this week. Interesting, huh? Couple this sales pitch with a picture of a sweet futuristic looking pod and this concept definitely had my attention. I began to research the topic with an unusual level of excitement as some of the ailments it claimed to alleviate were some of the same things that I myself suffer from—chronic stress, migraines, insomnia, and joint pain, just to name a few. Some studies even say that more serious ailments like fibromyalgia and bone degradation could be helped through flotation therapy.

Besides these medical claims, many “floaters” said that they had experienced periods of deep thought and creativity while in the tank and that frequent floating often led to a more positive outlook on life. Better relationships, increased biofeedback, higher awareness—the whole nine yards. For obvious reasons, some of these more emotional claims raised my eyebrows more than  a few times.

I’m a pessimist and extremely skeptical of anything that promises to alleviate stress, cure my insomnia, or enlarge my penis. Ok, the last one might not have been promised by any of the studies that I managed to find, but you get my drift. This whole thing screamed new-age, homeopathic, incense-burning, Birkenstock-wearing nonsense. But hey, I’m a writer who is open to new experiences and the process was definitely interesting, even if it was not a viable form of therapy. So I made my appointment and I prepared to lay in a salty tub for an hour and a half and maybe catch a quick nap before writing an incredibly dismissive article. All in a day’s work, my friends.

The Day Of My Session

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I pulled up to Float Nashville around 30 minutes before my session was scheduled to begin. The parking lot and the office building I found myself sitting in front of was fairly nice. Nothing like the strip mall/truck stop massage parlor environment that I had expected. I took a couple of pictures in front of the sign, looked inside the lobby, and even got back into my car for a few moments in order to make sure that I had my game plan put together.

  1. I wouldn’t get out of the tub, no matter what. Everything I had researched said that the complete isolation from all noise, light, and other stimulus was extremely important in order to get the maximum experience.
  2. I would keep an open mind during my session. My personal bias and general dislike of what I perceive to be alternative medicine or treatments shouldn’t interfere with my time in the tank.
  3. I would be up front and honest with the establishment in letting them know that I would be writing about the “floating” experience.

After going through all of these little notes I had managed to scribble down and a little bit of deep breathing, I walked into the building and checked into my appointment.

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Upon entering the building, I was immediately offered water, tea, snacks, and various other little treats that were supposed to make me feel comfortable as I waited for my appointment. The receptionist was courteous and seemed to be really enthusiastic about the whole idea of flotation therapy. I was pleasantly surprised at the welcoming environment but I was still trying to look and listen for anything that would give me an idea as to how this process affected the people that do it regularly.

As I filled out the forms and signed some safety waivers, the 3 rooms behind me suddenly all opened up and three very wet and very happy looking people exited. Each one of them then paid (it was a bit odd that a service like this wouldn’t require payment up front) and then left. The receptionist immediately jumped into the double duty of teaching me how to get into the tank. After closing the door, I was all alone. Just me and this big tank of salty water.

Putting two large globs of wax into my ear in order to better insulate myself from any outside noise, I took a quick shower to rinse off any hair products, sweat, or natural body oils that might still be clinging to me, opened the tank door, and slid inside.

What Happened Inside The Tank

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The first thing you realize once you get in the tank is that no matter how comfortable you think you might be with small spaces, being inside a lightless box is incredibly confining, both mentally and physically. The first 5-10 minutes are spent basically coming to terms with the fact that your eyes will not adjust to the level of darkness like they might in a dark room in your house or even walking around outside on a pitch black night.

The water, only about 10-12 inches deep, is actually very comfortable. Heated to skin temperature, getting into the water is comparable to stepping into a very well-heated outdoor swimming pool. As the water is saturated with hundreds of pounds of epsom salt, the smell is almost neutral and after spending a few minutes in the tank, the only sensation you have is the feeling of the water running across your body when you make any quick movements.

Once you settle in and realize that you don’t have to try to float, the experience quickly turns from an uneasy act of coordination with a bit of anxiety to a very calm and totally isolating experience. Your heartbeat and your own breathing are all that are left to distract you from your own thoughts. And if you’re a talkative or extroverted person like me, those thoughts can be pretty loud.

Now that I was comfortable and starting to relax my muscles, the tank turned from a very physical place into an extremely mental place within a matter of minutes. “Should I have eaten today? Will my stomach and my appetite ruin this entire session? How can I get lost in a magical world of consciousness and psychedelia when all I can think about is going to Red Lobster and eating a huge lunch? I mean, shrimp scampi with…wait a minute, hold on.” That’s when something extremely strange happened inside my own head.

I suddenly could very clearly see the first dish that one of my uncles had ever taught me how to make almost 13 years ago—shrimp scampi. I could remember the kitchen that we had stood in, the ingredients we used, hell, I could even remember the design that was painted onto the inside of the dish that we used while we were making the scampi. The dish, the smell of my grandmother’s house, the table that I was forced to sit at with the other kids while the adults ate in the other room. All these things flooded the inside of my mind with insane clarity.

From my own best estimate, I had probably been in the tank for about 20-25 minutes at this point. I can only really relate the experience in one way that I think will help make sense of it. If you’ve ever been on the internet and clicked on an interesting link, only to find something on that page that interests you, and that process going on and on and on until you end up far away from what you were originally thinking about—that is the exact same thing that your brain does when you’re in the tank. Connections between events, people, places, and smells all start becoming incredibly strong and lead your mind down a really odd path.

This exploration of my mind and of my memories continued throughout the remainder of my floating session. Without anything to look at, touch, hear, or smell, my brain seemed to be trying to find some other way to entertain me or at least provide some sort of stimulus. For what seemed like days, I thought extremely hard about some long-forgotten portions of my life. From childhood friends, old TV shows and movies I enjoyed, favorite vacations and social events—nothing was off the table and most surprisingly, I didn’t want anything to be off the table. It’s an extremely rare occasion for me to not have my phone, another person, or a television to keep me occupied and with this experience, my own own mind was forced to do the work of all those things and more.

After what seemed like 3 days, a low humming tone of soft music reverberated through the tank and signaled for me that it was time to get out, shower off, and get back to the real world.

The Final Verdict On Sensory Deprivation Tanks And Floating

I didn’t see any beings from another dimension or planet. I didn’t hallucinate or come to a higher state of being. I didn’t find God or Buddha or anything like that. But a few really cool things did happen while I was in the tank.

Besides being fully relaxed for the first time in I don’t even know how long, I was able to really get inside my own head and separate myself from the daily drag of everyday life. As simple as that might sound, this feeling of isolation and general comfort with my own thoughts is, at least for me, something very hard to attain in a world as fast paced and attention-grabbing as the one we live in. After leaving the tank, I felt refreshed, energized, and more positive than I did when I went in.

Now, whether or not the medical benefits of flotation therapy and/or sensory deprivation tanks are all completely true or backed up by science is still being argued about by medical professionals. The one thing that is proven by science is that stress and anxiety are harmful for the human body and mind in general and that reducing it can greatly benefit your health. Knowing that, if my experience inside the tank is anything remotely similar to others (you can read more like mine here) than there is no doubt in my mind that floating in a sensory deprivation tank does just that.

Food

How to get the ball rolling on eating healthier

You may want to start eating healthier, but getting the ball rolling can be an uphill endeavor.

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Make a List

Make a list

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When you get hungry, the last thing you feel like doing is running down a mental list of available healthy foods to eat. That’s why you probably end up grabbing whatever is closest to you and chowing down, vowing to start eating healthy tomorrow.

Instead, sit down and make a list of foods that you determine to be healthiest for you and your goals. Don’t just write a shopping list. Make a list of actual meals that you can prepare and eat. Include what day you’re going to have them, and what time. The more prepared you are when hunger strikes, the more likely you will be to have something ready without having to think too hard about it.

Buy a Cookbook

 

Cookbook

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Flipping through a cookbook with enticing photographs of healthy food will get you inspired to start eating healthy. Buy a cookbook or two that has nothing but healthy food recipes. Make sure it has a photo for every recipe, so you can visualize yourself dining on the healthy options. Put bookmarks on pages that really make you want to get up and start cooking. These are the dishes that will offer you the best motivation to start your new healthy eating plan. Alternatively, you can create your own cookbook by searching around the internet for healthy recipes and saving them to your phone or computer.

Buy Some New Clothes

Clothing store

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Wearing the same clothes every day when you already feel unattractive can keep you in a negative rut that’s hard to get out of. Put on your favorite pair of jeans, jacket, whatever, and go shopping for some new clothes. Buy a few that fit you now, and something special that you can work toward fitting into after you’ve achieved your weight goal. The change will help you to see yourself as someone new and fresh who is capable of switching eating habits for the better.

Stop Looking in the Mirror

Girl looking in mirror

StockSnap / Pixabay

If your appearance really gets you down, stop obsessing over your flaws in the mirror. Seriously, you don’t need a visual examination over every wrinkle or bulge. Just stop looking in the mirror, get dressed, and be on your merry way. Wait at least a month before you give yourself a once over again. This time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, instead of walking away thinking how bad you look.

Buy a Cool Scale

Smart scale with tape measure

mojzagrebinfo / Pixabay

If you’re trying to lose weight (or even gain weight), having a cool scale will make the process easier to measure progress. Get yourself a digital scale that measures ounces as well as pounds. They even have scales that speak your weight, if that’s what you need to keep motivated to eat healthier. Just don’t weigh yourself every day, because daily fluctuations in weight are normal, and have little to do with your eating habits. If you gain a couple ounces after eating healthy all day, you could lose motivation to continue to eat healthy. Every three days or so is sufficient to track your progress and measure your results.

Choose Restaurants With Healthy Food

Healthy food on restaurant table

StockSnap / Pixabay

If cooking isn’t your thing, choose some local restaurants that serve healthy foods with wholesome ingredients. Keep a list of these restaurants at hand so that when you come home late from work and don’t feel like cooking, you’ll have a backup plan that doesn’t involve Domino’s Pizza.

Invest in Partitioned Storage Containers

Plastic food storage container

MMT / Pixabay

If you’re short on time like most of us, you need some quick options for meals every now and then. Invest in some portioned storage containers so you can make your own version of TV dinners. Instead of pudding and mashed potatoes, fill them with things like brown rice, steamed broccoli, and turkey breast. Prepare them ahead of time and stack in your refrigerator or freezer. Just pop one in the microwave when all you can think about is flopping on the couch in front of the television.

The key to getting the ball rolling to start eating healthier is to be prepared. When you stock up on the tools that will help you reach your goals, get ready for instances when there’s no time to cook, and be kind to yourself by not obsessing over your image, you stand a pretty good chance of improving your eating habits for good.

 

WATCH: Tips for Getting Your Significant-Other to Eat Healthier

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Health

Is Coffee Good or Bad for You? Myth vs. Fact

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THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

If you Google “coffee+health” and click on a random result, there’s about an equal chance you’ll be told it’s either bad for your health or that it significantly reduces your risk of some disease or other. So it’s understandable that there’s a lot of confusion about whether you should or shouldn’t be having your beloved morning cup of Joe.

The trouble is, both sides of the argument have the backing of scientific research. So what’s the truth—is coffee good or bad for us? Let’s find out by taking a look at some of the big claims:

Coffee Is Addictive

This is true to some extent, but not to the point where it would cause you the same problems as, say, alcohol or heroin. It all hinges on whether there’s some form of chemical dependence there, or whether people just drink coffee out of habit. In some cases, long-term users who attempt to give up coffee may experience withdrawal symptoms such as headache and lethargy, which might compel them to keep drinking the stuff. But the research says that coffee simply doesn’t fit the criteria to be labelled an addictive substance.

Coffee Can Help With Weight Loss

Yep, this one is true. There is plenty of evidence that caffeine consumption temporarily boosts thermogenesis (metabolism), and studies like this one show that it can increase fat burning by as much as 10-29 percent. Plus, the nervous energy you get from coffee means you’ll be more likely to drag your ass off the couch and get some exercise. With that said, don’t be fooled into thinking that more is better. Too much caffeine can cause insomnia, anxiety, adrenal fatigue and a range of other nasty side-effects.

Coffee Causes Cancer and Other Diseases

This is almost certainly myth. In fact, our most up-to-date research shows that coffee can actually help improve or protect against conditions like type 2 diabetes, liver cancer and Parkinson’s disease. The misconception about coffee and disease probably comes from the fact that previous research neglected to take associated high-risk behaviours like smoking and lack of physical activity into account, but we know better now. Too much coffee will certainly lead to negative side effects, but life-threatening diseases? Nope.

So what’s the verdict then—is coffee good or bad for you? First of all, I don’t agree with the belief held by some that drinking coffee is not a health decision; disregarding the impact it has on your physiology is simply not wise. However, unless you’re drinking silly amounts of it every day or you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine, the effect coffee has on your longevity is probably going to be quite marginal.

If you’re not a coffee drinker but you’re considering getting into it for the health benefits, I’d say don’t bother. There are far more meaningful changes you could make, such as cleaning up your diet, upping your exercise, or even substituting green tea instead. If you are a coffee drinker, just make sure you’re not using it as an energy crutch—stick to 1-2 cups max early in the day, and go decaf after that.

Q: What’s your take on the whole coffee and health argument? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

David CarrollDavid Carroll is a freelance writer, self-published author, and chief health-nut at thepaleotoolkit.com. Outside of work, he loves hurling (an amazing Irish sport), playing video games and hanging out with his dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidAshCarroll) and Google+.

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Health

Scientists Develop New Type of Cell That Could Revolutionize the Treatment of Heart Disease

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THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

Heart disease has consistently been one of the biggest killers of both men and women, with hundreds of thousands of families losing loved ones to the condition every year. But now a new study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell has identified a possible breakthrough in the treatment of heart disease, offering hope to anyone suffering from a dodgy ticker. The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Gladstones Institutes, who have discovered a way to make a remarkable new type of cell that could help damaged hearts repair themselves.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is overworked or the supply of oxygen is too low. A sudden attack can cause the loss of huge amounts of important muscle cells known as cardiomyocytes (CMs). These CMs cannot regenerate by themselves, nor can they be replaced because transplanted heart cells tend not to survive in the patient’s body. As you can imagine, this makes the treatment of heart disease quite tricky; since heart cells can’t regenerate or be replaced, the damage is usually irreversible. “Scientists have tried for decades to treat heart failure by transplanting adult heart cells, but these cells cannot reproduce themselves, and so they do not survive in the damaged heart,” said Yu Zhang, MD, PhD, one of the lead authors of the study.

To overcome this dilemma, the team investigated the possibility of regenerating the heart using progenitors—stem cells that have already been programmed to develop into a specific type of cell. In this case, they targeted cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs), which are produced as the heart begins to form within the embryo. Using a revolutionary technique, the team were able to produce CPCs in the lab and halt their development so the cells remained effectively “frozen” until use. They called these lab-grown cells “induced expandable CPCs,” or ieCPCs.

Unlike adult heart cells, ieCPCs have the ability to replicate. If transplanted successfully, they could replace a patient’s damaged heart cells and possibly continue to self-repair. “Our generated ieCPCs can prolifically replicate and reliably mature into the three types of cells in the heart, which makes them a very promising potential treatment for heart failure,” said Zhang. To test this theory, the team injected some of the cells into a mouse that had suffered a heart attack. Remarkably, most of the cells transformed into functioning heart cells, generating new muscle tissue and blood vessels and improving the mouse’s overall heart function.

So what does all this mean for the treatment of heart disease? Well, it’s definitely big news. The cells used to treat the mouse were derived from skin cells, which means a patient’s own cells could potentially be used to treat their heart disease. The next step is to try and form human ieCPCs in the lab, and then follow up with human trials to see if the method is as effective. All going well, this could be a viable treatment for heart disease patients within the next few years.

Q: Is this the most important breakthrough yet in the field of heart disease research? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Copyright 2016 David Carroll

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