Floating as a tool for learning

Give full attention to learning, absorb knowledge more quickly, and understand more deeply

The float environment is a powerful tool for enhancing learning, which can be used in several complementary ways.

Firstly, the deep relaxation that results from the float experience fosters a calm mind.  When your mind is calm you are able to give full attention to the materials you are learning from, and to absorb and retain the knowledge more readily.  The cumulative effect of regular floating empowers you to study effectively, and can aid in exam preparations by reducing stress.

Secondly, the silent darkness of the float environment offers a place and time uniquely free of distractions.  Sometimes sustained, undivided attention is required to be able to really understand.

Thirdly, the float tank itself is the ideal place to study.   When suspended weightless in the darkness the brain enters a highly receptive state.  It becomes ‘hungry for stimulus’ so that when a stimulus is provided, a maximum intensity of attention occurs.  By playing audio recordings in the tank information can be absorbed faster, understood more deeply, and retained more clearly.

A great example of this is documented by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal in their book ‘Stealing Fire’.  They gained unprecedented access to the training programme of the US Navy Sea Air Land teams (SEALs).  In the SEALs’ headquarters in Norfolk Virginia is a facility called the Mind Gym, packed with a whole host of cutting edge tools to train their people to the maximum extent possible, including a suite of float tanks.  The SEALs worked with researchers at Advanced Brain Monitoring in Carlsbad California to understand how to use the float environment for accelerated learning.

By using the float tank to eliminate all distractions and stimulate specific brainwave states, the SEALS have been able to cut the time it takes to learn a foreign language down from six months to six weeks.  This, along with the prevalence of floatation in the training programmes of elite athletes and sportspeople, is another example of how successful practical application by those who really care about peak performance is outstripping peer-reviewed research.  If you want to know what really works, the people to watch are those whose lives depend on getting it right.

However, the work of the navy SEALs does build on a body of scientific research into the effect of deep relaxation on learning, and some interesting studies specifically using float tanks.

As described in his paper “Learning Studies for Higher Cognitive Levels in a Short-term Sensory Isolation Environment” , back in 1982 Thomas E Taylor conducted a rigorously controlled experiment into the effects of floating on learning ability.  Michael Hutchison discussed his fascinating work in ‘The Book of Floating’.

Taylor selected a cohort of 40 subjects from a total of 450 volunteers to be as similar as possible, eliminating many variables including gender, age, dominant hand, ethnicity, weight, physical activity, EEG patterns, and even the stage of their menstrual cycle.  The control group listened to a 75 minute tape while lying on a sofa in a quiet darkened room, with the other group listening to the same recording while floating in the tank.  The two groups were then tested on three measures: recall of facts, ability to apply the knowledge, and the ability to synthesise the knowledge to come up with an original solution to a problem.

The floating group performed better on all three measures, but interestingly they outstripped the performance of the control group most dramatically on the most complex task: that of synthesising the knowledge into a new idea.

“There’s no question that the experimental group learned more, but where they learned is the most important point.  People who floated learned at a different cognitive level.  The results show that the more difficult the concept, the bigger the difference in performance of the two groups” said Taylor.

Learning is not limited to the intellectual, however.  The power of visualisation while floating to improve physical skills is well documented, especially among sportspeople.

If you want to get up to speed on something new to you, floatation can empower you to do it quickly and comprehensively.  Whether you are preparing for a test, learning a language, a musical instrument, getting up to speed in a new role, or exploring a new sphere of human knowledge just for the fun of it, floating gives you the headspace to really grok the subject matter on a deep level.

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