Recently after my first floating experience (Click here to read more) my husband and I sat down with Dr. Weissman, the owner of The Chicago Stress Relief Center for a short interview. Following are some of the highlights.
Me: Thank you for agreeing to talk to us. How did you get into this? What was your interest in floating?
Dr. Weissman: When I was 16 years old I floated at the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. All of a sudden I was laying there with my legs up and my head up and I was effortlessly floating.
Many years later when I was living in the city I started floating with my brother at The Space Time Float Center. He was an avid floater and he would always encourage me to go so we’d go together. We had a ritual. We’d float and then we would get sushi. It was great because all of our senses were open after a float. The meal was always extra special, the conversation was extra special. Floating gives you an opportunity to pause, to reboot.
So, getting to your question of how did I get into this, I had a vision of having a more holistic integrated center ever since I became a psychologist. I have a subspecialty in an area called Health Psychology, so I work with people with a variety of different health related conditions. From fibromyalgia to chronic pain, irritable bowel, people with cancer, all kinds of physical challenges that affect the body and therefore the mind.
I specialize in trauma. If you have trauma in the body, and all you have to do is live long enough, and then everybody experiences something traumatic. So we all have trauma in our body. Floating is really the best medicine for trauma.
During my 23 years of practice, I’ve had massage therapists and acupuncturists in my offices. So when I found this location I thought, what could I have here that would be unique, that would help take care of me and my work, and would offer people a real innovative way of shifting their stress? And so I thought, I’m gonna get a float tank. I’m going to bring the Dead Sea to Northbrook. I’m going to give people the opportunity to shift their stress in a natural way. So that was the vision. I had no idea it would take on a life that it did.
Dr. Weissman: Yes. A traumatic stress event shifts the sympathetic nervous system to be like this. (Makes a tight fist) There is constriction going on. And when we are like this, it sets into motion all sorts of problems that lead to a variety of different physical challenges.
It also leads to emotional challenges and sleep disturbances. And so when you lay in that tank and you are in a zero gravity environment and you feel this 93.5 degrees water, it allows you to lose touch with your body in space. You don’t know where your skin begins and where the water ends. And in that place your perceptions begin to blur. And when that happens, the sympathetic nervous system that’s in survival mode does this (relaxes fist).
This is the state of the parasympathetic system, when you relax and let go. It’s what is required for you to fall into sleep. If you have traumatic stress that has not been resolved, your sleep will not be maintained. You have trouble staying asleep, sometimes falling asleep, sometimes both. So this is great for sleep, for insomnia, for trauma, for people who have intrusive thoughts and worries, because it just resets the system. And you drop off, and all of a sudden you might be drooling in there, you might be snoring, or all of a sudden you might get one of these little jerks in there.
Mike: That’s what happened to me.
Dr. Weissman: That’s known as a myoclonic jerk. It takes place around stage 2 sleep. There’s a burst of electrical activity in the brain. It’s called a k-complex.
Mike: That happens to me all the time.
Dr. Weissman: Your body is letting go and the other part of your body is saying wait — don’t let go! Floating is constantly inviting our bodies and our minds to let go more and more and more. And that’s just a foreign reality for people. We just don’t have permission to let go for any sustained period of time. The float environment allows for that. It invites it, it promotes it, and it has healing benefits.
I don’t really call myself a float center. I’m a stress relief center that has floatation therapy. But whatever you want to call it, we have it here and it’s phenomenal.
Me: But people could come just to float without ever seeing you (for therapy).
Dr. Weissman: People can come to float, to get a massage, do our infrared sauna, experience acupuncture, different forms of body work, prenatal, deep tissue, cranial sacral massage.
I studied Chinese medicine for 15 years. I do something called energy work, I’m an expert at applied kinesiology. I’ve learned homeopathy and herbal medicine, and so I’m able to help a person on a path of going natural. I can helping them, with the help of their doctor, to get off certain meds and go natural.
I’ve done that through my own life experience of being an asthmatic as a child. I used to be on a lot of meds, and now I’m not. So, I live what I have here. This is somewhat selfishly created. (Laughs) I take advantage of it all, massages and floating. I know it’s good for me and I believe in it and I know life is hard and life is challenging, and painful, and we need to support ourselves.
Me: Do you do regular therapy on clients too? People who come in and don’t float?
Dr. Weissman: I not only do REGULAR therapy, (laughs) but I’m an expert witness, lots of my referrals are from attorneys, and so I have court reporters and attorneys deposing me here on very high profile cases that involve personal injuries. And they use me as an expert because I’m a board certified expert in traumatic stress. They will have me do psychological evaluations on people. I have many different hats I can wear. I work with chiefs of police as well. I help a lot of officers with stress.
Me: Do you feel floating is an up and coming thing?
Dr. Weissman: Clearly. There are 200 centers in US, and that has grown exponentially over the last couple of years. Canada used to have one and now they have …… I don’t know the exact number, but it’s significant.
The cool thing about floating is, it invites you to go inside your mind and get to know yourself. For some people that’s terrifying.
Me: And the population, like our age group (late 50’s), we just need all that stuff much more. I guess you do at any age, but when you get older it seems something is always achy or sore . . .
Dr. Weissman: At all ages really. Wouldn’t it be great if we learned how to handle stress at a younger age?
Mike: The thing is, stress is gradual, so constant, that you get used to it and it seems normal. It feels like your normal state. And you forget what it’s like not to feel that way.
Dr. Weissman: Then when you do start feeling better and it’s extraordinary, and you are exhilarated, you are actually feeling normal.
Me: How often do people come to float?
Dr. Weissman: It depends. I have a guy who lost in arm in a tragic auto accident, he gets massages and he floats here. After he lost his arm and he didn’t have any open wounds anymore he was floating here 2-3 times a week. It was the only environment he could find where he wasn’t in excruciating pain.
I have a lot of people who have other injuries and more very serious pain conditions. They float more often. And I’ve got my clinical population of people. Some of those individuals are in tremendous emotional pain. And for that, floating is a cure for the mind running wild. I had a gal tell me “I’m not sleeping. The medicine I’m taking isn’t working” And I said, “FLOAT MORE !”
Me: The combination of floating and therapy must be just, unbelievably powerful.
Dr. Weissman: Oh yes. It’s awesome! Typically I have people float first and then they come in and we process it. It’s really a great marriage.
Me: Have you ever had anyone flip out?
Dr. Weissman: No one has ever flipped out in my tank. I’ve had people flip out until they got in the tank. I had a teenage boy who was suicidal and I guided him into the float room and he floated and when he came out he was crying, —in joy— and he hugged me and said “I feel so much better”.
Thank you to Dr. Weissman for an interesting experience and interview.
For a first hand account of my first float experience, click here.