‘Breathe Stretch Float’ at 153 Flinders Street in the city is a health and wellness studio that offers a radical yet scientifically-backed service. They’ve only been around for a short while—they launched just as Covid hit Australia and naturally their business went quiet until the restrictions were lifted but this also presented them with the opportunity to prove their services in the treatment of the illness. As a sufferer of Long Covid, I felt it was my civil duty to test it out.
First session: Tackling phobias
Jim and his partner Jo meet you and whether you are apprehensive or not, they are both exceptionally friendly and immediately help the anxious be less so.
Part of the treatment they offer is sensory deprivation, or as it is also known by me as ‘floating in a tank of water, completely naked, with the light off and the pod door completely shut’. I have a fear of water taller than me, and I cannot float, so I figured Jim and Jo were going to have their hands full.
But before we approached my own personal version of Hell, Jim took me into a special room for a salt treatment.
In that hour-long session, Jim worked to bring down my anxiety levels. The floor of the room is covered with a thick layer of salt, but not your average table salt. This salt is pharmaceutical grade, so refined that you actually inhale it while you are sitting down, and the inhaled salt starts clearing out the muck in your lungs and nose. You don’t need to do anything except sit in any of the chairs and relax. There’s even some books to read if you want.
Jim leads you through a talk process of identifying where your fear comes from, then once that has been uncovered, he helps you reduce your anxiety. My anxiety about tall water went from a 9/10 to 3/10 in around 20 minutes—which astounded me as I had convinced myself my water phobia had been hard-baked into my psyche since childhood.
Jim uses an approach called ‘Havening’, which refers to a newer therapy technique that incorporates distraction, touch, and eye movements. Its goal is to reduce anxiety and distress associated with negative memories. According to brothers Dr. Steven Ruden and Dr. Ronald Ruden, the creators of the technique, the use of therapeutic touch can help treat mental health symptoms by changing pathways in the brain linked to emotional distress. It relies on ‘amygdala depotentiation’ and can help people with psychological problems, particularly those related to phobias, post-traumatic stress and anxiety. ‘Havening’, the transitive verb of the word ‘haven’, means to put into a safe place. It is a scientifically proven process, and Jim is one of only four trained practitioners in Australia.
Havening rests on the idea that touch can help boost the production of serotonin in your brain. This, in turn, helps you relax and detach from an upsetting memory or experience. The release of serotonin is said to have a soothing effect that helps relieve mental health symptoms and keep painful memories from troubling you further. In short, this approach aims to help you create a ‘haven’ for yourself in one hour-long session. For the human scientists in Glam Adelaide’s community, think of it as a subset of Biological Psychology.
With ‘Havening Touch’, the client does not have to stay in, or talk about, upsetting events or feelings. Jim and I first identified my three most anxiety-provoking thought patterns then picked the most troubling (fear of water taller than me). Then Jim helped me identify the most self-soothing stroking of my face and neck, and while I was stroking my face repeatedly, Jim helped me bring down my anxiety levels, all from a chair on the opposite side of the room. The only ‘touching’ going on was me touching my face; Jim stayed firmly in his chair for the whole session, in case you were anxious about the ‘touch’ component of the therapy.
Jim told me, “We had a woman with terribly painful sinuses that extended back to her ears, giving her shocking tinnitus. She had seen specialist after specialist, with no change in her debilitating condition. Finally, she agreed to surgery to have grommets fitted. But just before she did, as a last resort, she booked three sessions with us in the Salt Room.
“After the three sessions, her sinuses were clear and her tinnitus eradicated. She was extremely happy. And she still hasn’t had that surgery.”
After an hour of this process, I was amazed at how my three fears, identified at the beginning of the session, had been massively reduced. With both of us pleased with my progress, Jim led me to the sensory deprivation tank.
A quick shower to remove body oils and underarm deodorant and I gingerly entered the tank. Jim and Jo kindly piped in some calming music to help reduce my anxiety. Once I was in the tank, I could turn the tank’s internal light off when I was ready to begin the sensory deprivation.
The water was skin temperature, deliberately, and there was about 35 kilos of salt in the water—you could float a bowling ball in there!
It came as a complete shock that I could actually float, for the first time in my life, and I let out a little yelp of relief and joy. I eventually turned the little light off and was immediately enveloped with nothingness. Completely black, not even a hint of light.
Jim had advised me to attempt to calm the mind, and gently bring my attention back if/when it started running faster and faster and more chaotically. If any Glam Adelaide reader is trained in Acceptance & Commitment Theory, they will immediately think of ACT in this setting. I used the ‘leaves on a stream’ technique to bring my mind back to a calmer, more focused state.
After an hour of delight, it was time to get out and have another shower (to wash the salt water off) and meet Jim and Jo and drink the herbal tea they kindly provided.
Sensory deprivation tanks are well researched and many studies have strongly suggested (which is science’s way of reporting very conclusive results while hedging science’s bets) that the tanks have are effective in reducing anxiety. A 2018 study showed that a single one-hour session in a sensory deprivation tank was capable of a significant reduction in anxiety and improvement in mood in the 50 participants with stress- and anxiety-related disorders. Similarly, a 2016 study of 46 people who self-reported generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) found that flotation tanks reduced GAD symptoms such as depression, sleep difficulties, irritability, and fatigue.
Jim and Jo recommend an explanatory video on flotation and its benefits. Here’s the video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/PgO1umRWdBU
Jim gave me an opportunity to talk with he and Jo about the other reason I was seeing them—my crushing, exhausting Long Covid. Jim said that this first session would start to undo the damage that Long Covid was doing, but it would take more sessions to start feeling the benefits of the refined salt and the immersion tanks, so I booked in for three sessions of each.
Second session: Attacking Long Covid
Straight into the sensory deprivation or flotation tank and this time my fear of drowning in water taller than me had almost evaporated. In fact, I was so comfortable I fell asleep!
“That’s a very positive sign that your health is improving,” Jo told me.
The same health improvement occurred in the Salt Room—within seconds of being in the room I felt my nose tingling as it started unblocking. The subdued lighting of the room helped my heart beat slow down further, and I felt—for the first time since contracting Long Covid—that I might be slowly getting better and that there was a light at the end of a crushing tunnel.
One of the many side effects of Long Covid is depression, and after my second sessions in the sensory deprivation tank and the Salt Room I definitely felt my mood lifting. Can you guess how happy that made me feel?
“We are always delighted to see clients begin their healing process, no matter what brings them to us,” said Jo. “Not everyone reacts so well as you to the treatments, but the majority do. And you’ll find that mix of responses across all of the health disciplines, including GPs and specialists.”
I knew about that. Many of the GPs I’ve visited over the years, and some specialists too, were unable to solve some of the symptoms I’ve presented with. I’m sure I’m not alone and there are many in the Glam Adelaide community that have experienced the same frustration.
Third session: A final attack on Long Covid
“We’ve seen many psychological and psychiatric conditions in our rooms,” said Jim. “We’ve had clients with PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, acute anxiety, Depression, Social Phobia, sciatic nerve damage, Bipolar Disorder, the suicidal… all have responded positively to our flotation tanks, they leave here feeling more in control of their lives. They tell us that post-float they live pain-free for perhaps eight, or twenty four, or thirty six hours.”
If you live with chronic pain then that is a BIG relief for you to be free of the pain that so controls your life, even when it is temporary relief. It’s like the old IT technician joke—turn your body off and turn it back on again to reset it. Spending an hour in a flotation tank resets your mind and body.
“We had a client come in with fibromyalgia-induced chronic pain. After their second float session, they noticed a significant reduction in pain, which for them was astonishing,” Jim said.
“Quite a few of our flotation tank clients consider it a luxury to spend time in an environment where there’s no distractions, no phones, no iPads, no children… they can escape and pamper themselves for once. They can step back from the permanently-on, stressed-to-the-max world we now find ourselves in and have the space and time to think their thoughts without the noise and clutter that normally bombard them. The flotation process boosts endorphins and at the same time boosts serotonin levels.”
Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers, and they can boost your mood, too. These chemicals are naturally produced by the body during pleasurable activities (e.g., exercise, sex, and laughing), as well as painful experiences, such as twisting your ankle.
Serotonin is a chemical messenger that’s believed to act as a mood stabiliser. It’s said to help produce healthy sleeping patterns and boost your mood.
Jim went on, “There was a woman who had been told she had just a month to live. Intense work with us resulted in changes in her body’s chemistry balances, leading to an appointment with a shocked consultant who declared her illness gone.
“Now, I want to stress that we certainly don’t make ANY claims about our treatments, that we will cure cancer or make the blind see again, or anything like that. We don’t promise that, at all. But we have seen so many hurting people come through our doors and a few sessions later walk out with a spring in their step where they had none before.
“The salt room has been very beneficial for many of our clients. We’ve treated children and adults with severe eczema, we’ve seen an old lady with severe lung problems who had to have her lungs drained five times a year, each session lasting up to five weeks in hospital. She would always end up with pneumonia and pneumonia-like symptoms after each hospital stay. She had a couple of sessions in the salt room and because the pharmaceutical-grade salt is anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, it works to dry up the lungs and attack the pneumonia. She still has her lungs drained once a month, but her lungs are in much better condition than they were before, and pneumonia is a thing of the past for her.”
I noticed that the Salt Room cleared my Long Covid brain fog after three sessions. Some clients achieve this feat in one session, some take ten sessions. For the Covid-afflicted, the return of your brain, even just for a few precious hours, is a truly wondrous thing. And in the flotation tanks, I noticed that I experienced much-reduced levels of the exhaustion that is a constant part of my Long Covid journey. That relief can last up to two days for me, and it is wonderful to not feel so completely and utterly exhausted all the time.
One part of Jim and Jo’s business that I haven’t mentioned is their yoga studio. Very well lit, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors on two walls, it has a brilliant ceiling lighting system. Traditional lighting used in large spaces generates a lot of heat which heats up the air in the room and causes stress in the body. Jim and Jo installed infrared lighting into their studio, which produces no heat, thus not heating the air in the room, and thus not causing stress on the body. Very cool.
Traditional studios with traditional lighting heat up, especially when the number of participants goes up and up. Because the heat in the air goes up, the bodies heat up and very often the result is a nose-clenching unpleasant smell. The more bodies moving themselves about, the more obnoxious the smell. Many of us know that smell and no, it’s not pleasant. But Jim and Jo’s studio doesn’t heat up, no matter how many participants and how active they become; everyone stays cool and that smell doesn’t arrive to spoil the party.
The yoga studio is unlike any other yoga studio in Adelaide and well worth a visit. It’s large and used a lot, including for one particular small group on a Friday evening who involve movement and stretching in a safe and non-judgemental setting—and some extremely important social therapy afterwards at a nearby pub!
Participants who have just left work in town arrive in their work clothes, some arrive in sports gear, some dress like they’re fresh from a burlesque performance!
Jo and Jim focus on giving back to the community, and devote considerable resources to help make the lives of many less-fortunate among us better. Currently, they are working with the wonderful 80 year old woman Glyn Scott who founded and runs a not-for-profit charity dedicated to helping women (or men), children, and pets, all of whom would be significantly affected by domestic violence, child abuse and homelessness—the Love Hope & Gratitude Foundation.
Glyn is such a force that after escaping her own domestic violence experience, she brought her perpetrators to justice in a case that reached the High Court of Australia. Through her courage and strength, the High Court’s decision on her case changed Australian and International law forever.
Jim, with his Scottish accent and experience of rapid rapport-building built through his years spent as an British policeman, has a wonderfully dry British sense of humour. Jo, with her Italian heritage, knows how to make each client feel like a cherished part of the Breathe Stretch Float family within seconds of you first walking through their door.
I have to say I was sceptical that any therapy was going to help me and my baked-in ailments. But I can honestly say that Jim and Jo, and the techniques and tools they use, have worked miracles with me. I am no longer a sceptic, but a believer. In just three sessions, they have turned me into a huge fan, happy to sing their praises from the rooftops.
Actually, maybe not the rooftops—I have a fear of heights. I feel another few sessions in my future…