A Week in the Darkness – Silvie Dymáková

In the Czech Republic, ‘Dark Therapy’ as it is known there has become incredibly popular in recent years. By all accounts there are at least 15 providers of Darkness Retreats in some shape or form, ranging from a relatively basic hut on someone’s private property, to more specialist and sophisticated clinics, some of which have been featured on this blog.

Word got around that a prolonged stay in darkness could be highly beneficial, and as such many of the facilities are booked up for months in advance. In 2014, news of this phenomena caught the attention of Czech television company ‘Česká televize’, who decided to send one of their reporters, Silvie Dymáková, to do a Darkness Retreat for herself, and record it all using a thermographic camera.

The video below starts on Silvie’s third day, because she pretty much slept for most of the first two. This is common for most Darkness Retreat participants. It is in Czech with English subtitles. (See video summary below)

To begin with, the programme introduces some of the history behind times spent in the dark, including where it all started in Tibet, when monks would spend up to 7 weeks in complete isolation and silence in darkness, to promote self-discovery and spiritual growth, as well as to prepare for their journey to the next world.

Dr. Andrew Urbiš then speaks about some of the physical benefits people might experience – he was the person who introduced this practice to the Czech Republic. It was with him, at his clinic in Celadna – the Beskydské Rehabilitation Center – that Silvie did her 7 day retreat. It begins with a series of tests to assess her mental wellbeing and exhaustion levels, which show her to be highly stressed.

The documentary highlights that it is important to be fully committed to your Darkness Retreat and to go into it with the intention to get the most from your stay, otherwise it can feel like you are a prisoner, and may not be a positive or beneficial experience.

Before Silvie’s retreat formally begins, she is shown all of the facilities with the light on, so that she can acquaint herself with where everything is and how it all works with regards to food, personal hygiene, daily support from Dr. Urbiš, what to do in an emergency etc.

Having spent most of the first 2 days sleeping, Silvie has lost any real sense of time, especially as her food is being brought at random times throughout her stay. By the third day, the darkness is starting its ‘repair’ and Silvie is beginning to experience lucid dreaming, and has stopped perceiving reality. It gives her a bit of a wobble, because she’s uncertain if what is happening is real or imagined, so feels a bit scary.

As her time in the darkness increases, Silvie starts to sense the presence of other beings in her room, though after a while this begins to feel the darkness getting friendlier, although still thinks she is not alone. Her subconscious is doing its work, giving her flashbacks from childhood,plus she is experiencing light phenomena, that is also quite common. Once she gets through the initial crisis of anxiety, she then feels like her stay in darkness is the best form of regeneration, which can awaken creativity and be a huge source of energy.

At the end of her ‘Week in the darkness’,Silvie is most looking forward to the sun, music and seeing the people she loves, as well as to having the best pasta in the world. She leaves her room at dawn, for a gentle reintroduction to the light. Many people have a highly emotional reaction to seeing the light again, and Silvie is no exception.

At the end, she says she has more energy, feels calmer and her digestion is better. Her dreams remain in her memory, as vivid as ever, but she’s still not sure if they were real or imagined…

Silvie later received the Czech Lion Award for Best Documentary Feature for this programme.

Marek Malůš PhD – Researcher into Dark Therapy in the Czech Republic

Marek Malůš - Dark Therapy - Czech RepublicIn a previous post, we focused on the research being carried out by Marek Malůš PhD on Dark Therapy in the Czech Republic (known there as ‘Terapie Tmou’). In this post we decided to look into the man himself, and where this all started.

Marek Malůš PhD is currently the assistant professor of the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy in Ostrava, Czech Republic. He is professionally focused on researching the effects of sensory deprivation on the human body, or what he calls Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST), in particular when external stimulation is restricted through a stay in the dark, otherwise known in mainstream circles as Dark or Darkness Therapy.

He received his PhD at Palacký University, Olomouc which was where he first began his studies into REST in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Between 2010-2013, Marek collaborated with Czech Darkness Therapy expert, Dr. Andrew Urbiš at the Beskydské Rehabilitation Center in Celadna, in order to study 37 of their clients whilst they were engaged in a 7 day Darkness Retreat.

According to one source, they used “questionnaires and surveys including the Existence Scale, the Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire, the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale and The Symptom Checklist 90” to collect relevant data. Of particular interest was the affect this had on altered states of consciousness, as well the role of the pineal gland and the hormone ‘melatonin’.

In 2015 he began the next phase of his research, in collaboration with the Darkness Therapy Centre in Kozlovice, which you can read more about HERE, which also then began to look at more psycho-physiological effects of stays in darkness on the body, not just psychological. Marek has completed 3 Darkness Retreats himself, over the course of 3, 7 and 14 days.

Despite the ever increasing popularity of Dark or Darkness Therapy in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, little research seems to have been done outside of these countries, except that carried out in the 1970s in the US. As a result, Marek has been invited to present his findings both in the Czech Republic and abroad, including at the world’s leading conferences focused on methods of limited external stimulation at the Universities of Portland, USA and Vancouver, Canada. Here is a video of Marek’s presentation at the FLOAT Conference in Portland in 2015.

In his presentation, Marek discusses whether ‘Dark Therapy’ is actually in fact a therapy. He says it is difficult to say positively, because the term is not scientifically appropriate. Many people think of it as a treatment or self-treatment, but in Marek’s view it is “A special place and space suitable for therapeutic process, which enables, affects and catalyzes our ability to get more in touch with both our conscious and unconscious part of ourselves.”

However, it has been difficult to find out what the specific findings were of Marek’s earlier studies, due to it being in Czech and as yet, the results and analysis from the research carried out in 2015 remains unpublished. As soon as they are available, we will be sure to let you know.

You can find out more about Marek and how to contact him at:

http://psych.upol.cz/en/o-nas/lide/mgr-marek-malus-ph-d/

 

Research into Dark Therapy on the Human Body, in the Czech Republic

Darkness Therapy Research, Czech RepublicThe Dark Therapy Centre run by Roman Bartak in Kozlovice (Czech Republic), specialises in providing what they call Dark Therapy (Terapie Tmou) as a service, as well as being the sole provider in the country which focuses on carrying out research into the effects of prolonged periods in the dark on the human body.

Initially this research was carried out in cooperation with the Department of Psychology of the University of Olomouc, then later with the Department of Psychology and the Institute of Physiology and Patho-physiology, of the University of Ostrava (both in the Czech Republic). To begin with, research was carried out with students of psychology and related disciplines over a period of 2 and then 3 days. However, since 2015 it has also been carried out with actual Dark Therapy clients, on a voluntary basis, and in 2016 the researchers extended their study to test the effects of up to 4 days in the dark.

The ‘Dark Therapy’ research is led by Marek Malůš PhD, assistant professor of the Department of Psychology Faculty of Philosophy in Ostrava, who completed several darkness retreats himself to inform his study. This is a unique global study, which builds on research that was started in the 1970s in the US, and extends to the areas of both psycho-physiology and physiology.

The research objectives are focused on several areas of human psychology and physiology, in order to measure the changes which take place as a result of the participant’s stay in the dark, based on the results of tests taken before and after the stay.

The psychological studies monitor cognitive function (a total of 12 tests). These include, in addition to memory and concentration, attention, language function, speed of thinking and the ability to understand information.

The executive functions include the ability to assess and problem solving, planning and organization. Further parameters are monitored based on the participant’s personality, as well as motivational and experiential characteristics, including the assessment of the advantages/disadvantages stemming from the participants.

In contrast, the physiological studies are investigating the psycho-physiological effects of processes, basic blood counts and the effect on the human eye (a total of eight tests). Attention is focused on the measurement of ECG, heart rate and its variability, blood pressure, and the detected change in weight. Whilst monitoring the human eye, they measure visual acuity, color vision and the quality of peripheral vision.

The outcomes of this extensive study are currently not yet known because evaluation and analysis of the results are still pending. Preliminary results show however (as you might expect), that the four-day stays are already showing more fundamental changes than shorter stays, including positive shifts occurring in cognitive functions, heartbeat and also improving eyesight.

You can find out more at http://www.terapietmou.net/