by Sheila Julson
Whether it’s floating in saltwater, receiving a blast of rejuvenating oxygen or relaxing in a salt cave, Austin is now budding with uncommon wellness treatments that have been in existence for decades, yet previously considered fringe or even freaky by mainstream America. However, as preventive health awareness grows, more people are discovering these untapped holistic modalities to achieve physical and mental balance.
Floatation therapy, also known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST), involves clients entering a private soundproof tank or room that contains a shallow solution of neutral temperature water and approximately 1,000 pounds of dissolved magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, in which people float effortlessly. Clients are not subjected to light, sound, temperature or gravity, allowing for pure relaxation of the body and mind.
Zero Gravity Institute
The husband-and-wife team of Carol and Kevin Johnson, along with a private investor, opened Zero Gravity Institute in August 2013. “The idea behind REST is that once you take away the brain’s normal workload, you free it up to allocate its resources inwardly toward healing the mind and body,” Carol explains. “This could include making extra digestive enzymes; producing and releasing endorphins; making neurotransmitters such asserotonin, melatonin, dopamine; balancing hormones; and working through PTSD. The combination of soaking in magnesium sulfate—which is a natural muscle relaxer—with no gravity (meaning no pressure points) helps the body with pain, stress, lowering blood pressure, elongating the spine, insomnia or jet lag, and it is good for muscle recovery.”
Magnesium is absorbed transdermally, Carol says, and it can also hydrate skin and hair. The calm environment allows one to easily slip into a meditative state, aiding creativity as well as cognitive thinking. While some people fear REST due to claustrophobia or a fear of not being in control, Zero Gravity’s trained and knowledgeable staff strive to alleviate any concerns. “Our float rooms, at six feet wide and seven feet high, are the largest and most technically advanced in the world,” Carol says. “We designed them to help with claustrophobia and to allow one to stretch out and not have to touch the sides. We are currently manufacturing these tanks for other float spas across the country.”
Upon arrival, clients are guided through the whole REST process and receive a 15-minute massage to help them relax. Clients are then escorted to their own private suite, where they get an orientation before showering and entering the floatation tank. After the sessions, clients can relax in the reflective lounge, enjoy a cup of tea and color or draw in one of the journals.
Zero Gravity Institute also offers massage services. “People love to gift the package of a one-hour massage, followed by a one-hour float or vice versa,” Carol says. “Our therapists are experienced in many modalities, and we are in the process of expanding.”
Liquid Float Center
Sean Thompson, who opened Liquid Float Center in August 2015, describes floatation therapy as similar to yoga or meditation, in the sense that setting goals or having intentions goes a long way in determining what one getsfrom the modality. “If you come to float for relaxation, you’ll likely feel more relaxed than ever before,” he says, “if you come because you have anxiety, you’ll likely be far less anxious after a few floats. If you come to lose weight, you’ll probably eat a lot better after a few floats. We’ve had people come in and enjoy quicker recovery from injuries, chemotherapy, eating disorders, addiction, PTSD, anxiety, stress, back pain and fibromyalgia.”
Liquid Float Center has six float pod rooms available, which Thompson says can be left open if one is claustrophobic. He occasionally hears other misconceptions. “Luckily we live in a timerelative open-mindedness,” he observes. “It hasn’t been too hard getting people to try floating and then pass judgment. Floating might not be for everyone, but I think everyone can appreciate peace and quiet in this often frantic world.”
Thompson says Liquid Float Center offers 60- and 90-minute floats. Longer sessions are available by request, and overnight floats are available on weekends. In effort to build a float community, unique events are on the horizon such as pre-float yoga, numerology, art classes, guest speakers and more. They’ve recently added cryo therapy, which uses liquid nitrogen to lower the surface temperature of the skin by 30 to 50 degrees over a short period of time. The therapy is used for aiding athletic performance and for general fitness.
“We recently had an event in which several hundred people did cryo, bought discounted floats and enjoyed free food and beer,” Thompson says. “This is what makes Liquid Floats unique—we have a lot of space and we really go out of our way to form a float community, building as many beneficial relationships with as many people as possible.”
Halotherapy, or salt therapy, consists of entering a room resembling a salt mine and breathing in air infused with extremely fine salt particles. The treatment can be beneficial in alleviating a myriad of respiratory and skin conditions.
Austin Salt Cave
Since opening this past March, Austin Salt Cave has been well received by the community, says owner Jack Cramer. “Many people see improvement with chronic conditions ranging from asthma and allergies, to psoriasis and eczema,” he says. “The salt in the air, paired with the peaceful nature of the salt room, also helps with stress reduction. Most people actually fall asleep for their sessions, awaking refreshed, if not a bit saltier.”
While some people may believe that salt is bad for the body, salt therapy is actually incredibly beneficial, Cramer explains, and the amount of salt the body takes in during a halotherapy session is much less than one would typically consume during a meal. “Also, the way our bodies process salt in the respiratory tract differs from that of the GI tract,” he explains. “Consequently, salt therapy will not do things like raise blood pressure in a vast majority of cases. No special clothing is required, nor do people walk out brushing salt off their shoulders.”
For a salt therapy session, customers enter the salt room with shoe coverings— and sans cell phone. The 500 square foot salt room has 11 tons of pink Himalayan salt on the floors and walls, mimicking the feeling of being in a salt mine in Eastern Europe. Customers recline in antigravity chairs while salt air is pumped into the room. Sessions last 45 minutes. “It’s not just for adults either; children are also welcome,” Cramer says.
HYPERBARIC OXYGEN THERAPY
While hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) administered in a hospital setting is a well-established treatment for burns, wounds and decompression sickness—14 clinical uses are accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and covered by most insurance plans—HBOT is quickly becoming recognized for “off-label” treatments, meaning that a certain procedure has more uses than for which it was originally intended. People suffering from Lyme disease, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and those recovering from cosmetic surgery have reported improvement through HBOT.
Clay Womack of ATX Hyperbarics says HBOT has been offered at Westlake Medical Arts—his wife, Dr. Eleanor Womack’s practice—since September 2015 and they have been booked solid since opening. “HBOT is probably the most underutilized anti-inflammatory therapy treatment,” Clay explains, “Clients sit in a large tank that is filled with compressed ambient air that forces the oxygen being delivered via a mask to get into the bloodstream, the plasma and the cerebral spinal fluid.”
The oxygen forced into the body replenishes oxygen-deprived areas saturating red blood cells and thus beginning the healing process. Clay says ATX Hyperbarics is the only independent stand-alone hyperbaric facility with a hard chamber outside of a hospital setting in Central Texas. He notes that HBOT helps treat many symptoms including sports injuries and PTSD, but they’ve also seen good response rates in patients using HBOT to increase stem cell counts before undergoing platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy.
Clay recognizes that some people may hold valid misconceptions about Austin Salt Cave HBOT, as this type of therapy used inhospital settings poses risks due to the high atmospheres of pressure that can result in fires or patient seizures. “We’re working at half that level of pressure, with only a fraction of the risk,” he emphasizes. “Those types of hospital chambers are filled with pure oxygen so you can’t use a cell phone, you have to wear special clothes and just lie still, but for the mass of America who can really use hyperbaric oxygen for the off-label things like traumatic brain injury or PTSD, you don’t need nearly that kind of pressure or nearly that much oxygen.” The large HBOT tanks at ATX Hyperbarics also fits two people comfortably, he adds, which alleviates any claustrophobic fears.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.
ATX Hyperbarics (inside Westlake Medical Arts), 5656 Bee Cave Rd., Ste. C103, West Lake Hills. 512-953-9421. ATXHyperbarics.com.
Austin Salt Cave, 2951 Ranch Rd. 620 S., Ste.102, Austin. 512-838-6545. AustinSaltCave.com.
Liquid Float Center, 2525 W. Anderson Ln., Ste. 145, Austin. 512-271-1671. LiquidFloats.com.
Zero Gravity Institute, 2919 Manchaca Rd., Ste. 105A, Austin. 512-707-1191. ZeroGravityInstitute.com.