More people floating their cares away

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Ray Thoma, owner of The Float Spot in Flower Mound, shows off a floatation tank. (Photo by Brian Maschino)

So, another stress-filled day at home, work, or school is finished and now it’s time to relax. But, the usual methods of “chilling”– like running, meditation, yoga, Pilates, or massage—just aren’t that appealing to you. Maybe floating is a new alternative.

What is floating? It’s something that’s been around for decades, but– after years away from the limelight– is making a major comeback lately.

“We’ve lost the art of being with ourselves and when you are in the float tank you are with yourself in ways you can’t even imagine,” said Ray Thoma, owner of The Float Spot that opened last year near Market Street in Flower Mound.

“People are looking for different kinds of therapies and different ways to relax,” said Sean Sparks, who launched Float Away Spa on FM 407 in Highland Village in 2015. “We’re bombarded with so much technology and stimuli throughout the day, the more technology we have the better we are at multi-tasking things.”

Thoma learned about the benefits of floating while at a pub in Sydney, Australia, in 2008. He was there selling Elite Compression Apparel, which helps oxygenate muscles.

“There were these two huge guys who kept saying the word ‘float,’” he said. “After I asked some ridiculous questions they forced me to buy another beer for them and they told me how all the athletes in Australia– under the Academy of Institute for Sport– were mandated to float for visualization techniques and accelerated muscle recovery. I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever heard of.”

Thoma spent seven- to eight-months researching floating; trying to uncover something wrong with the concept. Finding none– and learning of its health and wellness benefits– the 55-year-old Thoma, a former minor-league baseball player, left his job in sales to pursue his dream of opening his own business. He moved from Omaha, Neb., to Frisco to open his first The Float Spot in 2011.

Ironically, that’s where Sparks did his first float many years after hearing about the concept in massage therapy school in 2005.

Sparks, a 35-year-old former personal trainer had launched his CrossFit NTX gym in Denton in 2009 after working at other North Texas health and fitness clubs. He sold his gym in 2014 to pursue his own floating spa.

So, what’s involved in floating?

At The Float Spot, before starting the actual float session, clients unwind for 10- to 20-minutes in one of two Aqua Massage machines that fire waves of water at the fully-clothed clients providing a true hands-free massage.

At Float Away Spa, clients de-stress in one of three specially-designed massage chairs.

A flotation tank at The Float Spot in Flower Mound. (Photo by Brian Maschino)

Then, after showering, the client enters a small spaceship-looking pod (three at The Float Spot, two at Float Away Spa) that resembles the travel Mork-from-Ork alien egg in the late Robin Williams television show, “Mork and Mindy.”

Next, the client steps into about 300-gallons of water heated to between 92- and 94-degrees. Though only rising 10-12 inches, the 1,100 pounds of medical-grade Epson salts are guaranteed to lift the person to a complete face-up float on the water’s surface.

After closing the top, soft colored lights and the music or sounds of the client’s choice are used to help set a relaxing mood. Sound can be left on or turned off throughout the soak at the client’s discretion.

Following the float, the client showers again to wash away the salt then dresses and goes about their way refreshed, relaxed and ready to take on the world again.

“With the pod, it’s like a huge mental relaxation,” said Sparks, who has one massage table where he primarily handles orthopedic needs. “You get in there and there’s no outside stimuli, no sound, no light though there can be if you want; no touch, no smell. It’s just like you’re gone basically.”

Both Thoma and Sparks said floating isn’t just for people looking to relieve stress. People with muscular diseases have said it lessens their symptoms, pregnant women find relief from backaches, people with trouble sleeping say it helps them sleep and athletes and others find it helps them recover quicker from injuries or lessen their pain.

“I like it because I get to unplug, especially being in medical school where everything is technology-based,” said Erica Hallak, a second-year medical student at UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, after her session at The Floating Spot. “It just makes you feel so calm.”

Thoma said when he started there were about 70-floating spas nationwide. Today, that has grown to about 420 in the U.S. and Canada, he said, including just five in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The first water coffin-like floatation tank was built in 1954, originally to study the effects on the brains of astronauts. They moved into mainstream spas in the 1970s and 1980s, before mostly closing in the early 1980s.

“When this came out 50 years ago, we weren’t overstimulated by anything,” Thoma said. “Life was simple. This probably happened 40-years ahead of its time.”

Thoma said after doing well in Europe, where people are more proactive toward health, instead of the reactive response in the United States, floating returned here after people realized its benefits.

Thoma’s opinion that an ESPN The Magazine article last year noting how athletes like Golden State Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes (now with the Dallas Mavericks) were floating to help their bodies recover and clear their heads also helped trigger a renewed interest.

“We’re learning in athletics that it’s not working harder that makes you better, but the recovery from the training harder to perform better,” he said.

Today’s pods already are big enough to keep even claustrophobic people from having a problem.

New ones called Orbit will be even bigger, cleaner and more efficient. As the North American distributor for the British-made product, Thoma will officially introduce them at the global launch at The Float Spot.

As more people learn about the benefits of floating and the new Orbit, Thoma hopes to add more DFW locations while Sparks would like to be able to add a third pod and hire someone so he doesn’t have to spend every hour at his business.

Contact The Float Spot in Flower Mound at 214-396-6077   or Float Away Spa in Highland Village at 940-324-2888.

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