Higher Elevation Healing Arts moves to Gypsum with a new state-of-the-art float therapy setup
I hear distant sounds of water splashing, echoing off the walls and into the cavernous float therapy tank. My ears are also underwater, and I’m very aware of my body. I can feel the sound vibrations from the music playing in the tank – that distinct flavor of relaxing wellness music, full of slow melodies and bamboo flutes. My hair floats around me and when split ends graze across my skin it feels almost like a bug crawling on me. I stared up at the artificial night sky, letting my limbs go numb, then waking everything up and floating in the water, bouncing from one end of the shallow pool to the other.
That was what happened during my 60-minute float therapy session at Higher Elevation Healing Arts, which recently relocated from Eagle to Gypsum. I was able to get my body completely relaxed, the way many repeat floaters do each time they step into the tank, but what struck me most was how aware I was of my body. It seemed like I could feel every cell in my body when I was paying attention to it, but when I was relaxed, I couldn’t even feel where the water ended and the air began.
Higher Elevation is Eagle County’s local massage therapy school, which has been open since founder Audrey Carson started it in 2010. Since then, it has graduated 160 students, many of whom go onto careers in the Vail Valley’s wellness facilities and spas, further boosting the already thriving local wellness industry. In fact, the most popular up-valley float therapy center, Dreams & Dreams in Avon, is owned and operated by Ivaylo Stoyanov, who moved here from Bulgaria and graduated from Higher Elevation.
“I wouldn’t be training people in massage if I didn’t think they could get a job in it,” Audrey said.
And as the national wellness industry grows, the Vail Valley’s wellness offerings grow. Spas ask Audrey who her students are so they can hire them.
The school first operated out of Edwards, then moved to the corner of 201 Broadway in Eagle. The space, built in 1897, once was an old saloon, among other things – Audrey said guests used to come in and tell stories of times they got into bar fights or had one too many.
The new space in Gypsum radiates wellness-center-energy; it’s bright, with sky blue walls and neutral everything else. There is a room for the special infrared sauna and the cold plunge tank, several massage rooms, bathrooms and a relaxation room for guests to take advantage of before and after treatment. The Gypsum center has more space for students to learn, guests to relax and not to mention, the new float therapy room.
The float therapy room is outfitted with the Floataway. Christian Carson, the center’s new supervising wellness developer and Audrey’s husband, said this model is widely considered the best in the industry, one reasing being that it breaks the mold of the public’s typical perception of float therapy.
“A lot of people think of very small, confined dark spaces. This is not that,” he said. “Two huge doors that you can open up, eight-foot round, super easy to get into as opposed to a traditional three-by-three that you have to slide yourself into. You’re in charge of your experience.”
The tank, which kind of looks something in which a sci-fi villain would cryogenically freeze the good guys, is filled with a highly concentrated Epsom salt solution. The water is twice as buoyant as the Dead Sea.
“When you lay in this solution, you’re in about as zero-gravity a state as your body will ever be,” he said. “You can literally let go of every single muscle in your body and you will not sink.”
It’s also heated to the same temperature as the skin, partially for guest comfort, but to also create that distinct floating feeling – hence the sensation of not knowing where the water ends and the air begins.
Tanks like the Floataway are used as a device to administer Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy, commonly abbreviated REST. Higher Elevation is happy to provide guests with information on REST from Clinical Floatation, which publishes peer-reviewed clinical studies of the benefits of REST. Its website states that REST was first explored as a possible therapeutic treatment in the 1950s, and today is used to treat things like subjective stress, mental illness, eating disorders, chronic pain, muscle tension, fibromyalgia and insomnia.
The idea behind it is to remove as many external stimuli as possible – things like sight, sound, touch, temperature and even gravity – giving people an intimate, uninterrupted experience with their body. It helps to reset the body’s energy, re-centering it and bringing peace to its users.
Christian said some people report feeling completely free and like they’re floating in the clouds. Some emerge from the floatation room like they could immediately fall asleep peacefully, some feel like they have more energy to tackle everything on their to-do list. Some even actually fall asleep while they’re floating.
“We want to get people back to baseline, middle and center, and if you can do that without drugs and you can give them a place where their central nervous system can resent, that’s fantastic,” he said.
I saw, heard and felt everything extremely clearly. Once I woke my limbs up from being numb, I felt like I could run a marathon, create world peace and write a book about it all at once. It was like being high, but with a lot more mental clarity. My mind went blank, but in a productive way: my eyes got wider instead of drier.
After some time to reflect, my thoughts on my “first float,” as Audrey and Christian referred to it while they showed me the new facility, honestly aren’t too much different from the way I approach lots of new experiences. Like the time I went bouldering – I’m afraid of heights – or climbed my first 14er. Everyone should try everything besides felonies and heroin at least once, and I’m glad to say I can add float therapy to the list of Things I’ve Tried At Least Once.