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BOULDER – In this fast-paced, stressed-out world we live in, most of us are looking for a way to relax and cut back on any anxiety we have in our lives.

If you're looking for something really different, some medical professionals suggest you check out "float centers."

Float centers are growing in popularity around the world, including here in Colorado. They feature "float tanks" also known as deprivation tanks.

"A flotation [deprivation] tank is a large, enclosed, salt water bath designed to minimize sensory input to the brain," said Ben Gleason, owner of Isolate Flotation Center in Boulder.

Gleason opened his business two years ago. He was inspired to create it after his first float tank experience. At the time, Gleason said he was miserable with his life.

"I was very depressed, having suicidal thoughts on a regular basis. I ate fast food for every meal and was 300 pounds. I also smoked half a pack of cigarettes per day," he said.

Stepping into a tank changed his life.

"I feel like I've been re-manifested or reborn," Gleason added.

The Experience

Before you slip into a float tank, you must first shower and wash your body. Once you get into the tank, your body will come into direct contact with water mixed with Epsom salt. The salt will make you float.

Inside the tank, you're cut off from any sights or sounds. It is completely dark and most of the time you're given ear plugs to put in before you enter (to block out sound).

"You are void of sound and light," said Daniel Clarke, owner of Cloud Nine Float Center in Boulder.

Clarke created his business around the same time Gleason did. He explained how everyone has a different experience and for the most part, it's usually pleasant.

"I would say 98 percent of the people that walk out of that room are just in the, as they call it, the 'post float glow,'" said Clarke.

It's a relaxing feeling.

"The tank is just providing an environment. It's just a tool for an individual to get into and completely relax and escape all of their physical things to get into their own minds," Clarke added.

Mind you, float tanks aren't for everyone. In fact, people who suffer from claustrophobia might have a difficult time staying inside a tank. That said, each tank is designed with the user in mind. Most of them include three buttons. One button will open the tank door, another will turn on a light inside the tank and the third button serves as a panic button – which will contact the operator.

"There's a lot of research when it comes to meditation and what happens is when we push that stuff out of our consciousness and we really focus on what's going on inside our minds. It's incredibly relaxing and it gets rid of a tremendous amount of stress," said 9NEWS Psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel.

Wachtel says that in addition to claustrophobia, there are other negative effects associated with the tanks.

"For most people it's not going to be harmful. It's going to be a helpful, cool experience for them. It does have the potential to provide some temporary psychosis. You can start hallucinating, seeing things that aren't there, hearing voices," Wachtel said.

People who also use drugs before entering a tank could have negative experiences. At Cloud Nine, owner David Clarke asks people to sign a waiver agreeing to not use drugs before entering his tanks.

Clarke said most people oblige and follow the rules.

"People mediate. A float tank is like cheating. It takes away all outside sensor stimuli so you can really just be," Clarke added.

Some people are nervous they might fall asleep and drown inside a tank. Clarke says it's impossible.

The Epsom salt makes your body float, regardless of how heavy you are. It also prevents you from flipping on your side.

People are actually encouraged to nap during their sessions. Some professionals who work with float tanks said sleeping for two hours in a tank is equivalent to getting eight hours of sleep in your own bed.

"So many people when they're floating fall asleep the first few times because it's so profoundly relaxing," Clarke said.

A Booming Business

As the world gets more stressful, the need for more float centers is on the rise. In Colorado alone, there are about six locations along the Front Range.

A new business popped up at the end of July in Parker called Astral Float Spa.

"Well, after floating myself during my own spiritual journey I fell in love with it, and saw there wasn't enough centers in the area," said Astral owner Steven Skalkowski.

Both Daniel Clarke of Cloud Nine and Ben Gleason of Isolate created their businesses in 2012.

"Five to ten years down the road it's going to be one of the most popular practices out there," said Gleason.

Float tanks were initially created in the 1950s by Dr. John Lilly, an American neurophysiologist. While they've been around for more than 50 years, people who work in the float tank industry said the tanks haven't been as popular as they are right now.

"There are more tank manufacturers popping up all over the world and float centers popping up all over the world," Clarke said.

They're so popular, Jeremy Warner sold his carpet cleaning business in Lincoln, Nebraska so he could focus on his new business: Escape Pod Flotation Tanks.

Warner's business creates tanks and sells them to float centers around the world. He's doing business in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Warner said he sold 32 tanks to 25 customers his first year and plans to sell an additional 50 tanks this year, due to the increased popularity of float tanks.

Warner sold one tank to Cloud Nine in Boulder and four tanks to Astral Float Spa in Parker.

Pricing

Most 90 minute sessions will cost you around $50, although a lot of float centers have special deals featuring decreased prices. If you're looking to purchase your own private tank – you can do so for around $6,000 – although some cost upwards of $30,000.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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