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Durango business offers escape from sensory overload

‘Zero-gravity’ flotation tanks provide therapy, reported health benefits
Jenne Anne Settles floats in a mixture of purified water and pharmaceutical-grade Epsom salt in a sensory deprivation tank at Salt 360 in Durango. Floating is linked to health benefits, such as lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Patti Salomon of Durango entered the salt and water business in 2018 in hopes of offering her clients ... nothing.

No sounds, no weight, no light – just the respite from daily life provided by a mixture of purified water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt.

“It’s zero gravity, so it takes every pressure off of every part of your body,” said Salomon, owner of Salt 360 in north Durango. “There’s no pressure on anything. You just melt into it.”

Salt 360’s sensory deprivation tanks offer a type of restricted environmental stimulation therapy that studies show can help with insomnia, anxiety, stress, physical recovery, high blood pressure and more. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Salomon’s business boomed. It was booked with a waitlist from November 2020 to May.

“I think people were really looking for self-care,” she said. “It’s just a safe, quiet place for people to heal on a lot of levels.”

At Salt 360, customers can use one of two deprivation tanks, large chambers separated from the hustle and bustle by heavy, square metal doors.

Inside the door is a pitch black space, 6 feet wide, 8 feet long and 7 feet high. It is filled with 12 inches of the dense salt-water mixture kept at 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Salomon often leaves a blue light on and provides a pillow for extra comfort, she said.

Patti Salomon, owner of Salt 360, opens the door to a sensory deprivation tank where people float in a mixture of purified water and Epsom salt in a sensory deprivation chamber. Salomon got into floating for stress relief. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“The Dead Sea is 13% buoyant. These are 33.3% buoyant,” she said.

The experience of restricted environmental stimulation therapy, or REST, has been studied around the world for decades.

Studies show it is a promising stress-management tool. It has positive effects on physiology, such as lowering levels of cortisol and lowering blood pressure, according to a 2007 analysis from the Netherlands of 27 academic studies.

It took Salomon two floats in 2012 to feel the relaxation effects, she said. She was in a high-stress position managing an international publishing company at the time.

“The second time, it was life-changing for me. I went in hoping to focus on some challenges I had been working on, and I was really able to focus,” Salomon said.

A 2021 German study found people with chronic pain experienced less pain and anxiety in the short term after floating. People with high anxiety experienced lower blood pressure, muscle tension and anxiety, according to a 2017 study in Oklahoma and California.

Floating has shown positive impacts as a complementary treatment for insomnia and a recovery method for athletes, according to Swedish and New Zealand studies done in 2019.

Jenne Anne Settles said floating helped her through a back injury and training for a half marathon race.

“The temperature of the tank is literally the resting temperature of the human body, so there’s no discomfort as far as cool or hot,” Settles said. “It’s as though, for the first time in your life, you don’t have to try to make yourself comfortable. Everything’s taken care of for you, and you just rest and relax.”

Patti Salomon, owner of Salt 360, checks on the filtration systems for her sensory deprivation tanks. The top-of-the-line tanks require 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt mixed with purified water. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Salt 360 opened the day the 416 Fire started in 2018, Salomon said. She met with the fire department, the hot shots, the police department and offered floats to the crew members.

“It was great for physical reasons but also great mentally for those people to come in and take a break from what was going on,” Salomon said. “A lot of those hot shots ... whenever they come back to Durango, they come see me.”

Since then, Salomon said her clients have been parents, business owners, restaurant employees and health care workers from around the Four Corners. The next closest float studio is in Albuquerque, she said.

Her clientele leans slightly male and spans ages 13 to 90, she said. Older adults come in to reflect. Athletes make appointments for recovery; students, for stress relief. Some people are just curious, Salomon said.

Floating, a type of restricted environmental stimulation therapy, has been studied for decades. Research indicates it has positive effects on stress, anxiety, muscle tension and chronic pain. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Clients are not all practiced in meditation. Salomon simply recommends they enter the chamber with a goal in mind or problem to solve.

“I really do feel like it’s a practice. It’s not a one-and-done thing. It’s not going to solve your problems overnight,” Salomon said.

Settles, a repeat customer for three years, said the same. But eventually, mental clarity comes with the floats. Taking an hour to escape the sensory overload of life is one of the biggest benefits of the sensory deprivation experience, she said.

Jenne Anne Settles exits a sensory deprivation tank at Salt 360 in Durango. The experience is “transcendent,” Settles said. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“I would say it is almost like being in your deepest state of focus, just being completely at peace. There’s no urgency or demands. It’s just you alone,” she said. “For me, this was just a massive mental benefit.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

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