East Lyme business staying afloat
East Lyme — Hair still damp, Mandy Morabito sat in the relaxation space after her hour-long experience floating on 11 inches of water atop 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt in a light-proof, sound-proof chamber.
"Right now, at least, I can just melt into this chair," she said. "It's like a different level. I don't know."
The 21-year-old, who lives in Lebanon and works in Niantic, tries to come for float therapy once a month. Morabito hadn't heard of float therapy before Tranquil Balance opened in September 2016, nor did she know its owners, but was intrigued by a comparison she heard to floating in the Dead Sea.
The first time, she couldn't relax. But the second time, she fell immediately into a partial sleep — the kind with vivid dreams and muscles flinching with myoclonic jerks. Afterward, Morabito "feels like Jell-O," and then she gets a great night's sleep.
Tranquil Balance also offers massages, in carefully designed rooms with themes like wood, fire, earth and metal.
It's owned by Tina and Jeff Von Flatern, with she working as one of the massage therapists and he handling the business side.
The process for a float therapy client involves first taking a shower, putting in earplugs to keep the water out, and entering one of the two 4-by-8-foot rooms, where the floater has control over the music volume and underwater lights.
"Purists would tell you: You don't listen to music, you don't leave any lights on, you don't learn Spanish, as one client is doing," Jeff said. But his view is to let clients make the experience their own, and let go.
While they're welcome to wear a bathing suit, Jeff recommends going in unclothed, as "the mind is a powerful muscle and once it is deprived of other stimulus it will focus on the contact of the suit to the body."
One factor that Jeff, 60, cited in Tranquil Balance's success is the aging population. While "relaxing" is one of the most common words of feedback, Facebook reviewers of Tranquil Balance reference the relief floating brings for chronic neck pain, chronic back pain, fibromyalgia and seasonal depression. Jeff said the business also gets customers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In between clients, the jets are on a constant cycle, and the filter is changed every week. Plus, with salinity that high, "there's no pathogen known to man that would survive," Jeff said.
Testing for salinity and density, the staff add salt periodically. Every six months, the room is out of commission for about 36 hours as all 1,000 pounds of salt are replaced, and the room is cleaned with a fiberglass cleaner and boat wax.
Float therapy goes back to 1954, when a psychologist wanted to study the results of sensory deprivation, though the accepted term today is "restricted environmental stimulus therapy," Jeff said. It picked up as a practice in the 1980s, and today there are 150-175 float centers in the country.
From civil engineering to UPS to massage therapy
Tina and Jeff Von Flatern, respectively from Old Lyme and Waterford, met working at the former Harbor View restaurant in Stonington. After spending five years in a small New York town, they moved back to southeastern Connecticut in 2004, to care for Jeff's father and be near other family.
Tina was working as a civil engineer but didn't feel fulfilled. Having spent a year as a caregiver for Jeff's father, and with a passion for helping those with cancer, she went to the former Center for Massage Therapy in Groton. Tina then began work at Masonicare, where she still works one day a week.
In deciding to add float therapy to massage services when opening Tranquil Balance, "We looked for something that might set us apart, and a friend mentioned floating," Jeff said.
The Von Flaterns also own two UPS store franchises in Clinton and Guilford.
Now, Tranquil Balance employs an additional 11 or 12 massage therapists, an aesthetician and three people working the front desk. In the future, Jeff said, he and Tina would love to open a second location.
A float therapy session is $60 for 60 minutes and $75 for 90 minutes; Tranquil Balance also offers 30 minutes "just as an introductory type of thing."
Along with offering Swedish, deep tissue, prenatal, oncology and hot stone massages, the center offers massages with CBD oil, which massage therapist Alicia Mora said brings may people "to a deep state of relaxation. It's a pain blocker."
Business: Tranquil Balance
Where: 15 Chesterfield Road, Suite 213, East Lyme (in the Professional Offices Building, next to Randall Realtors)
Owners: Tina and Jeff Von Flatern
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
More information: (860) 451-8040; www.tranquilbalancect.com