Sheboygan's South Pier has a new amenity in town that is as fun as it is healthy for you. The journey had many challenges, but Elizabeth is here to stay to help heal Sheboygan Community and provide anti-gravity experiences that will change, refresh, and reinvigorate the senses.
Walking into Float Doctor Relaxation Center, I realize that I am entering very exceptional surroundings. As I look around to take it all in, shivering off the bitter cold wind I just came from, I immediately experience an inner calm by the warm colors and welcoming ambiance of the foyer. Upon looking around as I wait to perform my interview, I realize this place has without a doubt, a swanky feel in its décor with many eclectic designs and artwork, Tiffany chandeliers with blue crystal water drops, high ceilings and large white maple doors. I feel like I want to hang out here more. The staff is friendly and kind, ready to assist with either a float treatment or to have a session with Elizabeth Heitzmann, resident therapist, author of Anomaly, Finding Normal, and the owner of Float Doctor.
Elizabeth greets me coming from the river view up the hallway. She nearly prances over to me in a flowing paisley skirt suit with a big smile. She reaches out for a firm handshake and pleasantries exchange and begins to enthusiastically show me around at details I hadn’t even realized were there.
I ask, “What made you create this?”
She chuckles a bit as she searches her mind. After she tells me about the journey she took to have the inspiration and drive to build such a unique place of peace, I understand why it took her a moment to collect her thoughts. I had no idea when I asked my first question how much work went into this. I didn’t know how much there was and that there was so much more to this story. This occurs to me now as I write this article, But I didn’t get it then. My research before coming here included the view of her profile as a featured therapist with Psychology Today. I know she has been doing different types of counseling and therapy since 1995. I watched a couple videos on her Float Doctor Facebook page that were interesting. She definitely has more to the story.
Almost apologetically she says, “Where do I begin?” she shrugs her left shoulder and rubs her chin searching her mind.
“Well, let’s talk about getting to this place.” She says as she makes a half turn gesturing towards the first room in the hall. “I had been looking for a perfect space to have this relaxation center for over four years,” she says as I follow her into the room.
She explains that her first location was inadequate on so many levels that were beyond her control, and it took more than two years after that to rebuild funds and relaunch in a location that she would own. “After that fiasco, ownership of the property was important due to the expense of the equipment and having custom private shower areas for the tanks (she has three of them). The property without a doubt needed to be bought considering the plumbing and sound controls.” She looked right at me as she said this very firmly to me. It had a seriousness in her delivery. She has quite a story about that process, but I will elaborate more in depth about her journey later in the article, because I must get right into the impressiveness of these tanks!
She takes me into a seamless travertine tiled room that flows into a contemporary shower equipped with a waterfall rain showerhead, shampoo, and conditioner. It is a beautiful room. I can see the thought and work that was put into making sure that the room can accommodate handicapped needs.
I see this nautical blue steel wall with a golden handle in the middle. Behind that door is where the magic really takes place she says. She opens the door and my glasses steam up with the 94-degree saline air that rolls out into the room. It has a 7 foot ceiling and goes back 8 feet deep and is four feet wide to allow for one person to be able to lay down in the solution. She took a full water spray bottle and tossed it in the solution in the hydrochamber. I watched as it bounced a bit on the surface before the spray bottle then floated on the solution. I was amazed by how buoyant it was, though it just looks like water.
She explains, “The antigravity properties of the solution are designed to be at skin temperature. This will allow your brain, which is extremely efficient with processes, to shut off some of the monitor systems that need to be on even when we sleep.” She continues, “Even in a deep sleep, we may get an inner prompt to reposition because the monitoring systems feel that maybe circulation is being compromised. This monitoring system takes a lot of processing space in our mind. If it can be turned off, a whole world of conscious headspace can be opened to us to heal and recover.”
Basically, this process is occurring as a result of being in the antigravity solution and the temperature being the same as your skin. It allows for major sensory processes to not be needed.
Her analogy is that we digest food only where there is food to digest. The body will not initiate digestion if there is nothing to digest. In a similar fashion, the body can turn off monitoring systems when that too is not needed and certain conditions exist.
She continues, “There are no pressure points or gravity against the body while floating; therefore, proprioception, vestibular processes, interoception, as well as visual and auditory stimulation does not get received for a period of time. Eventually, the brain will just shut those processes off because it is efficient like that. This is when the ‘meditation on steroids’ effect happens to floaters. A person can focus on healing mentally or physically in this state in a most extraordinary way. The process is as different for everyone like how one person may experience dreams differently than another person, but everybody does dream one way or another. It is a process that each person discovers as it unfolds.”
She says that to really get to that full shut off state, a person needs to go about three times. The body has never turned those processes off, so it is something each person’s body needs to learn in the tank.
“It is amazing how much we think we need this body to experience our life around us. We are so much more than this body that we have to accommodate to,” she says.
I look into the hydrochamber to see it is completely black inside and has a spa like salty smell that feels really good to breathe in. I can imagine relaxing in this tank to the full potential she describes without feeling claustrophobic due to its size. I thought is seemed wider than a twin bed. She explained that it is 8 feet long and 4 feet wide.
She poses naturally, almost Vanna White style as she explains, “These tanks that I have here are very special because they are the only UL certified and NSF certified tanks in the state of Wisconsin to be provided for commercial use. There is no other equipment like it in the world, that I know of, that has this quality of a float experience in pure salt and water with the sanitation standards that we have. This equipment does not use any harsh halogen chemicals or hydrogen peroxide to disinfect the solution of over 1000 pounds of Epsom salts to 250 gallons of water. There are no other float devices besides the Float Lab equipment that have attained these levels of safety and sanitary standards in their all natural disinfection process between each floater. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right”, she said as someone who has done her fair share of research to come to the decision to use these tanks compared to any others.
And she did this right. She took me passed the other two rooms down the hall. Walking into the filtration room, the largest room in the whole facility, I am blown away by the pipes, UV lights higher than my waist, air cleaning system, ozone, gadgets, and meters in every direction. As she shows me the elaborate sanitation equipment, I feel like I am admiring three brand new Cadillacs parked in a garage.
“Float Lab made this equipment custom for me and is the company that has this equipment patented and tested by creator, Crash, who operates in Venice Beach, CA. He is very serious about safety and the disinfection process. He wants people to experience the all natural pure, clean, salt and water. That is what floating is about,” she said.
“Why didn’t you buy something cheaper? I have seen ads for these pods that people float in,” I asked to understand further. There is more reason to have these tanks besides the cleaning process.
“It was a requirement for me to have a medical grade clean that can one day be approved to bill insurance companies as treatment for conditions. We are trying to appeal to get insurance companies to cover this type of treatment for certain individuals who have orders from their physicians. I knew that third party sanitation standards would be required for that to ever be possible. This is the only equipment that I am aware of that could ever meet that standard. Right now, many insurance companies might look at a float in general to be as beneficial as taking supplemental vitamins. They appreciate the benefit medically, but do not cover it currently. We are working hard to try to get coverage for this since I have already seen how it has helped many people with anxiety, migraines, depression, PTSD, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, grief, insomnia, cancer pain, joint and muscle pain, gout, Lyme disease, and so many other difficult conditions. These people get relief and are able to reconnect to themselves through floating. They achieve a natural reset. People do get sick and tired of popping pills that have side effects or dull other parts of themselves that is not nearly as pleasant as floating in a tank,” she explains. "It really all stems from inflammatory reactions in the body, central nervous system or tissues that Epsom salt can treat especially with these ultra saturated levels in our float tanks."
Yes, this was a huge investment. Just the salt in one tank can be over $800. I am amazed on how much work and thought had to go into this project. Speaking with her, I was getting the real understanding of how important these treatments will be for others as I see the rest of the facility.
Venturing further into her journey, I learn this place did not just fall into Elizabeth’s hands, and there were many struggles that went into finding this facility.
"This process has exposed me to many different worlds. I have found that there are, it seems to me, like different rule books on how to deal with certain things from a business perspective once bureaucracy gets involved. This occurred for example, when looking at different properties in different zoning requirements within districts. It was amazing how things ended up involving a whole pile of people with so many interests that didn't fit with my own intentions. Lots of time was spent going to meetings, getting approvals, permits, making compromises, and receiving permissions. Each had their own process I needed to follow, and I am still trying to sort some of those things out. I was very lucky to have a good realtor and buying agent for me. He walked me through all of the different things that I just did not know, and nobody would typically know. I certainly lived the example of Murphy's Law, and what could go wrong did typically go wrong,” she said.
“I won't get into some of the issues that had to be juggled but it definitely could have ended very differently if I did not have Joe's vested interest in doing the best thing for me and his seasoned knowledge, resources, and good advice. I never thought that I would need lawyers as often as I have. And like the real estate market there are good ones, better ones, and those that seem to have their own agenda," she chuckles again and shakes her head. “I just want to help people and provide some real relaxation resources because this world can be such a stressful and cruel place sometimes. But, then again, if a person is taking risks and really going to create a difference to helping other people have better lives, difficulties must be expected and there will be obstacles otherwise everybody would be doing it. I have been actively working on this since 2014. The outcomes I see from our clients through this process and other pitfalls in the journey of trying to make this happen keeps reminding me of why I'm doing this.”
She continued, “We looked at almost 80 places before we found this space. My realtor was so patient and helpful as we looked for the absolute best space for what I could do with my budget. Once we got it, we had some delays with construction since I had to be a general contractor to get the job done the way I wanted it.” Elizabeth said frankly, “Bureaucratic red tape was almost in a part of every direction in this process. Plus some other oversights were discovered that needed to be tackled. Having the tanks finally operational is a fantastic relief. I am extremely happy with our progress so far.”
The room she rents from Float Doctor to see her clients is also completed and has a very cozy and whimsical kind of design. There is something to look at in every direction.
“I can see all that you have put into this. Everything has a place and a reason, and it is all very well designed. Why was it so important to you to have a float center?” she was asked. She explained it all started when she read about the float research in a Department of Defense article back in 2014 when she first registered as a mental health provider for service members.
“The pain relief was a personal interest as well as a great feature of the treatment that also helped to calm the mind and get headspace to process things that are creative or difficult to access. That article explained that floating was almost a sort of self-hypnosis, where you could go back into your subconscious mind and obtain closure and healing to past trauma. The results that they were getting from very severe mental and physical trauma patients seemed almost magical to me,” she said.
“I had to try it immediately.” She says with excitement, “I found a place to go to, and I did realize that at least for me, there were visions as well as complete disconnection of my body where I was able to simply explore my consciousness on my first float. I felt like I left my shell of a body there in the tank while I released myself to explore my inner thoughts feelings, and experiences. The feeling of not having the heaviness of this dysfunctional body while processing information made me realize how distracting my body can be. When I achieve that theta state, I become untethered to the body, and I am free to move around within my own consciousness that seems to be opened up to me for my own investigation and processing.”
“I did not have any pain for certain periods while in the tank. It was absolutely amazing for me to not feel physical pain for a period of time,” she said. I was particularly curious about the pain relief that I heard floating can help. I have some arthritis in my back that definitely bugs me on regular basis.
I asked her what her thoughts are on the pain relief. She touched on it when I first arrived. She told me her issues that also drew her attention to this treatment: As a result of a botched gallbladder surgery in 2007, she was left with significant nerve damage and adhesions of her internal organs from an undiscovered bile leak that went on for two weeks. This is where chronic pain treatment had become a mission for her as a selfish pursuit, but she knew whatever she could find that was effective would be shared with others so they too could start to move past their own pain.
“I was practically useless with the physical distress and nerve pain at times. I had to function despite it for a very long time which really can wear on a person's positivity. It was exhausting and frustrating. I could go on and on, but I did write a book about it, but even that has a wrench in it,” she laughs again and shakes her head the way she has with many topics. “My publisher has criminal charges for embezzlement and now I need to get a new publisher for my old book to be back in print. At least he got caught before I gave him my second one. I do explain the relief with the floating treatment and the journey to having this float center is the follow up to that first book. There is a very happy outcome to all of this, I know it.” She is reassuring in her words but very matter of fact.
After learning about her own struggles, I asked what she recommends for first time floaters.
“Well, if you do have pain, I would say to get acclimated to the tank first. Try to stretch out all of your muscles so they can get to a relaxed state. Maybe even manually massage where things might be tight, then focus on your back, your knee, or shoulder, or whatever bothers you. Imagine yourself and all of your intention going to where your pain is. Tell it to heal, to move freely, and be well. Stretch it and move it and then relax into it. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on it. Do this for a couple of minutes and then let the full detachment of the float do the work for you. As people come in and explain their goals and what they want to experience through floating, we can provide direction on how to achieve what they are looking for.
If it is anxiety or depression that a person wishes to alleviate, there is a simple detachment process or imagery that can be helpful for clients to “reset” themselves to a calmer and more positive state. We will walk people through that as well before their float.
We step out of her consult room to look at the beautiful river view. There is an amazing grand patio area, which I was told will eventually have yoga and meditation classes.
“‘Fair Weather Fitness’ is what we will provide here with beginning to advanced level fitness, yoga, and meditation classes starting in Spring of 2020. We will also have the therapeutic massage services ready before that time,” Elizabeth said. “We are looking for the right people who want to join our team of natural healing for our added treatments”.
We are hoping to get the filtration room floor sealed with epoxy and get the quartz shelves installed in the hall along with a few other final touches to be done in the next couple of weeks. “The biggest challenge for me is trying to balance work and family while I want to be a part of the completion of the project”. She looks around and proudly, yet humbly says with a twinkle in her eye, "I may not look the part, but I do like that I have done all of the painting, and trim around here. It feels good to know that I did actually create some of the neat features that you see. " There is only 24 hours in a day and if I see seven to eight patients most days, that doesn't leave a lot of time for creating, sanding, and hammering.
This will be the pinnacle of her career thus far when it is completed she says. “I really feel blessed to be able to have brought this to Sheboygan and to have been so involved in the actual building of this dream for the purpose of truly helping others. To have all of this as my own resource and then have this unique treatment for the community to be better makes me very grateful, and I am honored to be a part of people's healing through the therapy work I provide and now with these hydrochambers. And soon, we will have other relaxing and self development services available. We want people to have more clarity about their own direction and journey in life and to be able to look inside of themselves to discover what will truly be fulfilling for them,” she said.
Even if a person doesn’t have a lot of “work” to do or healing on their agenda, floating is just super relaxing and a wonderful thing to do. We welcome you to come and visit the facility.
She mentioned Open House on January 20th of 2018. Which is a perfect time to jump-start those New Year's resolutions with a nice "reset" for a healthier new you!