I lay in a dark water-filled tank in Charlottesville which apparently helps you relax

It was like being in the womb

I am floating perfectly on top of the water in the dark, completely naked, and trying desperately to clear my mind.

The womb-like structure that I am inside is a sensory deprivation tank, located only about a mile and a half from UVa grounds, and marketed in their brochure as “a luxurious environment devoted to peace, relaxation and renewal”.

In effect, it is an oversized white porcelain bathtub with nothing to hear, see, smell, taste or feel.

The Aquafloat Cville reception area

The Aquafloat Cville reception area

Inside the tank is twelve inches of water at approximately 93.5°F, a temperature which is undetectable by the sensory receptors in our skin.

This water is also filled with 850-1000 lbs of Epsom salt, making the salinity of the water so intense that it can support your weight: when you immerse yourself in it, you completely float.

The salinity also mimics a zero gravity environment: you are unable to roll yourself over, even if you were to fall asleep. So there is no risk of death from falling asleep and rolling over. Pathogens are also unable to survive with that much Epsom salt, so the water is safe and clean.

1,000 lbs of Epsom salt

1,000 lbs of Epsom salt

Floats typically last 90 minutes. That may seem like a long time, but Oliver Beavers, a staff member at Aquafloat Cville, assured me many people actually feel gypped. “They think it only lasted about twenty minutes,” he said.

However, if at any point you feel done with your float, you are free to lift the lid and climb out.

It’s a bit sci-fi

Although the tank I am drifting around in seems high-tech with its changing neon lights, the basic technology actually hasn’t changed much since 1954, when it was first invented by John C. Lilly in an attempt to explore our conscious state when deprived of sensory stimulation.

I am someone who believes in mindfulness and meditation, and Aquafloat boasts the same benefits as both of these, in part because you are essentially lying in Shavasana, the yoga pose where you lie on your back focusing on your breathing.

Other categories of benefits include relaxation, increased creativity, chronic pain relief and recovery, due to the absorbed magnesium from the water, which fights inflammation. This last piece is hugely beneficial for athletes.

When your time is done, you will be notified by soft flute notes drifting through the otherwise senseless capsule of your tank.

Leaving the tank, I felt relaxed in the way you might after a good night’s rest, and my skin felt smoother. My hands were not prune-like – which was one of my initial concerns – because of the amount of salt in the water. And the following day I did feel more rested and relaxed.

For one of the more bizarre undertakings in your life, appointments can be booked online at aquafloatcville.com. The site recommends completing three floats to experience the most benefits, although a single float is well worth the visit.

University of Virginia