Gus Carter Gus Carter

My strange night in a sensory deprivation tank

Hidden below St George’s Wharf in Vauxhall, down the road from a now defunct gay sauna, is Floatworks, a wellness centre that offers ‘floatation therapy’.

Sensory deprivation tanks can be found in most British cities — in bohemian towns like Bristol and Brighton, but also in Birmingham and Belfast. The concept is simple enough: people are locked in an unlit pod and lie there with nothing but their thoughts. Some people report hallucinations, others a deep sense of calm. Wally Funk, the 82-year-old who was blasted into low earth orbit last month aboard Jeff Bezos’s private rocket, endured ten hours of sensory deprivation when she trained as an astronaut.

Ten hours seemed a dangerously long time, so instead I booked a measly 60-minutesession and cycled over after work. The tank looked like a windowless prototype for a self-driving hatchback. ‘You’ve got your earplugs and your Vaseline,’ said the attendant, gesturing towards a bamboo bowl that held a little sachet of ‘white petrolatum’. No other explanation was provided. My mind darted back to the gay sauna.

Kit off. The promotional photos showed floaters wearing swimming costumes, but the online community insists that birthday suit is the only appropriate dress code (which makes a sort of sense, given how foetal the set-up feels). There’s something quietly disconcerting about the mix of whale music pumped into the pod and the vaguely medical scent of the floatation solution, made up of, among other things, half a ton of Epsom salts.

The liquid was just over a foot deep and heated to what I assume is body temperature. It’s also toxic.

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