Vital signs

If a naked fat guy snores in a sensory-deprivation tank, does anybody hear?

Well, the naked fat guy sure does.

And when his own sinusy snorts startle him awake amid the unbroken blackness and sumptuous stillness to find himself floating effortlessly inside a molded-plastic cabinet pumped with oxygen-rich air and Dead Sea-salty water, he will search for stars speckling the inky underbelly of the sky he imagines himself drifting beneath, atop an endless ocean.

And, even in their absence, he will smile.

The distant sea lifts me and stirs me. It is, if you will, my god — a tough religion to practice when you’re living in the mountains, hours from the nearest fix.

So it’s no wonder that that’s where my mind vacations when I take my first dip in Jonathan Wainscott‘s new sensory-deprivation tank, which he operates out of a cozy west Asheville bungalow. Floating inside, I am hundreds of miles from these Blue Ridge peaks, toes addressing the ion-charged sky in my naked mind’s eye, potential bait for the mistaken predations of some night-foraging seabird. Hello!

Just before my virgin 90-minute dip, I asked Wainscott what to expect. He wouldn’t say.

“It’s totally unpredictable,” he explained, leading me into a modest-sized room. In it stood the tank, roughly 4 feet wide by 4 feet high by 8 feet long, and containing about 10 inches (160 gallons) of water infused with 800 pounds of Epsom salts. After giving me a brief primer, Wainscott left.

I was to make use of the toilet in the adjoining bathroom (remember Mom’s advice before long trips?) and then shower (to remove any deodorant, makeup, hair-care products, dirt, body oil, etc.). Wainscott doesn’t skimp on amenities — handmade soaps, salon shampoos, fluffy towels. (It’s advisable to shower again at session’s end; otherwise, you’ll soon look like a human salt lick.)

And then I got into the tank and shut the lid. In the other room, Wainscott set a timer (which would pipe in soft music to cue the session’s end).

Ignorant of floating etiquette, I’d asked in advance about a swimsuit. Do what you want, said Wainscott; most folks go au naturel.

Well, alrighty then.

Consequently, some novice floaters have concerns about hygiene. But microbes don’t like Epsom salts, Wainscott explains. And the tank’s filtration process — including both hydrogen peroxide and ozone — breaks down any stray organic matter.

“That water is cleaner than any swimming pool you’ve been in,” Wainscott reports. “It’s probably cleaner than your own tap water.”


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