Floating Across Virginia

Photo by Halfpoint Images

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Sensory deprivation tanks with mega-salty water can reduce stress and improve wellness.


Within minutes of closing the orb’s lid, I felt like I was floating in outer space. My achy muscles were buoyed by the salty water, and I didn’t have to hold myself upright or listen to my sore trapezoids. Yes, I may have been in the windowless basement of an office building, but my consciousness felt a million miles away from the stresses I usually carry. Other than the new age-ish instrumental music, I was completely alone in a totally dark place. 

And I can’t wait to do it again.


Turns out, I’m not alone. With 17 sites at last count, float spas are booming across Virginia. You’re likely familiar with tossing Epsom salts into a warm bath to relax your muscles, but a float tank experience is “that on steroids,” says Kim Beatty, the manager of Synergy Float Center in Alexandria. A thousand pounds of Epsom salts added to 150 gallons of water makes it “close to the equivalent of the Dead Sea.” The water temperature mimics your body temperature and is 10 to 11 inches deep with a silky, viscous feel.

I love swimming in oceans, lakes, and pools, but I’ve never felt so buoyant and relaxed. The tanks also provide restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST), which many of us need in our relentlessly stimulating world. Getting into a float tank can be a time to check out and reset—both physically and psychologically. In an NIH study, even one hour induced “a strong reduction in state anxiety and a substantial improvement in mood” for 50 people with anxiety and stress-related disorders who engaged in Floatation REST. To aid my relaxation, I took deep breaths of the warm, moist air and, surprisingly, fell asleep for part of it. 

After enjoying several floats, Alicia Fyfe of Alexandria also sings its praises. “Afterwards, I sleep better,” she says. “My stress dissipates, and it can affect my sleep patterns for up to a month.” Her husband, Brian McVicker, finds that floating relieves his arthritis and lower back pain.

For Megan Pollack, whose marketing and communications job often takes her to Japan and the West Coast, floating has become pivotal for jet lag recovery. “It’s the detox of the salts, and actually just slowing down and getting to spend a little bit of time really focusing on myself,” the Alexandria resident says. She floats every two weeks and appreciates the lower social interaction of floating, compared to other self-care therapies.

Nationwide, both trainers and athletes tout the physical benefits of floating. Sports teams—including the University of Virginia’s basketball team and the Washington Commanders—have floatation tanks in their recovery programs, according to Superior Float Tanks, a supplier located in Norfolk.

Synergy’s owner, Chris Jones, who served in the military for 26 years, describes himself as once “a poster child for PTSD.” After his active duty, he didn’t realize how little he was enjoying day-to-day life and simple pleasures, like baseball games. While hiking through Peru, he heard someone mention float therapy. When he returned to his then home in Alexandria, he tried it and was taken with its transformative powers. 

“I walked out of that float on cloud nine,” he says. For the first time, he realized he could escape his constant fight-or-flight response. He opened Synergy to share this rejuvenating experience and launched a Float-It-Forward program that clients can donate to, which provides free floats to military members, veterans, and first responders. 

At any float center, you’ll have your own room with a shower to rinse off before and after your float. If you’re claustrophobic, most sites offer open pools without lids. Facilities also provide ear plugs, optional music, and a floating neck pillow for support. 

My experience only makes me want more. I’ve already booked my next relaxing and otherworldly float. 

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Virginia Floats

Many sites offer a variety of wellness options, which may include couples’ tanks, massages, and fire (sauna) and ice (cold plunge) therapy.

  • Stillwater Floatation, Roanoke: Four float tanks, including an ADA option, and fire and ice therapy. 1309 3rd St. SW, StillWaterFloatation.com
  • Aquafloat, Charlottesville: Three float tanks, massages, and infrared saunas. 925 E. Jefferson St., AquaFloatCville.com
  • Float Norfolk, Norfolk: Four tanks in the Renova Wellness Center. Partnering with the city, they offer free floats to first responders. 129 W. Virginia Beach Blvd., #130A, FloatNorfolk.com
  • Transitions Float RVA, Richmond: Two locations with float therapy and salt caves for respiratory wellness. 2226 Old Brick Rd. (Short Pump), 1312 Sycamore Sq. (Midlothian), TransitionsRVA.com
  • Synergy Float Center, Alexandria: Four float tanks, an infrared sauna, and magnetic resonance therapy. 1240 N. Pitt St., Lower Level, SynergyFloatCenter.com

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue. 

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