A few days ago, I gave “floating” (also popularly known as sensory deprivation) a try. Christine had given me a gift certificate to a local float company last year, and after returning from a vacation in China (and a 14 hour time zone difference) I thought it might be just what my frazzled brain might need.

I emailed back and forth with the owner a few times before the China trip, figuring out schedules, how to prepare, and that sort of thing. I confessed that I’d never considered floating before; like a lot of people my age, probably the first thing that comes to our minds is Homer Simpson in his float tank. New-age stuff that’s a little silly, a little wacky-west-coast kind of feel.

Anyway, the float facility itself was great. Calming music, lights, calming owner – he explained everything very thoroughly and everything was provided for. I slipped into the tank pictured at the top of this post, turned the music to low, and the room light shut off on a motion timer a moment later. Everything was great… except afterward, my back hurt like never before. Yikes.

I’ve never mentioned it on HeiseHeise.com before, but I was born with a minor genetic back deformity called “Scheuermann’s Disease” which causes a curvature of the spine, otherwise known clinically kyphosis… or less kindly, as “hunchback.” I was teased sometimes by kids in school for always looking like I was slightly slouching, and my show choir teacher sometimes ordered me to stand up straight as I was dancing, to which I’d think, “I am standing up straight! …wasn’t I?” I wasn’t diagnosed with the disease until midway through high school, but it’s never been a big deal to me. It’s a minor curvature, only 10-12 degrees more than “normal,” my back never hurt, and I got a bonus of extra large lungs (common for people with the disease) which have always aided in me in endurance running and cycling.

During the float, the buoyancy of the salt water was pushing my entire spine into a straight line. For the first 10-15 minutes I didn’t notice pain, just pressure, but as time went on, the increasing pain became all I could think about. Because float tanks are shallow – probably 6-8 inches total, I couldn’t even jack-knife my body in the water to alleviate the pressure without just giving up and fully sitting up in the water.

Afterward, I sat down with the facility’s owner and confessed to him that it wasn’t a great experience for me, while reassuring him it wasn’t his fault. He confessed in turn that he’d never heard of kyphosis before (heh, yeah – everyone’s heard of scoliosis, including Firefox’s spell checker as I’m writing this, but kyphosis can’t get no respect!) but agreed that yes, it made sense that a spine curved along the sagittal plane would react negatively to floating. He went to his computer to check in his Float Owner Group forum, but no one had mentioned it there. He even vowed to bring it up at the next nationwide Float Facility Owner’s Conference. And Google Search doesn’t turn up any public results either. When I looked, I saw that supposedly scoliosis can be comforted by this, since its curvature is along the opposing plane. Good for those folks, at least.

So, I figured I’d write a relatively short blog entry (by my standards at least) encouraging anyone who’s searched those keywords to please, check with your doctor about floating if you have postural or genetically-caused kyphosis. Postural kyphosis can supposedly be fixed by yoga, stretching, and other normal activities, but there’s a chance (and I’ll need to contact my doctor, too, if I decide to float again) that those of us with the latter might never get to experience the tranquil bliss of a float.

The owner had a positive note, though – he mentioned that out in Portland Oregon they have vertical-style float tanks, like Luke in his Bacta tank in Empire Strikes Back, (except with your head above the water) and that those might not cause the same pressure/pain problem. Now that’s a load off my back!