I have scoliosis, which was discovered when I was a kid. After my growth spurt, the doctors concluded that I did not have to wear a brace or undergo surgery, which I am grateful for.
I feel fortunate that the scoliosis never really hindered me in life, although I do notice the effects of this misalignment in my body. But it was only after I started yoga that I fully got to understand the ways of my body.
What is scoliosis exactly?
Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine. Whereas normally your spine would be straight when viewed from the back, with scoliosis, the spine forms a curve in a form of an S or a C. This curve can occur in the sacrum, the lumbar, spine or the thoracic spine.
There are two types of scoliosis: structural and functional. Many of us have a mild version of functional scoliosis from repetitive one-sided activity (for instance, carrying your purse always on one side for years and years). This misalignment has more to do with the muscle development rather than the structure of the body.
The structural scoliosis, on the other hand, affects the structure of the body, and it is usually detected in childhood. Although the degree of severity will vary per person, structural scoliosis will result in muscular tightness in one side of the body and can, for example, cause one lung to have less space due to collapsed ribcage.
Most people with scoliosis have undergone treatment or at least regular check-ups as a child. But what can yoga offer us?
Yoga and Scoliosis
Yoga helps to bring back the natural balance of the body and support the body's structure, no matter how curved. ~Kaisa Kapanen
With yoga, we get to know our bodies on a more detailed level. When practicing yoga poses that can help with scoliosis, the rule of thumb is to try to release the muscles that are contracted and to strengthen the muscles that are weaker.
As always, the key for yoga is in providing understanding and acceptance for how we are built and for who we are. We cannot expect yoga to magically straighten our spines, but it can offer us solutions on how to treat our bodies in order to promote health and balance.
Helpful Yoga Poses
Every body is unique, and so is every scoliosis. There are some general rules on how you can work with your scoliosis, but if you want to know specific poses that could be beneficial for your type of scoliosis, I highly recommend an individual teaching session with a qualified, specialized teacher or yoga therapist.
Poses that Lengthen the Spine
With any pose, focus on lengthening the spine. The following poses can bring relief and space for your back muscles and space within the spine.
- Cat and Cow Pose will stretch the muscles supporting your spine and open up the spaces between the vertebrae.
- Child's Pose relaxes the whole back. By taking your arms on the convex side (the rounded part) you can create more space on the concave side (the more hollow side).
With scoliosis, the two sides of the body have very different needs, so it's beneficial to work with asymmetrical poses. This way, we are better able to isolate the different body parts we want to work on. However, it is still important to work on both sides so that we reinforce a balance.
- Triangle Pose can bring space and length into the spine. For the concave, hollow side, instead of bringing your lower hand on your shin or onto the floor, use a chair so you can really focus on bringing length to the thoracic spine by stretching forwards. On the convex, rounded side, bring your lower hand on your shin and upper hand to the sacrum instead of towards the ceiling. Focus on opening the shoulders and twisting the upper body.
Whereas some sources say twists are not beneficial for scoliosis, I have received specific twists as homework from my teacher. Again, be mindful of your situation and seek guidance. Twists can be great in releasing the energy in the spine. You can do twists by sitting on a chair with your side towards the back of the chair. Keep your feet together and use the back of the chair for support to twist deeper.
Scoliosis can be a great teacher of taking things slowly, of getting to know your body, and allowing your body to guide you. As always with yoga, what happens on your yoga mat is for you. You are not practicing for your neighbor, but to find balance and harmony in your own body.
Especially if you have scoliosis, seek guidance as to what would be helpful for you. Inform your teachers and don't be shy to follow your own rhythm in class.