Yoga for Scoliosis
Scoliosis is defined as the lateral curving of the spine, however scoliosis can and often does manifest with a rotational component as
well, implying that the vertebrae not only shift laterally but also rotate, or twist. The curvature can exist in the lumbar, thoracic, or cervical spine, and often does in two or all three of these areas along the vertebrae.
There are two types of scoliosis, functional and structural. When scoliosis of the spine is functional, the curvature of the spine may be temporary, in that it’s underlying causes may often be treated. Functional scoliosis can occur due to muscle tightness to one side of the body, or muscle spasms that draw the spine toward the tightened muscle. Functional scoliosis may also occur due to a difference in leg length, inflammation in the body that causes muscle spasms, or a number of other potential reasons.
Structural scoliosis means that the curvature and rotation of the spine are in the structure of the body, manifesting from the bones. The possible causes of structural scoliosis are numerous; although recent studies suggest that scoliosis is genetic. Other causes may be disease (i.e., neuromuscular, metabolic, connective tissue, or rheumatoid disease), birth defect, an injury, infection, abnormal growth or tumor, etc. The goal of medical treatment is to stop the progression of the curve. There are a number of treatment options for those with scoliosis; some of the more conventional medical treatments may include observation and repeated examinations, to determine if the spine is continuing to curve. Bracing may be used when the curve measures between 25 to 40 degrees on an x-ray, but skeletal growth remains. The type of brace and the amount of time spent in the brace depends on the severity of the condition. Surgery may be recommended when the curve measures 50 degrees or more on an x-ray and bracing is not successful in slowing down the progression of the curve.
The journey within a yoga practice can be instrumental in potentially limiting the progression of scoliosis. A yoga practice may also help reduce pain and bring more balance and alignment to a body with scoliosis. With a functional scoliosis, an appropriate yoga practice can release tightened muscle groups that distort the spine, thus alleviating an underlying cause of scoliosis. In yoga for both functional and structural scoliosis, this may be accomplished in asana (poses/postures), through breath work, and through the process of tuning the mind into body. In doing so, one gains insight and information from the body and proceeds in the practice with an increasing awareness and understanding of what one truly needs. Yoga can also develop weakened muscle groups, thus bringing greater balance to the muscle body. With asana and breath-work, the practitioner can create more space in the vertebrae and in the body in general. By elongating the spine, the disks between the vertebrae can be nourished and relieved of pressure from the collapsing that happens when the curved spine is fighting gravity and is being drawn down. Strengthening the muscles along the spine can help prevent the lateral curvature from increasing. In various asana, one can manipulate the spine in the direction opposite its lateral curves, and also de-rotate the spine in the direction opposite its twist. Developing the deeper abdominal muscles provides support to the spine that is learning symmetry, and strengthening the legs provides the same. The practitioner can utilize the breath to release areas of tension in the body and also to bring a “filling” or more balance into spaces where the body is more collapsed, such as a lung or one side of the ribs.
In yoga for scoliosis, or a yoga practice that emphasizes alignment, one learns to align the body with the structural system, the bones. In practicing poses and learning to stand in a manner that utilizes the bones for support (finding the body’s “plumb line”), rather than overtaxing muscles, joints, and ligaments by moving or standing with the bones misaligned, one can re-organize the body and function more harmoniously with gravity, rather than work against it. Through yoga, one can discover a more refined symmetry in the body, rather than the constant experience of the body’s compensating act for imbalance and asymmetry. When the practitioner with scoliosis begins to discover this more refined manner of aligning the body, one’s curvatures may then more easfully co-exist with gravity, and in this the practitioner may find they experience less pain and more balance.
I am one such practitioner. I have a structural scoliosis that rotates and curves as a backwards “S”. With yoga, I have significantly improved my posture, my body is far more open and spacious, and I no longer suffer from kyphosis (a rounding forward of the thoracic spine, or rounding of the upper back). My hips and shoulders have become more even, rather than one side being much higher than the other. The weight into my feet is more evenly distributed thus allowing me greater balance, my body is less tight and tense. Through my yoga practice and other complementary practices (massage, rolfing, energy healing work, etc), my pain is managed (most often I am pain free). I am deeply grateful for this timeless and profound practice, which has allowed me greater understanding of myself, greater acceptance of myself, and greater ease in life and in body.
Please contact me if you are interested in exploring this wonderous journey, embarking on the quest of a lifetime.