Yoga poses for scoliosis

We've previously talked about the relationship between yoga and scoliosis and how yoga is sometimes used as a form of scoliosis treatment due to its ability to create proper alignment within the body whilst reducing pain. This is achieved by placing focus on a number of key parts of the body, including:

  • Strengthening the feet and legs (to relieve the burden placed on the spine)
  • Straightening / lengthening the spine
  • Aligning the lower limbs with the torso for improved function
  • Addressing the rounding of the back
  • Strengthening core muscles to prevent the back from tightening
  • Incorporation of breathing awareness to improve structural alignment

However, despite all of the benefits associated with yoga, scoliosis patients who wish to take up yoga need to be cautious of the potential dangers that also exist. This is particularly the case for yoga classes that do not cater to the demands of scoliosis sufferers, as scoliotic spines do not always behave in the same manner as straight, healthy spines.

In order to ensure that your condition is improved rather than worsened, take a look at our recommended best (and worst) yoga poses for people with scoliosis.

 

The best yoga poses for scoliosis

Cat/Cow Pose

At the beginning of a yoga session, it's important to focus on loosening the spine with breathing. The cat pose is a great exercise to help with this. To perform it, kneel with the hands below the shoulders and the knees below the hips. Whilst inhaling, lift the head and tailbone, making the lower back concave. Exhale and tuck the tailbone, rounding and releasing the neck. Repeat this for a total of ten times.

Warrior Pose

This pose strengthens and stretches the legs, psoas and back muscles and should be performed with the support of a door jamb or pillar in order to keep the torso upright and balanced. To perform the warrior pose:

  • Bring your back to the edge of the door jamb with the front heel about two feet ahead and the front leg hugging the side of the wall.

  • Place the back toes around two feet behind the left hip. Square the two hips so they are parallel to each other and point the tailbone to the floor, lengthening the sacrum.

  • Inhale and bring the arms overhead parallel to the shoulders (with palms facing each other) and lift from the upper back, lengthening the ribs and spine out of the pelvis.

  • Exhale and bend the right leg, creating a right angle, with the thigh parallel to the floor and the shinbone perpendicular to the floor. The right knee should be placed directly over the right heel, with the left leg fully extended and the left heel descending to the floor.

  • Continue to lift the spine, and at the same time, press into the floor with the back leg.

If you have trouble bringing the back heel to the floor, place a sandbag under the heel for balance. Pressing it back and down to the floor helps to penetrate the deep psoas muscle.

 

Inversions

In a healthy spine, the continual pull of gravity can compress the intervertebral disc and eventually cause nerve damage or disc herniation. If you have scoliosis, this issue is even more pronounced. Scoliosis sufferers will tend to feel the uneven pressure of gravity constantly but have no understanding of how to create alignment to alleviate it.

Inversions are a perfect way to create freedom in your body to experience alignment without the usual distortions caused by gravity. As a result, it is often easier - particularly if you have been diagnosed with scoliosis - to feel what alignment is upside down than while standing on your feet. Inversions are also a great way to develop strength in the back and arms, increasing circulation to the vertebrae, brain and other major organs as well as encouraging lymphatic circulation and venous blood return.

 

The worst yoga poses for scoliosis

Back-bending poses

Bending a scoliotic spine backwards will reduce the normal front-to-back thoracic shape, also known as kyphosis. This 'regular' part of the spine works to limit the progression of scoliosis, so emphasis should be placed on encouraging this shape rather than reducing it. Back-bending positions flatten the thoracic spine which can lead to destabilisation, making scoliosis worse.

Back-bending poses include:

  • Cobra
  • Half-moon
  • Bow pose
  • Camel
  • Wheel
  • Locust

 

Torso-twisting poses

Unless you're certain it will not aggravate the rib arching, scoliosis patients should avoid twisting the torso against the pelvis. The rib arch is increased as it rotates backwards into the existing curvature, regardless of whether the rotation is to the left or right side. Some forms of scoliosis can accommodate these types of twists in a yoga programme, but only to one side.

It's important to communicate with your practitioner before incorporating these poses into your yoga routine:

  • Spinal twist
  • Triangle
  • Seated twist
  • Sage twist

 

Bending the rib cage

Bending the rib cage backwards, forwards or sideways should be avoided at all costs. Trying to open up the main scoliotic curve between the thoracic (upper) and lumbar (lower) spine may improve the major thoracic curve, but you will risk worsening any curvatures above or below that curve.

The poses to avoid are:

  • Side bend
  • Triangle
  • Seated twist
  • Sage twist

 

These are the best and worst yoga poses for people with scoliosis. Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we provide award-winning, exercise-based scoliosis treatment courses that aim to strengthen the muscles and increase the range of motion in the back, frequently eliminating any need for surgical intervention. We have treated patients of all ages from all over the world.

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Mindfulness meditation

At its most basic, 'mindfulness' refers to an individual's conscious presence in the here and now, focusing on the moment and one's current surroundings.

But mindfulness also extends to the way we react to situations, with a strong emphasis on maintaining a calm and calculated approach to what's going on.

"What does that have to do with scoliosis?" we hear you ask. Well, potentially, quite a lot.

 

Mindfulness and Pain Relief

According to the Dalai Lama, "if a person's basic state of mind is serene and calm, then it is possible for this inner peace to overwhelm a painful physical experience".

In other words, practising mindfulness can help us to cope with physical pain and discomfort as well as being a useful stress management technique.

 

A Brief History of Mindfulness and Scoliosis

This holistic approach to long-term medical conditions is nothing new. In fact, way back in the 4th century BC, Hippocrates was believed to have stressed the healing power of nature and said to have encouraged self-healing methods.

Additionally, it's well-documented that methods not unlike mindfulness have been in use for centuries, notably playing a big role in the ancient medical traditions of both India and China. Meanwhile, Buddhist monks have long been associated with this meditative approach to health and wellbeing.

 

Mindfulness Studies and Results

According to an article published on RelaxTheBack.com, a study conducted by the University of Montreal compared the pain tolerance of Zen monks well-versed in meditation to that of non-meditators.

The results showed that the monks' pain sensitivity rate was 18% lower, while MRI results concluded that they also had a thicker orbitofrontal cortex, suggesting that this area of the brain was responsible for meditation-based pain relief.

A further study by the University of California, San Diego found that, after completing a 20-minute mindfulness meditation session each day for just 4 days, test subjects reduced their pain response by 44%. The same test was done on another group, replacing meditation with a dose of morphine. The morphine resulted in a pain reduction of just 20%.

Additional evidence was published in the April 2011 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, which reported that 80 minutes of mindfulness meditation could cut pain perception almost in half.

 

Mindfulness and Scoliosis

So let's apply this theory to scoliosis. If the above figures are correct, theoretically, modern-day mindfulness techniques could help to decrease scoliosis pain.

What's more, the mental benefits may also help scoliosis sufferers to cope with the condition psychologically, fending off the anxiety and depression that can accompany long-term ailments like scoliosis.

 

Practice Mindfulness with Scoliosis

Stereotypical meditation positioning requires you to be sat up straight, cross-legged on the floor. This may not be very comfortable for someone with scoliosis!

Luckily, mindfulness meditation can be modified to fit your body's needs. Whether you need to use a chair, sit against a wall or lie down on your back, you're free to find the position that's most comfortable for you.

Daily meditation in a relaxed environment could be a great way to help combat the negative effects of scoliosis. At the very least, it's definitely worth a shot.

Learn about our scoliosis treatment methods >

Yoga for Scoliosis

It seems that yoga classes are popping up everywhere these days, and this ancient Indian practice has also become very popular among online communities. Placing emphasis on psychological and physical balance, yoga is often used to improve an individual's physical ability, as well as their mental well-being. This is achieved via a combination of poses and breathing exercises, which are said to improve strength and flexibility while also combating the negative effects of everyday life (such as stress and bad posture).

While yoga has received a lot of good press in the health and wellness industry, it's important to examine how yoga is being promoted to those with specific medical conditions, including scoliosis. The benefits of yoga have been well documented, but we feel that it is also important to scrutinise the ways in which some people are presenting this approach as a viable, non-surgical treatment for curvature of the spine.

How is yoga used to treat scoliosis?

The form of yoga that is sometimes used to treat scoliosis is called hatha (which, in Sanskrit, simply means 'force'). Hatha yoga focuses on physical postures and exercises, but also emphasises proper breathing, mental exercises, and a controlled diet.

The main aim of yoga-based scoliosis treatment is to create proper alignment within the body while minimising pain and spinal damage. This is achieved by focusing on a number of key areas, including:

  • Strengthening the feet and legs (supposedly relieving some of the burden on your spine)
  • Straightening / lengthening the spine
  • Aligning the lower limbs with the torso for improved function
  • Addressing the rounding of the back
  • Strengthening the core muscles to prevent the back from tightening
  • Incorporation of breathing awareness to improve structural alignment

Should I use yoga to treat my scoliosis?

While yoga can lead to a number of positive benefits for scoliosis sufferers - most notably improved posture and muscle strength, as well as pain relief in some cases - the use of yoga as a scoliosis treatment should be regarded with caution. This is especially true if you are visiting a class or treatment centre that does not cater specifically to the demands of scoliosis sufferers; scoliotic spines don't always behave in the same way as healthy spines, and this can prove problematic when scoliosis patients participate in certain exercises and activities.

In particular, scoliosis sufferers who practice yoga should be careful when performing exercises that involve:

  • Backward / forward bending
  • Torso twists
  • Sideways bends
  • Shoulder stands
  • Bending of the rib cage

The problem is the sheer variety of different deviations that exist in scoliosis patients. Ideally, all treatments (whether yoga-based or not) should be specifically tailored to the patient's unique condition while also assessing potential areas of concern in order to avoid secondary risks.

Is there a safer alternative to yoga for scoliosis sufferers?

For those who wish to treat their scoliosis without surgery, there are other non-surgical treatment methods available - methods that provide the corrective and strengthening benefits of yoga while also doing more to address the individual needs of the patient. Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we use our own ScolioGold treatment method: this is a combined programme of non-surgical techniques that we specifically created to address a combination of issues present in individuals suffering from scoliosis. In order to provide the best results, patient outcomes and treatments are constantly monitored and updated in line with the latest medical research in our field.

Click here to find out more about our ScolioGold treatment programme, or get in touch with Scoliosis SOS today to arrange a consultation.

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