Many look at movement and forms of physical activity to treat scoliosis. One effective method of managing or correcting Scoliosis is through yoga. Scoliosis causes a sideways curve of the spine. When the spine curves abnormally, a spinal cord compression can occur. When a person develops an abnormal curvature, the spine is no longer aligned, which means the vertebrae are no longer stacked on top of one another. Common symptoms are lower back pain and stiffness. It is more common in children and adolescents, however, it can occur in people of all ages. While it is important to get a medical opinion and treatment, many doctors will also recommend yoga to help deal with the challenges and pain that occurs.
Why is yoga beneficial for scoliosis
Yoga provides a combination of flexibility, core strength and stabilization that is helpful for those with scoliosis.
Stretches and strengthens the sides of the body
During yoga asana practice, parts of the body are stretched while other parts get contracted. This occurs while performing various movement patterns that require a sustained hold of a certain position. Gradually, there is increased mobility in the thoracic spine.
Reduces pain and stiffness
Due to the strengthening effect, the muscles and connective tissue which keep the spine in proper alignment are also stretched and strengthened. This reduces pain and improves overall function. Yoga helps improve the maintenance of a neutral spine, improving alignment. Furthermore, the practice also stretches areas that have a tightened spinal curvature.
Maintaining the spinal position
A study found that yoga practitioners who performed the side plank pose (Vashistasana) reported improvement in the primary scoliotic curve of the spine and improved overall strength and mobility.
Strengthen the core
Yoga is an effective method to strengthen the core. The core supports the spine and has a strong impact on the overall strength, mobility and flexibility. A stronger core means a stronger spine.
Before starting yoga
Before starting yoga or any other physical activity, it is important to get your doctor’s opinion. Find out what are the dos and don’ts, how much should you practice, at what pace and for how long. Each case is different and you must, therefore, get a medical opinion before starting. Ensure you tell your yoga teacher about your condition and your doctor’s opinion.
Yoga for Scoliosis
Downward-facing dog pose
Adho Mukha Svanasana alleviates the strain from the spine by providing a stretching and lengthening effect. It evenly distributes weight between the hands and legs. The posture decreases pain and discomfort due to stiff muscles, spinal rigidity and helps improve flexibility and mobility in the hips and spine.
Tadasana helps improve balance, posture and core strength. During the pose, the thigh muscles are tightened and feet firmly on the ground, after which the toes are extended up and down with the weight shifting between the balls of the feet and the heels. This improves overall balance greatly.
The bridge pose, known as Setu Bandhasana, improves spine strength and helps alleviate pain and stiffness. It also effectively works on core strength.
Known as Vashishtasana, this posture can help with asymmetrical strengthening. The arms and core support the body weight. The pose also strengthens the convex side (the side that’s rounded outward) of the curvature’s abdominal and spinal muscles which. This bends the spine away from the stronger side, improving spine strength.
The warrior poses, Virabhadrasana 1 and Virabhadrasana 2, are both good for scoliosis. They improve balance, enhance stamina and lead to a stronger, better supported spine. They also loosen contracted muscles such as the psoas muscles, which are associated with lumbar scoliosis.
Inversions and challenging twists and bends should be avoided as they will put too much strain on the spine and core, which the body may not be ready for. Gentle twists and bends are helpful for imbalances. One must also remember that the effect and extent of practice may be different on each side as the distribution of tension in the surrounding tissues has become uneven due to the curvature of the spine. This is okay and one must only practice what is comfortable and safe for their body.
Breathing exercises to help with Scoliosis
Practicing conscious breathing such as Abdominal breathing, Full Yogic Breath and Ujjayi breathing will help bring the breath back to areas which are compressed. The system will be more fully fueled with oxygen, nourishing and stimulating every part of the body.
Deep breathing will also promote relaxation and the release of stress and tension from the body. This will relax the nervous system and help you manage pain, stiffness and discomfort. Alternate Nostril Breathing is also another beneficial Pranayama practice.
Meditation and relaxation for Scoliosis
It is important to take time to rest after practicing asana. Lie down in Savasana for a short Yoga Nidra practice as this will promote complete relaxation in the mind and body. Regularly practice meditations such as Om chanting, breath meditation, body-scan meditation and more. This will completely relax the system, help you manage pain and bring about a sense of peace and harmony in the system.
Things to remember when practicing yoga for scoliosis
- Try to hold the posture for 4-5 breaths if it is comfortable.
- Do not force the pose. Be gentle and relaxed.
- Use props such as blankets, bolsters, cushions and chairs if needed.
- Practice regularly.
- Inform your teacher and ensure you are getting the right instructions for your condition.
- Practice within your flexibility and range of motion. Do not try to work too hard or fast. Gradually, let your flexibility and range of motion increase.
Practicing yoga for scoliosis might be challenging at first as it involves managing pain and trying to overcome the condition. Listen to your body, be gentle and practice as much as you can. Always practice under the guidance of a certified yoga teacher who will only take you through practice that will help your condition.