Looking for ways to help diminish the effects of scoliosis? Look no further- yoga for scoliosis may just be the best answer for you. Believe it or not, with regular yoga practice, you can actually relieve yourself from the pain of your curved spine bit by bit.
Click Here to skip directly to the top 12 yoga poses to help with scoliosis and help lengthen your spine.
People with scoliosis are quite familiar with the dull ache that hits any (sometimes all) part/s of their spine. The pain eventually builds up to the point when they can’t just ignore it any longer. Those who suffer from this ailment have reported that the pain has caused their moods to go sour or make them feel depressed. Well, who wouldn’t feel down when they have a pain in their body that just won’t go away? Eating or getting mad at everyone around you isn’t an appropriate solution. If you suspect that you may have scoliosis, the first thing that you should do is go see your doctor in order to determine if you really have it. Next thing on your to-do list should be finding a solution to help ease your pain, and we’re here to give you one possible option.
That’s right. Yoga can help you cope with the pain that scoliosis brings. Scoliosis can be something that you’d had from birth, or it could also be caused by an accident knocking your bones out of their usual positions – thus affecting the curvature of your spine. Yoga will not only help reduce the painful spasms that you feel within your spine, but could also help ease your foul mood or help you cope with depression caused by the pain.
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is probably one of the earliest discovered spinal issues to date. Depictions of the ailment appear on cave paintings by prehistoric men. There’s also documentation that proves that Greek physician, Hippocrates, treated scoliosis with the use of back braces during 4th century BC.
Scoliosis is not only a deformation of the spine and displacement of the ribs; it will also twist your shoulders and hips, eventually shifting your body’s gravitational center. A crooked spine is the most obvious symptom of this, but you may also get pain and have your heart and lungs compressed, causing cardiopulmonary complications.
The term “scoliosis” came from the Greek work “skol” which is defined as “twists and turns.” This is appropriate, as with scoliosis, the spine will be curved in an S-shape (in some cases, a reverse letter S) from side to side (across the back). At the same time, it also twists the rib cage, making the sides of the back asymmetrical. These abnormalities in the curvatures of the spines and ribs can lead to having a muscle mass that will spasm and evoke pain to a scoliosis patient.
Four Major Scoliosis Curves
The curvature of the spine can happen at any point of the columns, but, in general, there are four common patterns of scoliosis:
- Right thoracic scoliosis – The major curve can be located on the thoracic or the mid-back region of the spine, making it curve to the right. In some cases, the left side of the lumbar region has a less severe counter curve as well.
- Left lumbar scoliosis – the major curve can be found on the left and on the lumbar or lower back region of the spine, with a less severe counter curve on the right side of the thoracic region.
- Right-thoraco lumbar scoliosis – The major curve can be located on the right side of the thoracic and lumbar region.
- Right thoracic-left lumbar combined curve – the major curve can be located on the right side of the thoracic region, with an equal counter curve to the left side of the lumbar region.
There’s also scientific proof that about 90 percent of scoliosis sufferers have curves to the right and seven times more women have scoliosis than men.
Structural and Functional Scoliosis
Scoliosis has two types: structural and functional. Structural scoliosis is a more serious form of the ailment and develops after the unequal growth of both side of the spine. Approximately 70% of the cases of structural scoliosis manifests itself during adolescence and has undetermined origins. On the other hand, functional scoliosis doesn’t affect the spine itself, but rather, just the back muscles. This usually develops from poor posture or constant unbalanced activity using the back. This one is much more common to develop compared to structural scoliosis and has a less noticeable curvature in the spine.
It’s also almost always reversible.
To practice yoga or to get surgery?
Now that we have the basics about scoliosis out of the way, we need to focus on what can be used to help relieve its symptoms.
Most physicians will recommend their patients to wear a brace to correct the curvature of their spine. Some might even threaten them with the possibility of a fusion of the spine, wherein a patient undergoes an operation that involves having metal rods inserted along the spinal column to prevent their curvature to get worse. I would recommend getting other doctors’ options if your doctor immediately says things like that without letting you try alternatives first. Stretching and exercise can improve your curvature, provided that your back is still in a manageable state.
Even if you do exercise regularly with scoliosis, your pain may get worse if you don’t do your exercises correctly.
Deciding to use yoga as a form of relief from the symptoms of scoliosis will require you to dedicate most, if not all, of your life to do. You will learn so much about yourself and even grow as a person. Some people find this intimidating, as they would rather run to an orthopedic surgeon, spend thousands of dollars, and get their back fixed by having it fused with metal rods. Despite thinking that this would automatically get rid of the pain, it results in virtually immobilizing the spine and only making the pain worse than it initially was. And yes, those rods in your back can break or get loose after some time.
If you’re one of those who would rather reap the benefits of yoga than suffer through surgery, then you’re in the right place. While having a competent instructor is definitely a big help, you also need to be in touch with your own body to tell you when to stop or go. Remember, you’re the only one who knows your own limits and your back won’t get fixed if you continue to do poses that only hurt you instead of help you.
The ultimate goal of using yoga for scoliosis relief is not to straighten the spine—accept it as it is and don’t think of it as a hindrance. Think of your back as an ally and be aware and sensitive of it. Healing isn’t just all about the physical aspect of curing something. It’s also about loving and nurturing something that’s a part of us.
Is there any proof of yoga for scoliosis helping patients?
According to a piece posted on Medical News Today, doing a single yoga pose for about 90 seconds for at 3 days a week could help reduce spine curvature in scoliosis patients within 3 months or more. These findings were published in the journal, Global Advances in Health and Medicine by Dr. Loren Fishman of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
Around 6 million Americans are affected with scoliosis, with about 600,000 of these cases each year being accounted as the reason for doctors’ visits. Additionally, even those who are asked to wear braces are encouraged by their doctors to do exercises for 30 minutes per day so long as they have scoliosis. If left untreated, scoliosis can get worse at a rate of 7% each year and can result in permanent disability and other life-threatening health risks.
Where to Focus During Yoga For Scoliosis
When the body is balanced and is in sync with gravity, yoga poses can be done without much physical effort. Even if you have a curved spine, you can still maintain your balance and grace with the help of yoga. You’ll feel relaxed and at the same time, relieved of pain.
The body has six major areas that you should focus on if you’re doing yoga for the remedy of scoliosis. These areas are crucial in helping you achieve the proper alignment, pain relief, and to minimize your spine from curving further.
1. Feet and Legs
When you’re standing or walking, keep in mind that you should place equal weight on both your feet to help yourself be mindful of imbalances. Having strong legs can create a solid framework from which your spine can stretch freely, allowing your legs to carry the weight of your body instead.
Since this is the major area involved with scoliosis, it’s no surprise that it should be focused on during yoga. By doing poses, the S curve can be reduced significantly with constant practice.
3. Major and Minor Psoas
There’s a pair of these muscles located on each side of the body and they’re responsible for helping the thighs flex. They’re also important in helping maintain posture. These muscles balance the torso during sitting and counteract the torso from falling behind due to gravity during standing. Keeping these muscles toned helps align the lower limbs with the torso and loosens up the spine.
The scapula consists of the muscles that surround the shoulder blades. It’s important to develop this part of the body in order to prevent your back from rounding, which is common for people with scoliosis to experience.
5. Abdominal Muscles
The abdominal muscles play a pivotal role when it comes to seeking relief from scoliosis. When the abdominal muscles aren’t as strong or toned, the back muscles end up getting overworked and become tight. This would only make things worse as it can cause the lower back to develop an extreme curve, making the scoliosis more unbearable.
Scoliosis or no scoliosis, awareness of your breathing is one of the most important things that you should be doing while practicing yoga poses. Having scoliosis may make this quite difficult if you don’t know the proper breathing techniques. However, in the long run, yoga can help alleviate those difficulties and expand your lung capacity.
For scoliosis sufferers, here are some asanas that can reduce your discomfort and help realign your spine.
Scoliosis sufferers who practice yoga tend to say that they aim to lengthen their spines. These movements and poses can help even out the spine and the ribs in order to release tension from the back muscles.
Every time you start yoga, one of the best warm-up poses you can do is the cat/cow pose. It will help loosen up the spine and sync your breath with your movements in order to prevent injury.
To do this, you should kneel with your hands located below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Inhale and lift your head and tailbone, ensuring that your lower back is in a concave shape. Exhale and then tuck your tailbone to round your back and release your neck. Repeat this move for at least 10 times.
Balasana or Child’s Pose
Once you’re done with the breathing exercises during the Cat/Cow Pose, stretch your hands out to your front. Inhale deeply until you feel that it the breathing hits your back. Then exhale and move your butt back towards your heels. Inhale once again and stretch your arms away from your pelvis. Breathe deeply in this position so you can feel the muscles in between your ribs stretching and your spine and back muscles lengthening. Repeat the breathing exercises from the beginning at least five times.
Three-Part Bar Stretch
If you have access to a dance bar (or anything that you can grab onto and pull without falling down), this three-part bar stretch can be effective in helping lengthen your spine.
1. Hold onto the bar with your hands being shoulder-distance apart. Make sure your spine is parallel to the floor and your feet are located directly beneath your hips. Bring your heels forward to where your toes were and hand your body backwards, ensuring that you’re bent from the hips and your butt is being stretched away from the bar. Keep your neck in line with your spine and don’t let your chin to be lifted up. This move will definitely make you feel as if your spine is being pulled into place.
2. Bring your feet a few inches towards the bar and bend your knees into a 90-degree angle, your thighs parallel to the floor and your knees above your heels. Continue to do this while stretching your butt down and back. This move will stretch your mid-back and the sides of your shoulder blades.
3. Push your feet farther by a few inches in order to let your heels remain intact with the floor. Let your butt move down to the floor in a squatting position before pulling back. Keep your butt down when pulling back and let yourself feel the lower part of your spine get stretched.
Trikonasana or Triangle Pose
In the triangle pose, the feet are separated from each other while the torso is being stretched to the side. With scoliosis, things might get a little different while stretching on each side. When you’re stretching towards where your back is concave, focus on lengthening your spine in order to open up the compression of your ribs and to decrease its protrusion on the other side. If you’re stretching on the convex part of your back, focus on twisting to create uniformity on the sides of your back.
For example, if you have right thoracic scoliosis, you may be inclined to stretch to the left side in order to lengthen your spine. Keep your feet separated by about a leg’s length. Turn your left toes to a 90-degree angle, and your right toes at a 45-degree angle before stretching your torso to the left, bending your hips and stretching your arms towards opposite sides. You can also place your hand on a sturdy surface to help your ribs stretch out from the concave part of your back. Drop the right side of your ribs towards the spine, both sides of your body now being parallel to the floor. You’ll notice that your right ribs are now stretching out the compression from the left side. Alternatively, you can use the right outer heel of your foot to press it up against a wall to provide stability and strength for stretching. If you have access to a studio with wall ropes, using a rope wrapped around your right thigh is great for creating stability for someone that has lumbar scoliosis.
It’s also crucial for you to stretch towards the opposite side in order to decrease the protruding part of the convex side of your back. Place your left outer heel at a wall or alternatively, wrap a rope attached to the wall around your left leg. Do the same lengthening stretch that you did from your hip but this time, on your left side. Place your right hand on your leg and place the left-side heel of the same hand on the small of your back. Inhale and draw your breath towards the base of your right shoulder blade to open your chest up. Exhale and then twist from your navel, drawing your left elbow back in order to let your shoulder align together. Let you neck and head follow suit.
Virabhadrasana I or Warrior I Pose
This particular pose tones, strengthens, and stretches the leg muscles, inner groin muscles, and back muscles. Those with scoliosis can do this pose by using a supportive surface such as a doorjamb or a pillar in order to keep the body upright and balanced. Bring the back of your groin towards the edge of the pillar using your front heel (that’s about two feet ahead from you), and your front leg wrapped around one side of the pillar. Place your back toes a couple of feet behind your left hip. Square both your hips by ensuring that they are parallel to each other, with your tailbone pointing directly towards the floor, stretching the small of your back.
Inhale and bring your arms over your head, parallel to your shoulders with your palms facing each other. Lift from your upper back to lengthen your ribs and your spine from outwards the pelvis. Exhale and then bend your right leg to create a 90-degree angle, with your thigh parallel to the floor and the shinbone perpendicular. Your right knee should be directly placed above your right heel, with your left leg extended full and your left heel lowered to the floor. Keep lifting your spine while pressing into the floor using your back leg. If you’re having difficulties in bringing your back heel towards the floor, place a sandbag under your heel to maintain your balance. This maneuver helps penetrate the deep muscles within your groin.
For more standing poses that you can use to help with your scoliosis, you can try out Parighasana (aka Cross Beam of a Gate Pose,) Utthita Parsvakonasana (aka Lateral Angle Pose,) and Ardha Chandrasana (aka Half Moon Pose.) These three are awesome lateral stretches that you can use to aid your scoliosis and they follow the same procedures as Trikonasana. If you’re an intermediate practitioner of yoga, you can attempt to do twisting standing poses, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (aka Revolved Lateral Angle Pose,) and Parivrtta Trikonasana (aka Revolved Triangle Pose.)
Even for those who have healthy spines, continuous gravitational pull can wreak havoc on the intervertebral disc, which eventually leads to either spine nerve damage, and/or disc herniation. If you have scoliosis, this problem can get much worse and painful. You will have the tendency to feel the constant uneven pressure caused by gravity on your spine and, like the majority of folks out there, have no idea how to get rid of the inconvenience that it causes. Doing yoga inversions can help your body get aligned without getting distorted by gravity. You will feel your body getting aligned without getting hurt during inversions. Doing inversions will also help develop strength in your back and arms, increase blood circulation to your brain, vertebrae, and major organs, and will encourage your lymph nodes to actively flush toxins.
Ardha Adho Mukha Vrksasana or Half Handstand
The half handstand is usually one of the first inversions that yoga practitioners learn. It helps develop strength in the arms and the shoulders and also preps you for more challenging inversions such as the Headstand. By learning how to do the handstand, you’ll also learn how to lengthen your spine even if you’re going against gravitational force. If you’re intimidated by the full-on handstand, Ardha Adho Mukha Vrksasana or the Half Handstand should be helpful for you to build confidence to do more challenging inversions in the future. Try doing downward dog with your heels against a wall as a warm-up. Life your right leg and extend it through the heel, with the ball of your right foot still pressed against the wall. Reverse and then bring your right leg down before lifting your left leg. This pose can help build the strength in your upper body, something that scoliosis sufferers usually don’t have. This post also helps with the even lengthening of both sides of the body even if your spine is distorted. After doing this pose, rest in a child’s pose before returning to the downward-facing dog pose. Lift both your legs onto the wall, ensuring that they’re parallel to one another. Your feet should be on the same levels as your hips, don’t go any higher, while your arms, shoulders, and torso should be in a straight line. Press your body into the wall using your heels. Spread your shoulder blades away from your body, drawing them out from your ears. Press into your hands and draw your elbows in while keeping your arms straight. If you find the procedure difficult, you can use a belt around your arms.
Salamba Sarvangasana or Shoulder stand
The shoulder stand can release tension within your neck and your shoulders—something that people with scoliosis often complain about. If you’re a beginner, you should opt to have as much support as you can in order to promote your chest to open up and to hinder the weight of your body from going down towards your neck and shoulders. You can start by using a support bolster, a chair, or a wall. Place the back of a chair a foot away from the wall, with a non-slip mat under it, and a thin blanket covering the seat and the back of it. Please several blankets or pillows on the floor in front of you as well. If you’re in a room with a wooden floor, use a folded towel in front of the blankets to place under your head. Sit on the chair, facing the wall and roll backwards into doing the shoulder stand, bring your shoulders in and place your head on the floor carefully. Hold on to the back legs of your chair and lift your legs, ending it by resting the balls of your feet on the wall. If you find that your chin is higher than your forehead, use a folded towel to raise your forehead. Relax your eyes and breathe in and down towards your chest. Stay in this pose for about five to ten minutes. In order to come out of the pose, you can slide away from the chair and slowly lower your butt onto the floor.
As you get better with the shoulder stand, you can eventually remove the chair when doing the pose. You can place four folded blankets by the wall, lie on those blankets with your butt near the wall, your shoulders at the edge of the blankets, and your legs stretched upon the wall. Bend your knees, lift your butt, and shift your weight onto your shoulders. Interlace your fingers with your elbows, keeping them straight and rolling your shoulders underneath. Support your back with your hands and lift up your body with the use of your knees. Straighten your legs one at a time, until you develop enough strength to straighten both of them at the same time while maintaining your balance. If you get weary, stretch your legs back against the wall, keeping them straight. To come out of the pose, release your hands from your back and continue extending your heels as you slide down to the floor, ensuring that your tailbone is pressed to the wall.
Should your wish to do something more advanced; you can opt to do the Pincha Mayurasana or the Forearm Balance. Alternatively, once regular yoga inversions have strengthened your arms, shoulders, and back, you can begin to do the Salamba Sirsasana or the headstand.
Backbending Yoga Poses
Backward bends for those with scoliosis may be quite scary, as it requires contorting the spine into an “unnatural” pose. However, it can be a powerful tool to alleviate tensions and armoring from the spine. It can give scoliosis sufferers freedom and mobility, especially those who has curves on the right side of their back.
Passive Backbend Over a Bolster
Salabhasana or the Locust Pose
This particular backbend plays a major role in alleviating symptoms of scoliosis because it helps add strength to the spinal erector muscles as well as the hamstrings on the legs. The strengthening provided by this pose helps provide ample support for the spinal column to make it easier for you to do back bending poses. Lie with your face downwards and your arms extended to the sides, parallel to your shoulders. When exhaling, life your head and upper chest off of the floor, keep your butt firm, and press your thighs downwards. Stretch your arms to your sides and keep your shoulder blades away from your spine, keeping your hands directly below your shoulder blades. Exhale as you release the tension and repeat this three to five times. After doing so, stretch your arms over your head and feel your back muscles stretching away from the pelvis. Lift your arms and place your palms on the seat of a chair that’s placed in front of you. Stretch your arms again and try to push the chair farther in order to stretch your spine. Gently lift up your stomach and let your ribs float to support the front part of your spine. Press down your palms forcefully on the chair while at the same time, pressing your thighs down and lifting your spine. Exhale again as you release the tension and repeat for three to five times. You can also do this pose while your legs are lifted along with your arms. As you develop better strength and balance, you can attempt to do advanced backbends such as the Urdhva Dhanurasana (aka Upward Facing Bow Pose,) Dhanurasana (aka Bow Pose), and the Ustrasana (Camel Pose.)
Twists are also important for yoga for scoliosis as they help realign the spinal column. But be warned, you should always be careful and take precaution when stretching the spine during twisting.
Sit on a chair and make sure that the right side of your back is placed on the back support and your hands are placed on each side of the base. Put your feet firmly on to the floor, keeping your knees and ankles together. Inhale and stretch your spine. Exhale and rotate from your navel, stretch your ribs far from your pelvis. Press your right hand on to the base of the chair to draw your left shoulder blade away from your spine. Continue to breathe while doing the pose and attempt to twist further with each exhale. Every time you exhale, slowly release the pose. This procedure is perfect for those with right thoracic scoliosis but you can also twist both ways.
Doing forward bends can help release tension within your back and shoulders. The longer you do these poses, the deeper your release can be.
Janu Sirsasana or the Head to Knee Pose
Get a folded blanket and sit on the edge of it, both of your legs straight and your butt pulled away from your spine. Bend your right knee, bringing your right heel towards your right groin. Let your knee fall gently on the side. Bend forwards from your hips, moving over the left leg. With this forward bend, life your spine and draw your shoulder blades towards your back to open up your chest. This pose effectively counteracts the tendency of people with scoliosis to hunch their backs and have rounded shoulders. To further achieve the opening of the chest, you can use a chair to pull gently on it, repeat on your opposite side.
Savasana (Corpse Pose) with Breathing Awareness
Relaxation is important to yoga. You won’t feel accomplished if you don’t end your sessions with savasana and breathing awareness. If you have scoliosis, you’re pretty much inclined to not feel relaxed enough because of the constant pain you experience. To achieve this, all you have to do is lie on your back on the floor, making sure that both sides of your body are stretched out evenly. If you feel as if your back is uneven, use a small towel to balance things out. Close your eyes and inhale deeply, making yourself aware of your spine and the expansion of your rib cage as you breathe. Be aware of your whole body and release tension from any part of it with the help of your breathing. Stay in the savasana pose for at 10 minutes or more.
With the corpse pose, the mind becomes a peaceful and tranquil place. This is where the yoga for scoliosis truly benefits and heals you, because not only are you finished with the physical activity, you’re also deeply aware of your mind and your soul. In fact, the benefits from yoga are virtually endless. Once you learn that you can help yourself heal from scoliosis with the help of yoga and breathing awareness, everything will happen easier for you. You can discover a whole myriad of things with yoga and it’s not just something to help with physical issues, it will also heal your whole being on a different level.
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