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Yoga and scoliosis




What is Scoliosis?


Scoliosis is when the spine curves to one side. It affects approximately 4 people out of every 100 and can develop at any age, but most commonly occurs between the ages of 10 and 15. This type is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), though there are many different types.


The degree of severity depends on the size of the curvature in the spine. For some severe cases, it can only be treated by bracing or surgery. For others it may go unnoticed for many years, until pain or nerve damage begins in later life.


My story

This photo is of me about ten years ago. If you compare the two sides of my body, you can see the lateral tilt of my pelvis and compression of my ribcage on one side due to the curvature. I had no idea I had scoliosis until I went for a massage on holiday and the therapist told me. It came as a huge surprise to both me and my parents, as we had never noticed it before. I had an almost double curvature, which means the spine made an 'S' shape and so appeared to be straight. It was only noticeable when looked at close up or if you compared the two sides of my body. I didn't seek any further medical advice and instead just assumed I would live with it as it wasn't causing me any pain. (Unknown to me, untreated scoliosis can increase in curvature by 7% a year.)

I started yoga a few years later, with no intention of it helping my curvature, but after 4 months of practicing I noticed my spine had almost completely straightened out. My shoulders had leveled, as had my pelvis. I kept assessing it until I forgot I had even ever had a curve, but looking back through old photos now reminds me just how much yoga changed everything.

How did Yoga help?

The poses in yoga re-educated my muscular function by strengthening the specific spinal muscles on the convex side of the curvature (the weaker side). This helped with curve reduction. Yoga also helped me to experience my alignment through developing my self awareness enough that I could feel the parts of my body that were effected by the curvature.

Yoga greatly increases proprioception, which for me as someone with scoliosis , needed to be somewhat reset. I had to completely re-map to adjust to this new found symmetry and perspective. I noticed for a while I would still hold one of my shoulders up higher than the other, just because my body had habitually got used to being in that form. Even now when I get stressed or tired, I have to consciously release my right shoulder when it becomes tense.

It was never the goal to 'correct' my 'incorrect' posture, and I think a huge part of my healing was down to the fact I didn't see yoga as a corrective approach. I think it's important that we don't start to label people who have scoliosis as having 'incorrect' posture, but to instead treat our bodies with curiosity, patience and compassion- which a yoga practice encourages and emphasizes.

But what's most interesting for me, is probably the psychological effects that the physical had. By re-educating the muscular function of my body and recalibrating my centre of gravity, not only did my scoliosis heal, my overall wellness greatly improved. I slept better. I breathed more fully. I became less anxious and grew in confidence. This is where my interest in the body and mind connection began...


 

Whilst I'm not making a conclusive claim here for the treatment of functional scoliosis through yoga, I do testify that in my case it has healed my condition. It has been an amazing example to me as to how healing happens at every level when we restore healthy functioning of the body.

I was sort of shocked upon looking into this how little research has been done into exercise and yoga as treatments of functional scoliosis, and I plan to look into this further.


Thanks for reading this if you got this far, and please get in contact if you have any questions or suffer with Scoliosis yourself- I would love to hear from you!


Amy x


 


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