I had a student come to me today and say that she had a slight curvature in her lumbar vertebrae and wanted to know what would help and if anything could actually make it worse. I told her what I remembered of my training, that lateral bends were great and that down dog could work as a natural inversion table to lengthen her spine. Then I told her that I would look back in my notes and talk with her tomorrow after class about what I find. So I’m looking through my notes and I find a name that our Anatomy teacher gave, Elise Browning Miller. She herself has scoliosis and has developed this whole amazing program for people with scoliosis! The following is from her website:
An Approach to Yoga for Scoliosis
1. Breathe. In yoga it is important to focus on breathing through your nose and to learn how to breathe into the area of discomfort or side of the lungs and ribs where the breath does not flow easily. The Ujjayi breath allows you to hear a slight hissing sound which reminds you to keep breathing while doing the poses. If you hear no sound you may have stopped breathing. This breath helps you to concentrate and also slows down the nervous system. (See Chapter 2, So you Think You Can Breathe of my book, “Life is a Stretch”).
2. For those who wish to decrease the lateral curve. First, it is important to elongate or lengthen the spine to bring it back to center. Then it is important to strengthen the legs, abdominal muscles, and muscles that run along the spine to prevent the lateral curve from increasing.
3. For those who wish to decrease the posterior rotation. In all poses especially twists it is possible to de-rotate the rotation of the scoliosis and thereby gain more alignment and balance.
4. Realigning your posture. Finding your center is quite a challenge for those with scoliosis but like an oak tree we can find our center with all our beautiful twists and turns. In a way, we are learning to re-map from within. Also, it is important to keep the 4 natural curves of the spine when standing in daily life and also during standing poses in yoga. This allows students with the fusion to be able to do a wide range of poses.
5. Defy gravity, re-center and lengthen the spine. With scoliosis there is a shift of the body’s center of gravity and often we loose height and are constantly fighting gravity’s pull. By hanging in an inverted position, it is possible to realign, release tension in the muscles, create more space between the vertebrae, and re-center the body. In more advanced inversions you can strengthen the arms and legs as well.