[Photo by Lauren Nelson] One of the trademark poses in yoga…
Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine which involves certain consequences for the health and posture of the person affected by it. According to Elise Browning Miller -a senior Iyengar teacher specialized in back and sports related injuries- there are 2 main types of scoliosis: structural or functional.
The structural variety is much more serious and develops as a result of unequal growth of the two sides of the vertebral bodies. It usually appears during adolescence, and its causes are not well understood – approximately 70 percent of all structural scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning doctors do not know why they develop. Functional scoliosis only affects the back muscles and does not structurally alter the body. It can result from such things as poor posture or repeated unbalanced activity, such as always carrying books on one side. It is much more common than structural scoliosis, usually much less noticeable since the degree of curvature is less, and almost always reversible. [Source]
Scoliosis and yoga
In adults, idiopathic scoliosis is often associated with a range of chronic symptoms such as headaches, back pain and shortness of breath. But here’s the good news: yoga can help a lot in alleviating these symptoms.
- The practice of yoga can relieve the pain and discomfort associated with idiopathic scoliosis and even improved posture. The stretches and twists we execute in yoga address the imbalance in the muscles of the trunk that are caused by the asymmetrical shape of the spine. There is a recent study showing how yoga is beneficial for people with scoliosis. I have attached a link here.
- Yoga prioritizes the breath and there are even specific practices of breath control (pranayama) focused on increasing one’s respiratory capacity. These exercises consist of holding the breath after inhalation, which stretches the intercostals muscles and mobilizes the ribcage. This relieves the sensation of compression of the lungs that affects many people with scoliosis and, ultimately, helps one to breathe better.
- Finally, the practice of yoga improves proprioception (body awareness) and favors a more positive body image. People with scoliosis tend to have a negative perception of their body‘s apperance. This is perhaps due to the fact that the ideopathic scoliosis develops in adolescence, an age in which we’re more acutely sensitive of our physical appearance.
Yoga can relieve the symptoms related with scoliosis and, according to recent studies, can even improve posture. Movements that are executed in yoga are good for overall physical and mental well-being, since they strengthen and stretch the the main muscle groups and contribute to a more positive body image.
Interested in learning anatomy with me? In October I’m starting a new applied anatomy online course in Spanish for yogis and manual therapists.