Scoliosis and Yoga: Getting Started

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Scoliosis is a condition affecting the spine that can often result in back pain for individuals. A scoliotic curve in the spine means that the back is always out of alignment. This imbalance can result in pinched nerves, muscle tension and a decrease in lung capacity. As a result, it is common for scoliosis can even limit your mobility. That being said, a regular, gentle movement practice—such as yoga—can be of huge benefit for individuals with scoliosis.

Types of Scoliosis

scoliosis back painScoliosis is characterized by a lateral curvature of the spine. It is sometimes referred to as an “S” curve as that is the shape the spine makes when seen from behind. Scoliosis can bend the spine to the left or right and can affect both the lower and mid back. The severity of a scoliotic curve varies between individuals. In some instances, scoliosis is barely noticeable. In other cases, a scoliotic curve can create a deep side bend that severely affects the posture and mobility of an individual.

The Benefits of Yoga

One of the great things about yoga is that there are numerous modifications and variations available to meet your body’s specific needs. When it comes to scoliosis, the combination of stretching and strengthening in yoga is of huge benefit. While a scoliotic curve is in some ways irreversible, yoga can help to decrease the curvature or at least allow for a greater ease of movement in the spine.

Scoliosis and Breath

Another benefit of practicing yoga when you have scoliosis is the focus on breath work. Often referred to as pranayama, yogic breathing helps increase lung capacity and breath control. For people living with scoliosis, this means creating more space in the concave side of their scoliotic curve. With more severe curvatures, it is common for the concave side to be limited from—if not totally cut off from—breath. So a regular yoga practice that emphasizes breath work can really help to improve an individual’s overall feeling of wellbeing.

Yoga Poses for Scoliosis

When doing yoga for scoliosis, emphasis should be placed on elongating the spine. This, in turn, allows for more mobility, a decrease in back pain, and a greater feeling of comfort. Here are some great yoga poses to help you get started.

Mountain Pose

Mountain pose is great for creating balance and awareness in the body when you have scoliosis.

  1. Start standing with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your toes, spread them out, and place them back down on the floor. Stand with your weight equally distributed on both feet.
  2. Keep the knees a little bit bent. This prevents the low back from getting jammed.
  3. Lift through the low belly and let the tailbone tip towards the floor. You should feel some space in your low back.
  4. Lift the shoulders up, roll them back and slide your shoulder blades down your back. Hug your shoulder blades together and flat to your back.
  5. Lift through the top of your head. Think of putting space between your ear lobes and your neck.

Cat/Cow

Cat/Cow warms up the spine, giving it a greater range of motion and more room to stretch out. This alleviates pressure in the back caused by the scoliotic curve.

  1. Start on your hands and knees. Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists and your hips are over your knees.
  2. Begin with a neutral spine.
  3. On an inhale, drop the belly towards the floor and lift the gaze for cow. Fill up the belly with breath.
  4. On an exhale, curl the tailbone under and arch the back with your chin tucked into your head for cat. Fill up the back with breath.
  5. Repeat five to ten times or until the spine feels more mobile.
  6. As an option, you can “freestyle” cat/cow and move the spine in any direction that feels good.

Child’s Pose

Child’s pose is a gentle forward fold that brings length into the spine. This pose can be done with the knees together—which offers more support for the spine—or apart.

  1. Start on your hands and knees.
  2. Bring your big toes to touch and your knees as wide as your yoga mat. OR keep the knees and big toes touching.
  3. Sit your hips back down to your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you shoulder width apart. Use stacked fists or your hands to support your forehead if it is more comfortable.
  4. Breath into your back. Try to send the breath into the concave area of your spine to create just a little bit more space there.

Try these three simple poses and notice if there is a decrease in your back pain caused by scoliosis. Over time and with a regular yoga practice, you may find that your back pain gets better and your spine has more mobility than ever before!

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