Yoga for Scoliosis
Scoliosis refers to the sideways, or lateral, curvature of the spine. When I was 10, I found out that I had mild lumbar scoliosis, i.e. a slight curvature in my lumbar spine. As the curvature remained under 5 degrees, I did not have to undergo surgery or any other form of treatment. The scoliosis does not cause any pain (for now, at least), but it has resulted in some asymmetries in my stance. So I hope to use yoga to reduce this curvature, or at least prevent it from worsening as I grow older.
(1) Bend towards convex side of curve
In a class with Master Paalu, I learned how I could modify certain positions to straighten up the curve in my spine. Generally, I should try to bend towards the convex side of the curve (which is my left side) as much as possible. So in poses like Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), I can modify my alignment by twisting towards my left side instead of facing forward. Similarly, Balasana (Child’s Pose) can be modified by moving my arms toward my left side, keeping the arms shoulder-width apart.
I can also incorporate more twisting asanas in my practice. These may include Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half lord of the fishes pose), Bharadvajasana and Marichyasana. While I should practice these asanas on both sides, I should spend more time twisting to my left side. It is important to lengthen the spine before twisting into these poses.
Side-bending poses like reverse warrior may also be useful for lengthening the spine. More time should be spent bending to the convex side of the curve.
(2) Maintain proper posture and place equal weight on legs
Master Sree has constantly emphasised the importance of proper posture, whether we are sitting or standing. To keep the spine straight and healthy, we should maintain an upright posture and avoid slouching or hunching the spine. This is particularly important for people with scoliosis, since we have the tendency to slouch to one side. We need to always remember to place equal weight on both feet and remain aware of any imbalances in our posture.
(3) Strengthen abdominal muscles
If the abdominal muscles are weak, the back muscles overwork and thus tighten. This may cause lordosis or worsen the scoliotic curve in the lower back. Therefore, it is important to practice asanas that strengthen the abdominal muscles.
(4) Strengthen musculature on convex side
A study has shown that regular practice of a modified Vasisthasana (side plank) pose with the convex side of the lumbar curve down can reduce the scoliotic curve. The modification was to hold the upper ribs about a half-inch higher than in the classic pose. The researchers hypothesized that the poses may help straighten the spine by strengthening the musculature in the abdomen, spine and lower back on the convex side of the curve.
In essence, regular practice of carefully selected and modified asanas will help to reduce the scoliotic curve. The key principle is simple: strengthen the muscles on the convex side and lengthen the muscles on the concave side. While yoga may not bring about instant results like surgery, it is definitely the safer treatment option and is ideal for people with mild scoliosis.