Today's Daily Tip
Teaching Yoga for Scoliosis
For additional standing poses helpful for scoliosis, consult B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga (Shocken Books, 1971). Utthita Parsvakonasana (Lateral Angle Pose) , Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), Parighasana (Cross Beam of a Gate Pose) are three excellent lateral stretches to do for scoliosis that follow the same guidelines as Trikonasana. Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) , and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Lateral Angle Pose), two twisting standing poses, are highly recommended for intermediate yoga students.
Even in a healthy spine, the continual pull of gravity can compress the intervertebral disc and eventually cause nerve damage or disc herniation. In a spine with scoliosis, the problem is even more pronounced. Your student will tend to feel the uneven pressure of gravity constantly but have no understanding of how to create alignment to alleviate it. Inversions create a freedom in her body to experience alignment without the usual distortions caused by gravity. As a result, it is often easier, particularly for students with scoliosis, to feel what alignment is upside down than while standing on the feet. The inversions also develop strength in the back and arms; increase circulation to the vertebrae, brain, and other organs, and encourage lymphatic circulation and venous blood return.
Ardha Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Half Handstand). Handstand is generally one of the first inversions students learn. It helps to develop arm and shoulder strength, preparing them for other inversions such as Headstand. By learning to lift up in Handstand, they also learn to lengthen the spine against gravitational force, a movement that is particularly important for those with scoliosis. If your students are new to Handstand and afraid to try it, Ardha Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Half Handstand) is an alternative that can help them build confidence and strength. To warm up, ask your students to do Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) with their heels at the wall. Have them lift the right leg and extend through the heel with the ball of the foot pressing against the wall. Then ask them to reverse this, bringing the right leg down and lifting the left leg. This movement helps build upper body strength, often lacking in practitioners with scoliosis; it also teaches students to lengthen both sides of the body evenly, despite the distortion in the spine.
Have your students rest in Child's Pose. Now ask them to go back into Adho Mukha Svanasana and lift both legs onto the wall, hip-width apart and parallel to one another. The feet should be at hip level, no higher, and the arms, shoulders, and torso should be in a straight line. Have them press actively into the wall with the heels. Ask them to spread the shoulder blades away from each other and draw them away from the ears. Instruct them to press into the inner hands, draw the elbows in and keep the arms straight. If this is difficult, let them use a belt around the arms, just above the elbows.