Teaching Yoga for Scoliosis
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose). In Triangle Pose, the feet are separated while the torso stretches to the side. Because of your students' scoliosis, your emphasis should be different when you ask them to stretch to each side. When stretching toward the side of the concavity, emphasize lengthening the spine to open up the compressed ribs on the underside of the body and decrease the protrusion of the ribs on the opposite side. When stretching to the convex side, emphasize twisting to create more evenness on the sides of the back.
For example, someone with a right thoracic scoliosis would stretch to the left to create length in the spine. Have that student separate the feet about one leg's length. Ask her to turn the left toes out to 90 degrees and the right toes in to 45 degrees, and stretch the torso to the left, bending from the hips and stretching the arms away from each other. Then have her place her left hand on the back of a chair in order to spread out the ribs on the concave side. Ask her to drop the right ribs in medially towards the spine so both sides of the body are parallel to the floor. Let her notice how dropping the right ribs spreads out the compressed left ribs. You can also have her press the right outer heel of the foot into a wall to give stability and strength from which to stretch. If you are teaching in a studio that has wall ropes, a rope attached to the wall and wrapped around her right thigh is an excellent way to create this stability, particularly for someone with a lumbar scoliosis.
It is also important to stretch to the opposite side to decrease the bulge in the back on the convex side of the spine. Ask her to place the left outer heel at the wall or use a rope attached around the left leg. Have her lengthen out from the hip as she did on the left side. Instruct her to place her right hand on the leg and bring the left heel of the hand to the sacrum. As she inhales, instruct her to draw the base of the right shoulder blade down from the ears and into the body, opening the chest. Then tell her to exhale and twist from the navel, drawing the left elbow back to align the shoulders with each other. Let the neck and head follow.
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose). This pose strengthens and stretches the legs, psoas, and back muscles. For students with scoliosis, this pose is best practiced with the support of a doorjamb or pillar, to keep the torso upright and balanced. Have them bring the back groin to the edge of the door jamb with the front heel about two feet ahead and the front leg hugging the side of the wall. Then ask them to place the back toes about two feet behind the left hip. They should square the two hips so they are parallel to each other and point the tailbone to the floor, lengthening the sacrum.
Instruct them to inhale and bring the arms overhead parallel to the shoulders, palms facing toward each other, and lift from the upper back, lengthening the ribs and spine out of the pelvis. Then let them exhale and bend the right leg, creating a right angle, with the thigh parallel to the floor and the shinbone perpendicular to the floor. Their right knee should be directly over the right heel, with the left leg fully extended and the left heel descending to the floor. Ask them to keep lifting the spine and at the same time press into the floor with the back leg. If they have difficulty bringing the back heel to the floor, place a sandbag under the heel for balance. Pressing it back and down to the floor helps to penetrate the deep psoas muscle.