Teaching Yoga for Scoliosis
Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). Shoulderstand releases the chronic tension in the neck and shoulders so common among people with scoliosis. If your students are beginners, they should have as much support as possible to encourage the chest to open and to prevent the weight of the body from descending on the neck and shoulders. Suggest that they begin by using a chair, a bolster, and the wall. Place the back of the chair approximately one foot from the wall. Place a nonslip mat and thin blanket on the seat of the chair and a blanket over the back. Place a bolster or several blankets on the floor in front of the chair. If they are on a wooden floor, place a folded towel in front of the blankets for placing under their heads. Have them sit in the chair facing the wall and roll backwards into the pose, bringing the shoulders onto the bolster and head on the floor. Ask them to hold on to the chair's back legs and lift their legs, resting their feet against the wall. If any students' chin is higher than his forehead, place a folded towel under his head. Ask him to relax the eyes, turning them inward and down toward the chest. Let your students stay in the pose for 5 to 10 minutes. To come out of the pose, have them slide the chair away and lower their buttocks to the floor.
As they progress, suggest that they begin to do Shoulderstand at the wall without the chair and bolster. Place four folded blankets at the wall; have them lie on the blankets with the buttocks close to the wall, the shoulders at the edge of the blankets, and the legs stretched up the wall. Ask them to bend the knees, lift the buttocks, and shift their weight onto the shoulders. Have them interlace the fingers with the elbows straight and roll the shoulders under. Make sure they support the back with the hands and lift up through the knees. Have them straighten one leg at a time, until they are strong enough to straighten both legs and balance. If they get tired, suggest that they stretch the legs back to the wall, keeping the legs straight. Ask them to hold for a minute in the beginning and gradually increase to 5 to 10 minutes. To come out, instruct them to release the hands from the back, and continue to extend through the heels as they slide to the floor, pressing the tailbone toward the wall.
As their practice progresses, they might wish to try Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Balance). When the arms, shoulders, and back have been strengthened through regular inversion practice, they may be ready to practice Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand).
The backward bends have been the most powerful poses in releasing my back tension. Backbending has given me freedom and mobility, particularly on the more developed right (convex) side of my back.
Passive Backbend Over a Bolster. With a scoliosis your students may experience periodic muscle spasms. Thus, even though backward bends are helpful, you should ask them to approach these postures with softness rather than force. In order to open up, the muscles in the back must learn to release rather than tighten, allowing the heart to open like a lotus blossom from the inside out. Beginning with passive backbends encourages this approach.
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