Exercises for Scoliosis and Back Pain – A Yoga Learning Curve

I see this word a lot: exercises. I hear it echoed in new students who step in to explore yoga and their scoliosis, with me. “I did my exercises,” they might say to me as we begin a new yoga session.


The truth of the undertaking, this yoga with scoliosis or with back pain, as an exploration, is far, far deeper. More raw and more foundational. Indeed, more honest. For what is required is a fundamental shift from the mindset of ‘I do this set of moves and it gives me this result’, to one of curiosity, and partnership with one’s body and other aspects of one’s psyche. Yoga.

Here’s a little of what yoga is; an honest and undefended encounter with oneself, an experience, a wonderment. A Practice.

Here’s a little of what it isn’t; exercise, result driven, a sense of entitlement, something acquisitive or to be appropriated. Make no mistake; the terrain is one of self-enquiry and exploration.

Where to begin? In your body. In your sensing body. In searching the sensation in your body, and with a scoliosis, searching  the sensation of your spine in particular. The scientific literature is clear, folk inhabiting a scoliotic terrain encounter challenges in balance and the felt sense of the body in space. Herein lies an entry point. One entry point; your legs being another, but that’s another article!

When you stand with someone, and they walk around you, observing your landscape with a neutral loving eye, how will you know, as a felt experience, the topography they are seeing? This is part of this doorway; knowing your curves, the territory that your long curving river of spine carves through you. DO you know it? Not simply as a drawing that someone might sketch for you, or the startling image on the X-ray (is that me!?), but as felt experience, in your own bones, muscles, organs, fluids. Felt. Known. Like songlines of the land. These relationships of the body, your body, one part to another, these/your relationships to the space around you. Often the listening, conversant hands of another on your body can elicit early clues, as to where you really are.

And then there emerges more information, as this someone asks you to bend forward, or to raise an arm, to stand on one leg. Simple moves that change the relationship of one part of your body’s landscape to another. Which parts of you ‘go grey’ – which parts are you challenged to feel? Do you know whether one leg is slightly in front of the other when you simply stand? Whether your arm is straight up above you, or slightly wilting at the elbow, or out to one side? Without intelligent clarity in your arm, you’ll have trouble directing the clear force of that arm in through your shoulder girdle and rib basket and accessing your thoracic curve. Of sensing the relationship of that arm to its corresponding lung. Allowing that lung, front and back, to literally in-form that arm! For without knowing where you are, and sensing the relationships to space and body-places and body places to body places, you’ll have trouble generating an integrated kinesthetic intelligence and functional cohesion – your inherent wholeness. Let alone, functional strong-and-fluid change!

Let’s come back to your lungs. Can you feel the back of your lung in your concavity? It’s like a rainforest unfurling as you inhale into it. Opening lung, to touch the interior surface of the ribs. As my original teacher, Alan Goode, once said, ‘the intimate touch of the breath’. It may take time to access, the tissue itself atrophies from lack of use. Can you find the side of the rib basket in your concavity? Your convexity? How is each rib-side different, one to another. As you stand sideways to a wall, can you sense the distance – and the shape – you are from the wall, each side? Can you find the sensation of the very sides of the vertebral bony architecture of your spine itself, your left and your right. Does one vertebral side feel further forward than its counterpart? How does this change how you raise that arm? How you step forward?

How does this change how you breathe.

Often these encounters with oneself open floodgates. When you are truly witnessed, and space lovingly held as you sense and peek more into yourself, defenses shoring up the body may crumble.

There is much to learn in here. It is indeed, a learning curve. Your curves. Your relationship with yourself, with your body in space, the relationship of one part of your body to another. And, your relationship with the shocking reality of gravity, (I often wonder about scoliosis in space orbit and microgravity – however, I reckon re-entry wouldn’t be too pleasant at 3-4 G!).

Yoga. Sensing  – a place to begin asana. A place to begin the important journey of functional change. That which, as humans, never ceases.

Article and Photo Reprinted with Permission from Narelle Carter-Quinlan. For more information, visit her webpage Embodied Terrain.com

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