Practice Yoga’s Got Your Back If you suffer from scoliosis, try these poses for strength and pain management. By Maggie Peikon Photo courtesy of Maggie Peikon My can’t-leave-home-without-it accessory quickly became my arch nemesis. My accessory wasn’t a fun bracelet or funky necklace. It was a back brace: On me 22 hours a day, scratchy in all the wrong places, stiff as a board, and impossible to conceal. Try going through middle school with this bad boy! I imagine you can sympathize, or empathize if you’ve had one too. At just 12 years old I hadn’t really wrapped my head around what scoliosis actually was, and what it was doing to my body and my muscles. Now that I’m older, somewhat wiser, and out of the brace, I can appreciate what’s happened to my body. I can also find new ways to lessen my pain, strengthening my spine and muscles at the same time. Looking down the barrel of a spinal surgery, my doctors often recommended physical therapy as a form of pain management. As an avid exerciser I was finding that the workouts I was doing weren’t much help for my pain, though they were keeping my muscles strong. Finally, a doctor recommended yoga as a way to strengthen my back, relieve pressure from my spine, stretch my muscles, and find some comfort. I enlisted the help of my favorite Long Island yogi, Meghan (Mila) Vitrano, to show some basic poses that are helpful for scoliosis sufferers like me. Meghan shows poses that are great stretches, and also poses that are great for strengthening your back and core to emphasize alignment and balance. All of these poses are perfect for both beginners and yoga pros, and can be done from the comfort of your mat no matter where you are—the kitchen floor, your backyard, a yoga studio, or even a hotel room. There’s no excuse to not give them a try! Cat–Cow Pose Ease into your practice by starting with cat–cow pose. Cat–cow pose will help to alleviate pain and pressure in your back and shoulders while also allowing you to increase your flexibility. Use this sequence of cat–cow to connect and synchronize your breath with your movement at the start of practice. Child’s Pose Child’s pose is a great pose to follow cat–cow, and many will find this pose very relaxing. Child’s pose will gently stretch and lengthen your muscles. For a deeper stretch, Meghan suggests trying a ‘wide-kneed’ version of the pose, letting your stomach and chest rest between your legs (shown below). Triangle Pose When in triangle pose, focus on the side opposite your curve to give length to the spine. If you have a left thoracic curve, for example, you would stretch to the right. When you’re stretching opposite your curve you’re allowing yourself to open and decompress your ribcage. Plank (and Side Plank) Pose Working to strengthen core muscles is essential for increasing the stability of your spine. Nearly all doctors who have recommended exercise routines for me have suggested doing so—and it’s not exception with yoga. Plank pose will help you to build your abdominal strength. While it’s certainly not the easiest pose, over time you will find you can hold the pose longer and with greater ease. Alignment is very important in plank. As you incorporate this pose into your regular practice you will also be benefiting your upper back and neck posture. Downward Dog Downward dog helps to elongate the spine. This is a great pose for those who feel pain in their upper back. Practicing this pose will also help in gaining flexibility in the upper back, easing tension in this area. Kitchen Sink Stretch This is an improvised version of a bar stretch, and can easily be done with the help of your kitchen sink! This is such an amazing stretch for your back in all three stages, and you will feel your spine lengthening as you move through the poses. These stretches are great to alleviate tightness in the hamstrings, which can add to lower back pain. Full Boat Pose Boat pose is another great pose to incorporate into your practice for core strengthening. This pose will also help to stretch your hamstring muscles as well as strengthen your spine and hip flexors. Forward Fold Forward folds can be done with knees bent or straight, depending on your flexibility level. This is a go-to pose to release and lessen stiffness and tension in your back as well as your neck and shoulders. The forward fold also acts as a great way to stretch your hamstrings. Staff Pose Meghan explains that this pose may be simple, but it’s not easy. Staff pose stretches and lengthens your spine, engaging your entire body. This is a great pose to put focus on posture as you imagine your spine as the “staff,” rooting you firmly to your mat. Breathing Some patients with severe scoliosis have complained of shortness of breath, and cite their curves or rib rotation as the culprit. Yoga acts as a way for scoliosis sufferers to connect with their breath through practice. Yoga poses and postures can help expand collapsed rib cages and lung capacity. If you suffer from scoliosis, yoga can help. Have any other poses that you use that you can recommend? Add them in the comments section below! — Maggie Peikon is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine.