As a teenager, I was diagnosed with slight scoliosis. I am now in my 30s and work at a desk each day. I get shoulder pain on the left side, plus lower back pain, but since starting yoga a year ago, the pain has reduced. I am now practising yoga at home and would like to find out which postures would be good to target my scoliosis. Marty Linstrom, Blackwood, SA
It sounds like you have what’s called functional right thoracic scoliosis, the most common form of scoliosis. This will certainly be aggravated by sitting at a desk. Almost invariably people lean towards their right, “mouse-hand” side at computers, just as they did (if right-handed) as children when learning to write!
Dealing with scoliosis is very much about balancing energies; about creating “action” in some areas and allowing “release” in others. Firstly, stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and get someone to press a foam yoga block or book onto your head (not too hard, a couple of kilos worth of pressure). Keep your chin lowered, shoulderblades down and press the crown of your head up into the block. Breathe and register the engagement of your legs, the length of your spine, the evenness of your waist and shoulders and the lift of your chest. Has this brought greater ease to the left-side shoulder and chest and more breath, more life to the otherwise dull right side? This is the awareness you need to take into your poses.
Practise standing poses with this awareness and occasionally use walls and benches as supports and to aid your proprioception (the perception of what your body is doing). Twists, either standing or seated, are often very beneficial but ensure you maintain length of the spine, evenness through the waist and across the shoulders, and rotation of the spine on its axis. Avoid compressing the shoulderblades into the spine by turning from the “back” body as much as from the “front” body.
Ideally, for complete spinal release, install Iyengar-style ropes in your home and practise supported Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) and supported inversions. Invaluable! Otherwise, Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose) usually brings great relief.
As your awareness deepens I suggest you begin a pranayama practice. However, a cautionary note, establish evenness in the touch of your breath in a lying position before attempting seated pranayama.
Tim Oddie is a certified Iyengar yoga teacher with 20 years experience. He is director of Geelong City Yoga and has a special interest in yoga within elite sports. For details on his workshops and retreats, visit www.geelongyoga.com.