I have a lumbar scoliosis. (In non-medical terms: the lower part of my spine bends too much to one side.) I also have a noticeable inward curvature in the lumbar spine (=lower part of the back). Whenever I stand up and imagine my back’s absolutely straight, in reality it looks like I’m pushing my bottom out and my belly forward.
One of my legs is noticeably longer than the other, which means that my hips are out of balance (this is of course related to the scoliosis). My upper back was always slightly hunched and my posture was bad when I was young; shoulders hunching forward, bum sticking out. With a posture like that it is easy to get back and neck pain. I remember the back exercises the school nurse used to give me. I can’t remember doing them very enthusiastically.
My Experience of Back Pain and Yoga
I started ashtanga yoga in 2000. I have now been practicing regularly more than ten years. Regularly means several times a week, although it does not always mean every single day. (Traditionally ashtanga yoga is practiced six days a week with holidays on the days of full and new moon. Women take a break from practice during the first three day of their menstruation.)
Some years after starting yoga I went to get a massage. The therapist, while working on my back, said: “Umm…. you know you have a really bad scoliosis?” I realized I hadn’t even thought about it for a very long time. Probably years. It had not troubled me at all. The therapist seemed a bit shocked that I had not mentioned it in the initial consultation.
Shortly after the massage I went to see an osteopath for a check-up. After the massage therapist reaction I wanted to know if the scoliosis was something I should worry about. The osteopath asked if it bothered me on a daily basis. I said it never bothered me. He told me not to worry about it.
Another thing happened around the same time. Someone commented on my posture: “You probably do yoga. You have such a good posture!” she said.
Did Yoga Cure My Back Problems?
I’m not saying yoga miraculously straightened my spine: it is still curved to one side and I still have that noticeable inward curve in the lower back. If I work long hours on the computer without stretching every now and then, my neck and shoulders don’t feel too amazing. But the almost-daily practice of ashtanga yoga has somehow made these structural problems completely insignificant. The scoliosis does not define me or stop me from doing anything, including the kind of deep backbending that makes doctors nearly faint in horror: “the human body should not even be able to do that!” Well, mine does, and it feels great.
I don’t have any scientific data to back up my experience. I’m not even saying I’ve never had back pain since I started yoga. There has been pain and discomfort and sometimes it has been caused, or related to, certain yoga postures. However, I also think yoga is re-aligning parts of me and although it can feel uncomfortable at the time, the result is a much healthier, stronger and more flexible spine.
Photo: Jakub Halun (Wikimedia Commons)