Yogatherapy of Scoliosis. Unsymmetrical training in asanas.
Scoliosis is a frontal curvature of spine that, depending on its gravity, considerably restricts the mobility of vertebral disks, causes deformation of vertebral bodies and frank asymmetry of the body (Picture 1). Deformation of spine pinches the nerve roots, resulting in chronic pains in the spine, in grave cases leading to apoplexy of lower limbs. Scoliosis is a progressing illness, sooner or later leading not only to spine deformation, but also to malfunction of blood circulation and external respiration. Load distribution on locomotorium is changed dramatically, a costal humpback grows, breast deforms, reducing the internal cavities and lungs excursion, external breathing deteriorates. Ventilation problems in their turn, have a negative impact on anaerobic (cellular) breathing, and deterioration of cellular metabolism leads to chronic hypoxia of tissues. Chronic hypertension in pulmonary circuit can lead to cardiac hypertrophy of right cardiac chambers and develop the symptoms of pulmonary heart disease (“kyphoscoliotic heart”).
Despite the variety of treatment methods, Scoliosis still holds the status of an irremediable disease, because its prime cause haven’t been discovered yet. It can be cured on initial stages in younger age, when the bones are still formed. However, after the organism has developed, correct yoga therapy can only stop the development of the disease and significantly improve the quality of living. At the same time, unadapted asanas practice can bring a number of epiphenomena and traumas to those suffering from this disease, up to enhancing the asymmetry. This article is going to be dedicated to the ways of adapting yoga practice for people who have Scoliosis and the first thing that can help us is the knowledge of the subject.
Thus, the first misleading lie: “The cause of Scoliosis is our incorrect posture at school”.
It is actually the other way round: those who already had curvature sat incorrectly. Crooked position is an adaptive reaction to asymmetric weight load in our body. It is a consequence, not a reason. Trying to hold an upright position will only increase tension in those areas, which are already quite tense. So what this knowledge gives to us? Using corrective postures won’t give the necessary effect. At least, if you just curve to the opposite side and freeze like this for a long time, you will get convulsions, traumas, muscle spasms and pain syndrome.
The second lie: “Scoliosis is down to weak back muscles, so they should be trained”.
The curvature is characterized by more or less evident changes in force balance, the muscles become longer o shorter. Depending on the direction of turning or twisting, the body loses the balance of muscle strength and flexibility. In 1962 a German doctor, Friedrich Brussatis described the difference in electric activity of the muscles of the salient and concave side. He discovered that the muscles on the salient side are more active. It means that muscles on the concave side are weaker and they should be trained. At the same time, the salient side muscles are overstrained and they should be relaxed.
The truth you should know: A muscle loses its functional length when it is constantly, but not extremely, strained. This length could allow it both to contract and extend effectively. From the salient side the muscles become contracted and shortened. When you try to load them more, they cannot develop more strength and contract. Instead they give in to tremor and convulsion. This is called strain weakness disorder. If we try to relax those muscles by lengthening them it becomes obvious that the strongest part of the muscle, its central part, also stretches the weakest, tendon end. It forms overstrained and contracted as well as lengthened areas in one and the same muscle.
This can be explained by the muscle mechanics. There is difference between muscle intention (pre-strain) and muscle contraction. The muscle can achieve its maximum tension only after some pre-stretching, what is approximately equal to the length in quiescent state. Overstretching reduces the contractive capacity of potential tension. Therefore, constant asymmetric load makes muscles of both sides lose their functional length that could help them contract or lengthen effectively. It means that if we try to stretch the salient side muscles and contract those on the concave one, there will be no effect until the muscles regain their functional length.
Attention! Here is the key point in working with lateral curvature.
You can show utmost zeal selecting asymmetric exercises for the very muscle groups that are involved in the very curvature you work with, but there will be no effect until you restore the functional length of the muscles. For this purpose it is better to use dynamic exercises without ultimate load, alternating lengthening and contraction. These exercises are called vyayamas in hatha-yoga. The exercises should be done asymmetrically, as there is a chance of “cheating” effect, when an exercise is fulfilled with the help of overstrained and spasmed muscles of the salient side, not involving the weakened side.
It can be illustrated by an example.
Here is left-side lumbar scoliosis. Quadrate muscle of waist, which starts from iliac crest and is fixed upon the 12th rib and transversal appendices of lumbar vertebras, is shortened and overstrained (Picture 2).
Contracted on one side, this muscle bends the spinal column to the side. However, it is weakened on the left side. In addition to this, left-side lumbar scoliosis is formed by overstraining of lumboiliac muscle (Picture 3) on the right side and its weakening on the left side. The lumbar part of this muscle starts from the transversal appendices of lumbar vertebra. From the internal side of pelvic bone it is connected with iliac part that is fixed upon trochantin from the inside. This muscle is engaged in adduction of the thigh to the body, and in fixing the thigh in forward bend. Its one-sided contraction turns the pelvis front.
We can employ both these muscles in one exercise:
Initial position: Adho Mukha Svanasana Lift your right leg up, keeping the pelvis straight. Make sure there is a direct line from palms to the foot. Exhale and bend the knee, round the spine and stretch your knee to the forehead, and your forehead to the knee. Inhale and straighten the spine again, stretching after the knee, and exhale rounding the back, bending the knee. Repeat the exercise at least 10 times, then do the same for the left leg (Picture 4, 5).
When we lift the leg, our quadrate lumbar muscle contracts, and lumboiliac, as antagonist muscle, is relaxed. Bending, on the contrary, relaxes the quadrate muscle and contracts lumboiliac one. As this exercise gives non-ultimate load, every new contraction and relaxation returns the muscle to its functional length.
After this you can use asymmetric static load. It is necessary to strengthen the quadrate lumbar muscle, so we fix the right leg up. From the left side, we need to strengthen the lumboiliac muscle, so we fix the left leg in bending position.
Another exercise for lumboiliac muscle:
Initial position: lying on the back. Lift the pelvis, turn it to the side and put it in the middle. All the body is on the side, and arms and shoulders are on the floor. Exhale and bend the upper leg in the knee, and stretch it upwards, to the chest, inhale and straighten and stretch along the other leg (Picture 6, 7). Repeat it at least 10 times, after this do it for the other side.
It must be mentioned here that left-side lumbar scoliosis also involves thigh muscles. Their asymmetric work rotates and bends pelvis to the side. The pelvis is rotated from the concave side forward and up. Therefore, the front side of the right thigh is shortened and the back one is lengthen. The left thigh works in the opposite way.
The following exercise is for thighs:
Initial position: right leg is bent in the knee, the foot is under the knee. Left leg is stretched behind, the knee is on the floor. Put your hands on the floor and try to stretch forwards, inhale. Exhale straightening the front leg and bending towards it, pull the foot to the body. Repeat it at least 10 times, then change legs.
After you do this exercise dynamically, fix it for the left leg in both positions. By this we stretch the front side of the right thigh and the back side of the left one, since they are shortened in the case of such type of scoliosis.
On the example of left-side lumbar scoliosis, we have studied the main principles of asymmetrical training. In order to work with the rest of the spine, it is important to understand what muscles form this particular curvature and select exercises engaging these very muscle groups. Apart from the knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics, you will need information on pathobiomechanics, as a structurally altered spine reacts differently to the loads.
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