Yoga and scoliosis – a member’s story

EkhartYoga member, Anne Risan, shares how yoga helped her manage scoliosis...and gave her so much more.

therapeutic yoga

People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons. I started by buying a DVD years ago, Yoga for Dummies. I am not kidding. It must have done something to me though, because here I am, years later, practising as if my life depends on it… Perhaps my life doesn’t literally depend on it, but I have come to see that my quality of life improves so much that the only sensible thing to do is to keep at it. Fortunately, I have come to love it.

Expectations and real life

Tension is who you think you should be, relaxation is who you are – Chinese proverb

For many years my life was a far cry from what I wanted it to be. I had expectations, I had a sort of built-in idea of what life would be if I did the right things, if I behaved in a certain way. Action and consequence, that was what I believed in. And above all, things would be normal.
This was back when I still believed there was such a thing as a normal life.
This was back when health and activity turned into sickness and pain.

I have a physical condition which was at the root of my problems, or so I thought. Scoliosis, a twisted and curvy spine. Maybe not the place of your choice to have your curves if you wish to be a curvy lady, but there they were, and still are.

Of course, with a back like that back pain was only to be expected, wasn’t it? Scoliosis is permanent but problems and pain came and went, so I came to the conclusion that there had to be other factors causing, or at least influencing, whatever pain I was in. By the age of 35, however, I was in constant pain. So much so that it ruled my life. I was not at the top of my game.

From couch to couch

This was not how I wanted my life to be. Being the mother of two young boys I felt both a desire and an obligation to do whatever it took to get myself off the couch. My couch that is. I did end up “on the couch”, though, in the shape of a massage table. The massage loosened the physical tight spots. Soon after, emotions, feelings and thoughts about everything that my life was, everything I was, everything I believed to be true, quickly surfaced and became objects of intense scrutiny. I had been thinking my way through life. Painful emotions were cleverly stored. As emotions and old beliefs were allowed to surface, from whatever corner of my body I had shoved them into, they dissolved and disappeared along with tension and blockages of all kinds. The physical aspect of the massage and the changing of my mindset became effective tools for healing. Ever since then I have been convinced of the connection between our emotional state and physical state.

My transformation did not happen overnight, not without work or commitment. It happened because I decided old truths no longer served me, so I let go of them. I never considered myself to be brave or courageous in any way, but I am actually proud of myself for daring to let go of the old when I had no idea what the new would be. I was however confident that I was already in hell, so wherever I went from there had to be a better place.

My recovery was quick and complete. Yoga was not a part of my life yet.

Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving – Albert Einstein

After a few years things took a turn for the worse and this time tried and tested methods didn’t work for me. In hindsight, I realised that I had slowly gone back to my old way of living and dealing with things. Once again 80% of my waking hours were spent lying down and the remaining 20% were not exactly fun either.  As luck would have it I was given the opportunity to start a two-week exercise programme at the local hospital. I was not optimistic at first. I had nothing to lose, so I gave it a try.

From there everything started to move in the right direction. I knew I would have to do a certain minimum of exercise so I wanted to find something that didn’t bore me to tears. Next thing I knew yoga was right in front of me and it felt like just the thing for me, right from the very first sun salutation.

Practising yoga is, in fact, performing therapy on myself.

“The good news about yoga is that it makes you aware of what’s going on in your body. The bad news about yoga is that it makes you aware of what’s going on in your body” – Leslie Kaminoff

Yin is a very good substitute for the massage technique I experienced earlier, working on the connective tissue. Other types of yoga make me stronger, more flexible and balanced in every conceivable way, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Where I previously had to rely on therapists for various treatments and input, I can now do this on my own. Well, I am not entirely on my own. EkhartYoga is my yoga studio. Here I can pick and choose from a seemingly endless amount of classes and find just the one I need at any given time.

– When I feel I am closing down, falling inwards, wanting to feel nothing, be left alone, I do backbends and heart openers.
– When I feel anger, frustration or sadness creeping in, hip openers are on the schedule.
– If I feel stressed and the monkey mind is turning into something like the primate section at the zoo I find something to ground me.
– When I fall in love with a comfy chair I go for something energizing.
Every time I am better for it.

Change is inevitable, growth is intentional – Glenda Cloud

Change will find its way even into the most reluctant of minds. Yoga is great that way. We can make up our mind to perform physical actions to get fit and by performing physical actions we slowly remake our mind. For me, too, yoga was a physical thing, at first. Thanks to the guidance of the teachers, who offer so much more than just instructions to the perfect Downward Dog, it became more and more a thing for the mind as well. All the things I knew from my first real healing and transformation process started to come back to me.

There are, of course, many different ways to a meaningful and healthy life. Personally, I believe very strongly that to get real and lasting results we need to take care of both body and mind. We are body AND mind. Not A body and A mind accidentally appearing side by side. Through the practice of yoga I learn to connect the two.

Yoga is my therapy. It keeps me pain-free and physically fit, but more importantly, it keeps me sane.

Yoga is my therapy. It keeps me pain-free and physically fit, but more importantly, it keeps me sane. It is my painkiller, it is my ego trip, it is my source of well-deserved indulgence in all the delicious benefits I get from strengthening, stretching, balancing, calming and/or energizing myself as I see fit at any given time. It helps me keep an open heart and an open mind. It gets my difficult emotions (I won’t call them negative) out in the open to vanish. It makes me trust my body again. It lets me enjoy my body in all its imperfection; yes enjoy. Enjoy the fact that imperfections ddon’tmatter, they do not define me. I can do the splits and be a mermaid, for heavens sake, at the ripe old age of 52! And I didn’t step foot on a yoga mat until I was 49. But more than that I can try lots of things and NOT succeed and be perfectly ok with that, too!

So how is your back?

People always ask me. My back is really not an issue, it is the body part between my butt and my neck. I come in the shape of a question mark, and I live as one. More than anything I question what I am being told is the truth. Your truth is not automatically my truth. And that is ok. My physical pain was the manifestation of my emotional pain. Fix one and you fix the other.

And all the time I breathe; I breathe better, more fully, more deeply… Not just because my lung capacity has improved, or because my stamina has improved, but because I do it consciously and with awareness. When the monkey mind goes full speed, I breathe. When the monkey is out of my mind I still breathe. I breathe through the asanas and the breath tells me if I am where I should be in the pose. But most of all I breathe because breath is life and the breath is comforting, soothing, relaxing. My body relaxes and my mind relaxes and I know for a fact that my soul does the same.

Yoga connects my soul and my body, my mind and my heart. It has the power to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. It connects me with the rest of the world to the degree of my choosing. So I roll out my mat and I bend and stretch and tone and strengthen every part of my being to the best of my increasing ability.

Then there is Savasana, dessert, the cherry on top, the time for some juicy Svadhyaya, the getting to know and understand the ins and outs of myself at the point when the barriers are physically broken down enough for secrets to see the light of day.  

I know that my world, my life, can be shaped and formed according to my willingness to be courageous or vulnerable.

This is how I want to live and a regular yoga practice makes that possible.

Simple as that.

Anne Risan

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EkhartYoga Written by one of the EkhartYoga staff or guest writers. A dedicated team of yoga teachers, yoga students, anatomy geeks, and recipe creators.