Time and again, we are being told that there is no cure for Scoliosis. That nothing can bring improvement to the condition. Young people with Scoliosis are spending 23 hours a day in braces, and this for the duration of their growing years, in the hopes of stopping the progression of the curves.  And then there are of course the operations. I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of other methods. I am sure each has benefits in their own right, and if someone has a Scoliosis which has progressed to the point where the quality of their lives is seriously impaired, I suppose they have very little options but to go under the knife.

But would it not be fair to have a look at all possibilities. Most doctors will tell you that Yoga can not do anything for Scoliosis. And yet…. Time and over again my students come back from check ups reporting their Scoliosis has either stopped progressing, or shows actual improvement on X-ray.

But Scoliosis is more than just lateral curves in the spine, which is what is measured on X-rays. In my experience, Scoliosis is not just a condition of the spine, but one that affects the whole body. It is surely not uncommon to see how students improvement is visible not just in the spine, but also in pelvis, neck and shoulders. Moreover, many of my students notice other changes.  Some of them get nicer legs. Their feet get arches. And even faces can become more symmetrical when the pull of the muscles on the spine and neck is altered.

Of course, Yoga is not a miracle cure. And not all Yoga will help. Students with Scoliosis need programs which take their condition in consideration. Their case needs to be studied carefully, and the exercises need to be taught in a way that benefits them. The postures also need to be carefully selected, what benefits one student may actually not be the best in another case of Scoliosis. And as you probably noticed, no two cases of Scoliosis are identical to begin with. Neither are the underlying causes and effects. So it is important to work with a teacher who really understands and has experience in working with the condition.

But a picture speaks more than a thousand words. So I am posting here a few pictures of one of my students, and her journey along the path of Yoga for Scoliosis. The first picture was taken after doing Yoga for a few weeks, and she had already felt considerable changes in the body. The other two were on the dates mentioned below the pictures.

The student whose pictures are posted came to me, suffering from an 83 degree right thoracic scoliosis. She was scheduled to have a subsidized operation, but was very scared to go under the knife, as she was told that there was a two percent risk of being paralysed after the operation.

Apart from this, her pelvis was not level, she had a lumbar curve and her shoulders were not even. Her neck muscles were quite uneven, and the pull of the neck muscles resulted in her face looking quite assymetrical.  Her thoracic curve kept progressing, and was estimated to progress to 90 degrees by the time of the operation.

After doing Yoga for some time, she went to see the doctors with regards to the scheduled operation. At that time her pelvis was level, her lumbar curve had disappeared, and her thoracic curve had remained at 83 degrees, rather than progressed to the predicted 90 degrees. Her shoulders were more level, and her face had become more symmetrical due to the decreased pull of the neck muscles. So she told the doctors she did not want the operation…

Another student just got her results back. She was advised to have an operation, but as her condition had improved from 47 to 41 degrees (after 13 private sessions), her doctor decided the operation was not necessary.

These cases are not unique. Many of my students have seen improvement on x-ray, and have managed to avoid an operation thanks to Yoga for Scoliosis.

So does it help ? In all honesty, I think it is about time the medical world would have a serious look at Yoga for Scoliosis as a valid complementary treatment option in the battle against Scoliosis. Already, some doctors and chiropractors have recognized the value of the work I am doing. But it would be wonderful if the benefits of Yoga for Scoliosis were better known. And if the medical world is ready to consider the possibility, I am more than willing to cooperate in clinical trials to prove the benefits of the Yoga for Scoliosis practice. I say no more….

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For many years it was believed that the only options in the treatment of Scoliosis were to try and stabilize the abnormal curvatures of the spine by wearing a brace, or to correct it through spinal fusion, a surgical procedure.

Recent insights into the nature and causes of Scoliosis, have created new approaches towards this condition, and different treatment options are now available, often used in combination with the more traditional methods.

Why do students with Scoliosis require specialized classes ?

A regular Yoga practice offers many postures which are beneficial for people with healthy spines, but not all of these are suitable for people with spinal problems, and some of them might actually aggravate existing Scoliosis.

As no two cases of Scoliosis are identical, each student needs an individual approach towards his/her specific curve(s) and problems. Poses which benefit the student with Scoliosis need to be selected on a per case basis, and may require particular modifications to accommodate and at the same time correct the underlying inbalances in the body.

The Yoga program we offer starts with an individual assessment of each student. This assessment, and if possible a recent X-ray are used to tailor the 8-class program to the individual needs of each student. During the course students will gain insight in their condition and learn the techniques to address their particular case of Scoliosis and its related pains and discomforts.

In order to work closely with each student’s needs, strengths and weaknesses, the attendance of the course is restricted to a small number of participants per course.

Private classes are available.

Students attending this program are expected to have a dedicated home practice, and will be fully supported in their self practice.

As the practice advances, postures may be adapted or replaced by others, thus working at all times in alignment with the achieved results.

What happens after the course?

After the basic program, students attend a 10-week follow up course to ensure proper follow up and maintenance of the results. After this, students may opt to continue the follow up classes, or continue practising on their own.

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When students talk to me about their Scoliosis, I often find they are not really sure about their own condition. In part this could be due because doctors often discuss the subject in technical terms. I will try to simplify some of the terms used to describe the condition.

The direction of the curve is identified by the convexity of the curve. So if we say someone has a right thoracic curve, the convexity of the curve will be on the person’s right, the concavity of the curve on the person’s left.

The major curve, or primary curve, is the most significant curve in the spine. Often a compensatory curve develops above or below the major curve in the opposite direction of the major curve.

Apex of the curve is at the vertebrae which is the furthest away from the midline of the body.

Curves are described according to their shape, and the location in the body.

C-curves, or  thoraco-lumbar curves occur along the length of the thoracic and lumbar spine. Most C-curves are right convexity.

S-curves are specified by their location in the body:

Right thoracic-left lumbar curves are the most common type of curves is in idiopathic Scoliosis. The major curve is in the thoracic spine between T4 and T12, and usually there are structural changes in the vertebrae of this major curve. There is also a less compensatory curve in the lumbar spine.

In left lumbar Scoliosis the major curve is to the left in the lumbar spine. There may be a less severe compensatory curve in the right thoracic spine.

Double major curve describes the presence of two major curves of equal severity. Usually both curves are structural.

In my own experience, a lot of people with Scoliosis actually have three, or sometimes even four curves, but there are no technical terms used to describe these, as they are usually considered compensatory curves.

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Scoliosis is a general term which describes lateral curves in the spine in excess of 10 degrees, often in combination with rotation of the vertebrae. These curvatures may be in the cervical, the thoracic and the lumbar regions of the spine.

Functional Scoliosis
This is usually caused by external factors such as wrong postural habits, spasm in the back muscles, and variations in the structure of the skeleton, such as uneven leg length. In functional Scoliosis the lateral curve of the spine is reversible, and there are no structural or rotational changes in the alignment of the vertebrae. If postural misalignments continue over a long time, the curves may increase and structural changes take place in the spine. Especially in children, continued postural misalignments may negatively affect remodeling of the bones.

Structural Scoliosis
In Structural Scoliosis, the lateral curvature of the spine is combined with rotation of the vertebrae. The greatest rotation of the vertebrae occurs at the apex of the curve. The vertebral bodies rotate towards the convex side of the curve, and the spinous processes deviate towards the concave side of the curve. The ribs on the concave side of the curve are compressed, while those on the convex side of the curve separate .The ribs follow the rotation of the vertebrae, and the posterior ribs on the convex side are pushed to the back, producing the characteristic rib hump seen in thoracic Scoliosis. This is even more noticeable when forward bending.Other structural changes in the spine, such as wedging of the vertebral bodies on the concave side of the curve, may occur, especially in curves above 25 degrees.

Other symptoms of Scoliosis
Shoulders are not level
Prominence of one scapula
Uneven hip level
One hip more prominent than the other
One side of the rib cage is more prominent
Waistline is uneven
Body tends to lean more to one side
Unequal distance between body and arms
Clothes do not “hang right“

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Talk on Yoga for Scoliosis

We will have a talk on Yoga for Scoliosis on Saturday 14 April, at Metropolitan Square, Damansara Perdana. Yen, the postergirl on the Yoga for Scoliosis Facebook will be there, and both of use will answer your questions. If you wish to attend, please email us at

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Workshops in Kuala Lumpur

For info of workshops at Be Yoga, click the link above.

My workshop, Body, Breath and Bandha, is an introduction in the basics of Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa.  Students who would like to attend Vinyasa, but are not sure if they are ready to take this step, now have a chance to ease into the practice.  And for those students who attend Vinyasa classes, but who are not really sure what is meant when your teacher tells you to “use your bandhas”, now is an opportunity to finally find out exactly what they are, and how to apply and refine them

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Eka Pada Sirsasana

I love this pose, and try to incorporate it in my practice a few times a week.  So when I was asked to pose in one of my favourite asanas, I did not have to think long to select this one.

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A-himsa  is the practice of non violence towards all living creatures.

The first step is of course not to kill, or do physical harm.   In law as in religion, the killing of other human beings is always seen as one of the worst offences any human being can commit.

But A-himsa goes further than that.  Ahimsa not only propagates non violence against human beings, but  against all living beings, and does not stop at refraining from physical hurt.

Swami Sivananda adequately describes A-himsa as “a harmless mind, mouth, and hand”.

Jainism dictates one of the most strict and active forms of ahimsa. Ahimsa, as practised by Jains  includes vegetarianism, but also prohibits the cultivation of crops which may harm insects and worms, such as onions and garlic. Honey is not eaten as it may harm the bees.   In India, Jains can be seen walking the streets with a broom  to sweep any insects out of the way to avoid stepping on them.  They often cover the mouth with a cloth as a reminder not to speak harsh language.

Mahatma Gandhi

A-himsa was the guiding principle of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy, applying the concept successfully to politics.

The Swiss Doctor Albert Schweitzer, who received the 1952 Nobel price for peace, describes this as Reverence for life (“Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.”)

And all the religions I’ve come across condemn actions which may harm human beings, while many religions also extend this principle towards other forms of life.

Interestingly, all laws and religions make an exception for violence in self defence and acts as a result of war.

Ahimsa Practical

“The only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass – and, of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect, that we wish for ourselves.” (James Brabazon)

Ahimsa is not the opposite of violence.  It is a form of all encompassing love, a way of living in which hatred is replaced by love.  It is mental generosity, cultivated by acceptance, forgivingness, and the restraint of harmfull words  and actions.

Life by itself is violent.  Creatures  eat other living beings to survive.  We kill bacteria and viruses less they harm us.  Ahimsa  recognizes this  need to survive.  What makes an action evil, is the intention that informs it.

The keeper of a beloved pet may choose to end it’s life to guard it from unnecessary suffering, a choice which is informed by his love for the animal. Choosing to kill the animal because it sheds hair on the sofa, and it is too bothersome to find someone who may accept the animal as it is, is obviously informed by different motivation.

Ahimsa does not only concern itself with acts of life and death, but  it entails the responsibility of improving the quality of life of others.

Everyday there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate Ahimsa into our lives.

We all know how to use kind words, friendly gestures, positive expressions and a pleasant tone of voice.  Ahimsa involves extending them to people in all walks of life, not just our friends and those who hold an important social position. Discourtesy, especially in front of others can be very hurtful, so may be the deliberate excluding of others from pleasant activities.  Ignoring other people’s pain, ignoring a genuine request for help, or refusal to provide it, all can cause deep hurt and pain.  Not speaking out or encouraging others  when they inflict unnecessary pain is another form of harm.

An important aspect of Ahimsa is avoiding the need to retaliate on the perceived intention of others, but to take time to reflect on them, and where necessary to let go, rather than hitting back.

And on the mat ?

Ahimsa starts with non violence towards yourself, so avoid pushing yourself to the point of injury or exhaustion.  Comparison creates unhealthy competition and  interferes with awareness of the effects of the practice.  Respect others by avoiding disturbances such as talking in class,  and try to remember your handphone has an OFF button.   Some people are really disturbed if others walk on their personal Yoga mat as they consider it their private space and energy field., so please be aware of this.  A warm smile can make a new person feel welcome, especially if all the students are familiar with one another.

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The foundation of any society is its’ code of conduct, without which it would cease to exist as a group.  These rules may be clearly defined such as in governments and religions, or be unwritten such as in families and social groups, eg teenagers.

Just as the letters of the alphabet could not be randomly reorganized without words and sentences losing their meaning, the foundation of any system could not be randomly reorganized without completely changing its’ dynamics.

This is very obvious in the discipline of Yoga, the amazing science which concerns itself with human’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development.  Yoga without consideration of its’ ethics loses a great deal of its’ transformational power.  A Yoga which is limited to a physical practice, will provide physical benefits only, but without the totality of practices will lose its’ value as a path towards a blissful and enlightened existence.

Just as praying is not in the kneeling, Yoga is not in the postures, but in the whole of practices. The path of Yoga is eightfold and progressive, and it is imperative that its’ moral and ethical foundation informs all the other steps.

The benefits a brilliant mind could contribute to society cannot exist without the involvement of the heart.  The benefits Yoga could provide to human kind cannot exist without the desire to develop one’s own humanity.

And thus,Yoga has the Yamas and the Niyamas.

Yama are the guidelines towards creating a happy social environment, Niyama concerns itself with the internal development of the human entity.

The five Yamas are : Ahimsa (non violence) – Satya (truthfulness) – Asteya (non stealing) – Bramacharya (sexual responsibility) – Aparigraha (abstinence from greed).

The five Niyamas are : Sauca (purity) – Santosa (contentment) – Tapas (austerity, commitment) – Svadhyaya (self study) – Isvara Pranidhana (surrendering one’s actions to a higher principle)

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Krishna and the Gopis

The Hindu epic Srimad Bhagwat Mahapuranam, which dates from 3500 to 1800 BC, involves a myth in which Lord Krishna straightens the spine of Kubja, one of his devotees.  Kubja, who was hunchbacked, had spinal deformities in three places.  By pressing het feet down and pulling her chin upwards, Lord Krishna managed to straighten her spine.  This is the first reference to axial traction methods.

The Gospel of Luke describes how on a Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, when he spotted a woman whose spine had been bent for 18 years.  When he laid his hands on her, her back immediately straightened.


It was the great Greek physician Hippocrates (460-375 BC) who first described abnormal curvatures of the spine in “de Articulaciones” of the Corpus Hippocraticum. Though he recognized that the curvatures in healthy spines may vary widely, he talked about old age, pain, falls and bad posture as causes of  abnormal curvatures., He also mentioned lateral curves of the spine, which he felt were caused by the positions his patients would lie in. Hippocrates designed two different types of traction devices, one called the Hippocratic Ladder, and a traction table named the Scamnum. In “De Articulaciones” he mentioned that great damage could be done if this traction table were to be used by those wanting to cause mischief. Less well meaning people indeed used the table in later times as a torture device called the Rack.

The foundations of modern Scoliosis management

Six centuries later, Galien (AD 130-200) coined the terms Scoliosis, Kyphosis and Lordosis to describe specific deformities in the spine. He was also the first physician to describe back pain. He did extensive research on the stucture and the function of the spinal cord and kidneys. By his statement that observation and investigation are the basis for medical research Galien laid the foundation of modern medical research methods

Ambroise Pare (1510-1590). the “father of French surgery”, was a barber-surgeon whose work on the battle fields made him realise that a physician’s job should be to ease a patient’s suffering. This concept was unheard of in his day… Pare developed a brace for Scoliosis, meant to “hide and correct defects”. These early braces were actually metal corsets with holes in them to diminish their weight, which were fitted and padded, and changed as the patient outgrew them. He only used them for young patients, as he felt they would not be effective for patients whose skeleton had reached maturity. Braces are still used in the treatment of Scolios to stop the curves from progressing.

The French paediatrician Nicholas Andry (1510-1590), author of “Orthopaedia“, believed Scoliosis was caused by asymetric muscle thightness, and used corsets made from whalebone with padding at the place of the protuberances, suspension, and postural approaches, in its treatment.

Other names mentioned in the history of Scoliosis are this of Jacques Delpech, a French surgeon, who used traction and exercise in the treatment of Scoliosis, rather than surgical methods, and this of Jules Guerin, a French orthopedic surgion who used to treat Scoliosis patients by controversial subcutaneous surgery.  Other techniques used included a plaster body cast which was applied while the patient was being suspended.

The man who changed the face of Scoliosis treatment forever,was an American named Russel Hibbs (1860-1932), the first surgeon ever to perform a spinal fusion. In 1911, Hibbs performed surgery to prevent the progression of curvature of the spine in a patient with spinal tuberculosis. Three years later, he applied spinal fusion to patients with Scoliosis in order to halt the progression of their curvatures. After surgery, his patients were put on extended bed rest and had to wear plaster casting for sometimes up to one year.

The Harrington Rod

The basis for modern surgery of Scoliosis was laid by Dr. Paul Harrington, who in the 1950’s performed for the first time surgery using the so called Harrington Rod. Dr. Harrington later chose to combine use of the rod with spinal fusion.


Viviane De Doncker / Chloe  Pieters

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