Scoliosis

"Feldenkrais® work means being sensitive and listening to what is going on, to what is the next step to help unwind the scoliosis.” -SH


Scoliosis - An In-Depth Feldenkrais® Discussion

There are two kinds of scoliosis: idiopathic and functional.  Functional scoliosis can be corrected but if it is idiopathic,  it can be deep in the bone structure, improvements may be limited. It will not damage you to try, and see what improvements you get.

 

What causes scoliosis? It can be one sided injuries, accidents, falls. The “locus” or “the place around which the scoliosis organizes” could be anywhere: pelvis, ribs, neck, skull, spine, legs, feet.  Young people often get scoliosis (girls more than boys for some reason) during that difficult transition into teen-ager status.

Perhaps this has to do with the stress of suddenly becoming a young adult, and kids think they need to sort of imitate crazy-rigid-posture-adult behaviors.


Why young girls more than boys? Maybe it is the developing breasts, they either shyly or shamefully try to hide them by stooped posture or proudly display them. Either way the rib cage is locked down more than is natural, and usually with a slight twist (scoliosis). Nowhere is it more clearly seen, the difference between working with learning and working with structure.


Feldenkrais®  work - whether it is you alone or with the help of a practitioner -  means being sensitive and listening to what is going on, what is the next step to help unwind the scoliosis.  Intellectually it is nearly impossible to figure this out; but while working with movement in a Feldenkrais session with a client on the table,  the answers present themselves. I have never found this to fail, and each week it may be a different issue.

For instance, my scoliosis did not release until I finally understood the advice of a wise old Feldenkrais friend.  He told me “scoliosis is often embedded in kyphosis. First you need to unwind the kyphosis, and the scoliosis will release along with it.”

If you consider only structure, you try to correct the structure - which means mostly the spine and ribs but also all the other joints and skull bones too. This means lots of chiropractic or surgery or cranial osteopathy.

If you consider learning, the playing field becomes greatly enlarged.  How the eyes are used, how we chew our food (if you chew mostly on the right, start to change that, for instance), our habitual way of walking, the way we sit, and breathe, and run,  our facial expressions, and even the way we lie down to rest are all fair game.  All of these would be covered, as a matter of course, if you stay involved with Feldenkrais®.

OK, suppose the worst - that your scoliosis is never going to change, and Feldenkrais® won’t improve your scoliotic curves even one degree. This rarely happens, but even so, it is worthwhile to do Feldenkrais®. Movement becomes easier. Breathing opens. You make the best of the situation. You discover many helpful strategies that keep you out of pain - in spite of the scoliosis. You make many discoveries - about your body, about yourself.  Feldenkrais work takes on the quality of excitement, discovery, exploration - hope grows, we evolve and change. In spite of the scoliosis that may not change.  You no longer feel victimized by your scoliosis.

For self-care some practitioners assert you really need a Feldenkrais® practitioner to help you first discover the unique characteristics of your scoliosis and then create appropriate strategies.  I disagree - You can do a lot for yourself, even from material like this.

No doubt you will get quicker results, and your efforts will be more focused, if you work with a practitioner. Or take ATM classes also.  This is especially true when the deeper causes of the scoliosis are emotional or trauma related.  It can be very difficult to handle the issues that come up if you are working alone. But this does not mean you need to get private FI lessons. Group ATM classes provide a nurturing, safe environment where you can begin to more easily explore your boundaries. Slowly those boundaries expand.

ATM classes will put you in a new position, with strange new movements each week, year after year.  As you learn to move in ATM without strain, with awareness, slowly, your body begins to automatically find better alignment. And over a period of months or years, without any special effort, you find your posture straightening.

What I like best about the Feldenkrais® approach to healing scoliosis is the responsibility is shifted back to you. You may not have created it, but you certainly have been perpetuating it. You may not accept this now, but as you stay involved with Feldenkrais, you will.  You will begin to clearly see how limited, short sighted, and damaging it would have been to have focused only on the structure, and perhaps gotten a surgery, with a Herrington rod down the spine.  This is not to criticize the surgeons - they do good work, and most people are not willing to take any responsibility for such a thing,  so surgery may be the best option for them.


What follows next is a list of things to do, ideas to think about, little tricks and hints to help speed healing of scoliosis.  I’d be surprised if you can accept and understand all of it.  Go easy, only use what you understand and seems helpful.  If you get involved in Feldenkrais for some time, and your scoliosis is disappearing, you yourself would be able to create a list very similar to this. So as a sort of preview, here it is:

The idea is to “go with” your scoliotic curves, in order to release them.  Never use force to try to straighten yourself.

One good strategy is to make the good side worse. Notice how it is easier to reach up to the ceiling with, say, the right hand, while the left arm does not go as far, and is painful.  So you deliberately create the same difficulty in the right arm as it lifts towards ceiling.  Then rest - and you will find to your amazement the left arm now reaches higher, with less pain.  This process can be used with any movement, as long as there is a difference left side vs. right side.  Ruthy Alon - a senior Feldenkrais Trainer -  calls this process “neurological diplomacy.” Once you learn how to do it, it is very simple.  If it is not clear to you, any Feldenkrais® practitioner could help you with that.

Another good strategy is to equalize the quality of movement - the intelligence of coordination - on both sides, even though externally, structurally there is big difference.  This way you are creating a functional symmetry - and this not only will reduce your pain, but creates the best possible environment for the structure to find its best possible symmetry also. In ATM you will be exploring this concept with a huge variety of body positions and movements.

Conversely, if instead you try harder, using force,  strengthening and stretching to make movement symmetrical left vs right, you will be “burying” your scoliosis deeper into your “organization”.  Gymnasts, dancers and other athletic performers often do this.  They think they have cured their scoliosis by creating and external - and artificial - symmetry.  They have not quite figured out why their performance is not as good as it should be, since they work harder, and are stronger and more flexible than others.  With Feldenkrais® work, it soon becomes evident that there is a deeper scoliosis around which everything else is organized.  Such a performer, on their own, would have extreme difficulty slowing down, feeling, and coming to a level of release wherein the deeper scoliosis appears. It is only when that happens that you can begin to work with it! So if you are a hard driving athlete or performer,  in your case you need to see a practitioner.

What is needed is Feldenkrais® mindful movement work, or Awareness Through Movement® classes.  You can invent little scoliosis mini-cures taking a cue from your most recent ATM lesson. Or, you might just sit in a chair or get on the floor, slow down, explore movement and create comfort. The best way to do that is with Feldenkrais® ATM. You get really skilled in ATM in creating comfort. Then you imagine it is not so comfortable, and that what is habitual and easy, no longer is that way. That use of the imagination is corrective to your scoliosis, little by little.

You can invent casually all kinds of things -  perhaps while sitting,  a magazine under your right sit bone (not the left) makes you feel subtly more comfortable. So the game is to pretend that the reverse is actually true, and try to not just imagine that but gently embody it. Pretend the magazine under the left side is what REALLY feels better.  You’ll never know unless you try it out on both sides. Just play around like that with all kinds of props.  And maybe after 10 minutes it no longer feels so good. So appreciate the fact that your body made some adjustments and try something else.

There is a time limit to use of props in sitting. It feels good at first, then that feeling tapers off and the feeling is neutral. Then it hurts. This is true for all artificial sitting supports, including lumbar supports. Most people - misunderstanding - would think that if it hurts after 10 minutes they made a mistake. No, the body and brain are built to adapt to challenge and change - and not to find that one impossibly elusive (because such a thing does not exist)  “correct”  arrangement where there is no pain, and any further involvement and responsibility is not needed. You need t start thinking outside your usual postural box in order to self-correct a condition like scoliosis. 

With the help of a practitioner, you can learn your own scoliotic curves and voluntarily recreate and even exaggerate them, in sitting or lying down or even in standing. There is a great advantage in learning this. When you go deeply into a scoliotic curve, and slowly release, you are showing your body how to release, in a way that is passive and easy and pleasant. And alternately, you can imagine going the easy way is difficult and vice versa.  You take this into isometrics, to build the exact muscle strength your need to self-correct your scoliosis/mal-alignment. This is done by going deeply into your scoliotic pattern, and then somehow create resistance to unwinding that pattern (for example, hang onto to a door frame). As you struggle to unwind from the pattern, but don't allow it to happen, you strengthen your scoliosis-correcting muscles.  If, with the help of another, you create an isometric where you gently push your way out of the curve(s), you are strengthening your ability to correct your curves.

The process of unwinding scoliosis with Feldenkrais® is done in stages, with little improvements, along with some  inevitable setbacks,  scattered more or less randomly along the way.  It takes patience, it is not a linear process. You need a skilled practitioner or intensive involvement in ATM classes, live classes in a group taught by a real teacher (not recordings). There are very special reasons for that, having to do with the fact that somatic learning is best done in social context, not alone. We learned our scoliosis in social context and we need to fix it that way too.

When you achieve a degree of improvement, you will feel more crooked.  You need to give yourself time to get used to the new alignment, to accept the strangeness. Being straighter will seem strange at first.

 

In addition to Feldenkrais® work, you need to consider lifestyle changes. 

  • If you are right handed, start doing some tasks with your left hand.  Try eating with your left hand, for instance.  Or try using the computer mouse with left hand.
  • If you play a one-sided sport like tennis or golf, spend also some time learning and practicing your swing with the non-dominant hand.
  • If you run or walk, explore backwards running and walking. Work into this slowly. You can also run or walk at various sideways angles, just find what is most comfortable for you at that moment, and do it awhile. Then create an artificial imaginary resistance to doing what is comfortable for you; now you are correcting the scoliosis, when you notice a slight preference (due to scoliosis) and imagine a resistance. When you finish this imagination work, also try both sides and be natural, notice what has changed. 

 

Another strategy we use in Feldenkrais® to correct scoliosis goes like this: If you can create with equal facility many variations of your own scoliosis, including the exact opposite pattern, you will no longer be stuck in your habitual scoliosis. It will be just one of many choices, and you can at any time choose to be erect with no scoliosis at all.  How to do this:

  •  First learn how to sleep comfortably on your stomach. You may need a Feldenkrais® practitioner to teach you this.  Then, learn the various patterns of stomach lying: head turned left or right, right or left leg draw up, with many variations and appropriate use of pillows or props. When you have learned to transition comfortably in and out of all these variations, you don’t have scoliosis anymore.
  •  While sitting, lean sideways left or right.  Which feels more comfortable?  Stay there awhile, perhaps 30 seconds. Then very slowly unwind, taking about 60 seconds. This shows your body how to unwind the primary side-bending curve.
  •  While sitting, hug yourself and twist the upper body left and then right. Which is easer?  Go that way and hold it for 30 seconds or longer. Then unwind slowly, taking about 60 seconds. Here you are showing the body how to unwind the primary rotational torque of the spine.

 

With patience and skill, the above two paragraphs can be combined into one movement. If you also - simultaneously - find the comfortable rotation and side-bending movements of the neck and pelvis, you get a more complete unwinding.  If your scoliosis is complex - some have a double S curve - you will need to work with a practitioner to create appropriate home exercises.


The eyes can be the last “haven” for scoliosis. If the eyes are used to working in a certain “scoliotic” pattern, even if you straighten everything else out, your eyes will certain continue to recreate your scoliosis. The eyes have a huge effect on the organization of the body.

Ordinary eye exercises, even Bates Method work, will not correct scoliotic eyes. For that, you need to intelligently work with the scoliotic patterns of the eyes in conjunction with Feldenkrais ATM work. The patterns are first brought to conscious awareness,  and only then are strategies devised to begin to balance the asymmetry. So, at the risk of giving you much more than you can handle right now, here are a few samples of the type of “eye work” you would need to be doing:

Lie down and close your eyes. Notice, as you rest, where your eyes are "looking" naturally like that. They will be off center in exact proportion to your scoliosis. Suppose your eyes tend to rest a little down and to the right. Notice that. Then, notice how much resistance there is when you gently mobilize the eyes to the left and down, instead of to the right. Here is where the game gets interesting. Now, come to center with the eyes, and create in your imagination an artificial resistance for them to go to the right and down (your natural way). Continue doing that for maybe 20 or 30 seconds. Then let it go, breathe and relax. Finally, test your ability to mobilize the two eyes to the left. You'll find it has improved. This is called Neurological Diplomacy and I learned it from Ruthy Alon, a Feldenkrais® Trainer.

While doing this if you notice a gentle tingle in your spine and skull, that is the bones re-adjusting to be in better alignment. That is a good thing. You are working at a subtle midline level, with the spinal dura.

Another thing to try for the eyes, notice whether you tend to sit at the left or right sides in movie theaters. Your preference will tell you which way your eyes turn the easiest, and this is related to your scoliosis. Do the same thing as above; as you sit on the left side (say) of the theatre, looking more to the right, create an imaginary resistance or difficulty to that use of the eyes. Pretend you'd prefer to sift on the right side of the theatre. You might actually go an do that, and pretend that is your preferred side.

Now, having said all this, I will offer a caveat. After many years of practice, it became very obvious that only the very rare client would stay for enough time to allow a scoliosis to correct. So I began searching for a quicker way. I discovered The Mal-Alignment Syndrome by Wolfe Shaumberger, two DVDs and a book (available online).

Suffice it to say, he shows how anyone, alone, can test for his alignment and do self-correction exercises that will put the bone of the pelvis, lumbar spine and (eventually-hopefully) all the other joints and cranial bones in place as well. It works wonders for some people, especially for those who just had a recent injury, or who are getting two or three hours a week of private Feldenkrais® Sessions. These folks can accept such a mechanical, maybe even "heavy-handed" skeletal correction. If a person, however, is well-adapted to the scoliosis (from birth or an early age) it is NOT advisable to "put them in alignment" as I used to do. Each time, they'd be in tremendous pain for many days. I am very careful about this nowadays. 

© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin  www.mybodycanlearn.com