Growing up, I was not the girl who did handstands and cartwheels. I was scared to hang upside down: it made me feel sick and disoriented. As an adult, I look back and realise I was bound up in fear. I did not trust my body to support me.
When I was 12, I was diagnosed with structural scoliosis. From what I remember, it was considered to be quite mild and I didn’t think much of it. However, I now realise that my scoliotic body has had a greater impact on me than I first thought. This is the story of my journey within my scoliotic terrain.
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine deviates from the midline of the body. It generally presents in the shape of an S or C curve, or a combination of both. It is a three-dimensional shift in the axis of the spine. Structural scoliosis is permanent and, while no two scoliotic bodies are the same, many people experience the following:
- Back, neck and/or shoulder pain
- Spinal joint instability
- Muscle weakness and imbalance
- Poor limb integration
- Body asymmetry
- Respiratory difficulties
- Vestibular imbalances (eg spatial awareness, sensory integration)
- Low bone density
- Decreased organ tonicity
- Poor body awareness
- Feelings of emotional imbalance and restriction
I have always been aware that my body is not symmetrical. One side is shorter and more compressed than the other. At times, my right shoulder feels tight and rigid. My right foot naturally turns outward. I have a tilt in my neck. During my 20s and 30s, I had lower back problems that were exacerbated by pregnancy. The only relief I found was in regular yoga practice. Yoga has been my mainstay: when I practise it consistently I am a different person, more open and balanced. In 2012, I had the opportunity to undertake my yoga teacher training and that decision has changed the way I experience life within my body.
As part of my training, I practised yoga every day. I had the mindset that I had to perform every pose perfectly. Consequently, I pushed my body to make it conform, unaware that I was doing myself harm. The first indication was pain through my right hip and gluteal, which would return after every yoga class; a pain at times so intense I could barely walk. However, as I progressed through my training, my ego started to dissolve and I tuned in to one of the key principles of yoga: non-violence to self and others (ahimsa).
I started to take more care of my body. I pulled out the old X-rays of my spine and I researched. I decided the reason my hip was giving me so much grief was a tight psoas muscle on my right side. I worked on lengthening through this area and I started to find a small amount of relief. During this time, I came across a yoga teacher who delves specifically into the realm of scoliosis, spinal health and back care and, after completing my yoga training, I enrolled in a further training course with her. Together, these two courses have transformed my life.
Through yoga, people with scoliosis have the opportunity to explore their own terrain, realign their bodies and ease discomfort. Traditional postures can be modified with the use of props such as blocks, ropes and straps in order to invite space into the body. Once space has been created, focus can move to de-rotating the spine through the use of breath. Regular practice is critical. It’s necessary to continually work with the scoliotic body to sustain optimal wellbeing. Today, I practise at least five times a week. The benefits I experience are what keeps me motivated. My body tells me when I need to go to my mat and I readily respond.
For the first time in my life, I inhabit my body. I no longer have the hip pain I was experiencing. I have an increased awareness of my physical self, as I know what postures are beneficial for me. There is more strength in my spine and it feels as though a sense of calm has spread throughout my entire back body. The creation of physical space within my body has been emotional. There was a particular moment during my practice when I suddenly realised I had spent my whole life feeling restricted: physically, mentally and emotionally. In that moment of realisation, I also felt extreme release. It’s hard to explain, but in that moment I felt free.
I am no longer that girl who is scared to hang upside down. In fact, I relish the opportunity to do so and I recently did my first headstand with great elation. When I practise inversions, my brain begins to re-pattern as it adjusts to the new orientation. I no longer feel anxiety or move into panic. Instead, I make sure I have done my research so I know where my weight should be placed. I know which parts of my body to align and which muscles to engage. This has helped me tremendously, as I am now confident in my body’s ability to offer support. I now trust myself more.
This experience has changed my teaching. I now help others to explore the landscape of their bodies rather than work solely from my own. I breathe with them and tune in to their experience so I have a better idea of what to offer. Ultimately, through yoga, I want to invite space into their bodies. Not just physical space, but also emotional space, so that they too can learn to trust and let go.
Tracey Lenarduzzi is a primary teacher with a background in special education. She recently established her own business, which offers yoga to adults and children, including those with special needs. W: treeofmind.com.au