I have been a “distant student” of Elise Browning Miller’s for years. She teaches Iyengar yoga, with a keen sense of how to adjust to accommodate for and unwind scoliosis.
She is based in the Bay Area, and Elise travels the continent teaching yoga for back care and yoga for scoliosis. I have traveled to Kalamazoo, Chicago, Cleveland, and California to learn from Elise. Every year, she hosts a retreat in northern California.
Her retreat in California is my favorite by far. For the other locations, she’s teaching at a local yoga studio, and the class is made up of local students, local teachers, and a few travelers. So, when I have traveled in the midwest, it has been yoga class and then solo meals and a basic hotel. At Westerbeke, everyone travels and stays over (even from the Bay Area). So there’s a community outside the classes, and the location and the food is wonderful.
It was as if my back gave up 50-weeks since I last saw Elise. It was as if it said “I got you most of the way, now get me to the teacher who can help you do better by me!” I had strong, debilitating pain in my left hip/lower back. I couldn’t sit at the computer. I preferred to stand or to lie back in a mild backbend on all of my yoga bolsters. I could get some relief by digging my fist into my back and glutes. I dreaded sitting on the plane, but I knew I’d get better in class.
As usual, the classes completely erased my pain. I appreciated the sequencing of the poses and the hands-on help – pulling me this way or that way. I learned I still need to pay attention to derotating my spine – particularly lifting my concave left side in certain poses.
What I learned
At one point, I spoke with Elise about my lingering lower back/hip issues. The hip/SI joint that has been really bothering me is the one opposite my scoliosis. I have right-thoracic curve, and it is my left hip that is problematic. She suggested I consider including the following five asanas in my practice.
These five asanas have helped me maintain the pain-free and happy state I attained during the retreat.
Down Dog with crossed ropes or straps
Here is a video of Elise teaching Downward Facing Dog with crossed ropes from a doorknob. I use ropes attached to eye hook sunk into the wall by a professional carpenter.
Prasarita Padottanasana – Wide-legged pose
Prasarita Padottanasana video and instructions available at Yoga Journal website.
The head and arms are not touching the floor, so gravity is giving me a gentle pull downwards to stretch my back.
I’m also getting a nice pull upwards on my thighs from the swing.
Salamba Adho Mukha Vajrasana
I get a good stretch of the back (note – neither my head or arms are touching the floor, so gravity is giving me a nice and gentle pull downwards). I feel a lot more of the swing’s pull on my tricky hip, making me think it is a little out of alignment. So, the swing is helping there too.
Supta Padangustasana I – with double belts
Here’s a video of Elise teaching how to use the second belt to really get good traction in this pose. This setup helps me to lengthen rather than bunch up the hip of my “up” leg. If I only had time to do one asana, this is the one I would do.
Note: Elise’s voice is faint during this video, turn your volume up and then don’t forget to turn it back down at the end.
Since adding these yoga asanas to my routine, I have felt increasing well-being in my lower back and quietness in my body. My scoliosis affects me, but if it helps me keep up with my yoga, well then it helps me be healthy.
Learn More from Elise
Elise’s DVD has been a huge help in my learning and adjusting for my scoliosis. Edited 3/2017 – and now Elise has published a spiral bound book on Yoga for Scoliosis, which gave me better names for some of the poses above. Check it out!