Manage your Scoliosis with Bikram Yoga

I used to dislike Bikram yoga but then scoliosis became a problem for me. Learning to listen to your body’s cues is essential for a strong yoga practice beyond your 20’s. I have been to a handful of Bikram classes that did not know how to teach this fundamental piece. However, as I have grown older, and yoga has grown in popularity, Bikram classes are not the only ones to omit this essential component. I am beginning to realize that teaching body awareness has more to do with the teacher and the studio than the style of yoga you practice. Finding committed, experienced teachers is a must, particularly in a Bikram class if you are a beginner with body issues because teachers run the class as a whole and individuals are secondary. 

I currently enjoy our Bikram (Bend Beyond) studio here in Bozeman. The owner is mindful and teaches it. I have begun to understand how to modify in Bikram as well, which is usually just backing out of the pose and waiting. Not my favorite but I think they minimize modification options to keep the flow of the class, which is intense. Also, this practice of simply not participating, or backing off, can be helpful in balancing your scoliosis.

The founder of Bikram yoga, Bikram Choudhury, was all about the spine. You can tell by the series itself. This is why I am exploring it for my scoliosis. I currently really like the Core 40 class. It hits on a lot of my favorite hip openers and offers a bit more fluidity for more advanced yogis. Every pose you do in Bikram was intentionally put into that order to keep your spine strong and supple. Once you understand this you can approach the class in an intentional way, particularly if you have scoliosis.

Balancing the Left and Right with Bikram Yoga

In Bikram you move through a lot of poses quickly, always balancing out the right and left, as well as the front and back, or forward and backward bends. This intense balancing is an opportunity for people with scoliosis to work their weaker side more and back off on the stronger side. As I have mentioned before, I have a C-curve to the right. The right side of my back is tight, particularly my quadratus lumborum and psoas, while my left side has trouble engaging.

Balancing the muscles in my back is my overall intention in yoga these days. Interestingly enough, many other things arise from this focus. I am constantly working and noticing other pieces to the puzzle, like subtle shifts in my feet or gluts, in order to achieve this goal of balancing the sides. It is really quite illuminating to have such a specific goal in yoga because all sorts of other little things come to light.

The exact repetition of a Bikram practice (they literally time every pose) can also be a real bonus if it is approached mindfully. The key is that you must listen and heed to your body because repeating a pose in a way that is unhealthy for your body is not going to get you where you want to go.  With this repetition, you can gauge your progress. I can feel my right side engaging more. My spine has become suppler and my back pain is more manageable, in general. It’s a good idea to get professional attention on body alignment because what feels right will probably be off at first when you have scoliosis.

Find Your Scoliosis Team

If you are interested in trying Bikram for your scoliosis find a teacher that knows what they are talking about. Ask them if they have dealt with injuries themselves or have had experience or training with scoliosis. Trust what your body is telling you over what your teacher says if it comes to that.

I also work with a physical therapist and chiropractor. They have been key players in helping me to understand what is going on in my body and how to work with that. I bring what I learn with them to my yoga practice. It really boils down to how much energy I put into the process of healing my body. It can be a lot at times.

Know your body and your goals, that way you can gauge your success and needed improvements. Also, if you are going to try Bikram for scoliosis, approach backbends as opportunities to lengthen and strengthen the spine. Don’t drop back too much, initially. Strength and flexibility need to be in balance in every posture. Yoga is about finding the balance between the two. A metaphor for life.

Your best team member is yourself. Your intentions are guiding your experience in managing scoliosis. If you try Bikram, a good intention is that you are there to nurture your self and your spine. That is your top priority, and it will happen! 

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