Home Up Resources First Person

  Maureen McHugh, Feldenkrais Practitioner          Scoliosis               703-751-2111

 

Relieving scoliosis by cultivating deeper sensory awareness and a greater variety of movement patterns
 

 

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. Most people with scoliosis are healthy, so scoliosis is not a disease. It’s a condition.

Scoliosis usually is first noticed in late childhood or early adolescence. It shows up in boys and girls, but accelerates more commonly in girls. Once identified, several courses of action are possible, though “Do nothing” is most common. Some teens are given exercises to do, some go through bracing, and some have surgery. Intervention usually ends once the body is grown.

As adulthood arrives, most people with scoliosis are leading rich lives and making, at the most, a small accommodation for the condition. For instance, you may have your suits tailored. Or you may decline invitations that call for being in a bathing suit. But mostly you can ignore the scoliosis.

Everything goes along fine, until pain sets in. It’s often in the back. It may result from a single injury, or over the years it may sneak up on you. At first, it is low grade and infrequent. You hope it will get better by itself. Sometimes it does. But sometimes, instead it gets worse. The time comes to look for help.

The first step is often to a professional who examines your body and says that the muscles are weak on one side and overdeveloped on the other. You need to exercise.

You go to an exercise class. The instructor says, “Stretch this muscle” and “Strengthen that muscle” and “Balance by holding onto these muscles and letting go of those muscles.”

You notice that other people in the class can do what’s asked, and they seem to be enjoying themselves. But it doesn't feel good to you. Silent questions arise: “How come they can do it? Why can’t I? Why is my pain getting worse instead of better?” 

Why is this so? Why does standard exercise, so wholesome in itself, often not work for the person with scoliosis?

It is because the person with scoliosis needs to work with more subtlety and finesse than is usually offered in a regular exercise class.

The person with scoliosis needs very much to cultivate awareness of the body.

The person with scoliosis is often VERY GOOD at not knowing where his or her body parts are.

Did someone ever say to you, mockingly, that “You look funny." "Do you know? You're crooked.” Or "You walk funny".

Does a remark like that make you want to know more about your body? No. It makes you not want to notice.

Of course, like everyone, the person with scoliosis has a certain amount of body awareness. You navigate through the supermarket without incident, you learn to play tennis and you enjoy a walk in the woods. But the relationship to the body is mostly about doing things. The pure awareness of it, the SENSATION of it is in the background. Often, in the FAR background.

So, when did the body awareness first recede? It's hard to know. Is the diminishment of that awareness a cause of scoliosis? Or a contributor to its development? Again, it’s hard to know.

"Not knowing" plays a big role in the conversation about scoliosis. When you ask your doctor "What causes scoliosis in the first place?", he or she will tell you, in a knowledgeable tone of voice, that 80% of the instances of scoliosis are idiopathic. That's a very fancy word. And when you go home and look it up, you will learn what it means: they have no idea what causes scoliosis.

 

Despite so many unknowns, improvement is possible.

The first step is a mental one, and that is to see scoliosis as a pattern of movement. This is Moshe Feldenkrais's big insight.

"Scoliosis" is a noun, and in hearing it you get the sense that one is discussing something fixed. When the young teen first hears, "You have a scoliosis", it sounds as fixed as the statement "You have a right arm."

But what if scoliosis is better understand as a pattern of movement? "You have moved so that your ribs are turned like this and your hip is hiked up like that." And then the statement is added: "And you can learn to move in another way."

The fixity of scoliosis is best seen as a habit, a strong and unconscious habit. Seen like this, the problem comes into the realm of how to modify habits.

The main Feldenkrais approach to modifying habit is to create more variety. Not to contradict the pattern because that works as badly with movement patterns as it does with people. Instead, the process is to cultivate more variety.

Scoliosis is a movement pattern favoring one direction and neglecting the other. Through Feldenkrais we cultivate the ability to move with ease in all directions.

  

 

 In the Feldenkrais Method we cultivate awareness through new movement patterns in both individual sessions and group classes. You are guided to re-learn where their body parts are by sensing themselves in action and at rest. You explore movement sequences that are inventive; they require "more brain than brawn". By engaging in this process, you find your body gradually feeling better and returning to more equal action.

During the individual session or the class, you are likely to find the new learning intensely satisfying and make progress. But, then, outside these conditions, the old habits take command again. So the journey is back and forth. But, fortunately, the power of awareness is such that, with sufficient application, good new practices trump bad old habits.

Many people with scoliosis are told "You just have to live with it." Feldenkrais shows you that this is not true. Improvement in the use of self is possible for a person with scoliosis, up to the last breath.

During the individual session, hands-on work lets you go deep into the world of learning through touch.

During the group class you explore interesting movement sequences in the company of like-minded explorers.