Modifying a yoga pose for scoliosis

August 12, 2020

Yoga can alleviate pain caused by scoliosis

People with scoliosis may not know there are many different exercises to help alleviate the discomfort caused by asymmetries in the body due to scoliosis.

Some may think it’s a structural issue that can’t be helped without surgery and believe they just have to live with it.

Truth is, there’s a lot you can do for scoliosis.  Scoliosis causes imbalances in the body and when you work to even out those imbalances, it creates more space and can bring about great relief.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine, with rotation of the vertebrae.  These curves may take the shape of a “C” curve, an “S” curve and sometimes a triple curve.  When the vertebrae rotate, it takes everything along with it.  So, when located in the thoracic spine, the ribs also move with the vertebrae toward the back of the body.  The ribs on the side of the curve tends to spread, causing a convexity on that side.  Whereas the ribs on the side opposite the curve will compress and move towards the front of the body, causing a concavity on that side.  This results in the back prominence that is characteristic with scoliosis in the thoracic region.

All of this causes imbalances in the muscles and nervous system, often from head to toe.  Some of the muscles on the concave side have to contract continuously to counteract the curvature.  This causes the muscles to be fatigued and tight.

How to modify yoga poses for scoliosis

Yoga is a great alternative for addressing the imbalances in the body.  When working with an individual with scoliosis, it is important to understand where the curves are located, because each side must be performed differently, to accommodate for the asymmetry.

Lengthen the side of the concavity

If your curve turns to the right in the thoracic region then the left side (concavity) needs to be lengthened.  Doing poses like Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose) to the right will lengthen the left side of the torso and spine.

Cristina Roy doing yoga pose Utthita Parsvakonasana - Extended Side Angle

Here is Parsvakonasana performed in the classical position.

I have a right thoracic and left lumbar curve so I will show you how I would modify the pose on each side for my curves.

Cristina Roy doing yoga exercise for scoliosis using yoga rope wall Utthita Parsvakonasana - Extended Side Angle

Here, the rope wall aids in creating more length on my left side, by holding the rope overhead with my left hand. (I realize not everyone has a rope wall at home so read here to see how you can transform a door into a rope wall).  Holding the rope while performing this pose is stretching my entire left side and expanding the concavity.

Performing the pose on the second side

We need to keep with the same principle of lengthening the side of the concavity when we perform the pose to the left.  Therefore, the pose needs to be performed differently than when doing it to the right.  When performing Parsvakonasana on the left side I would place the left hand up on a wall to lengthen the left side, rather than reach the right arm overhead as one would in the classical position.  Or I could hold the rope with my left hand to create the same length on the left side again. 

Cristina Roy doing yoga exercise for scoliosis with the hand up the wall Utthita Parsvakonasana - Extended Side Angle

Notice how on this side I’m not bringing my top arm overhead as we would in the classical position.  That’s because I am only looking to lengthen the side of my concavity.  If I were to bring my top arm overhead then it may result in expressing the curve and compressing the concavity more.


No two bodies are alike, and therefore no two curves are alike.  Yoga for scoliosis requires an understanding of the curves in your body and a thorough understanding of how one needs to work differently for each side.  I welcome your questions and comments. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have on this article or on yoga for scoliosis and back care.