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Angela Stevens

Help Yourself
to a Healthy Back

by Angela Stevens

"You do realise that if you had not done Yoga
you would very likely be in a wheelchair by now."

This is the opinion of my osteopath whom I visit about once every two years for a routine back MOT.

My osteopath asked me recently if I would mind if she quoted my spine as an example of what can be done as far as self-help is concerned. Early on in our relationship, she said that my spine is probably the worst she has ever seen although, as she added, "it is a good back because it is a strong back". This has been achieved by the practice of Hatha Yoga.

I have a severe lateral scoliosis - curvature of the spine - causing deformation of the ribcage. Fully clothed I do not appear to have any problem; I have learned through posture correction to line up the shoulders and the pelvis. Back pain is now a thing of the past; as soon as I sense problems arising, I now know what to do to counteract them through self-help.

Scoliosis can originate pre-birth, it can be inherited and can be compounded by postural habits or one-sided activities in daily life e.g. some one-sided sports, carrying weights like shopping or babies on one side or wearing a shoulderbag habitually on one side over a period of time.

On my eighth birthday I was taken to see a specialist. I remember someone saying "We must keep an eye on that spine". As far as I know, nobody did. My posture at school or at home was never corrected. In my early 30s I had two babies within 13 months and the problem of my spine was compounded. I developed a chronic lower backache and thought that something desperate had happened to my hip joints. I could not walk far, lifting the babies was a problem and my back prevented me from joining in the usual family activities.

In my mid-30s I heard about Hatha Yoga, which was becoming popular. I eventually found a teacher with whom I stayed for the next three years.

Hatha Yoga is a system of exercise and held body postures, based on movement and counter-movement, stretch and counter-stretch. Each individual works within his/her own capacity and ability, gradually increasing tolerance to movement and postures. In yoga one works to one's own rhythm, the rhythm of the breath, co-ordinating movement and breath to create harmony, not only in the physical body but in the whole system. Yoga works not just on the muscles and skeleton but also more subtly on nerves, glands and internal organs. It is a self-help system that recognises that a human being is made up of four main parts - a physical body, a mind, but and an emotional and spiritual nature. Today, we tend to pay more attention to the body and the mind, neglecting the other two equally important aspects, so, by nourishing all aspects of the individual, we bring all four elements into balance, creating "wholeness".

Within three years I was training to teach, which I have been doing since I972. One of my main interest lies in yoga for people with back problems.

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