Backcare and Scoliosis
"Not only was I able to feel that I had a good session; but, as you predicted, that enabled me to feel better both mentally and physically."
- MW 9/18/21
"Your endless creativity with something as simple in its form was yet again another example of your dedication to the practice"
- Mimi Brainard 4/21/20
"Wonderful class for me today, Alison …
Just wanted to say thank you and how grateful I am for your teaching."
- Jamie Steinke 5/11/21
You are holding the space so beautifully with intelligence, care and such clarity.
- JB 1/19/21
Backcare and Scoliosis
Positive Effects of Yoga on Hyper-Kyphosis and Hyper-Lordosis
In January 2015 I enrolled in Alison West’s Teacher Training for a 100HR Basic Back Care Certification. At the time I was a newly minted teacher, armed with a vinyasa training and about 25 years of practice. It was there at Yoga Union I learned what Hyper-Kyphosis was and that I had a classic pattern in my spine.
Hyper-kyphosis and hyper-lordosis often go hand in hand, and, when one is unaware of this exaggerated saggital curving in the spine it can wreak havoc on many aspects of one’s bodily functions as well as one’s psyche. One such function I struggled with for many years that I never connected to this pattern was my digestion.
For as long as I could remember I had a terrible habit of gripping in my groin area, gripping my front ribs, pushing my kidneys forward, and hanging on my hip, particularly in my yoga poses. I have hyper-mobility in my joints (some more than others) and I didn’t even realize how this instability made me feel anxious. The anxiety interrupted my normal digestion and my sleep. All that gripping created quite a bit of congestion in my body and of course in my mind. Until that time, particularly in my yoga practice I hadn’t learned the difference between spinal flexion and pelvic flexion and so, the result was tight hamstrings and quite a lot of pushing into my upper back, whether in standing, seated or in weight-bearing poses. In order to alleviate this pattern I have worked to elongate the side body through Rope Utkatasana on three handles, High Trikonasana at the wall with my hand a tad in front of my shoulder, using a chair to stay high in Dog pose, and using the Dowel. The Dowel has become one of my most beloved tools in my yoga practice because of its varied uses. It can be placed at the top of my thighs in a seated supported Virasana, for instance, when I forward fold and I slide my hands out on the dowel, drawing the crease of the thighs back allowing there to be both length in the side waist and width in my upper back. I can take a similar pose on my back and place my feet at the wall, knees bent, dowel at the high leg crease and hands wide on the dowel. This is especially soothing to my nervous system and releases tension in my wrists, elbows, shoulders and back. The dowel is also incredibly informative as a guide to lining up the trunk of the body evenly in poses such as Tadasna, Trikonasa and Utthita Parsvakonasana. The uses with ropes, chairs and The Dowel are countless as are the the positive effects of yoga on hyper-kyphosis and hyper-lordosis.
During this process of learning to distribute the work evenly — lengthening the side body, softening the front ribs, drawing in the upper back, filling the kidney band, quieting the arch in my lower back and organinzing my legs and my pelvis — I discovered something else was happening, something I had struggled with my whole life. My digestion was improving as well as my posture. I was making space for my organs to function properly and so I realized my body was no longer fighting! I had an overall sense of calm in my mind. My inner landscape had shifted from physical, energetic, and mental to a more discerning one. Surely the yoga was why.
Seven years later, I am a more confident teacher, a more sensible practitioner, and more important, a more peaceful human being. My outlook on Life comes from my approach to my own body and my back. I take care of me first with my daily yoga practice and from there everything else seems to have more space too.
Not only was I able to feel that I had a good session; but, as you predicted, that enabled me to feel better both mentally and physically.
Good morning. I've been thinking about you. Hope you had a good summer!
The short time I spent with you has been a great help to me. What you told me about bending down alone comes in handy a million times a day.
You are truly a force of nature--your natural intelligence and command of your subject, it’s impressive.
I enjoyed the workshop [Herniation and Osteoporosis] very much.
I am back to teaching yoga full time for two years now. I look forward to more continuing Ed with you.
I have scoliosis and love what you do.
Dear Alison, to you and all the teachers and assistants of Yoga Union,
I am deeply grateful for your patience, kindness and , knowledge – and all of the teachers and assistants of YU. From your teaching, bit by bit, I built a kinesthetic understanding of my spine and my asymmetries. Through that understanding and support, I was able to build a self-practice, and can find ways to adjust my sitting, standing and moving through the world, towards greater ease. I do hope to be able to align my schedule to do classwork again but wanted you to know, in the meantime, I include you all in my meditations and wish you strength. Hoping you have the peace I feel so often in the beautiful images you share from Maine. With love and gratitude. Joyce croak
Joyce Croak 11/28/20
I used to come to your yoga for scoliosis classes in New York. I didn't come as often as I should have, but I found it one of the best things for my back that I've ever done.
Jon. JF 5/5/2021
Thank you, Alison. You are SO inspirational and impressive!!
Wonderful class for me today, Alison …
Just wanted to say thank you and how grateful I am for your teaching.
Jamie Steinke 5/11/21
I am so grateful for the opportunity to take your classes. I wanted to let you know I am hoping to be able to return to your class on Oct. 5th.
VP 9/13 21
Hi Alison, I have a small world story…took a pilates-like class at my gym in Bklyn and got talking to the teacher after (something familiar about some of the positions he put us in)…sure enough, turns out he’s a Yoga Union person! Mike McCardle (his girlfriend was a vinyasa teacher with you. Anyway love his class and all your wisdom he brings to it. Cheers!
Thank you for a beautiful, clear, inspiring dowel workshop today. I deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness, rigor, honesty, depth, and delight in preparing your lessons AND the attention to detail you bring in guiding your students through the process and watching us each so closely.
Today I brought two of my dear students, Lula and Antoinette, with me and I am so grateful they had this chance to learn from you.
My star poses from today's lesson were:
1, Virabhadrsana A before we descended to rotate the Parsva Konasana with the dowel under the pelvic floor - what wonderful leverage!! My psoas thanks you!
2.Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana - what a great source of leverage and rotation! (I am a sucker for lateral flexion - like a weeping willow tree)
3. Marichyasana C - what joy and lightness to bind my body toe to tip in this way and feel great synergy from limbs to trunk.
Thank you for all you do! I look forward to learning more from you next time!
Lily Dwyer Begg 4/9/22
I found the Amazing Dowel workshop just that, amazing. Your endless creativity with something as simple in its form was yet again another example of your dedication to the practice, application of props, and your position as a Master Teacher. Best of all you never limited us to your vision but constantly invited us to explore new possibilities because the dowel, as you pointed out, is an extension of our own spine, our owns limbs and therefore our own consciousness. Thank you for inspiring me to use new props in my own practice and especially, in my teaching. I found enormous spaciousness and relief from pain related to my hyper-kyphosis and mild scoliosis. Work with the dowels will definitely find its way into my classes pronto!
Mimi Brainard 4/21/20
I first came across your article in Yoga Journal a few years ago and I am an ardent supporter. I have acute intermittent porphyria and on a bad day I shake and can not balance. The staff gives me stability to flow through and hold poses that would be inaccessible.
Thank you for showing me the staff and sparking my curiosity. I hope to see classes offered here in Colorado.
DH 12/23/ 20
I woke up this morning feeling great and inspired! Thank you for a wonderful two days. I learned a lot and look forward to more. CM and I will review the training and practice together to keep it ‘wiring in’. If questions arise, we will jot down and email after.
I had demo’ed/taught two classes before our training yesterday and assumed I’d be really sore today... but surprisingly my body feels really good. Thanks again for your exceptional instruction which kept it safe.
Wishing you a glorious weekend and Springtime~
Special Meditation Series January-February 2021
Yes, these morning gatherings are very nurturing for me too. You are holding the space so beautifully with intelligence, care and such clarity. Thank you, truly.
with love and gratitude,
Thank you so much Alison!
What a fantastic opportunity to study with you! I have been a follower on Instagram for a while and at one point before Covid was planning on coming to a scoliosis workshop. I will keep my eyes and ears open for that.
I really appreciate your joy and enthusiasm for this practice, and your expertise. Thank you for showing so many variations using both the wall and the door. I really learned a lot .
THE yoga studio to go to for intelligent, illuminating teaching. I’ve been going for several years now, after many years of practice and teacher training in vinyasa yoga. The focus on alignment has transformed my practice, enabling me to correct imbalances and practice with a deeper awareness. Alison’s teaching is a continuous source of delightful insights and inventive use of props to help students develop their practice in whatever way is best for them. The classes are rigorous and require students to think about and fully integrate what is being taught, not just imitate the teacher or go through the motions. Truly a complete mind-body practice! - Susie Marples
Yoga Union is a terrific studio! The teachers instruct and educate from a very deep knowledge base. Students get a great blend of individual attention, encouragement, humor, and support. Classes are small, and the studio is clean and beautiful, with an ample supply of props. Conveniently, yoga mats are also provided by Yoga Union. The slings and ropes are extremely useful, and fun too. Thanks to the superb teachers here I feel so much better, look better, and my body functions so much better. It is heartening to continue to progress –working in class, and beginning a home practice, really pays off. Quite a few friends and family who haven’t seen me in 6 months or a year have spontaneously asked me “what did you do… no really, what did you do?” The positive changes are 100% due to Yoga Union. - Nina
February 1, I will have been taking weekly classes with Alison for three years. Her classes are always vigorous and demanding. My own moniker for Alison is that she conducts the “Oxford"classes of Yoga. Alison combines the architecture, geometry, physics, anatomy, soft tissue and philosophy of Yoga in every class. She teaches seriously, but with joy. She wants us to, “Have FUN!" Each Yoga class usually has a specific focus, targeting a particular part of the body. I have back “issues” which make me wary of classes that focus on the back. Last week we had a particularly strenuous back class. However, to my amazement and pleasure, in all of the classes I have taken that study the back, including last week, I have never had so much as a scintilla of pain or discomfort. It is credit to Alison that no one in her classes exceeds his/her individual capabilities. Her hawk eyes keep everyone honest. For me, at age 84, it is a pleasure to show up on time, do my very best and try to exceed expectations. I have constant goals, good supervision and instruction as I try to achieve those classic poses. - Nancy B Hoffman
I've taught two basics classes with the ropes at Shambhala and just loved how illuminating it was for the students to feel the ropes on the hip points and to release those shoulders in DD1 and DD2. We also used the ropes to open shoulders and explore side plank, and in one class I used the neck traction prior to savasana. It seems as though Shambhala Yoga & Dance Center is integrating the ropes into appropriate classes. Those of us who attended training with you are practicing there, and experimenting prior to teaching anything. - Sarah Meredith, yogainsideout.org, after completing the Ropes Certification Weekend w/ Alison West
I initially took classes at Yoga Union in 2013. At the time I was completely bent over with sciatic pain and scoliosis. After shoulder surgery and much procrastination, I finally returned to Yoga Union to take the Senior Series in 2014. I have and am also taking The Beginners Basics Series and recently the Herniation Basics classes. Although I was originally hesitant to progress past the “beginner” stage and take the Core Class, I was pleasantly surprised. Everything was explained and I did what I could. I did not feel rushed at all. It really was for almost everyone. It is work and fun at the same time. Love those ropes! I also appreciate the attention to safety and order in the classes and the studio in general. - Peggy Shed
I feel extremely fortunate to have found Yoga Union. Six weeks ago I arrived at the studio with a deer caught in the headlights feeling, newly diagnosed with significant scoliosis. It was so helpful to discover such specialized classes to work on the asymmetry while practicing yoga and also in my daily life. Now I feel thankful that these classes actually help! I'm confident that I'm in really good hands here. I've been attending the Yoga for Scoliosis Basics classes with Rachel Jesien. Rachel has a tremendous depth of knowledge, which is very reassuring. Poses are well explained, and classes are small enough to allow thoughtful corrections & encouragement while she focuses on alignment, attention to safety & listening to your body. The props (abundant when needed), wall ropes and slings are terrific. Rachel's experience and commitment enables the classes to flow well with different levels of students in the class. Her sense of humor and pacing keeps the class interesting and fun. The studio is really clean, the environment's serene, and I appreciate getting access to the great depth of expertise about scoliosis available at Yoga Union. - Nina
People always ask me for good yoga teacher recommendations and teachers ask me about the best certifications. Without hesitation, I always mention Alison West. - Kim Lien Kendall
Kaitlyn is a wonderful teacher. I began taking Yoga for Backcare with her Yoga Union. She is very knowledgeable, kind, and very attentive and devoted to her students. She gives all special individual attention which is so important for good basic skills. That is what Yoga Union is all about! - Kathy Heigerski, NY Yoga + Life Magazine Inspiration Nomination
Jane is a gifted and knowledgeable yoga teacher. She builds a class, step by step, with postures that align and open the body, She is sensitive and aware of her students, offering appropriate alternatives while skillfully moving the class forward. I look forward to her weekly class. It is always a pleasure to do yoga with Jane! - Roslyn Streifer
WHAT PARTICIPANTS SAID ABOUT THE DOWELS ONLINE
- And thank you very much for the inspirational content in your dowel workshop. I have been using dowels in my Iyengar yoga teaching and in mobility and pilates teaching for years. [..] I got so much inspiration by studying with you. I think the content was pure gold and I respect your proficiency and I really loved your open-minded attitude and encouragement to explore and to be creative. The workshop worked really well as an online-course. [...] Your voice and instructions were clear and the rhythm of the course was good. I just loved every moment!
Katha L., Helsinki
- Thank you very much for amazing class Alison.. Love it absolutely.. It was nice to meet you.. Today morning I woke up so light with no head or neck stiffness.. Just very happy.. Really really happy.
Leyla A., Singapore
- Thank you so much for today's workshop, it was a joy practicing with you. I wish I'd done more at your center when I lived in NYC!
Chantal H., Switzerland
- Thank you so much Alison - I sustained an injury to my left SI after years of practicing vinyasa flow, and backbending beyond a sustainable position. The dowel has been so therapeutic for taking me out of compression. I saw your instagram a few months ago and have admired your use of props from afar, so the silver lining to this global pandemic is that I can practice with you whilst being in Scotland. I will be joining you for your hypermobility workshop in May.
Demelza F., Scotland