United States

Strengthening minds and bodies through yoga

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Celeste McGahan is one of RSM’s 2019 Pursue Your Passion winners. Through the program, nine RSM employees are selected each year to pursue one of their personal passions, and each winner receives $10,000 and nine paid days off to make their dream come true. You can read Celeste’s winning submission here, and her update story below.

By: Celeste McGahan

My dream has been to find the time and resources to take yoga teacher training and yoga for scoliosis training to have the knowledge and proper training to understand the correct way to assist elderly individuals dealing with life with scoliosis. And now, I’m half-way there! I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity I was given through the generosity of RSM’s Pursue Your Passion program. My experiences and journey have been enriching, and have included attending the Thames Street Yoga 200-Hour Teacher Training program in Newport Rhode Island and spending a week at Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center in Stockbridge Massachusetts learning from, world-renowned yoga instructor, Elise Browning Miller about Yoga for Scoliosis.  

The 200-hour training began on June 7, 2019. Every other weekend since that time, I’ve spent Friday evenings and all day on Saturdays and Sundays, learning about the philosophy of and the practice of yoga. It hasn’t been easy – there have been quizzes and exams and papers to write, and it has been a commitment of time, heart, head and body. But it’s been extremely fulfilling. I now have three training weekends left and it will culminate with the final exam of teaching my own vinyasa class. (A vinyasa is a smooth transition between asanas in styles of modern yoga as exercise, especially when movement is paired with the breath.) My goal was to deepen my own practice and learn more so that I can properly instruct the asanas – poses.

What I’ve learned is much further reaching than the physical poses and the anatomy of the practice. The yoga poses are actually only one part of the eight-step path of yoga (and I’ve studied all eight). The physical, mental and spiritual disciplines, which originated in India more than 5000 years ago, have a lot to teach us in our modern day lives.

Because of my own scoliosis, the study of Yoga specialized for those of us with scoliosis was a highlight of my summer. My week at Kripalu provided me with the key basic components of a yoga for scoliosis practice. Not unlike the teacher training at Thames Street Yoga Vinyasa classes, where moving with breath is a focus, developing an awareness of breath is extremely important for yoga students with scoliosis since lung capacity is often compromised by their curves and the position of their ribs. Building strength, especially of the atrophied muscles of a concave curve, is an important part of the Yoga for Scoliosis practice. Creating fluidity in the spine is important, but lengthening and elongating is of the utmost importance. However, unlike a Vinyasa class, positions which encourage rounding of a curve aren’t always desirable.

The Yoga for Scoliosis practice incorporates a number of props, which are extremely helpful to curved spines as they don’t have a center plum line like healthy spines. Hanging in inverted positions using a pelvic swing helps align, release tension in muscles and create space between the vertebrae while centering the body. During my week I learned and experienced all of the above through this very tailored practice.

The type of scoliosis I have is considered structural – it’s the way my body is made. Structural Scoliosis affects 2 to 3% of the population of the United States. However, many individuals develop, through lifestyle and poor posture, (for example, excessive computer work, carrying a baby on one hip, or a heavy book bag), non-structural or functional scoliosis. I learned that close to 80% of US population has evidence of functional scoliosis and a 2013 New York Times study found that 67% of people over the age of 60 were diagnosed with adult scoliosis. The varied occurrences of scoliosis – structural and non-structural – are more common and wide spread than I knew.

In both my 200-hour and Yoga for Scoliosis trainings, I have found yoga to also provide psychological benefits. For many, scoliosis can bring feelings of depression due to self-consciousness and low self-esteem. In spite of the structural imperfections and mental insecurities that can often come with a curved/deformed spine, a yoga practice can help develop strength in body and mind.

Because each curve is as different and unique as the person, identifying a person’s type of curve is critical. Through the Yoga for Scoliosis course, I learned how to determine whether a person has a “S” curve or “C” curve and where the curve(s) reside – cervical (neck), thoracic (chest region) or lumbar (lower back) regions of the body. This knowledge will allow me to tailor a practice for an individual that works toward balance and centering for him or her. In the late fall, once I receive my 200-Hour Teacher Certification from the Yoga Alliance, I will be conducting a six-month long practicum working with two individuals with scoliosis, which will be the next step in my journey to be certified as a Yoga for Scoliosis teacher!

I am thankful and feel very fortunate to be participating in the yoga trainings. Along with a deeper understanding of yoga, the trainings are teaching me how to better take care of myself. I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned and to help others, who are working, and perhaps struggling, to live with a curved spine.