Answers from Dr. Loren Fishman about Vasisthasana

Friday Q&A: Answers from Dr. Loren Fishman about Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)

Rama with the Sage Vashisthasa

The excitement around the use of a single pose to help correct the curve of scoliosis continues! I wrote an initial post on the study Friday Q&A: How to Practice Side Plank Pose for Scoliosis  and then did a little follow-up More on Side Plank Pose and Scoiliosis after Nina announced the Side Plank pose challenge (see Take the Side Plank Pose for Scoliosis Challenge). As our good fortune would have it, one of our readers forwarded my first postFriday Q&A: How to Practice Side Plank Pose for Scoliosis on the new study of Side Plank Pose to the lead investigator, Dr. Loren Fishman. In quite a generous spirit, Dr. Fishman responded to the various questions that arose for me as I looked over the study results. Below are his answers to my most pressing inquires. The original text from my post is normal font and Dr. Fishman’s responses are in bold. —Baxter

Dear Baxter: I appreciate your thinking about the paper that Karen Sherman, Erik Groessl and I wrote about Vasisthasana in treating scoliosis. Maybe I can clarify things a little:

One question I have also heard from a few different readers is: what do you think of only doing it on the one side? Before I answer that, I am wondering if the study author Dr. Fishman thinks these folks should only do one yoga pose each day and not have a balanced yoga asana practice in addition to this special practice? I’d hope not, but don’t know his thoughts on this. However, if a person with scoliosis wanted to have a regular practice, too, I’d use this new info to inform certain poses.

Yes, naturally, all the other poses should be done as they were before. Our study would have been meaningless if people didn’t continue doing what they did before, apart from performing the side-plank, Vasisthasana, with the convex side of the lumbar curve facing downward, but not the other way, not with the other side down. If you have scoliosis and are in a yoga class where Vasisthasana comes up, then when the class does it on the other side, you do it on the same side twice.

Personally, if I had scoliosis, I might consider:

  1. Doing the convex side of Side Plank pose first with the hip/side body arch as in the study.
  2. Then doing the Pose on other side, but without the lift, focusing on keeping the two sides of the chest as parallel as possible.
  3. Then repeating the first side again with the study lift variation.

Baxter, scoliosis is an asymmetrical condition, and requires an asymmetrical measure to correct it. Doing a little this and a such an little that (sic) just vitiates what one needs to do to get better. I recommend doing the one-sided pose whole hog, and re-measure your curve in three months. Such an X-ray only exposes you to 140 mVs, about as much radiation as you’d gather sitting in a room in your house for a year. By contrast, one CT scan is 3,000 to 5,000 mVs. However, Baxter, your intuition’s in the right place: a few people continue doing the pose too long without any monitoring. Two people went so far as to develop slight curves in the other direction! They did not do anything to monitor their progress for more than 6 months. 

I would then apply this body arch idea as well to other side bending poses, such as, Triangle pose (Trikonasana), Extended Side Angle pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana), and Half Moon pose (Arda Chandrasana). And I would be very interested in not only the improvement in physical appearance of the vertical alignment of my spine, but just as or more importantly in the functional improvement of my body and the subjective improvement in how my body is feeling.

We’ve experimented with a number of other poses, and it is really good that you’re considering it too, but so far none of the ones we’re tried come close to Vasisthasana. A few people [in the study] have wrist pain (no carpal tunnel yet), or mild shoulder pain, and two had transient pain in the SI joint, but otherwise, no side effects, and a pretty potent main effect.

The study is a first, exciting research step in using yoga to improve scoliosis. I hope there is a larger and broader look at it in the near future.

Thanks, Baxter. We’re looking to do a more complete double-blinded, controlled and randomized study. According to the American Orthopedic Society the medical establishment spends an estimated $7,100,000,000 annually on a several hour surgery. In actual practice this involves girls 11-17 years old, and the surgery has to be redone more than 50% of the time, effectively obliterating their teen-age years. This happens 38,000 times per annum.

Well, I am feeling very grateful for this feedback and hope that it is of further use and benefit to our readers!

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