When trying to correct a kyphotic posture you have probably learned to use extension exercises. It sounds logical: since the spine is bending forward, strengthening the spinal extensor muscles by bending the spine backward will help it return to normal/neutral, right?
Well, when working on backbends with a kyphotic person you quickly realize that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Merely lying prone, this student’s spine already feels the effect of an extension position due to the change of the shape of their spine.
One way to avoid strain in their spine (especially lower back) is to prop the student up on bolsters or pillows so they can start in their current normal relaxed position, and try to extend the spine gently from there. The Spine Corrector and Ladder Barrel are the perfect apparatuses to start in a rounded, hence more comfortable position for the student.
A totally different way to deal with hyperkyphosis (too much kyphosis) was presented to me recently in a world-class workshop on scoliosis.
Turns out kyphosis is actually an increase of diameter between the apex of the thoracic spine and the sternum. This means extension is actually not effective in improving kyphosis. What!?!?
To decrease the front to back diameter of the thorax, it’s more helpful to practice lateral breathing which pushes the ribs out to the sides which in turn pulls the sternum and thoracic spines closer together.
In Hypokyphosis (a flat spine that has lost its curves) the opposite is true. The sagittal diameter between sternum and apex of the thoracic curve is narrower.
If I may share a personal story: I’m a perfect example of this. I have religiously been practicing lateral breathing for the past 20 years since I first started my Pilates practice. I’m really good at this. :) Over this consistent time period, my ribs stretched wider and wider and pulled my thoracic spine closer to my sternum. To bring balance back to my body, I will now try to focus my breathing on expanding the anterior-posterior diameter of my rib cage. I’ll keep you in the loop about my progress.
With your hyperkyphotic students, make a point in teaching and practicing lateral breathing at the beginning of each lesson. I’d love to hear about your experience with this. Leave me a comment below.
Inside the Pilates Encyclopedia membership, we have a whole chapter called “Pilates Protocols” in which we list appropriate exercises for injuries and pathologies.
Big thank you to Hagit Berdishevsky for sharing this valuable knowledge with me. http://www.schrothnyc.com/
To see a list of exercises for scoliosis, click here.