Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Workshopping with Elise Miller - Part 1

I have heard Elise Miller described as a sort of North American yoga guru for scoliosis.  More than one yoga and pilates practitioners have referred to her as such here in Vancouver, although no one I met in Europe has heard of her. She is American, and operates from her base in Palo Alto, California. She also conducts worksops on the road, and in February of this year I heard that she was to come to Vancouver for a 3 day workshop ini September and so I signed myself up. 

I did not know at the time that I would spend 4 weeks in London UK at a private clinic dedicated to scoliosis patients.  But I had made 2013 the year to explore options to treat my back as it continues its slide inward with ago, so it's good to find out what another professional recommends. So September 6-8 I spent in a large room at the Dance Centre along with about 30 others. 

Elise is petite, well-practiced, with a back straight as a rod. She got into this gig due to having scoliosis herself and discovering yoga at just the right time in her life. Since then she has received her Iyengar yoga certification, was a founding director of the California Yoga Centre (in Mountain View, CA) and is a faculty member at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Fransisco. Having modified traditional yoga poses to help her own scoliosis, she has also come up with a few new and adapted positions for the body that look like sado-masochist bondage tortures but feel devine. 

"Traction and extension" seem to be the key. It may sound different from the London clinic's "elongation and derotation", but they actually are pretty much the same thing.  It all seems to be making space in the spine and the ribs and all the spaces within, and keeping yourself in a new posture that supports the back.  This means working muscled that haven't been pulling their share and relaxing those that are overstretched.  Lots of yoga props get used in Elise's selection of poses, but she also used a wall bar (an entire ladder of bars is prescribed by the Scoliosis SOS team in London). Straps were wrapped around ribcages and pelvises so that they can be pulled, either by oneself, a partner or by using the wall or a bar or doorknob as the point of traction.

Half of our number were yoga teachers, who are ten a penny in Vancouver so having a specialtyis a good idea and these teachers are obviously one step ahead.  Lots of iphones came out to photograph or record an exercise that is not on her DVD (many were), or to follow the physical gyrations someone uses to get in or out of a position.  Along the way Elise talked about the different types of scoliosis (we placed our mats in the room according to our classification - I joined the other "lumbar lefts" on the left side of the room) and what adjustments and exercises are best for each. 

She does schill her book and DVD a lot throughout the workshop, and the cynic in me rebelled against paying almost $50 for a slim 18 page ring-bound booklet and accompanying DVD.  But by the end of the third day I knew it would be hard for my pea-brain to remember everything we did, and some of the positions certainly did feel good so I thought what-the-hay and slapped down my money.  I think of it as a business development tool.

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