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She's Got Your Back with Deborah Wolk
Yoga Union Center For Backcare And Scoliosis
37 West 28th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Sat, 12:15 PM To 01:45 PM
Special Needs

Sleuth stands in front of teacher Deborah Wolk. I bend at the rib cage so this practiced yogic cartographer can run her gentle hand over the hills and valleys, twists and turns of my back. She's quietly describing the curves of my spine so I'll be prepared for her Saturday afternoon Yoga for Scoliosis class.

I'm new to the class. The backs of most of the other 15 students have been well traveled by Wolk's senses of touch and sight. The pattern of each student's spine is different and Wolk patiently and enthusiastically describes several of the curvature possibilities as we take each pose.

We start in Sukhasana with our backs against the wall. She asks each one of us to feel the areas of kyphosis (curvature of the spine) that touch the wall. Some us need a block to feel the sacrum even on the wall. Some feel only one shoulder. Some feel more weight on the left or right sit bone. We each begin to internally map our bones and muscles in a clear and precise process that Wolk guides us through. We softly chant three Oms to start our practice.

In Adho Mukha Virasana, we are asked to be specific in the placement of our hands, knees, big toes and forehead so we can explore our backs in alignment. We stay in the pose for several minutes quietly exploring as Wolk circulates around the room to touch each back and encourage realignment. Yoga Union, which now houses the Yoga Union Center for Backcare and Scoliosis has a multitude of rope stations and each student takes a rope for Adho Mukha Svanasana. Wolk demonstrates with good humor and accuracy: where to place the rope, where to place the heels and what part of the head to rest the forehead.

We reach up the wall with blocks at our hands, coming up on tip toe and then down again. Wolk asks if we can lengthen without taking our shoulders out of our sockets. If the stretch can come from our curves rather than our arms. We stand with our sides to the wall and reach up again. If we have a right lumbar curve we take one action, if our curve is on the left another. If we have several curves, as many students do, we are encouraged to experiment. Wolk assures us that the class was created to make our backs feel better and while I don't experience severe pain, like many other yoga students, my lower back sometimes has a nagging ache. Right now, it's feeling strong, stable and healthy.

Wolk studies Sleuth's Tadasana and asks if I've ever broken my right leg. I haven't but I did break my right ankle several years ago. Wolk explains how that has affected my posture. Later she knowledgeably suggests ways I correct a habitual sinking on my right side.

It's a muggy day and it's time to wake us up a bit from the stifling humidity. After a belt-assisted shoulder opener we take two invigorating Virabhadrasana I variations. In one, we use a chair, placing our front foot on the seat facing the wall we secure our heel down onto a wedge. This asymmetric work, with Wolk's help, enables us to find length in our convexities. She also describes how we might stabilize our concavities with blankets. The second pose is completely new to Sleuth. She has been trying to get more length in her neck all week and Wolk's use of a belt around the occipital ridge while in a Vira I variation is both a neck and eye opener.

Wolk competently demonstrates each pose. She uses her own back as an example of how the asana practice can change your posture and physical appearance. It's clear that each she has experimented with each pose in a myriad of ways, with a desire to get maximum benefit out of each set up. And, it is obvious that she loves to share what she's learned with her students.

It's time to quiet down. Students with herniations take Viparita Karani and the rest of us take Setu Bandha Sarvangasana using two blankets and a block. She suggests that if a student has one side that needs lifting like my right side does that I start when I lengthen out I place my right foot on the wall first. In the quiet I study my back. It feels long and alert. When Savasana is called I realize the 1 ½ hour class has flown by and while we've only done fewer than a dozen poses I've learned a lot from each one.

Most importantly I've learned that my spine is like a personal road map and while I've been driving I've been very fortunate to have Wolk up front as co-pilot, reading the directions and helping me steer myself to a healthier back.

Yoga Union Backcare and Scoliosis is located at the lovely Yoga Union 37 West 28th Street, 4th Floor. Drop-in rate for this class was $23. Use of mats and all props (and there are a lot of wonderful props) are all offered without charge.

-B. Erica Spraos for Yoga Sleuth

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