Scoliosis, Schroth and Pilates with Meredith Weiss

Episode 19

Many movement professionals may not yet know how valuable the principles of Schroth are in their daily teachings, especially for patients with scoliosis. So today, we decided to call on the internationally appointed SSOL Schroth Method teacher, Meredith Weiss, to help us gain a deeper understanding of scoliosis and how the Schroth Method ties into its treatment.

Meredith is a licensed physical therapist, nationally-certified Pilates teacher, experienced yoga teacher, Schroth Method expert, and the founder and director of both Kioko Therapy and Physiolutions.

After gaining a clearer picture of Meredith’s background, our guest walks us through the ins and outs of scoliosis, how her background in yoga and Pilates informs her current work, and everything you need to know about the Schroth Method.

We also discuss common scoliosis misconceptions, the importance of self-compassion, why curiosity matters, and why every movement professional should be making greater efforts to learn more about the Schroth Method and scoliosis. Join the conversation as we learn about the three-dimensional nature of scoliosis, the effects of bad posture, and why all we need to do as movement professionals is accept and embrace our (magical) differences. 

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Introducing the Schroth Method expert and two-time Founder, Meredith Weiss.
  • Who Meredith is and what she does, and how she first fell in love with yoga and Pilates. 
  • Understanding Meredith’s biggest passion – scoliosis. 
  • How her yoga-philosophy background reveals itself in the work that she does with scoliosis.
  • The ins and outs of the Schroth Method. 
  • Why movement professionals should be careful not to diagnose scoliosis in their clients. 
  • Myths and misconceptions about scoliosis that are commonly shared in movement circles. 
  • The three-dimensional nature of scoliosis. 
  • Being comfortable with not having all the answers, and the importance of self-compassion. 
  • Why curiosity matters, and why you should always be striving to learn more. 
  • Whether bad posture leads to scoliosis. 
  • Why movement teachers need to be better equipped with information about scoliosis. 
  • Respecting and embracing our differences. 
  • How movement professionals would do well to ground their teachings in Schroth principles.

EPISODE 19

 

[INTRODUCTION]

 

[0:00:00.0] HT: Today’s conversation with Meredith Weiss was fascinating. We go so deep into scoliosis and to the Schroth method, and to Pilates, and what we should and shouldn’t be doing as movement professionals. Meredith is a licensed physical therapist, nationally certified Pilates teacher, experienced registered yoga teacher, and certified yoga therapist. She is an internationally appointed teacher in the Schroth method for scoliosis and is a leading world expert in the non-surgical management of scoliosis and postural conditions.

 

With her background in neuroscience and psychology from Vanderbilt University, she has always had a passion for mind-body integration. Meredith is the founder and owner of both Kioko and Physiolutions. While Kioko is the brick-and-mortar studio for one-to-one patient care, Meredith founded Physiolutions in 2021 to meet the rising global demand for her unique and integrative approach to spine health.

 

Physiolutions was created for the public healthcare professionals, yoga, and Pilates teachers inspired to learn more and be spine smart in their work with patients requiring neutral spine movement. You can find all of the ways to get in touch with Meredith in the show notes but let me bring you into this fascinating and deep conversation.

 

[0:01:25.8] ANNOUNCER: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 

 

I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and Yoga for over two decades, and what I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. 

 

We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay everyone, let’s dive in, exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives, one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange.

 

[INTERVIEW]

 

[0:02:24.8] HT: I would love to say, welcome to the podcast, Meredith, I am thrilled to have you here. There is so many things that we’re going to be talking about today. I want you to sort of give us a little bit of background about who you are and how you got started. Like, what are you up to, Meredith? Let our audience know.

 

[0:02:41.6] MW: Thank you, thanks so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure, it’s an honour and a joy to speak with you and have this conversation. So, my name is Meredith Weiss, I’m a physical therapist here in the US. I specialize in scoliosis and the Schroth method. Additionally, I’m a comprehensive certified Pilates teacher and experienced in ERYT 500 yoga teacher as well as a yoga therapist. 

 

So, my love is integrating all three of these modalities with my patients. My patient population is 99.9% individuals with scoliosis and spinal imbalances, and I love them. I love them as people, I love them in what we do in what we work with, and I love integrating these three modalities in everyday life.

 

[0:03:30.9] HT: That’s so incredible. Yeah. Meredith, how did you get started and tell me about like, your first Pilates class or yoga, like what was that first love that helped you decide like, “Oh, this is something I’m going to stick with.”

 

[0:03:45.3] MW: Oh gosh, wow. That’s a big question. So, it’s interesting. My first experience with yoga was actually kids’ yoga. Believe it or not, right? So, I won’t go into the whole story which is actually very amusing in and of itself, but I’ve been doing physical therapy for 25 years. I got into yoga back in 2005/2006 when my oldest daughter was two at the time, and so I learned. I was learning kids’ yoga and I was integrating poses and principles of the kid’s yoga with my adult patient population, outpatient orthopaedics.

 

[0:04:26.7] HT: Oh my gosh.

 

[0:04:28.7] MW: And I was loving it. So, I wasn’t doing it for my adult patient population, I was doing it for my kids and so forth, but I was enjoying the application of it with my – in the professional aspect, and I told myself, I’m like, “There’s only so many times in my charting notes that I can write, Patient did bubble gum breath or patient did flamingoes.” I had to take this next level. So, I went and I did my adult training. 

 

My adult yoga training with no expectation, no anticipation of going any further with it, other than, “Okay, I want this knowledge here” and clearly, the universe has a different plan once you get something and you realize different aspects and you experience different things. My curiosity just takes me down the rabbit hole, which is both good and dangerous but usually, really, really good. 

 

So, fortunately, my first experience with yoga was just fantastic and it was creative and it was fun and I found it fascinating. So, I did it in a very untraditional way and then of course, continued into advanced study of it, which just took it to a level of study that I never would have expected. It just taught me so much about myself and about life, and I’m outrageously grateful for it.

 

And with my Pilates experience, not that it was the opposite, it was very interesting. I’d had some experience with Pilates many years ago with mat Pilates and it was great. And then when I was opening my own clinic, I had a therapist who was certified in Pilates and so, if I’m getting all this equipment, I want to be to know how to use it. I did a couple of classes which were very, very nice.

 

They were different than what I expected though and so I thought, “Well, that’s okay, I love my yoga” and so forth. And that’s me. But then I’m like, my curiosity kept nudging at me in the back of my mind and kept whispering and so, I’m so glad that I followed that. And the other classes with other teachers,  and it’s just like you find the right teacher and all doors open. Just like, “Wow” and it’s not that one teacher is wrong and one teacher is right. 

 

They’re just different and different teachers resonate with different students, that’s the beauty of it all. It just uncovered so much and connected so much and I felt that as my practice deepen with Pilates, I felt like that was truly the missing piece in everything that I do. So, it brought so much together and opened so much in my mind and in my heart in different ways. So, it’s really exciting.

 

[0:07:15.0] HT: You sound like a person with insatiable curiosity, which I think is – I think, all teachers need to have that somehow, to continue on to through their practices. Because it’s not that we just learned a method and then that’s the end of it. It’s this constant learning in each person, every student that we have, somehow is also like this discovery process of what, “What do they need, how can I help them here, how can I help them there?” Which I think brings us right into where your passion is, and that I think it is, is scoliosis, right?

 

[0:07:49.7] MW: Right. Never in a million years would I have expected to be doing this work or going into this niche, but I loved it, absolutely loved it. I think so much of the reason why is I’m very grateful for having just very, very, dear, very spectacular teachers, who not only inspire but communicate the true intention of things. It really touched me and I enjoyed doing that with my patients and people. Just start to find you and the universe has a – seems to have a plan perhaps.

 

[0:08:24.7] HT: Yeah.

 

[0:08:24.9] MW: So, it’s been phenomenal, it’s been very, very interesting and fun.

 

[0:08:29.4] HT: It’s like scoliosis is such a niche of people that have it or am I wrong? Like, how common is scoliosis?

 

[0:08:39.2] MW: So interesting. If you look at the data, the statistics say that about three to 4% of the population have scoliosis, had a scoliosis. So it doesn’t seem so common but my experience is really on the street, way more people have a spinal asymmetry, a spinal imbalance than don’t. I mean, we all have asymmetry in different ways. I mean, one arm is slightly maybe slightly longer. Our facial features may be slightly asymmetric.

 

So, that’s completely normal. And as we are under gravity longer in our lives, as we age and we’re under gravity more, if we are holding ourselves in asymmetrically loaded habitual patterns of sitting or standing, then that can contribute as we age to an – what we call a De Novo or an adult onset scoliosis if we never had a curve before.

 

So, I think both in adolescence as well as in adults, it’s much more common than what we see diagnosed or in the literature afforded for statistics.

 

[0:09:50.4] HT: Oh, that’s super interesting. So, maybe let’s back up a second because I think I know that our audience is very knowledgeable, but I just want to cover our bases just in case, okay? So, what is the definition of scoliosis? I know that sounds silly but let’s start there.

 

[0:10:05.2] MW: When many people think of a scoliosis, they think of the spine going – curving a little right and then curving a little left. Maybe they say the C curve or an S curve, what have you. But really – and that’s true to an extent. But scoliosis is really a very complex three-dimensional phenomenon and three three-dimensional phenomena, it involves not just the spine going a little right and a little left, which we refer to as vertebral wedging.

 

So, the vertebrate get wedged on one side but a scoliosis also involves vertebral rotation, so where the vertebrae are rotating, as well as vertebral. So, the bones in the spine, vertebral extension. The spine is actually in your spinal extension first and then it goes into rotation, which creates those prominences. That’s why there’s the concavity on one side, a convexity or prominent on the other, which impacts this three-dimensional imbalance or asymmetry of not just the spine but also the rib cage and everything above and below.

 

So, not only are the vertebrates rotated but the body blocks. So, if we begin to think about the axial skeleton safely, just saying it from throat, down to the bottom of the pelvis. If we think about the main torso, the main trunk in these body blocks, the pelvic block, the lumbar block, the thoracic block, the cervical, shoulder block, each of those blocks become alternately rotated upon one another as well, following the rotation and lateral imbalance of a curve.

 

So, it’s very, very important when we’re working with a scoliosis, to consider the person three-dimensionally as well, the physical body three-dimensionally as well as to taking into consideration of who they are as a person in their own biopsychosocial – big word. Biopsychosocial. So, looking at them, looking at the physical body, not just from the front and the back, but also from the sides, as well as from overhead. Because it’s just very, very interesting to observe the person like if they’re standing, if we’re like a bird, flying over them, what are we seeing. 

 

What are we observing from overhead and we will see in many cases, depending upon their curve pattern, one shoulder may be rolled forward, the other shoulder is rolled backwards. We see where the prominence is protruding out on one side and we see a corresponding concavity on the other side. The pelvis rotated back on one side. Many people will think, “Oh, my glutes are bigger on one side.” But it’s not that their glutes are bigger on one side, it’s that their pelvis is posteriorly rotated on one side.

 

So, once we begin to understand this three-dimensional nature of a scoliosis, it informs us on the best way that we can choose our approach to exercise and movement with each person individually. So, it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach. There are beautiful profound foundational principles from the Schroth method that apply, truly, not only to individuals with scoliosis but all of us with a spine.

 

And what I think is so fantastic about Schroth is how these principles apply to all of us and they just transform everything we do in orthopaedic physical therapy in my own life and my approach to movement, not only with my patients but also, myself. So, it’s just – it’s very interesting.

 

[0:13:55.5] HT: That’s so interesting. I love the bird’s eye view. That’s not something that I really think about that often outside when I was maybe choreographing, dance. Okay, then I often would think about a bird’s eye view of the choreography, how does that look? But to be also considering that three-dimensional but from top-down. That’s a beautiful way of imagining a person or seeing that person adding more texture to that, to the whole body. I love that.

 

[0:14:24.7] MW: Absolutely. Because if we observe that and we see, I’m petite, I’m short, I’m 5”2’ so, most everyone is taller than I am. So, when I’m doing it, an individual’s evaluation and I’m doing pictures of them from each side to be able to look and study and be able to show them, I always have to stand up on a stool to get the overhead fixture of them because everyone’s taller than I am.

 

And so, when I take that picture and I show them, and we talk about it and I’m very sensitive to one, ask many of, “Do you want to see these pictures?” and letting them know like, “You are beautiful, you are perfect just as you are. I want – let’s look at these so that you see what’s going on” and we’re looking at this objectively. There’s no judgment, there’s no good or bad or right or wrong. 

 

It’s just physics, it’s just data and as we have this information that informs us as to what’s going on and why and helps to give clarity and understanding to why we are choosing to do some things, why we are not choosing to do other things, and why we’re choosing to modify. So, that helps to empower them and that’s so – I think that’s so important.

 

[0:15:38.1] HT: I think I love that they get a choice in that and I do feel like that would be a much more empowering way to go about it without the judging. I feel like sometimes in a more clinical setting, there tends to be a sort of a feeling of, “Okay, this is a problem, now we have to fix your problem” rather than just, “It’s just physics.” Like, if we have an angle over here or a lever over here or a little bit more weight over here that the body’s always going to find its balance point and how can we maybe change a little bit of – put it in a different type of balance without being judgmental or emotional about that in some way. Does that make sense? Yeah?

 

[0:16:23.0] MW: A hundred per cent, because there’s already so much emotion involved in so many things. But in this world of scoliosis where people – many of them who have been looking for answers, looking for solutions, for as you say, fixes for so long, and it’s frustrating because there’s so much misinformation out there. How do – how do all of us discern, differentiate what’s authentic, what’s not authentic, what will really help, where is our time and energy and money best realized in this window of time that we have?

 

And depending upon where we are in life, some windows of time are tighter and some are more open. In terms of adolescence and they’re still growing and so forth. So, I think it’s important to empower them and help them understand what’s going on because then they feel they have the say in it and that’s huge.

 

[0:17:25.9] HT: Right, yeah. I think anytime that there’s a – sometimes, with a diagnosis of anything, it becomes a – it sometimes feels limiting, right? So – and that it becomes – this definition, this diagnosis then becomes my definition of who I am rather than having those choices to make and just like you are saying, like you’re empowering people with the choices of, “Here are some tools that we can try” and it gives more freedom there, no?

 

[0:17:54.1] MW: Absolutely. Absolutely, and some people – as with anything, some people want a magic pill.

 

[0:18:00.9] HT: Of course.

 

[0:18:02.1] MW: You know, they want to take the magic pill and they want someone else to do the surgery and they don’t have to think about it and there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s okay. Those are options for people and I think it’s important to have options for different people who want different things. And as with anything that’s going to be long, with a long-term – I don’t want to say the word, “Solution.” 

 

But a long-term outcome that’s going to support us, it’s not an overnight thing. It takes time and it takes understanding ourselves and it takes curiosity and takes practice. Just like the first time we learn to ride a bike, the first time that we’re learning dance or learning a choreography in Pilates or even just Pilates exercise in and of itself, no one time is it going to be exactly like the time it was before.

 

We learned from the time before and it just gets stronger and better and we grow from that and that’s very true here as well. So, it’s all about building internal strength and internal awareness and getting better at what we do each day.

 

[0:19:14.8] HT: I really feel like the way that in the way that you’re just speaking, I really feel that yoga philosophy background that’s also coming through in there. I love that big – it’s not – it’s multi-dimensional when we’re looking and working with people and I think that’s really at the gift to your patients, your clients right now. I love that.

 

[0:19:35.9] MW: Thanks. I think it helps because kind of circling back to what we were just speaking of which I went way off on tangent, but the diagnosis of scoliosis is so overwhelming. As I’m saying, there’s so much information and so much confusion and as hopefully, I help them to uncover, explain what’s going on from a place of physics. And when they can see that from a place of physics, then it becomes much, much easier to look at things objectively, take any emotion or judgment out. And as we are able to look at something objectively, it becomes a lot easier to work with it.

 

[0:20:20.0] HT: So, how does – for our listeners that aren’t familiar with the Schroth method, can you describe a little bit about what that is because you teach it as well, no?

 

[0:20:30.4] MW: Yes, yes. So, not only an advanced certified therapist, I’m also one of the international teachers in Schroth. We’re a school called SSOL Schroth and I’m very grateful for my teachers and my experience, and it’s a lifetime of learning and growth. So, the Schroth Method is a hundred years old. It was originated in Germany by Christa and Katharina Schroth and it evolved. And then Dr. Manuel Rigo in Barcelona added so much additional research and science to it, to evolve it to the next level.

 

And it is the first approach that took a three-dimensional consideration of the body in our therapeutic approach to bring balance to the spine with asymmetry, and how we optimize that. It involves aspects of yoga as well as in the breath, in awareness of light, and it’s just all – it’s very fascinating. So there are principles of finding our best possible three-dimensional postural balance in both our standing balance but then being able to integrate that into all of our movement patterns.

 

Whether it’s walking down the street, whether it’s in our Pilates practice, whether it’s in our yoga practice, and being aware of the three-dimensional nature and choosing exercises, knowing which exercises may feed the path of mechanics of a scoliosis, knowing what we know now about it, and knowing which exercises in movement patterns help to, I don’t want to say, “restore” but help to create better three-dimensional balance and expand the concavity as well, containing and stabilizing the convexity and not exacerbating them. 

 

And truly, as we expand our resilience and capacity for stability in the body, physically, we improve and expand our capacity energetically as humans. That is what I find just so powerful about the method. It goes hand in hand with what Joseph Pilates created and his principles, as well as the principles of yoga. So, it’s tremendously empowering from the inside out and that’s why it takes time as well. So, it’s just – it’s really interesting.

 

[0:23:08.0] HT: That’s so fascinating. I’m going to in the show notes link to you and every way that people, our listeners can work with you in the future. So, don’t worry listener, you are in good hands if you’d like to go further studying with Meredith. How about this, how would a person be diagnosed with scoliosis? Because sometimes, what I see or hear chattering around in the Pilates world is, I feel like Pilates teachers somehow make a diagnosis of scoliosis. What do you think about that? Tell me, so that I’m not alone in saying that that is not a good idea.

 

[0:23:48.7] MW: First of all, I – wow. I thought that was fascinating and so interesting when you were sending some of those questions, I’m like, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” But I can see it being very common, it’s the same in the yoga world and the fitness world. I’m curious to hear, what you hear, and what you experience in the movement world on your end of things. But in the world of scoliosis and Schroth, a scoliosis is screened for clinically. 

 

So, we, I am looking at a patient in the clinic, I am screening for it and having them do certain special tests, including an Adam’s Forward Bend Test, where they’re standing and then I have them forward bend and I’m looking for certain things or the spine is processes, are they straight, are they not straight? Do they have a prominent? Like is one side of their back higher than the other?

 

I look at it from different angles as well and that’s the screening part clinically. Radiologically, when they go to get the X-ray, that’s when it – scoliosis is confirmed if they have it. So, looking at the X-ray, we look for certain features radiographically. Is there vertebral wedging on the X-ray? Is the curve a certain degree or more, are the vertebrates rotated as we look at it on X-ray? And so, we’re looking for certain radiographic X-ray criteria to then confirm or refute a diagnosis of scoliosis. So, that’s how we do it clinically.

 

[0:25:18.1] HT: No, am really glad to hear that and that’s what I really wanted to hear. And then also, just put it back out there that it is a clinical diagnosis that it would be disingenuous for movement instructors that are not trained in that area to make a diagnosis of scoliosis. Because we don’t know, without having the proper training and the X-ray confirming what that is.

 

[0:25:45.4] MW: Right.

 

[0:25:46.4] HT: It would be harmful even if we were to say that. 

 

[0:25:49.5] MW: I think it’s dangerous, even as physical therapist, number one, technically as physical therapist, as licensed medical professionals, we cannot diagnose something. I can see something and I may know, like, “Okay, I see that person has a scoliosis” but technically, I cannot diagnose that. I can tell the person, “I’m seeing this, I’m seeing the shoulder blade here. I’m seeing the pelvis here. I’m seeing the waistline like so and I would encourage you” some people stronger, some people not as much, have you, “To follow up with your physician, ask for an X-ray and just see what’s going on.” 

 

So, even as licensed medical professionals, we cannot diagnose. I think it can be quite dangerous because of what may happen emotionally with that client, and the fear that can come out of it and the paralysis from movement. They’re like, “Oh my gosh, I have this.” And then they may just go down the rabbit hole of the internet and create fear unnecessarily. Even though the movement professional is well-intentioned, how we go about it is very important.

 

[0:27:05.3] HT: Thank you for that. I’m a hundred per cent behind you on that one. I just – I want to put that out there because I think in our – in the world of movement, all of us teachers, all we want to do is help our clients, and so I don’t think that anyone is saying something with ill intentions but the repercussions, just like you’re saying, the repercussions there that we’re not trained in that area and we need to be very – stay in our lane. 

 

If you’re not trained in that area, then it would be potentially harmful to throw it a diagnosis that you’re not trained in doing. So, I just wanted to clear that up, I really appreciate that, thank you.

 

[0:27:40.7] MW: Absolutely, thank you. Thank you for asking, and it’s really interesting too because so many people with scoliosis, they’ll come in and they’ll also say, “Oh, a therapist or a chiropractor or someone told me at one point in time, I have a leg length discrepancy,” And so, they may start wearing a shoe lift unnecessarily. And with scoliosis, as I was mentioning, not only are the vertebrate rotated but the body blocks are also rotated. And when the pelvis may be rotated backwards, on one side, not only is it rotated posteriorly, it’s also – it can also be laterally shifted and slightly elevated.

 

It’s being pulled up because of the concavity above it and it gives the illusion of a leg length discrepancy, when in most cases of a scoliosis, not all but most, it’s a virtual or a visual leg length discrepancy but not a true structural leg length discrepancy. So, as physical therapist, I am very, very, very sensitive to telling a patient, “Okay, this is what’s going on.” There are ways we can look to see like, “Okay, I think this is actually structural” or, “No, this is not structural but it looks this way.” But still, you have to go. 

 

Not you but like, we as professionals, we still have to look at the X-ray, see is there a leg length discrepancy to confirm it and I still default that referred to the physician. It’s the physician that has to say, “Yes, there is one, go ahead and do a lift of X amount” what have you. So, if someone starts using a lift in a shoe unnecessarily, that cannot do such great things over a longer period of time.

 

So, I think as movement professionals, we can best help – because the intentions are so good – we can best serve our clientele by saying, “This is what I’m seeing, ask your doctor, ask your physio what they think and let me know what you find out.”

 

[0:29:46.6] HT: Thank you for even giving us the words to do that because I think there is – it’s empowering for us as teachers as movement professionals to be able to say that, you know? Like, we do not need to have all the answers all the time. This is something that I’m continuously talking, mentoring my teachers with. We don’t need to know everything, just like we’re having this conversation right now, Meredith, I am learning. 

 

I thought I was very knowledgeable about scoliosis before but I’m still learning through this small conversation, new things which I find very empowering. So, that is great. So, letting all of our teachers listening also have a sigh of release, we don’t need to know it all and we are more – we should be referring out and that’s it, that’s a good thing.

 

[0:30:31.1] MW: It’s a great thing because our clients want to know that we have their best interest, and all the answers are not found in one person but in community. I think you mentioned something really, really interesting in terms of misconceptions and myths around scoliosis and so forth – I don’t want to interrupt where you were going with your next question.

 

[0:30:54.0] HT: No, please, go ahead.

 

[0:30:55.1] MW: I guess, I’ll ask you because I think this can lead to some very interesting conversation that can be very helpful for Pilates practitioners, Pilates teachers. What are common myths or misconceptions that you hear about scoliosis or controversies that you hear about scoliosis amongst students and other teachers.

 

[SPONSOR MESSAGE]

 

[0:31:17.1] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense, but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programs leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers.

 

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[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

 

[0:32:03.9] HT: Gosh, I should have done a poll on IG before we talked. I think this is really good. I think, right before this podcast that we are – the one that we’re having right now, I’ve released another one about posture and because I go on a big rant about how sometimes in the Pilates world, we think that we can – that posture is something that needs to be fixed and that goes into also a little bit about the scoliosis. 

 

My idea is that posture is a three-dimensional thing. It’s coming from a lot of different places and we are not there to fix someone; that we are there to support them through movement. In some teacher trainings in both yoga and Pilates world that I’ve seen, there’s a little bit of a – there’s sometimes the language behind it is don’t do this exercise with scoliosis. Well, scoliosis is a huge topic and there’s so many individuals around it. So, having contraindicated exercises without knowing the person, the student in front of you is not always a good thing. 

 

[0:33:11.2] MW: Okay. 

 

[0:33:12.0] HT: Right? So, what I’m saying is that I think there’s myths that there’s always going to be a good and a bad for movement, that’s what I would think. 

 

[0:33:19.5] MW: I agree with you, yes, continue, yeah. 

 

[0:33:21.8] HT: Okay, so I think that needs a little bit of clarification in the movement world. Also, what I’ve seen Instagram is a world in itself but sometimes, I see in the movement world that there quick fixes if you have this scoliosis issue. I think that’s also pretty dangerous because it is not looking at the three-dimensional dimensionality of it. So, am I right in that as well? 

 

[0:33:50.3] MW: I agree, yes. 

 

[0:33:51.5] HT: Okay. 

 

[0:33:52.2] MW: So, to address the first topic of good versus bad and so forth, huge and then very, very important and that I educated my patients and I have to say it over and over in different ways but I’ll say it both on evaluation and then I’ll say it again during treatment sessions because there’s – I’m giving them a lot of information. There’s only so much that any of us can digest at one point in time, especially when we’re getting so much information about scoliosis and what’s going on during the evaluation. 

 

And I’m very sensitive to educating my patients that I go over, what is the movements that are contraindicated and why? We’ll talk about that in a moment. I am sensitive to letting them know that this is from an exercise prescription and that if they are having to go to pick up their two-year-old and they forward that, oh my gosh, it is not the end of the world, like don’t fall apart. 

 

Don’t stress if you are sitting in the car and you have to twist to get your seatbelts, we have to do those things. It doesn’t mean that I am only doing my neutral spine exercises in PT and then I can forget about it for the rest of the time. No, that’s not appropriate. I want them to understand what’s going on in the spine with three-dimensional imbalance and why, and so that when they are unpacking the dishwasher at home, when they are picking up their two-year-old, when they are picking up their keys off the floor, putting on their shoes, that we can begin to create different patterns of movement. 

 

So, we’re not just forward bending all the time, which can, not always, but it can progress a scoliosis because forward bending is the position of maximum vertebral rotation and it can make the prominences more prominent. That’s why it’s the clinical screening test for scoliosis that’s for event, and it’s helping to creating that awareness of, “Oh, when I am forward bending to unpack the dishwasher” I don’t know what dishwashers are like in Germany. 

 

But you know what they’re like here in the US,  they’re low and you have to bend down to take the dishes and utensils out, that maybe we can squat down, do the golfer’s squat or something like that to observe a more neutral spine, which is really a better thing for all of us with all spines. We do have to tie our shoe, what’s a different way we can do it? 

 

Not to like lose breath and lose sleep if we wake up and find ourselves curled up in a ball that there’s a difference between exercises I’m prescribing to help them learn and help create more stability in the spine with scoliosis versus creating more mobility. Because the spine with scoliosis already has, especially in adolescence, there’s too much mobility. So, going in and doing manipulations, mobilizations, they may – 

 

The person or individual may feel sticky and tight and understandably so. But going in and doing more stretching, more mobilizations, manipulations, only has the potential or usually has the potential to create more imbalance. We do want to free up the areas that are tight and strengthen areas that are weaker, but in the spine with scoliosis and really true for all of us, it’s three dimensional in nature. 

 

Now, there’s not a – a lot of people also come and say there’s a – I have a good side and a bad side or a weak side and a strong side. It’s all involved all around. There are areas that are too approximated, too tight, and areas that are overstretched and weakened. So, we want to create length and strength in the areas that were previously more collapsed and we want to create containment and strength in the areas that are more convex, and it is three dimensional. 

 

It’s not just right or left or front or back or up or down. So, educating my patients on the difference between exercises I’m prescribing versus everyday activities and also so that they know they’re going on Google and they’re going on YouTube and they see people doing side bending saying, “Oh, you should do this for scoliosis and you should bend this way” that they understand from a place of physics why they shouldn’t do that. 

 

[0:38:20.4] HT: Yeah, in their case and so it’s not like a black-and-white thing. 

 

[0:38:26.9] MW: Right, exactly, and if they – I let them know like if you choose to do it, I’m not saying like, “Oh, I want you to do this side bend five times and if you feel like you need to do a twist to release the nervous system, if you need to do a side bend, okay. Fine but I don’t want your practice revolved around doing ten side bends. I don’t want your practice revolving around “I need to be doing crunches and twists” thinking that that’s going to help my scoliosis.” 

 

So, I want them to take a breath and to be able to live but understand what they’re doing, what we are doing and why. It’s like, “My nervous system is jammed and jacked and I need to get this breath and so going, I need to do this twist” or what have you. “Okay, I did it. I feel better” but then maybe after that, do an elongation. Do something neutral spine to help take out that rotation, so that way the body doesn’t feel the physical rotation from that movement. 

 

And we restore that neutral spine, decompression, elongation throughout the rest of the day and so forth. It’s delicate but it’s important. I think as with many things, there’s this rule – and you know it would be really interesting, some people may be like, “Oh” and throw darts at me. So, I guess this is better that it’s a podcast and not a live event but you know, there’s this rule where they say, “100% is easy and 99% is hard.” 

 

And so, it’s like if we say, “Okay, well, you can twist sometimes just a little” then that twist sometimes becomes a little more, it becomes a little more, and becomes a little more and, “Oh, I just really love this twist” and then they find, “Oh, that my curve is a little bit more” and if it is, okay and if it’s not, then okay too but I want people to understand and know like I’m not saying to twist all the time. 

 

If you need it one time, okay, fine but this is – these are the physics involved in this condition in this situation and this is why we’re choosing to do these things and why we’re not prescribing X, Y, Z exercises for it differently. It’s also delicate when people have come to me from other therapeutic clinics and so forth and just like with anything else, the PTs, they’re well-intentioned, the yoga teachers, the Pilates teachers, they’re well-intentioned. 

 

And like myself, I didn’t know this until I knew it. They don’t teach it in PT school. I believe that we are all doing the very best we can at any point in time and hopefully, we, our journey is to grow and learn and understand and go from there and grow from there. So, that’s important to have compassion with ourselves as professionals and have compassion with ourselves as students, so. 

 

[0:41:19.4] HT: Yeah, totally. Totally, it’s that openness to continue down that path. You don’t know what you don’t know. This is partly why I have a podcast, to learn from you because I’m just interested in learning myself but just to continue it, for all of us to continue along with that and that’s okay, to continue to learn, yeah. 

 

[0:41:37.9] MW: I think it’s not only – I think it’s vital. Yeah, one of my grand teacher in yoga, he says that the day we stop learning and the day that we stop being curious is the day we start dying. I think it’s very important to continue to learn because as we grow as teachers, our students grow too and it’s exciting.

 

[0:42:00.4] HT: Yeah, and it’s also infectious for our students. Whether they have scoliosis or not, it makes no difference is that – but that curiosity that we are imparting also in the studios, in the training, that they can be curious about what’s going on in their own bodies like, “Does this feel good? Does that feel good? Okay, what do I know about my body, my lived experience? What does my therapist say about that?” 

 

And how they can integrate the knowledge for example that they get from a therapist like you, and how they can have the freedom to integrate that into their group classes or their own practice. Because I think that’s also really, really important for us on the outside. If I have a group class and someone does have scoliosis in that class that they are allowed to have the freedom to say, “Hey, I’m not doing the spine twist today.” 

 

“Okay, great.” It doesn’t have to be a dictated movement class that they really should feel empowered to make those decisions. 

 

[0:43:06.2] MW: Absolutely. I mean, for any of us like when we are on our mat, it is our practice. It doesn’t mean that when you step into a group class and a teacher is teaching one thing that you then go off and you have your own agenda and you’re doing a completely different thing. If you’re going to do that then why bother going to the class? But if there are a few poses here and there, we’re all modified. 

 

And one of my patients had a great way of describing it and she said, “It’s not even a modification, it’s a personalization.” 

 

[0:43:35.6] HT: Ooh, I like that. 

 

[0:43:36.6] MW: And it’s lovely and that’s true because none of us are the same. We’re personalizing the pose for us and that supports us physically and that supports us energetically. So, I think that’s really important. 

 

[0:43:52.0] HT: I’ve heard, it was a while ago but I’m going to just repeat this so that you can dispel this one or not or maybe it’s true. Is scoliosis caused by bad posture? 

 

[0:44:03.2] MW: Ooh, dum-dum-dum, interesting. Number one, with adolescent idiopathic, and there’s many different types of scoliosis, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, AIS is far and away the most common. Scientists don’t – they haven’t pinpointed exactly what causes it. There is a strong genetic correlation to it and while bad posture won’t cause a scoliosis, a chronic bad posture doesn’t exactly help because chronically, compressed asymmetrically loaded postures only contributes to asymmetrical loading of not just the vertebrate. 

 

But also the disc between the vertebrate and research within the past five years have confirmed that the first structure to change its shape in scoliosis is not the vertebrate, not the bones but the discs, the squishy stuff between the bones and so – 

 

[0:45:05.0] HT: That’s interesting. 

 

[0:45:06.2] MW: Right? And it makes sense because the bone is calcified and you’ve got these discs that squish and so forth. If I’m sitting in a habitual posture always putting more weight on one side of my body and kind of collapse through my waist or through my trunk on one side, and if I am at a desk job or every night I sit on the sofa and binge watch Netflix, which is fine, like I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. 

 

But if we’re seeing, doing our daily tasks in a habitually asymmetrically loaded position, it’s going to have an impact on the soft tissue first. And then as those soft tissues stays compressed, then it has passive deformation of the bones after. You know, it’s kind of like if you go to your parent’s house or your grandparents’ house and you see the chair that your grandfather always sits in, we begin to take on the shape of the chair and the chair begins to take on the shape of us.

 

You can see where grandpa’s tush was and where his back went in and so forth. And just like the couch or the sofa begins to take on that shape, the soft tissue changes its shape first before it just develops and then has passive deformation of the structural components as well. So, listen to mom, mom is right of that sit up and so forth. 

 

But what’s very interesting as well and I hear it all the time is, “Sit up, pinch your shoulders back.” With scoliosis, we don’t necessarily want to pinch our shoulders back because if we are pinching our shoulders back, oftentimes it can take the spine into more spinal extension. And as I was mentioning earlier, the pathomechanics of the scoliosis, the vertebrate are already in extension before they begin their rotation to create the prominences. 

 

And so, if we are pinching our shoulder blades back, it’s making the concavities more concave, which then contributes to potentially more rotation as well. It doesn’t do anything to elongate and decompress the spine, which is really what we want. We want the axial elongation and the three-dimensional opening and stabilization of the whole body. So, we don’t want to necessarily pinch our shoulder blades back but be tall and find our balance, front to back, side to side, up and down. 

 

[0:47:36.3] HT: Thank you for that, that’s very, very good. As Pilates teachers, do we need special training to be able to work with people with scoliosis? 

 

[0:47:47.9] MW: I think that number one, at the moment there are very limited and rightly so, I mean, there’s a lot of different things but there is very limited. I would say there is very limited information available to movement professionals that addresses the physics of the scoliosis and like with anything, the intentions are beautiful and they’re important of what so many others are offering and there’s value to them. 

 

There’s tremendous value and I’m grateful for what they offer and what they had. But from both my experience and the two other colleagues who are very dear to me who are not only Schroth therapists and Schroth teachers as well, they also happen to be Pilates teachers as well, those are the only three Pilates specific programs that integrate the principles of Schroth specifically in the intention that Christa and Katharina originated this method with. 

 

And there are some other methods that do a fantastic job of integrating some of those principles and some of those other methods do a much better job than others. As with anything, there are some things that are better than others. I don’t want to say better but maybe they resonate better with someone else, or communicating the original intentions and the original principles of it. 

 

And so, I think that there is value to be gleaned from many of these different approaches, whatever someone gets from them. But there are very few programs that integrate that three-dimensional nature and I think it’s very, very, very important that any movement professional seeks out some understanding of this, so that way, they can bring that knowledge and that insight and that perspective to their clients to serve their clients their best, and serve themselves as teachers the best. 

 

[0:50:01.7] HT: I think that’s really beautifully said, yeah, thank you. 

 

[0:50:04.2] MW: Thanks, that’s a hornet’s nest too. 

 

[0:50:06.9] HT: I know, I was just – I’m poking in there but I think it’s really – I think it’s important too. I don’t feel like – I feel like I have also a deep curiosity for movement and bodies and stuff but this is an area where I do not feel capable of in the knowledge that I have. We do work with a physical therapist that is also trained in Schroth and so when she – so any person that has a scoliosis or suspected, we send to her. 

 

She then works with that client and tells us which exercises we’re allowed, we should be doing, and which ones we should not be doing, so that client, that student then comes back to us, and we get a full report of what we should be working with. And for me, that’s been very helpful. It also gives the power back to the student to make good choices. That’s the way that I found that works for us in our studio because definitely my Pilates training. 

 

And I have done many of them but it still is not enough where I feel is a scientifically sound enough to be, yeah. 

 

[0:51:13.4] MW: And I think that’s one of the biggest things about Schroth is it addresses the scoliosis from a place of physics and everything else, not everything else. I shouldn’t say it blanket, most other things are based on the practitioner’s own personal experiences to what feels good for them. That’s lovely and that’s great, but when we are trying to help, when patients are coming to us because they are experiencing discomfort, they are experiencing pain, they’re seeing a progression in their curve or they’re potentially facing surgery, we can’t.

 

We have to look at science and understand what is going on and why, and understand the physics of it so we can choose the best application of the exercises to reshape the trunk and the thorax and the spine and optimize balance, which optimizes that individual’s ability to move through space. 

 

And that’s just a really, really profound and powerful thing. And in having this conversation about what we’re just saying, I certainly do not want to disempower professionals. 

 

[0:52:22.6] HT: Oh, no. 

 

[0:52:24.7] MW: I want to pique their curiosity and inspire them to learn more. Like if they –whether they’re working with individuals with scoliosis or whether they’re working with athletes and they’re seeing a lot of lower extremity issues and meniscus issues or ACL, then go down that rabbit hole and study and learn from a variety of sources and see what information we’re finding, or what they find in that area to give them the most cohesive and comprehensive perspective and understanding possible. 

 

So, none of us have all of the answers and that’s the beautiful thing and important thing about community is, “Okay, where can I find the right resource? Where can I find the right information to not just help my patients, my client but also me, that I can learn from?” 

 

[0:53:17.0] HT: Yeah, we’re always talking in our Train the Trainers program about building a team around you, a team of people that have different expertise that you can refer to, that you can learn from. Because it’s just – there’s not enough time in this lifetime to be an expert in it all and that – and it is not a requirement to have all the answers when you’re teaching your class. It’s not a requirement to be able to serve all those people in that in each individual way. 

 

What is a requirement is that we see, we respect those differences, that we embrace the uniqueness of each person, and then are able to say, “Hey, I don’t have this information yet, let’s try this or let’s go over here, and get some more.” 

 

[0:54:03.8] MW: Right, right, I think so much of it comes down to respect actually and love and that when we are doing things from a place of love, we’re doing things from a place of respect. Like I respect what’s going on and I am not going to do something that I’m unsure of. I mean, there is a time and a place to say, “Okay, I’m going to try this on myself and see how it feels on myself” or “Let’s explore this, for sure.” 

 

But when something is outside of my scope, I mean, I certainly don’t take it on. You know, with my own patients, I’m very, I don’t want to say cautious but I am sensitive to reviewing cases as they come in to make sure I’m going to be the right provider for them. Because maybe, not maybe but certainly not everyone – I’m not right for everyone, not every patient is right for me. There is going to be other therapists that will be able to give patients things that areas and skills even in this area of scoliosis that I don’t have. 

 

If someone has a lot of hypermobility, there’s going to be other therapists that specialize in that and would be able to serve that patient’s need much better. I think that’s so important not just for us as professionals but also clearly, the patients, because it then allows us to help the patients that we have that expertise in the most. And it’s one thing to develop a growth area okay, fine and good, but to – I don’t want to say pretend that we can do everything. 

 

But to assume or, “Oh yeah, I can do that.” You know, it’s one thing if we want to, “Okay, let’s explore and let’s see if I’m going to be the right person for you” versus, “Oh yeah, I do that too.” 

 

[0:55:44.5] HT: Right, such a tricky line to be always treading. You know, as a – we want people in movement, you know that’s our jobs. We want to serve them, we want to stay curious, we want to be open to helping them move. We can’t pretend like we all have the answers, we have to know that there’s limits to our expertise. That’s part of it and there’s also not feeding into imposter syndrome. 

 

We’re never ever going to have all the answers to any of these things. But to like – if we hold ourselves back, like, “I need to learn this and now I need to learn about X, Y, and Z because I have one client over here with this” then there could be equally as paralyzing as the movement professional. 

 

[0:56:32.1] MW: Exactly. 

 

[0:56:33.0] HT: So, there’s that, which I just find it really interesting to be towing the line. 

 

[0:56:37.6] MW: Exactly. It reminded me of what I wanted to add on and it plays in perfectly, in that there’s not just a huge opportunity, there is a need. This area, this niche actually needs – we need Pilates teachers, we need yoga teachers because number one, as PTs, we can’t do all of these ourselves. I think what I had experienced is it’s very important for the individual to experience Schroth in their body, in their mind. 

 

Understand it, know what they should feel, develop the ability to emulate and reproduce the expand – the retentions and the expansions that we are promoting in the clinic with the exercises, and be able to emulate that axial elongation experience. And the awareness of the body with compassion, not going crazy, but objective awareness and curiosity through our movements. And then, as they develop the length and the strength and the stability and they’re good to go, there’s such a huge need for Pilates teachers to compliment what we are doing in Schroth. 

 

And what I was saying at the beginning where I found in my own practice, in my own body that Pilates was the – it was the missing piece. It was that last bit. I didn’t know it was missing until I experienced it myself, and I had to experience it with the right, for me, the right teacher for me, the right situation. And once I experienced with the right teacher or teachers like wow, my whole heart just opened even more and it was so exciting and so intriguing. 

 

And the creativity aspect, it was just so fun and I think there is such an important need for Pilates teachers to support what we do in Schroth. And if I could have a Pilates teacher here in the clinic to work with, oh my goodness, that would be huge. It would be huge because as PTs, we are the bottleneck in this area and Pilates helps create so much stability in very a different way. It helps to create stability in the body in a very different way than Schroth than yoga. 

 

It’s a profound opportunity to collaborate in these different professions to support the patient, so I’m all for it but with the understanding what we’re doing and why. 

 

[0:59:18.0] HT: Thank you for that Meredith. I think that sometimes what we hear from our teachers is like, “Oh, the Pilates field is so saturated, I’ll never get a job. I’ll never, I don’t have it.” But really, what you’re saying is, “Hey, wait a minute like look at this little area of it’s a niche area” but if you continue education in that area that there is so much that they could be doing working with other therapists like yourself, that’s a whole entire business right there. 

 

[0:59:48.3] MW: Huge. Huge. And one of the things that I’m working on developing is and I’m not saying this like as a – I’m not saying this as a plug, I’m saying this because I think there’s such a need for it from what you were saying, is developing curriculum to educate Pilates teachers, yoga teachers, yes, PTs as well, not to train them in Schroth but to train them in the principles of Schroth. 

 

The principles and the wisdom of yoga and the power of Pilates and how those three modalities work together to support our patients, but especially our patients where a neutral spine is required or highly recommended in movement. Because the number of people who have had a spinal fusion, say even if it’s not a scoliosis, say it’s just a lumbar fusion, and they have two levels or three levels in their lumbar spine that are fused with a rod and screws. 

 

They should not be forward bending, back bending, twisting, side bending because the rods aren’t going to move. People think, “Oh, like I’m fused, I’m good. I can go and do all this stuff.” Well, yeah, those rods are fused, there’s not going to be movement there, but the levels above – and levels above are not fused – and those levels above and below have to then suck up the movement that those fused levels would have done. 

 

So then, over time, not that it will but it can create wear and tear and degeneration in those levels above and levels below – and this is not to instil fear. It’s to instil awareness of, “Okay, how can I have my practice and do this side bend but do it with respect to my unique anatomy?” – and that’s what we want and I think that it is such a huge need, where if there was a Pilates studio here that I could. 

 

I mean, my patients ask me all the time, “Who’s a Pilates teacher who knows this?” and there’s crickets. I mean, there’s a lot of Pilates teachers who are outstanding in this area and I love but who are – who have had in-depth work with Schroth, so I’m like just tying it there, there’s such a huge need that I wish that I had a physical studio. There’s so many online options of very, very good people and good programs. 

 

But to have a physical studio and a teacher that a patient can work in person with would be huge and it’s not just a location, it’s worldwide. It’s worldwide. 

 

[1:02:31.2] HT: Worldwide, yeah. Well then, Meredith, this leads in perfect. I think that you’ve piqued, well, that you have definitely piqued my interest to delve a little bit more in this area and I know that our listeners as well. I’m going to link to our show notes like every different way that they can get a hold of you and maybe work with you further. Do you have programs available for movement teachers and if not yet, you’re going to consider one and get back to me, right? 

 

[1:03:00.5] MW: Yes, yes, and yes. So, I created an online platform with online educational webinars as well as neutral spine scoliosis-specific exercise classes and so I created that as a separate website, separate online platform because I get so many questions and requests, which are phenomenal and I love it. I get so many of those inquiries that I was spending all my time texting my colleagues back or emailing someone who heard about me from another workshop that I just created this online platform to provide these resources to people. 

 

And I let them know, this is not a substitute for in-person care, whether it’s with a physio, whether it’s with a Pilates teacher, it’s not a substitute for seeing your doctor but it’s a compliment to those things and to be able to give them knowledge, to give them resources where they can go and learn more and understand more from a variety of different perspectives. So, those things are out there. 

 

And then, this other program, which at the moment, I’m calling it SPYNE School. I haven’t come up with like a name of the method yet. My husband and friends say call it the Mere Method but I don’t want something named after me but at the moment, I am calling it SPYNE School, S-P-Y-N-E, which is scoliosis or Schroth at SPYNE, Schroth, Pilates, Yoga, N for Neuroscience based education because my background is in neuroscience. 

 

And I love it and I love integrating that in bits and pieces and sprinkling that in and it’s certainly fun. So, I think everything that you are doing in creating awareness and creating curiosity to learn from each other, I think it’s such a beautiful service. So, thank you for that. 

 

[1:04:59.4] HT: Well, I’m so excited that you’ve taken the time with me today and spoken with me and our audience at home or whatever you’re doing out there, walking, cleaning the house, I really appreciate it and I know that they do as well. So, I’m excited to connect them and you together. It’s amazing. 

 

[1:05:17.6] MW: Thanks. Thanks so much. 

 

[1:05:18.3] HT: It’s a pleasure. 

 

[END OF INTERVIEW]

 

[1:05:20.4] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab anyone of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching everyone. 

 

[END] 

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