The Curvy Club 

Sandra Safadirazieli uses yoga to relieve the pain of scoliosis.

When Sandra Safadirazieli first saw an X-ray of her back, she was so upset that she thought she might throw up. "It was very hard," she remembers now, "to accept that there was something wrong with my spine." Safadirazieli's mother has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that can be congenital and can also occur throughout life for many different reasons. So as Safadirazieli grew — scoliosis most commonly appears during adolescence — her parents were worried that their little girl would develop it, too. "They were right," she says. "When I was twelve, a curve was discovered." Thus began what she calls "a long journey in the medical world" and intensified during her twenties, when Safadirazieli began experiencing severe back pain and loss of movement in her fingers.

"The physical therapists that I met with were very kind; however, they had very little training in scoliosis," she says. "They found my case fascinating and probed and prodded me quite a bit. I often wound up in more pain when I left than when I came in." For an active young Stanford student, this was incredibly frustrating.

"I decided that I had to find another route. I needed to find a way to take care of myself and not expect that others would do it for me." Seeking affordable Pilates classes, she joined the Downtown Berkeley YMCA — where, "on a whim, I stepped into a yoga class. After being in the class for ten minutes, I realized that this is what my body yearned for. I felt renewed, rejuvenated, and connected with my body." In subsequent workshops, "I learned how to practice yoga with an awareness of my curves — and this greatly helped to relieve the pain in my back and neck."

Now a yoga teacher herself, Safadirazieli specializes in working with scoliosis sufferers, as detailed at her web site RaziYoga.com. But her weekly drop-in class at Kehilla Community Synagogue (1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont) — which meets on Tuesday, December 29 — is general, and open to all who are even slightly familiar with yoga. Yoga, she says, "can target specific areas to help relieve or eliminate pain. More importantly, for the long term, it helps scoliosis sufferers understand and be in touch with our patterns of movement. Scoliosis creates multiple imbalances in the body. The curves pull us in different directions. Some muscles become overstretched; others are underutilized. The rib cage and pelvis are torqued."

Safadirazieli says the anthropology she studied at Stanford influences her current work. "It helped me pay attention to how the culture we live in affects our relationship with our bodies. I was — and still am — always asking, 'Why do people believe what they believe?' In our society, where there is such an emphasis on perfecting the body, many people are ashamed of their scoliosis. The medical community calls scoliosis a spinal deformity. These words can be very debilitating. ... I call us 'members of the extra curvy club.'" 1:30 p.m., $10. KehillaSynagogue.org

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