The spinal column is an incredible structure that has a dual nature. It is a strong central axis that supports the whole trunk. Yet the spine is also mobile, allowing the trunk to bend forward, sideways, backward, and to rotate. In the practice of yoga asanas, we explore side bends, forward extensions, twists and backbends that can help create an optimal balance of spinal stability and mobility.
When we sit to begin asana class, or practice pranayama or meditation, we search for the balance of the head over the tailbone. A different experience arises when we look to balance the tailbone under the head. This ongoing relationship between the head and the tailbone is one way to have a clearer experience of the spine itself. We may seek to create the greatest possible distance between the head and the tailbone, or bend in any direction we choose with spinal elongation. Awareness of the head-tail relationship helps us know where the spine is in space, and how we can optimize spinal decompression and length.
In Iyengar Yoga, we move from the outer to the inner and from the gross to the subtle. To move from the spine is more subtle than to move from the trunk. Therefore, we can initially think of the spinal as a receiver rather than a doer of action. We can access the spine through the use of the arms and legs, thinking of the limbs as actors and the spine as a receiver. We can also access specific portions of the spine through other body areas, using the abdomen to move the sacrum, the waist to move the lumbar spine, the rib cage to move the thoracic spine, and the head to move the cervical spine.
The dynamic relationship between actor and receiver, or benefactor and beneficiary, is a fundamental principle for the exploration of asana as taught by Prashant Iyengar. A few examples:
• By the legs, for the spine.
• By the rib cage, for the spine.
• By the breath, for the spine.
• By the mind, for the spine.
With practice, consciousness can penetrate to the spine itself, so we can begin to experience the spine as the actor and other aspects of ourselves as the receivers or beneficiaries.
• By the spine, for the legs.
• By the spine, for the rib cage.
• By the spine, for the breath.
• By the spine, for the mind.
The possibilities for exploration are infinite.
To get some insight into this exploration join Karen February 20-21 for two special workshops sponsored by the Yoga Center of Lawrence, Kansas. Karen will teach Breathing through the Asanas on Saturday and Moving from the Spine on Sunday.
“By the spine, for the mind.” This suggestion is an interesting and powerful one. The teachings of yoga suggest that the foundation for a stable, attentive mind is a stable, elongated and upright spine. But where does the body end and the mind begin? As B.K.S. Iyengar explains in Light on Life, the divisions of our being into body, breath and mind, or into five layers of anatomy, physiology, mind, intelligence and soul, are really only conveniences – models to help us look at and understand ourselves better.
But experience is unified. Concerning these various aspects of ourselves, he writes “We should imagine them as blending from one into the other like the colors of the rainbow.” This week in your practice, explore heightened spinal awareness as a way to learn more about all aspects of the radiant rainbow of your being.