JANAKA ORDOÑEZ
Yoga Philosophy
January 23, 2018

THE SPINE OF YOGA

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“Youth is in the spine.” You may have heard this ancient yogic adage. The health of our brain is intimately linked to the health of our spine physically and therefore, metaphysically, our mind and emotions dependent upon this link. As embryos, the beginning of our physical development starts with the brain, medulla and then the spine. Outwards from there, the nervous system connects the limbs and into the inner network of glands and organs. The relationship and communication of the electrical signals from nerves to brain relate us to the external sensory stimuli that the world around us provides.

Where does asana or yoga postures and keeping the spine healthy come in? On surface level, a healthy spine allows us more mobility and range. An injured spine would mean the physical body in a wheelchair or bedridden or less severe have us limping. To a movement practicioner this would be frustrating. I’ve experienced low back injury and have almost undergone operation (on my L4 and L5 low back area) in 2003 but decided against it and instead chose to go through the less invasive route that the yoga practice invites. 

The healing took many years and recurred once again 3 years after, which tested my perseverance in sticking it out with this holistic approach. I was in an ashram in California for a good 2.5 months and spent half that year rolling out of bed and crawling to my bathroom. Some days the pain dissipated and I could limp my way to the refectory with frequent stops. I was only 26 and already was hunched over at the time. I felt like my body was on its 80th year. My yoga consisted of being on my back on the floor with legs bent up on the edge of bed and the mantra running through my mind was,  “Damn,why me? Dear God you suck!” . However, after 3 months of physical agony and mental anguish my mantra turned into “Thank You for being with me every minute.” My yoga practice involved less movement, and forced stillness. Needless to stay a spinal injury (or any injury for that matter) could be a blessing that paves a way towards yoga or be a hindrance to yoga as well.

Asana practice, what we call “hatha” yoga  (sun/moon=balance of opposites and all its conotations) and under its umbrella: Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar and all these other ‘yogas’ that you see in the mainstream scene have only one purpose. That purpose is to prepare the spine to be held upright in deep meditation for long periods of time. Of course, in this modern era,  some ‘forms’ of yoga stray more towards the realm of physical fitness, acquiring rock hard booty and abs, a  “get-into-a-handstand” or “bend -like-a pretzel” sort of ”yoga” . Focusing on only this aspect can lead us away from yoga’s real core essense. Though there is nothing wrong with using yoga as a way to be physically fit, it barely scratches the surface of yoga’s deeper and real benefits. 

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If the spine is kept healthy then outwards from the spine our organs and limbs have open signals  or roads without traffic and can receive more voltage, so to speak. The spine held upright, by core strength and training allows a free flow of energy up and down the spine. Prana (upward flow) and apana (downward flow) energy circulate through the spine and into the central channel (shushumna nadi) up towards the brain. This inward concentration of energy now remains concentrated in the brain harmonizing left and right hemispheres creating a frequency vibrating to the heights of gamma brainwaves allowing one to experience a melting into superconsciousness beyond the labels of ego identifications, or at the least into deep relaxation. 

What the 8th limb in yoga is this: absorption into Oneness consciousness, a non-separation or non-duality consciousness. In quantum physics, the zero point of consciousness is the goal of yoga through the avenue and cultivation of your spine.

My Guru equates that if you try to hold 10,000 watts in a bulb (brain) that is only ready for 15 watts on top of which its chord(spine) has faulty wiring it can cause serious debilitation in the yogi. Proper preparation is key through a guided step-by-step process. 

Years before being injured in the ashram, I made the blunder through egoic, spritual zeal to reach heights of “ananda”  or bliss through a kriya that my body clearly was not ready for. Skipping the 6 month process for an Ashram resident (someone who has a daily devoted practice for this particular process) One evening, I practice the prescribed pranayama(4th limb of yoga-breath and life force control) exercises and found myself in such a high state of awareness not unlike the drugs/psychedelics I experimented with in college that left my body in a suspended ,vegetable-like state. The next day I awoke with my body heated as if in a fever with a mix of discomfort but no feeling of weakness. Brain buzzing with electricity, euophoria and spine tingling with a sense of uncontrolled excitement, I crawled again out of bed this time with a welcomed ‘injury’. My physical body however needed a few days to withdraw, then reaclimate after such an intense practice that it left me struggling to function back in my college. I felt I had discovered something deeper than my school projects that I needed to devote more time to this humbling taste of yoga’s promise but also definitely showed me that the mind and body weren’t ready for such advanced practice. Research revealed that my experience was not unusual but ordinary to well experienced yogis. The only difference being that they were more experienced and skilled in handling such energy. They are able to “be in the world, but not of it.”

The yogi realizes that she must inevitably reverse the outward sensory experience (ego gratifications) towards transmuting these energies back up the spine into the brain to experience true Oneness(Samadhi:8th limb of yoga) back to the center of consciousness or the Guru of Gurus, the Source, the Kutasta Chaitanya, (or etymologically Christos to Krishna consciousness) . The feeling of ‘Circumference nowhere; center everywhere…” so that as Paramhansa Yogananda claims we too can say with conviction, “I and my Father are One(in yoga, in union)” This awareness can become an unbroken euphoric but grounded connection through the systematic practice of precepts outlined based on Patanjali’s 8 limbs of Yoga (as in the code of yoga not to be mistaken with the physical practice called Ashtanga).
There are many paths to Yoga union but some are the “bullock-cart” way (slow, tedious focusing only on physical techniques). While some, depending on individual temperament, the “airplane route” (faster, precise) towards Oneness through prescribed principles and not just focused on techniques.
Each one of us must find our own mode of transportation towards the skies of Self-realization that go beyond the confines of our own ego attachments. The route is through the body – from the bottom of the spinal chakra wheel up towards the solar plexus(core) to the heart wheel, to the pineal gland wheel, and finally to the thousand petaled lotus at the crown of one’s head returning finally to the elixir of youth.
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Janaka Ordoñez surfs and teaches vinyasa flow, pranayama, meditatiom and FNR at Urban Ashram Yoga. He’s been practicing for over 18  years and has studied Sivananda Hatha Yoga and also is certified under the YogaWorks 200Hr Teacher Training, under senior trainer, David Kim.  

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