“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.
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.
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.”