Yoga, Energy Medicine and Your Spinal Health
This week, I would like to explore one of the essential concepts of YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine: your spine. The intelligence and healing potential in the spine is something I have come to know intimately, and is a source of wisdom that continues to inspire my life daily. In 2011, I experienced a devastating, paralyzing spinal cord injury, that kept me fully bedridden for even the simplest of tasks. My full recovery was considered a medical miracle. I stand, walk, run, dance and do yoga asana today thanks to the power of grace and the knowledge of YEM.
I have been working for some time on a new book YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine, to be released soon. Here is an excerpt from it on the spine. Enjoy!
The spine is your central channel of energy from which all other physical, emotional and intellectual circuitry arise. Like the trunk of a tree, it gathers and transmits essential life-force energy to your various body parts, and is in constant communication with your ability to perceive, emote, think, sense and act. The brain stem connects the brain with the spinal cord, and the cerebrospinal fluid circulates around the brain and the spinal cord.
Think of the brain and the spine as the processing headquarters for your nervous system. The spine is the central gathering, holding and distribution point within the body for information both seen and unseen. This includes physical impulses, emotional expressions, intellectual activity and spiritual awareness.
As such, you can conceive of your spine, brain and bodily circuitry as part of one continuous and intelligent whole. Thoughts do not just happen in the brain. They exist within the spine, within every nerve pathway and therefore within every cell. The spine can process information and make decisions to move your body even before your brain can get involved. For example, when you touch something hot, your spinal cord acts to protect you by sending an instant signal to your muscles to jerk your hand away. By the time the message of heat and pain reaches your brain, you have already removed your hand from the heat source, minimizing or preventing injury
There is no one fixed point in a central channel of energy. When your focus is in your spine, rather than in your head, you become aware that you are part of a continuum that flows between the earth and the cosmos. This is potent on your yogic journey, because with this understanding, you already begin to move away from identifying as a separate self. You step away from seeing yourself as a stopping place within the whole, where energy aggregates into the illusion of a temporal “me”. Instead, you cultivate the awareness of being an interconnected part that infinitely flows and is in constant co-creation within the whole.
For me, the spine is like a channel of light within my body temple. When I am in touch with it fully, it is my sword of truth. As I serve its health and luminosity, I am kept humble and honest. Within its radiant expanse, I find the gratitude that fuels my evolution and charges my spiritual practice. By developing moment to moment awareness of what I feel in my spine, I have a litmus test that turns my attention away from my ego towards serving a greater vision. It provides me with a practical, physical tool that gives me direct feedback along my path, letting me know if I am in flow within the whole and vice versa. This experience, instrumental in my spinal healing, has been so profound and so tangible in all aspects of my life, that I deeply hope the joy I have found in the experience will spark and cultivate the light in your spine.
The Wave in the Spine
There is a force that eternally pulsates through all things in creation. The pulse may vary in frequency, from the waves of your breath to the waves of the ocean, from the rhythm of photosynthesis in every leaf to the powerful pull and radiance of quasars across the galaxy. The force is symphonic and multidimensional.
If you pause, close your eyes and observe your breath, you realize that you are not the one “doing” your breathing. A powerful, deeply relaxed force arises to make the breath happen. You are being breathed. It is a force of which you are not consciously in charge. You were born with a body that knew how to breathe. Its very cells were knitted together in the womb, fed by the pulse of life in the umbilical cord, according to a soul blueprint for a breathing, interconnected body-being. Your breath happens automatically but unconsciously until you awaken to it and then, in awe, merge with that force. This is spiritual awakening. This is the process of yoga.
The pulse of life in all things sends a constant wave of energy through the spine. This wave exists within us all, at every given moment. Yet, most of us are habituated into not listening to — or more accurately, we suppress it. We identify with our habits and the karmas we carry from previous births. As a result, we hold tension in our tissue, electrical and nervous systems, which in turn create the trajectory of our lives.
As newborns, our body-beings are highly receptive to growth. We breathe with life in greater co-creative fluidity. As we age, we tend to become more set and fixated. Attached to our lives being a certain way, we resist the flow of life. Through this resistance comes physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual rigidity. This tension in turn can lead to unhappiness and ill health.
At a physical level, your resistance to the flow of life can affect the springiness and suppleness of your spinal discs that provide essential cushioning between your vertebrae. Over time, the spine becomes compressed by the weight of this constrictive energy and spinal issues occur.
YEM cultivates awareness of life force energy, how it continually flows through you, and how you are a part of it in every moment. With that understanding, you can experience greater flow in areas of your internal and external life that were compressed, and a return to more rooted, vital expansion.
The foundation of YEM is acceptance of this moment as it is. For example, if you have compression in your spinal discs, trying to “get” them to shift or expand is only putting more pressure on yourself and inflicting your will on the fullness of the moment. Trying to manipulate the moment to fit your idea of happiness will not lead to lasting joy. Instead, when you accept that this moment is the summation of your past, and full of possibilities that can radically transform your future, you soften to what is. You become more aware of your state of inherent interconnection. Then you gain access to the life-force energy flowing through everything. In this, yoga can occur. Yoga is the experience of the grace of interconnection.
I explore the YEM wave rhythm at length in various Parvati Magazine articles. If you have yet to enjoy this free, monthly on-line holistic living magazine, give yourself (and your friends!) the gift of doing so! Here is a list of some of the links to the various yoga wave exercises. I recommend that you start all exercises with Savasana as a way to ground and centre your practice
Follow the Wave In Your Spine
Lengthening the Spine
This simple and safe exercise, The Breathing Wave, is the next in the series. It will deepen your awareness of this amazing wave-like energy that exists in your spine. It will show you how this energy is connected to and informed by your breath.
Find a quiet and relaxed environment where you can lie on the floor. Use a towel or yoga mat if you like.
Begin with Savasana, a full body relaxation, bringing your breath awareness from the crown of your head through your body and down into your toes. Feel your whole body breathing.
Then, when you feel centered, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Your arms are alongside your body, palms open to the ceiling, chin slightly tucked in to keep your neck long and relaxed.
Feel your belly rise when you inhale, and descend when you exhale. If you are unsure whether your tummy is moving this way, place your hand on it to check.
Inhale, feel your belly rise, and allow your tailbone to tilt slightly towards the floor, creating a slight, but not forced, arch in your lower back.
Exhale, allow your belly to descend, letting your tailbone tilt towards the ceiling, so that your lower back gently presses into the floor.
As you inhale, draw in life force through your crown, as though you have a whale spout, and down your spine, which is like a tube of breath.
As you exhale, sense your tailbone tilt towards the ceiling, as though it floated towards the sky. Feel the energy travel down your legs towards your feet, that are like tubes of breath.
As you inhale, the tailbone tilts back to the floor. The inhale is effortless. Your tummy is like a balloon that naturally fills with air.
With practice, the tailbone will naturally and effortlessly float up off the ground at the end of the exhale. A wave like flow will roll through your spine so that your lower back will begin to roll up off the floor on the exhale, the tailbone continuing to float towards the sky.
With deeper practice, this breath/energy exercise will guide your body effortlessly into bridge pose, without pushing or will. Just like the ocean has varied waves, each breath is unique. Your breath and this wave will guide you to where you need to be.
When you have had enough, bring your breathing back to what feels more normal for you. Take a few more long breaths and roll over onto your right side, before you press yourself up into sitting.
This is the exercise that follows The Breathing Wave above, should you wish to explore more wave exercises:
Discovering the Wave Body
There will also be many more exercises like these in my upcoming YEM DVD 1 and 2, to be released soon!
Until next time, remember,
Love our world.
We are one Earth family.
PS: The August issue of Parvati Magazine goes live this week on July 17th exploring the theme of Vibrancy. Please enjoy the wonderful articles and exclusive interviews with luminaries such as Deepak Chopra, curated by our all-volunteer editorial team!