“Shape clay into a vessel; it is the space within that makes it useful.” -Tao Te Ching
The spine is an amazing anatomical structure. It is quite literally the backbone of the body, providing the basic structure and support for the physical body. It holds space for the spinal cord, which is the vital collection of nerves that relays messages for sensation and movement throughout the body. Structurally, the spine is comprised of vertebrae (bony structures) that are supported by intervertebral discs (soft, spongy cushion-like discs). The vertebrae are shaped to allow for the passage of the spinal cord, which is bathed in cerebrospinal fluid. When the spine is appropriately aligned, greater space is available for all of the internal organs in the anterior section of the trunk. When the spine is compressed or out of its natural alignment, the space within the trunk is also reduced; that is to say the space from the base of the head all the way down to the excretory organs. If you think about it, there is a lot that goes on in that space! This region of the body contains many of the major organs including the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, and kidneys. So, when the spine is compressed, which can occur by the sheer effects of gravity and posture, then room for these vital organs is also decreased.
As a yoga teacher, I often give the cue to lengthen the spine. This is a valuable cue because when we take our awareness to lengthening the spine, we allow for greater space between the vertebrae by relieving pressure on the intervertebral discs. We also allow for greater space within our torso for our internal organs to function optimally. Our lungs have more room to expand fully and breathe deeply. With elongation of the thoracic spine (upper back), we allow ourselves to open into our heart center. When we lengthen through our thoracic and lumbar regions (mid-lower back), we create greater space for digestion of food and also for the “digestion” of our life experiences.
Yoga brings greater length and flexibility to the spine in the following ways:
In addition to the numerous physical benefits of maintaining spinal wellness, yoga describes that the major energetic channel within the body runs along the spine. This channel is called Sushumna nadi. It is a powerful pranic energy that runs from the base of the spine all the way up to the crown of the head. Through our yoga practices, we aim to awaken this dormant energy channel. In order to awaken and allow for the smooth flow of this energy, the spine itself must be naturally aligned with strength, flexibility, and lubrication, which occurs through the consistent practice of yoga asana.
So, the next time you are given the cue to lengthen your spine in yoga class, consider this idea of creating space within the physical and energetic bodies. When we find space within the body, we also find greater space within our life. Space for what? New beginnings, clarity, fresh experiences, insight, love, and light.
Namaste, my dear friends!
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