“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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Guru Purnima is a widely celebrated holiday that falls each summer on the full moon day in June or July. This year, it was celebrated on July 19th. It is a holiday that celebrates and honors the Guru. The Sanskrit word Guru is often equated with “teacher,” however it's literal translation is “dispeller of darkness.” The Guru is one who dispels darkness by shining her light; she dispels ignorance by shedding knowledge; she dispels fear by revealing truth. She awakens us from illusion (Maya) so that we may come to know the light that exists within us.
So, yes, Guru is a teacher; she is a teacher in the deepest, most time-honored sense of the word.
Guru is that teacher who inspires us to live from our soul’s calling. She’s the one who helps us break through all the protective, defensive layers that cover our heart so that we may truly see the love within. She’s the one who teaches us that love is not meant to remain hidden, but is the ultimate reality, the sole truth that has the power to change our entire experience of the material world. The Guru is not to be worshipped or idolized; rather, respected and honored with gratitude for helping us to see the light within ourselves. Guru Purnima, then, is a day to express our sincere gratitude and reverence.
Traditionally, a person has only one Guru in a lifetime. It may take many years and much tapas (practice of austerities) for the Guru to be revealed to a person. Although I do not follow a Guru in the traditional sense, there are so many people over the course of my lifetime from whom I have learned deep truths, and so in this way have served as Gurus to me. For example, through my family, I have learned about unconditional love. They have taught me to follow my dreams, to always listen to my inner voice, and that God’s love is ever-present. Through my dearest friendships, I have learned about how people who were once strangers can form a bond as close as family; I have learned about vulnerability, generosity, and companionship. Through my most challenging relationships, I have learned the valuable lessons of forgiveness and self-care.
So, even if you don’t have a dedicated Guru, can you think of someone in your life who inspires you to be the best version of yourself? If so, consider expressing your gratitude to this person for sharing their light with you, if not aloud then at least within the depths of your heart. Then, know this truth – the light that you see in your Guru is simply a reflection of the same light that exists within yourself. Take time to honor the light within your own heart center; bow to that light and acknowledge its luminescent presence. And then, perhaps as the deepest expression of gratitude and reverence, allow your light to shine onto others. How? Simply by remaining true to yourself; by moving throughout your day with an awareness that the light within your Guru is the same light within you and is the same light in each person you encounter, from the stranger you pass on the street to your neighbor to your co-worker to your dearest friends. Just as the sun shines on the earth, allow your inner light and beauty to shine.
The light within me honors that same light within you - Namaste!