The spine is a powerful and central part of our skeleton. As we know it, the spine consists of bony components that provide a solid, protective mechanism for important neurological structures that both travel within the spine and exit out of it segmentally. The spine also provides mobility due to the discs allowing flexibility between each bony segment. The muscle structures surrounding the spine provide both the ability to stabilize and mobilize. The spine is the core skeletal structure that provides protection and space for important organs.
In other parts of the world, there are the beliefs that the spine is much more than bony and neurological components. The art and practice of yoga in the US is relatively new. There were minimal to no studios in the 1970’s despite demand for more. Many people went to India and learned the concepts of yoga and meditation. They returned to the states and catalyzed the growth over the past 30 years.
In yoga teachings, which date back to 5th and 6th centuries BC, the spine is the center of energy forces. The spine is the most important part of the body to maintain and nourish. When doing meditations, it has always been taught that good posture was necessary to allow proper flow of energy along the spine. To achieve the strength to practice meditation or mindfulness for extended periods of time, asanas (postures) were developed by yogis to improve overall strength and mobility of the spine. Some asanas focus on mobility to allow greater flow of energy through the spine. Twisting postures “wring out” the spine and cleanse it of stagnant energy. The strengthening asanas develop the ability to hold postures for extended periods of time.
Yogis also enhance the flow of energy through Prana Yama (energy breath). The breath helps circulate the energy through the spine and the body. Without breath there is no life. Yogis have many different breathing techniques some that focus on energy stimulation to increase the Kundalini (energy) and others that calm the system and decrease stress and anxiety. The yogis learned how to self regulate their energies through breathing.
Currently, science is just starting to understand the ideas and philosophy of yoga. Over the years, there has been a continuous focus on proper posture and mechanics in the US. We have ergonomic chairs, assistive devices and gadgets that help us achieve the goal of having a straight spine. The same focus that yoga has had for centuries but has achieved with practice and a different belief system of why proper posture is important.
Current research is focused on neuroplasticity and the ability of mindfulness to literally change the person’s brain function. We are now seeing a whole new array of gadgets and programs that help us with mindfulness and improving our brain. This is the primary focus of the art of yoga. While doing the postures you are being very mindful of positions and alignments of the body. While in meditation, there is an ability to control the mind and calm the system. Both of which take a lot of work and practice. Yoga is not just an exercise that gets you feeling good and moving better, it is a way of living. I encourage you to start looking into the practice of yoga and experience some of the greatest discoveries in neuroscience that have been there all along. We are just looking in the wrong places.
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About the Author
Rajesh is a Physical Therapist, who is passionate about health and wellness. He is interested in all aspects of general well being including fitness, nutrition and mindfulness. He continues to learn and grow from the profession he loves.
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