The Most Important Stretch in Kundalini Yoga
When we talk about yoga and postures and stretching and flexibility, most people focus on the wrong things – like their hips, their shoulders, or their hamstrings. And indeed the yoga postures that people work the hardest to perfect are often all about major muscles and joints.
Yet the yogis have said that the age of a person is measured not by number of years but by the flexibility of the spine. Almost the entire physical practice of yoga is about preparing the spine for the advanced practices to come.
Most people who practice yoga do not understand this, and even fewer realize the hidden secret of yoga that is contained within the spine. And when you do discover this secret, you can master all that yoga has to offer.
To appreciate the importance of the spine in yoga practice, understand that all movement is initiated and integrated through the spinal field. All the nerves ultimately connect back to the spine. All the organs are affected by the health of the spine. Even our emotional states are associated and located in different areas of the spine.
This is why in Kundalini Yoga we place a huge emphasis on moving the spine in our basic spinal flex exercises.
Associated with the physical spine is the energetic channel in yoga known as the sushmana that moves the psychic energy, the prana, through the chakra system. The spine, or the energy channel of the sushmana, must be vertical to the horizontal plane of the earth for the energy in the body to move upward through the chakras and awaken the consciousness that is the union of yoga.
This is why we can only meditate or practice pranayama and mantra while sitting upright with a “straight” spine and not while lying down. This why as humans we move and sit with vertical spines as opposed to nearly all the other creatures who live most of their lives with their spines horizontal. And although contrary to the recent surge in popularity of “Doga” – yoga for your dog – only humans with their vertically enhanced spines have the innate capacity to achieve success in yoga. Sorry, Fido.
The secret within the secret of the spine in yoga is this. When we think of moving the spine, we tend to primarily focus on bending the spine forward and bending backwards. Indeed, the majority of yoga postures are forward bends and backbends. The other way we typically move the spine in both life and yoga is side to side, left to right, as represented by the twisting postures. So for most of us as yoga practitioners, we are locked into a four-dimensional relationship with our spine: We bend forwards, backwards, right and left.
The most important movement of the spine, however, from a yogic perspective is to move the spine up and down. This happens rarely – generally if we raise our arms over our head we sometimes initiate this up and down movement of the spine.
Why is this up and down movement of the spine vital to success in yoga? Because it allows for vital life force energy of the body and the Kundalini energy of awareness to move upward and downward through the chakra centers and awaken you to your true self.
If that esoteric revelation does not float your boat, then simply consider that the up and down movement within the spine relieves the continual compression on the vertebrae discs created by gravity on a vertically held spine and thereby keep your nervous system and organs healthier.
While you can and should tune in to the upward and downward dimension of your spinal movements during your asana practice, perhaps the best way to practice and benefit from the up and down spinal movement is during the seated yoga postures.
In Kundalini Yoga, the practice of Sat Kriya is important in this regard in that it focuses on the elongation of the spine with the arms over the head and the very gentle and subtle upward movement in the spine as we lightly pull and release the navel point with the mantra SAT NAM.
As you advance in your yoga practice, as you incorporate more and more meditation, mantra, and pranayama practices, you will spend more and more of your time in seated postures. Indeed the yogis of lore spent the majority of both their awakening and sleeping moments in seated yoga postures, with the spine held in conscious vertical alignment with the earth.
In the seated postures, begin to explore the movement in the body that occurs with the breath. As you breathe in, the spine naturally elongates and lengthens as the crown of the head experiences a supported lift with the incoming breath. As you breathe out, the spine naturally descends and sinks toward the earth. Feel, explore, and support this natural ascending and descending movement of the spine with your breath. Allow the space within the spine to expand vertically. Connect with movement toward heaven and earth, from crown to tailbone.
To exaggerate this sensation, raise the arms over the head and bring the palms of the hands together. Imperceptibly lift upward on your inhale, release downward on the exhale. Experience the elongation and the closure. After a few minutes, relax the arms and continue the connection with the breath and movement.
Simply by creating and working with this consciousness of the upward and downward movement energy of the spine will support you greatly in all of your yoga practices, from asanas to pranayama to meditation.
And this is the secret of the spine that unlocks the energy of awareness that ultimately transforms the consciousness of the yoga practitioner.