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A healthy spine is undoubtedly the center point in the physical aspect of a fluid yoga practice. From a chiropractic perspective, the spine is like a musical instrument. When kept in fine-tuned condition, this basic instrument of the human experience can orchestrate a pleasurable, balanced and sweetly toned symphony.
At a recent performance, sitar virtuoso Nishat Khan related the story of a performance where he paused for a moment before playing a raga. The audience automatically burst into applause. He said he was merely tuning his sitar—a complicated guitar-like instrument. However, his audience thought he had just completed a song. He went on to tell us that it takes several minutes to tune his sitar in between songs because it is an extremely complex instrument containing several parts and four joints. As a result, he must tune it after every song.
Being a chiropractor, I immediately thought of the spine—the central and very complex human instrument consisting of 24 spinal bones, 23 discs and 134 joints. The spine makes up nature’s most powerful and intricate architectural masterpiece. I thought about how this channel, or conduit, of our prana also needs constant attention and fine tuning to allow life force to flow through it. The state of the spine determines the state of vibration, or music, of its owner.
Although the spine is built for protection, flexibility, locomotion and respiration, it is also the means for achieving heightened conscious states of being—a means to tap into the inside—through a fortress of light. This light, or life force (also called prana, or chi), uses the nervous system to transmit life to every cell in the body. The nervous system consists of 72,000 nerve channels with the most essential—the spinal cord, or shusumna nadi—flowing down the middle. The spine is the medium to contact the central nervous system, and any dysfunction of the spine will lead to distortion of it. This distortion in the physical system creates a situation where the body is unable to integrate the experience. It creates tension and the music begins to play out of key.
That is why spinal hygiene is so vital for the yoga practitioner. There are plenty of opportunities for our spine to misalign and go out of key simply from our daily use of it, thus the innate need to tune it, realign it and recalibrate it.
The concept of yogic spinal hygiene is similar to dental hygiene. Consider the analogy of forcing a backbend in a yoga class. That forced backbend to your spine is what biting down on hard candy is to your teeth. As routine dental care preserves the teeth for healthy ongoing use, in delicately bending the spine forward and backward, side to side and then twisting to each side.