In yoga, the spinal column is referred to as Brahma Danda, which literally means "the walking stick of God." This should give us an indication of the importance that the yogis attributed to this part of the body. A healthy, strong spine is literally the 'backbone' of good health.
So spinal health is one of the most important things we focus on in yoga. But it's not only about making your back feel better ...
The spine is seen as a vehicle through which the power of the Universe manifests in human form. It's also through sushumna nadi, the central channel within the spinal column, that the mysterious and powerful kundalini force rises from its dormant state at the base of the spine towards the Brahmarandhra, or psychic aperture at the crown of the head.
That's why, in meditation, it's important to sit with your spine vertical and straight. Originally, the asanas (or poses) were invented primarily to prepare the yogi to sit comfortably with a straight spine.
Yoga has now infiltrated the masses, and the average person today has a terribly inflexible spine. So the recurring theme throughout today’s yoga practices still revolves around the health, strength and flexibility of the spine. We simply cannot have good health without a healthy spine.
Thankfully, yoga is a perfect conditioner of the spine and an ideal preventative medicine.
Backache Causes and Cure
There are many causes of back pain: muscular tension, a herniated inter-vertebral disc, inflammation of muscles and/or joints, abnormal curvature, unnatural fusion of bones, degeneration of bony tissue or even growths. Improper use of yoga exercises could do more harm than good for some back conditions, so if you suspect that you back pain stems from more than just a little stress and tension, it's important to seek medical consultation to discern the exact nature of your back pain before doing yoga.
Typical causes of back pain are:
1. Chair sitting - The 'unnatural' chair-sitting position has become the principle asana (position) of modern man.
2. Poor Posture - The number one contributing factor to back problems is poor posture.
Metal stress and anxiety, repetitive mechanical stresses (i.e., sports, physical work, etc), and injury also play important contributing roles.
Overcoming back pain is crucial for continued progression in yoga because the concentrations and meditations of 'inner yoga' (antaranga), or the higher aspects of raja yoga, require the ability to sit comfortably with a straight spine for long periods of time.
Better Posture for Better Health
Good posture is the hallmark of good health. When we stand, sit and walk 'tall', we also breathe and move with efficiency (less muscular effort). Unfortunately, poor posture is a prevalent affliction today.
Posture is primarily established throughout the growing years of childhood, and the increasingly lazy attitudes that allow children to slouch in their desks at school and slump for hours in front of the television or computer is a big part of the problem -- one that becomes difficult to remedy in adulthood.
Modern lifestyles also leave many adults working in front of computers for hours on end every day. Stress, worry, anxiety, fear, depression -- all of these are additional contributing factors towards the continuation of poor posture.
A great deal of attention is paid in yoga to overcome this problem. But to overcome poor posture -- to override the negative effects of a lifetime of dysfunction -- requires an lot of awareness. It is one thing to maintain a perfectly straight spine for 15 minutes while sitting for a meditation exercise, but another to be aware of your hunched shoulders and swayed back while you are down the street in the afternoon.
In yoga we don't just strive to perform proper movements and positions while we practice our yoga exercises, but to create good habits which we want to carry forward into every moment of our everyday lives.
In our yoga practices we work on creating conscious awareness and take those points of awareness into our daily lives so that we are able to notice when we are slouching or when there's stress, strain and unnecessary muscle tension. Then we can take steps to immediately correct these things -- to sit up straight, to stand tall, to draw the head and neck back in-line with the spine, etc.
In doing so, we slowly re-establish patterns of behaviour which will eventually restore good posture and proper body mechanics at the unconscious level. If we only have good posture for one hour a day during our hatha yoga session, and then poor posture for the next 23 hours, then we will never regain a naturally good posture.
Remember, in yoga we are not just training to be able to perform better in yoga class. We are training to perform better in life!
Pay attention to good posture and good posture will pay you back 100-fold!
Walking is an excellent way to re-establish good posture. Take a 'conscious', healthy walk outside, preferably in nature where you can breathe and benefit from the freshness of the surrounding environment. Walk with your head up, chest forward and shoulders back. Breathe deeply and move your arms and legs in unison, getting the blood pumping throughout the whole body.
Add a brisk walk of up to an hour to your daily routine, and you'll feel the difference in no time.
Yogacharya is the Director of International Yogalayam, Editor of The Yoga News, and creator of the yoga training programs at TheYogaTutor.com
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