At one time or another, the misery of lower back pain is felt by everyone, which is no surprise. Our upright spine is as unique to being human as having an opposable thumb. But where anyone can see that using our hands involves every aspect of life, we don’t say the same about our backs. But it’s just as true.
The finger of God in the Michelangelo painting is touching Adam’s physical form. The finger is representing the spinal cord that is bringing the electricity, messengers, angelic, neurochemicals, and God-impulses to our physical body, the temple of God!
The spine is the axis of our being. The embryo in the womb first creates the central spinal axis and then the body grows around this axis, the axis of our individual world. The top and bottom of the body, the two sides and the back and front of the body develop soon after. We then spend the rest of our life with our spine “behind” us. We face the world and all of life moves from back to front, from the spine into the world.
A healthy spine is an often overlooked and essential part of a healthy lifestyle. People who suffer from back pain, particularly if it is long-term, are generally less healthy than those who do not. In fact, back pain costs are staggering not only financially, but also in terms of lost time from work and because of psychosocial problems that arise during the healing process associated with long-term back pain.
You can read a great deal standing behind someone, reading victory or defeat, success and failure, pride or shame and every degree of self-esteem. More hidden are the stresses that shape the back. On the day that you feel that first twinge of back pain, an entire personal history has already unfolded.
If we stop and think about it most (if not all) of our daily movements are limited to moving forward. Rarely do we spend time defying gravity by moving upside-down, backward or sideways. It just feels natural to bend forward. It’s also the obvious thing to do when picking something off the floor. However, backbends offer an exciting way to move the spine. This creates better balance between our normal activities and breaks-up the rigidity of the spine.
The spine, also know as the spinal column, the vertebral column and the backbone, is often used to describe the most important part of an entity, and for good reason: it’s this S-curved structure around which our ability to walk, run, and sleep is hinged. Our arms, legs, chest, and head all attach to the spine.
And the spine affects and is affected by every movement we make.
No back problem can be isolated from how the rest of our body functions. Because of this interdependence, only by understanding the whole body and how movements affect the spine can we approach back problems.
The spine is the major factor in all movements of the body. It provides balance to the skeletal frame, absorbs jolts and shocks, allows is to move, bend and twist, all the while protecting the spinal cord and spinal nerves.
The spinal column combines strong bones, unique joints, flexible ligaments and tendons, large muscles and highly sensitive nerves. While many of us take the benefits of a healthy spine for granted, spinal pain is a sharp reminder of how much we depend on our back in daily life.
Spinal anatomy is truly unique in its form and function. It is designed to be incredibly strong, protecting the highly sensitive nerve roots, yet highly flexible, providing for mobility on many different planes.
In animals, body weight is distributed evenly on all four legs; dinosaurs or dog, the spine lies in a horizontal position. Animals may be afflicted with their own sets of problems, but back pain usually isn’t among them.
In human beings, however, the spine is held in a vertical position. Walking upright may have freed our ancestors to engage in a myriad of civilized activities, from sipping tea to carrying a bag of groceries, but it literally created a pain in our backs.
Walking on two legs places an enormous strain on our spines.
The spine extends from the base of the skull to the tailbone. The back is not made up of a single bone but is an engineering masterpiece, composed of donut-shaped bones called vertebrae. These irregular, spool-shaped structures are stacked one on top of the other. Each vertebrae is separated by a ring of shock-absorbing cartilage. These disks are what make spinal movement possible.
Your spine is divided into five sections: the cervical, the thoracic, the lumbar, the sacrum, and the coccyx. There are 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 fused sacral, and 3 to 5 fused vertebrae (together called the coccyx).
The Central Nervous System (CNS) is composed of the brain, brain stem and spinal chord. It is responsible for processing every sensation and thought you experience. The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) consists of twelve pairs of cranial nerves which emerge from the brain and 31 pairs of spinal nerves which emerge form the spinal cord.
The human spinal cord lies within the spinal cavity within the vertebrae column and is about the diameter of a human finger. It is a long, thin, tubular bundle of millions of nerve fibers that is an extension of the CNS from the brain, originating from the medulla oblongata, and is enclosed in and protected by the bony vertebral column.
The spinal cord is surrounded by a clear fluid called cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), that acts as a cushion to protect the delicate nerve tissues against damage from hitting against the inside of the vertebrae.
The main function of the spinal cord is transmission of electrical information to and from the limbs, trunk and organs of the body, back to and from the brain. It is a superhighway for messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
The importance of the spine to our health has been recognized by great men for centuries. Hippocrites, the celebrated Greek physician after who the “Hippocratic Oath” is named, recognized the importance of the spine saying: “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases.”
Another famous Greek physician, Claudius Galen, who was considered the greatest anatomist and physiologist of classical times said, “Look to the nervous system as the key to maximum health.”
Most of us take this juxtaposition of strength, structure and flexibility for granted – until something goes wrong. But, once we have neck pain or back pain, we’re driven by a need to know exactly what is wrong and what it will take to relieve the pain and prevent a recurrence.
Low back pain is a leading cause of disability. It occurs in similar proportions in all cultures, interferes with quality of life and work performance, and is the most common reason for medical consultations. Few cases of back pain are due to specific causes; most cases are non-specific. Acute back pain is the most common presentation and is usually self-limiting, lasting less than three months regardless of treatment.
Chronic back pain is a more difficult problem, which often has strong psychological overlay: work dissatisfaction, boredom, and a generous compensation system contribute to it. Among the diagnoses offered for chronic pain is fibromyalgia, an urban condition (the diagnosis is not made in rural settings) that does not differ materially from other instances of widespread chronic pain.
Although disc protrusions detected on X-ray are often blamed, they rarely are responsible for the pain, and surgery is seldom successful at alleviating it. No single treatment is superior to others; patients prefer manipulative therapy, but studies have not demonstrated that it has any superiority over others. A WHO Advisory Panel has defined common outcome measures to be used to judge the efficacy of treatments for studies.
Spinal subluxations, which interfere with the normal flow of nerve energy between the brain and the body’s tissue cells, can hamper the normal function of the glandular, eliminative, nervous, digestive, muscular and circulatory systems of the body. The primary symptoms are pain and/or disease.
The spinal canal houses the electrical element within the body, which initiates in the heart through the sacred rhythm. It is along this spinal canal that the electrical current activates the nerve endings, traverses to the brain and connects our electrical nature so that we can see, smell, hear, feel and taste. This spinal canal is vital to our sensation-gathering and experience-gathering sojourn here on earth.
Even if every nerve in your chest were disconnected, your heart would continue to beat. This is because a small node of heart muscle rhythmically contracts and relaxes on its own, setting the pace for your heartbeat.
This natural pacemaker is called the “sinoatrial node.”
While this “natural pacemaker” keeps your heart consistently working, nerves that accelerate and decelerate the heart (your sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves) can affect your sinoatrial node and affect your heartbeat.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves are located in your thoracic and upper cervical spine, respectively.
When the spine loses its viscosity, the body loses energy, causing us to feel fatigued and lethargic. With time, we begin to resign to such states resulting in laziness. This is the manifestation of an unhealthy body and mind and is arguably the biggest disease inflicting humans.
Physical exercises supported with proper breathing techniques help the body remain active, and the mind at ease.
Remember your body is as young as it is flexible.
By maintaining the spine’s flexibility, circulation is increased and the nerves get the appropriate supply of nutrients and oxygen.
Complex patterns of nerves and chemicals in the brain and in the spine, create the physical basis for the chakras to express themselves into the world.
When they are not balanced we suffer.
From the spiritual perspective the spine is the biggest vertical carrier of the voltage of life within the human body system. It is closely associated with our entire physical and mental bodies and marks the inner connection with our higher nature.
This ladder of bones played a most important part in the religious symbolism of the ancients, where it is often referred to as a winding road or stairway, sometimes as a serpent, and again as a wand or scepter.
The serpent wound around the tree that talks with Eve in Genesis references this process of spiritual illumination. The ancient caduceus symbol of Hermes/Mercury/Thoth, now used by the western pharmaceutical industry, also symbolizes this process. Two intertwining snakes (which look exactly like our 33 sequence double-helix DNA) climb a straight, vertical pole (which looks like our 33 vertebrae spine) and end at the “circle of light” crown chakra which has sprouted wings.
Many scholars have long seen the correlation with what the East calls, chi, kundalini or prana, and the Holy Spirit. Chi, kundalini, or prana are all words for the subtle energies in the body, and are all seen as manifestations of the Goddess (or Divine Mother).
The Holy Spirit is the subtle force that connects us to the universe and gives us life, which is the definition of Chi, kundalini or prana (along with other terms). When we say that the union of Shiva (Divine Father) and Shakti (Divine Mother) is the whole of creation, we are also saying that the union of the Father and Holy Spirit is the whole of God…
Thus, we have a working cosmology that both Eastern and Western religious traditions agree on.
Almost all religions or spiritual traditions speak of this Inner Power in some form or other. Although the names used to describe it may be different and, although the symbols used to invoke it vary somewhat from culture to culture, the experience of one’s “Intrinsic Life-Force” or Holy Spirit is a Universal phenomenon which has been experienced in all places and at all times from the most ancient Dream Time symbol of the Rainbow Serpent.
The djed (pron.: /dʒɛd/ in English) symbol is one of the more ancient and commonly found symbols in Egyptian mythology. It is a pillar-like symbol in hieroglyphics representing stability. It is associated with Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife, the underworld, and the dead. It is commonly understood to represent his spine.
Traditionally, the knowledge of this inner energy has been a closely guarded secret, revealed by the Master to only a few close and select initiates. It tends to be spoken of in veiled symbolic language, if it is spoken of at all. The Hindus call it Kundalini. The Japanese call it “ki”, the Chinese “chi” and in Christianity, it is known as “The Holy Spirit”. In Mexico, what Christians term The Holy Spirit was worshiped as the serpent-god “Quetzalcoatl”; the Kung people of the Kalahari called this same power “n/um”.
The American Indians know all about the energy that is awakened at the base of the spine and rises to the top of the head, but it is regarded as so sacred that they are forbidden even to pronounce its name.
In the West, the knowledge of this Holy Spirit or Divine Energy of Liberation has been transmitted by the esotericor mystical branches of all of the great religious traditions. It is present in the mystery religions of ancient Egypt; in theteachings of both the Gnostic and Neoplatonic traditions; in the Cabalistic traditions of Judaism and in the personal testamentsof great Christian mystics like St. Teresa, John of the Cross and St. Augustine. In Islam, the true nature of the Divine Feminine is revealed in the mysteries of Sufism.
‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21).
The transformation from matter, or darkness, to light and “spirit” is universally acknowledged as the task of the Holy Spirit, Kundalini, the Divine Consciousness or Whole-E “Serpent Power” – the Essence of the Tree of Life that resides within us.
The strength of the Inner Holy Spirit Energy of Wholeness – the “Whole-E Spirit” is what allows us to expand infinitely so that we can see the whole Universe within our own Self. Then, we no longer remain a limited, bound creature as we achieve total union with Universal Consciousness, to stand self reliant unshakeable and inviolate in the innocence of our integrity.
The Holy Spirit, “Inner Whole-E Spirit” is there to nourish, to heal and look after and to give an individual a higher and deeper individuality. The manifested power is absolute purity, auspiciousness, chastity, self respect, pure love, detachment, concern for others and enlightened attention to give infinite joy and peace to an individual.
In acute fear or trauma and life patterns shaped by insecurity, sadness and low self esteem, this part of the body tends to collapse in, which makes a backbending practice essential to the healing process.
However, it is an over-simplification to think that heart opening is the only aspect at play in the backbend. Symbolically and practically back bending and heart opening require the participation of the entire physical and energetic body.
Backbends are often called heart openers, which is true, insofar as they open (with differing levels of intensity) the front surface of the body and chest.
Back bends encourage a deep opening in our hearts and the associated subtle energy or chakra center, called “Anahata Chakra”. Anahata Chakra- which is a vortex of subtle energy channels – is connected with the thoughts and emotions of love, hate, jealousy, devotion, intimate relationships, the ability to love, forgive, respect each other, and ultimately, the degree to which we love and accept ourselves.
When we try to protect ourselves and hide our emotions, we often hunch our shoulders forward, con caving our backs inward in a symbolic gesture of closing off or keeping hidden how we feel and what we think. This curving of the back and hunching of the shoulders not only produce stress and tension in the body physically, but compromises our breathing, and subsequently our nervous and digestive systems.
With the breath compromised in both a prolonged exhale, as well as breath retention- as is the case with this particular holding pattern in the body- the feelings of sadness, depression or lethargy are more likely to develop. You might like to take a moment now, to experiment and reenact what it feels like to be sad or depressed, in order to see just how your body and mind responds to these particular states. We often find ourselves spending more time exhaling and pausing in between breaths (breath retention), with the exhale ultimately representing death and the pauses our true nature.
Thus, sadness or depression brings us into a place of feeling hopeless, without purpose or intention, and feeling less than or not good enough, which weakens our will to live fully. The pauses or breath retention gives us an opportunity to reflect or pause at our current state, and to witness its impact on our lives. During this process our digestion is weakened, giving rise to a plethora of potential physical problems, and our nervous system may be fraught with anxiety and irritation. This viscous cycle continues to reinforce itself until changes are made within.
If we do not heed the warnings of our body, subtle symptoms that begin slowly and gradually get louder and more severe until we are diagnosed with a disease.
Fear is ruling our body rather than Love. Survival is taking all the energy that could be used by the higher mind to create novel solutions to the world’s problems, peace, joy, love and harmony on the earth.
Ironically, when most people experience back pain or discomfort their first reaction is to bend forward, not knowing it is the cause of their discomfort. In reality back-bending is what is needed to counter-act the impact of continuous forward bending. This impulse is not easy to unlearn.
It is important to recognize that back-bending is a natural range of motion for the spine. “Think of monkeys or children climbing in a tree who reach backward for a branch, the spine bends backward,” says Jeff Weisman a Toronto based Bikram Yoga teacher and Hellerworker.
As you bend backwards you compress the posterior part of your spinal column, pushing your disks away from the spinal nerves and decompress the front of the vertebrae. This effectively counteracts the damage of hours spent forward bending.
Backbending is a specialized practice that focuses on lengthening and opening the spine in backward and forward movements, as well as laterally (sideways). There are many physical benefits such as flexibility, strength and balance. However, the true practice goes beyond the body and opens the mind. The practice creates a deep heat and boosts one’s energy by releasing endorphins (natural pain-killers). It is suitable for anyone to practice and at any level (just not the faint of heart).
Bending backwards turns the body out to face the world, often from a different perspective.
Beyond the physical flexibility and strength that back bending develops, one of the deepest benefits is the way they challenge us to accept our limitations. Our ‘preconceived’ limitations are considered building blocks to deeper growth beyond the superficial benefits of good health and a strong body, but to an open heart and mind.
The brain and spinal cord run, coordinate, control, harmonize and govern every aspect of your health and your existence. God put the most amazing healing power in the brain and spinal cord. This power is what runs your body and heals your body.
Without a proper functioning nerve system, you CANNOT be well. In order for you to be well, the brain must be able to communicate with the body and its organs through the spinal cord, which is housed by your spine. If you want to be well, you need to keep your nerve system well.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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