By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati
My first yoga teacher told me, “Every pose is for your spine.” I didn’t understand, but I loved her classes. I even started doing some poses at home. After 2 or 3 months of taking her weekly classes, she told me I was ready to teach. Really? I was amazed! This was 1976. The pathway to becoming a yoga teacher was not clearly defined.
I didn’t feel ready to teach, so I signed up for a local teacher training program. It met 2 hours a week for 12 weeks. The teacher was another wonderful yogini, who said, “Every pose is for your spine.” She didn’t teach any anatomy, so I didn’t really understand where my spine was or how it was structured, much less how the poses were affecting it. I began teaching, so I repeated what she said to my own students, like a parrot. And I knew that I didn’t know.
Then I took another teacher training. This one was in an Ashram, still in the USA. The team of teachers took turns parroting the familiar phrase. It never occurred to me to ask them about it. But it certainly got my attention. Mainly it made me feel stupid and inadequate because I didn’t understand what it meant. Fortunately, by then I’d received Shaktipat from my Guru, so spontaneous yoga poses were moving me through a process every morning in meditation. I was finding my spine, learning the anatomy from the inside out.
Then I took a teacher training in India. The morning classes were outside on a cement slab from 4:30-5:30 am, with a final Shavasana during the sunrise. Ecstatic! And cold. When the sun comes up, it generates a breeze. On the cement slab, with a thin film of sweat coating my skin, that breeze was frigid. So I learned how to relax into cold. This wonderful teacher also repeated that every pose was for the spine, but gave no more information than my previous teachers.
I took another teacher training, in the USA. Well, I began taking another teacher training. They said, “Every pose is for the spine.” By then, I’d learned to ask questions. When I asked how the different poses were for the spine, they couldn’t explain it. I realized that I knew more than the trainers knew, wonderful people that they were. After a few weeks, I left the training and asked my Guru for blessings to train teachers. I’ve been focusing on training teachers ever since, over 30 years now.
In every pose, I tell you what part of the spine is being targeted and how it’s being affected. I name the muscles involved. I can also see what you’re doing to your spine, too often tightening and compressing it when you should be getting a lift and opening. I realign your body so you’ll get the spinal release that every pose is intended to provide. In every teacher training handout, I detail the spinal effects for every pose. And I tell you, “Every pose is for your spine.” Except I know what each pose is doing – and why.
When you get the spinal release that the poses are supposed to provide, you experience the mystical reality of your own Divinity. Beginning by lengthening your tailbone, then targeting each spinal area in turn, the lift and opening from tail-to-top shows you who you really are. Yoga is a mystical science. It uses your body to provide the mystical experiences promised by the sages, again and again, over thousands of years. Yoga uses body, breath, mind, emotions, words, study, music, worship and mundane daily activities to open the doorway inside. It’s a comprehensive science of mystical dimensions. It all begins with your mystical spine.
Join Swami Nirmalananda for her workshop, “The Mystical Spine” on March 25 at Philly Namas Day.