It’s all about the spine.

“A fundamental aspect of yoga is the awakening of the spine’s ability to undulate and twist” Jonathon Davis, Neuroscience and the True Purpose of Yoga on Uplift Connect.

Yes. It ALL comes back to the SPINE. (Well, and the breath, but in terms of body movement in a yoga class, the spine is the area which needs primary attention).

I’m actually writing this (hopefully brief) post following some research on teaching the older population. I originally wanted to share an article that lists the most important aspects for seniors in a yoga class, number one being – yes, naturellement – mobilising that spine, but then I remembered the one by Jonathon Davis and saw a connection…

The spine, home of our nervous system, the most essential structure in our body, elevating our internal organs. Where would we be without it? We can handle the loss of a sense, the loss of a limb, but the loss of the whole spine?? How would we breathe? How would our head stay upright? What would support our heart? In fact writing this lead me to wonder whether human beings are ever in fact born literally spineless, and of course, that drew me to spina bifida (although even that terrifying condition is ‘just’ spinal defect, not total absence of)…

So in yoga we maximise the movement of the spine in all directions, helping facilitate our best overall health by building a strong and reflexive nervous system and minimising the experience of pain.

Going back to Jonathon Davis’ article, his main point is that yoga facilitates greater empathy by the development of mirror neurons… (mirror neurons?) Put simply – thanks to yoga and the building of neural pathways – the more we viscerally ‘feel’ our lives through a greater connection between our body and mind the greater we are able to understand how another person feels, when we observe and notice the way their body and mind expresses itself.

“When we sit in a chair at school or in an office all day, every day, we lose flexibility and awareness in our spine as well as the majority of our body. On the other hand, when we do a practice like yoga, we increase the amount of neurological detail in our body maps and our nervous system. We can feel more subtle detail within ourselves. Because there is a larger volume of wiring that has been built up in our nervous system, so we can feel more information. This also means that as we increase the volume of neuronal detail in our bodymaps, the 15% that behave as mirror neurons increase and 15% of a larger volume of neurons is a larger 15%. By feeling more detail within ourselves we increase our ability to feel empathy for others.”

Do read the full article!

Now I’m not saying I want older people to move their spines primarily so they can experience greater empathy (although its a great side benefit for sure). I made the connection because the spine and our nervous system are parts of the human anatomy that truly fascinate me, and there are countless reasons why moving the spine is a number one priority in yoga.

So, all this now brings me to the original article I wanted to share, “What do seniors need in a yoga class?” by Olga Kabel on Sequence Wiz.

“… maintaining the mobility of the spine is fundamental to any well-rounded yoga practice and becomes even more important as we get older. Joseph Pilates said: “You are only as old as your spine is flexible.” According to the yoga tradition, the spine is both the structural and energetic center of the body and we need to take great care of it. Since your spine is capable of moving in 5 different directions – forward, backwards, sideways, slightly upwards and rotate – a balanced yoga practice needs to have some combination of forward bending, back bending, lateral bending, axial extension and twisting. You don’t have to pile them all into one class, but we need to make sure that we don’t neglect either one of those.

Therefore, the primary need for most senior students will be maintaining the mobility of the spine.”

So if you were ever wondering why cat-cow is such a relentless warm up pose, now you know :)

My next post will cover more about the spine, I have revved my own interest – and hopefully yours!

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