” Keep your spine vertical and erect”,
how many times have you heard this
fundamental piece of instruction coming
from the Yoga instructor,
every time we are instructed to sit in
any of the meditative poses.
Hathayogapradipika mentions words like sthairya (firmness and steadiness),
samyak ( together in one direction, thus erect), and samum….sthanuh ( erect…. steadied)
while describing the directives for meditation and prayer postures. These terms as mentioned mean, be solidly established in the vertical, physically vertical, for the sake of the mental and spiritual order.
Bhagwat Gita and Sveta svatara upanishad also insists upon this straight and erect attitude when they use the term samam ( erect) in a similar context. Patanjali, the great sage describes it as, II, 46 sthirasukham ( stable and at ease) in his yoga sutras, 47 prayatnasaithilya ( relaxed effort or attention without tension), and 48 dvandvanabhighatha ( unassialed by the pairs of opposites; cold or heat, pleasure or pan, love or hatred).
Physical aspects – Vertical Spine for Meditation
Physiologically, such and erect attitude relieves the chest of the upwardly intruding abdominal pressure as it creates more space within the thoracic cavity. This added space also aides deeper breathing and a fuller heart beat.
The lungs can receive more of prana and increased amount of the element of akasha ( space). The erect position of the spine is meant to be mastered to the extent where it becomes completely effortless to hold it vertical, so that one can lose the awareness of the body and the senses as required to get into a meditative state.
Consciously training one’s spine to remain erect vertically most of the time has been known to keep the body and mind invigorated as against the horizontal alignment of the body in sleep, disease and death.
The erect attitude of the spine is known to be a remedy against traits like easy going, and laziness in one’s personality. Such a person wakes up to vigilance, readiness for action, and preparedness for service to others. Avoid using easy chairs as the slouch created in the spine while sitting on them can generate headaches and affects the cognitive faculties of the mind
More so, the vertical attitude of the physical body also symbolically suggests the concept of lines loins-brain, kundalini resting in the loins ( pelvic region) moving upwards for meeting the brain, mind is not brain, or the communion of the vital instinctiveness with mind and the spirit. As explained in Kundilini yoga this meeting of the kundalini energy with the mind is crucial to providing creative inspiration to the artists and the poets. Want to know about this process a bit more? Read my personal journal on how I achieved raising my Kundilini, which remains dormant at the base of the spine, towards the head.
As per scriptures the person who habituates himself to keeping the spine erect, vertical develops an aversion to earth, the earthly or material matters and interests. Such a person creates distance between himself and other persons and things: proper psychological is an indispensable condition for having objectivity in observation, assessment of facts, and right judgement.
Keeping the spine vertical helps undo the effects of the concentric curve, tendency to be self centered and selfish. The stature of the physical body so held erect benefits by lifting the self respect and the element of dignity within the individual. The body appears more dignified and the spirit residing within it radiates a typical majesty not seen in any other body in the corporeal universe.
A vertical spine imparts an upward ( urdhwa) drive to the one who takes possession of it. The upwards drive is against the forward drive, parallel to the earth, for the pleasure of eating and mating only like a beast. Holding the head upwards , not the sex organs – basal instincts- upwards like in plants with their feeding roots penetrated downwards – implies atmosphere wards, heaven wards, and hence God wards direction of the spirit.
Keeping the body aligned to its vertical axis has been found to most conducive to activities that are human : Recollection, reflection, concentration ( meditation), prayer etc. The upward line of the body is in fact built upon and maintained by gravity, that mysterious force that attracts downwards towards the center of the earth. Thus the vertical position of the body can exist only in relation to the downward pull of gravity, without which the upwards pull has no meaning and existence.
The sensation of effortlessness inside the body , as mentioned by Patanjali, can be only achieved with the spine held erect, any deviation from this entails an increase in effort to hold the body or a downfall. In nature also, and as per the yoga alignment principles, it is more easy to maintain the upright position of a bamboo, a wall, or a building which is aligned vertically to the surface of the earth, this alignment balances out the downward pull of gravity to achieve steadiness sans any effort. It is like now the gravity is carrying the body.
The soul of a vertically aligned body also feels like being carried by it. Its only in a vertical position that all the antagonistic pulls and pushes within the body comes to rest, a feeling of ease, relief, relaxation, equilibrium, tranquility of order or peace are experienced. It is only with the perfect vertical that all swinging and oscillations – doubts, hesitations – are centered.
As per a well known law of physics the pull of gravity on the vertical is strong due to its increasing nearness to the center, and not in proportion to its weight itself. Analogically also, this law hold true in the microcosm the man is and the macrocosm his spirit is a part of. His earth ward activities and his heaven ward contemplation are ultimately determined by the strength of his attraction and his nearness to the center of his self, where is present the center of the cosmos, Brahman the absolute, the focus of all attractions and centers.
The Brahman is present on the top of all verticals and at the edge of the deepest roots, its the center which holds the structure fast like linked with multiple radii or the spokes of the Brahma wheel. As per Upanishad, Gita and other scriptures the center of the human body is the heart, the guha, the hidden cavities in the innermost part of the heart. Thus the way up to the head, self or others, originates down in the heart.
One must strive to hold the spine nearest possible to vertical while standing – correct standing posture – walking, sitting, meditating, or praying.
Conclusion: Keeping the vertical spine for meditation, or while doing anything else helps my helping the mind to center, or arrest its fluctuations for an increased focus. The quality of focus determines the quality of one’s meditation. Only the body held along its vertical axis is capable of experiencing effortlessness, and steadiness as the downward pull of gravity compensates for the physical effort needed to keep it steady.