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The significance of the central channel & “uncoiling the serpent” in yoga

In class this week, we’ll work through a practice to connect to the deep midline of the body – our core. When we use the term “core” in a physical practice we often about the set of muscles at the front of the body that lie between the ribs and the pelvis – our abdominals muscles. But if instead you imagine the core to be the midline of your body, you’ll find yourself looking at your spine. Our spines can indeed be moved by abdominal muscles, but there are many, many other muscles that come into play when we move our vertebral column through its full range of movement.  In class, we’ll gently mobilise the spine and connect to our midline using pranayama (breathwork) and asana (yoga poses):

Tuesday, November 14th, 9-10am at Scout Hut 6388 or Wednesday, 15th November, 8-9pm at YogaFurie.

Read on for more on why the central channel of the body is seen as so important in yoga practice according to early yogic texts, The Upanishads.

Over 3,000 years ago in Northern India, some of the earliest Hindu religious texts, the Upanishads, introduced the concept of nadis (channels) to describe how energy, prana, or life force flowed through the body.

Prior to, and yet echoing, our current knowledge of the human vascular and neurological systems, the nadis were described as thousands of small channels in our systems with one main central channel, which was thought to run from the crown of the head to the base of the spine.  

The texts describe how we can create health and balance in our systems by unblocking the nadis to ensure prana flows freely through our systems. More importantly, the unblocking of these channels, particularly the central or “sushumi nadi”, through yoga was thought to be the the key to enlightenment: moksha, liberation or the state of samadhi, which describes union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness - the freedom to exist in reality, not our thoughts and stories about reality (vikalpas).

The various practices of yoga, asana, pranayama, use of bandha, mantras, mudra were thought to work together to move prana into the sushumna channel. This allowed kundalini to rise up the central channel - in tantra philosophy this is described as the union of Shiva and Shakti, with Shiva representing the formless, unmanifested, consciousness and Shakti representing formed, manifested, energy.

Kundalini energy is often represented symbolically as a snake coiled at the base of the spine. When the snake uncoiled prana rose from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.

Interestingly, throughout history and myth from many cultures, the coiled snake, or the ouroboros (pictured), a snake biting its own tail, has represented wholeness and the union of earthy and divine, as well as the eternal cyclic renewal or a cycle of life, death and rebirth.

The serpent Ouroboros, is pictured here on a page the from Cyprianus, 18th Century Scandinavian text knows as the Black Book.  CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hope to see you in class, Tuesday, November 14th, 9-10am at Scout Hut 6388 or Wednesday, 15th November, 8-9pm at YogaFurie. Book online  

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