Spine and Core in Yoga Anatomy

Spine is core, and as such, has many layers of reality, from the most subtle expression of empty radiance, through all the colors and manifestations of individuality. When we take on an exploration and inquiry into spine in Hatha Yoga, we are seriously embarking on a journey into deeper and deeper layers of core. All of our layers are evident in the spine, and since spine is the home of both the subtle and anatomical nervous system Hatha Yoga has pointed us directly toward this inquiry.


The inquiry and exploration of embodiment that we use in Embodyoga® is modeled on the kosas – the sheaths of awareness manifesting from the most subtle to the most obvious, or gross. The kosas are our layers of manifestation from the most subtle to the most obvious and dense. In Embodyoga® we continue to inquire through all of the layers – always knowing that deeper truth is just awaiting our realization.

Atmamaya Kosa – pure unmanifest awareness – no element – no form
Chittamaya Kosa – individual awareness – no element – no form
Anandamaya Kosa – blissful awareness – space
Vijyanamaya Kosa – wisdom and heart, Buddhi mind – air
Manomaya Kosa – intellect, thinking mind – fire
Pranamaya Kosa – emotion, feeling – water
Anamaya Kosa – the anatomical structural sheath – earth

We understand that each of these kosas exists in every particle and space within us. Everywhere. Always. It is from this basis that we explore and navigate inward to recognize our fullness, our humanity and our divinity, and how it is manifesting through us.

The structure of spine and what it means in the body-mind.
Spine is a multi layered core structure with many levels from the subtlest to the grossest. Since Hatha Yoga is a spinal based practice it is important to consider the spine thoroughly. Our vertebral column is core in relation to the rest of our skeletal structure in that it is our central axis. It’s obvious that in yoga the spine is more than just the vertebral column. It is home to the central nervous system, which of course, is continuous with the brain. It also houses the three main nadis – ida, pingala, and sushumna. Sushumna nadi is our personal conduit and connection to Universal Awareness and can definitely be considered to be the core of the spine, or the core of core.

Some of the layers of core (listed loosely) from the subtlest to the most obvious.
1.    Sat-chit-ananda and our embryological development. When first conceived we are still very close to the very most subtle levels of awareness and manifestation. An investigation into the kosas will direct us to the initial explosive union of Shiva/Shakti that is our individual welcoming into form; it is fully universal and fully individual. We enter life and form as awareness and consciousness moving into and through the sheath of bliss, or ananda. Sat-chit-ananda: awareness-consciousness-bliss. This is our nature and is who and what we are at our core. From here we continue to manifest into more and more specificity and individuation of structure. As above – so below, we are microcosms of the Universal Whole.

2.    Pit-of-the Belly and the Notochord: Awareness is omnipresent and is our own first template of organization. In our very earliest embryological beginnings we experienced directly a state of unity as it began to differentiate and manifest into more and more individuality. This is both personal and universal. From the moment of conception through full development we were – and are – present. The arising of the primitive streak, the primitive knot (or node), and the notochord gave us our very first sense of a core structure. The notochord and the primitive knot remain important in our adult form as they provide our personal gravitational center in the pit-of-the-belly, and an ongoing direct experience of a radiant channel (notochord) within our body-mind experience. This is our first realization of sushumna nadi.

tibetan sushumna23.    The spine at its deepest level is sushumna nadi. We might say that sushumna is the core of cores in the human system. It is the empty radiance of pure awareness that supports all of existence. We experience sushumna in our subtle form along the spine. Yogically, it is represented within the spinal cord itself. However, in our personal embodiment of form, it can be experienced as a tube of tangible radiance, right through the center-body from perineal body to the crown. It informs and penetrates all of the body tissues. The paradox of sushumna is that just as in the micro and the macro experience of awareness, or purusha, sushumna exists not only in the spine and in the central channel of the core of the body, but is present in every cell and every particle of our being.

chakras4.    The chakras are individual expressions of awareness that carry our personal qualities and traits. They contain our personal deep-core information encoded at a subtle level.  

5. The glands relate to the chakras and the nervous systems. They express the energy of the chakras. They bring levity into the structural spine and help provide a light suspension system to our experience of core. They link the nervous system and the fluid body.


6.    The central nervous system is another structure that we considered to be core. This includes the brain and spinal cord.  (For our purposes in embodiment we consider this structure to extend all the way to the coccyx, although it is technically not called spinal cord at its lowest levels in the lumbar and sacral region).

digestive organ core

7.    Soft organ core includes our digestive tube from mouth to anus, as well as our heart and brain. The spiralic support of the organ core provides fluidity and softness to our core experience. Organ core contains humanity, depth, volume, emotion, love, and desire for bonding and connection.


8.  The developmental patterns form layers of core-consciousness. They underlie our neurological and structural organization and the development and expression of our curiosity and desire as we grow. When we use the fluid patterns in our yoga classes we are inviting our students to return to a core level of human consciousness. We invite them underneath and before the discursive thinking. It is a nonverbal and universal place of comfort. When we move into the vertebral patterns we are revisiting the growth of our brain and nervous system during the first year of life and beyond. These movements and the inquiries that arise with them will often stimulate an awareness of early self-concepts and perceptual tendencies that may still be operating in our lives –core beliefs.


9. The deep navel is a layer of core. Navel radiation, and navel yielding bring us to this important center. Navel flooding breath, and proper integrated use of the deepest core muscles (psoas major and the crus of the diaphragm) provide muscular support for core. By maintaining soft tone in the navel we avoid hardening this critical area of the manipura chakra and our digestive organs. Navel is a deep sense of self and it can be an ongoing meditation in the body to balance – not harden or collapse – around this center. Not to minimize the importance of the external wrapping abdominal muscles, but we do not consider them to be truly core as they primarily support the peripheral body. However, the stem of the thoracic diaphragm is a core muscle as it is attached directly to the vertebral column. The stem of the diaphragm is the primary muscular support of the spine through the central torso and to the tail.  We also consider the longus colli and longus capitus in the neck and skull to be core muscles.

10.   The diaphragms of the central body from pelvic floor to crown are important core structures. They include: pelvic floor, the peritoneal sac and the mesentery, breathing diaphragm, thoracic inlet, vocal diaphragm, soft palate, tentorium cerebelli at the base of the brain, and finally the crown of the head. These diaphragms line up one above the other in our vertical body. They both contain and distribute the radiance of core – especially the embodiment of sushumna – though our bodies and into expression. They are horizontal structures – platforms in a certain way – through the verticality of our human core system that assist us through awareness and movement – in balancing on the earth and offering and receiving through the full horizontal range of our lives. (I wish I had a good drawing or representation of how these diaphragms line up one above the other in the body. It is remarkable, and perhaps difficult to visualize without instruction.)


11.    The spinal ligaments: the anterior longitudinal ligament, the posterior longitudinal ligament, and the ligamentum flavum. The anterior longitudinal ligament is along the front surface of the vertebral column from head to tail. It is a clear tract for spinal movement and especially axial extension. It is a profound integrator for all spinal movements.
The posterior longitudinal ligament runs along the back surface of the vertebral bodies and discs. It forms the front of the vertebral canal. The ligamentum flavum is a flexible set of ligament that contain the back of the vertebral canal. They connect the laminae of adjacent vertebrae, all the way from the second vertebra, axis, to the first segment of the sacrum. The spinal ligaments provide clarity, tensile strength, and precision to all spinal movements.

muscles-lig. back abdom wall

12.    Core muscles are the muscles that directly support along the front of the vertebral column. The stem of the thoracic diaphragm is a core muscle as it is the primary muscular support of the spine through the central torso and to the tail.  We also consider the longus colli and longus capitus in the neck and skull to be core muscles. Fibers of the psoas major, minor, and even the iliacus provide core muscular support.

vertebral column

13.    Our vertebral column is perhaps the most obvious core structure. We differentiate axial and appendicular skeletons and they loosely describe what we refer to in Embodyoga® as core-body and peripheral-body. It is important to note that in Body-Mind-Centering® Bonnie has defined the axial skeleton differently from most anatomists. In our western anatomy axial usually refers to the vertebral column, the thorax, the jaw, and the skull. Embryologically, the thorax develops from the spine and at that level the growing thorax is deriving from core. It starts out as axial and ends up as appendicular. In our fully developed bodies we use the thorax in a unified way with the upper limbs to support our core. It is most useful in yoga practice to consider the thorax to be appendicular, or peripheral body, differentiated from spine.

One thought on “Spine and Core in Yoga Anatomy

  1. Pingback: Simple Seated Forward Bend—Paschimottanasana | Embodyoga®

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