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Anatoliy Pakhomov

Hatha Yoga:
Correct approach to the spine

A. Pakhomov
P 21 Hatha Yoga: Correct approach to the spine
ISBN-13: 978-1494748302
ISBN-10: 1494748304

ISBN 978-966-521-549-3
In this book the founder of Kyiv Yoga School and International Federation of Yoga CAS on
the basis of his experience in practicing yoga since 1989 and teaching it since 1994, provides
conclusive proof that it is necessary to use conscious approach to the spine when practicing
asanas. Besides asanas the main components of sadhana (practice) are described in this book in an
accessible way, that allows beginners to obtain sufficient knowledge to start mastering the ancient
system of self-improvement – Hatha Yoga. Also this book may be helpful for the yoga teachers
and instructors, as it contains universal methodology developed by the author of this book that
allows to preserve youth and health of the spine to old age.
A. Pakhomov, 2013


Author’s Preface............................................................................................................................3
Chapter 1. Hatha Yoga...................................................................................................................7
Chapter 2. Shatkarma..................................................................................................................14
1. Kapalabhati..................................................................................................................15
2. Nauli................................................................................................................................16
3. Basti.................................................................................................................................18
4. Dhauti..............................................................................................................................21
5. Neti..................................................................................................................................23
6. Trataka.............................................................................................................................23
Chapter 3. Bandhas......................................................................................................................25
1. Mula bandha....................................................................................................................27
2. Uddiyana bandha.............................................................................................................28
3. Djalandhara bandha.........................................................................................................28
4. Nabho bandha..................................................................................................................29
Chapter 4. Mudras.......................................................................................................................30
1. Viparitakarani mudra.......................................................................................................30
2. Mahamudra......................................................................................................................33
2. Anatomy of the Spine......................................................................................................42
3. The Golden rule of the work with the spine................................................................58
5. Consequences of the spine unfriendly practice. Individual peculiarities of the practice.61
6. The basic principles of practice.......................................................................................70
7. My personnal experience.................................................................................................77
Chapter 6. Inside work in Yoga...................................................................................................79
1. Unmani and Chittavritti Nirodha.....................................................................................79
2. EGO dissolving................................................................................................................83
Chapter 7. Recommendations for Beginners in Hatha Yoga.......................................................88
Chapter 8. Asanas........................................................................................................................90
Chapter 9. Circle of Attention....................................................................................................128

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Author’s Preface

This book is devoted to everybody who practices yoga. Especially it may be useful for
beginners, for those intended to study the ancient science of enhancement – Yoga. The personal
experience of more than 20 years practicing and more than 15 years teaching of yoga is
expounded in this book. I hope it will help beginners to avoid many mistakes on their ways,
caused by ignorance (avidya). Yoga is like a sharp tool, that being used correctly makes you
benefit from it and does you good, but being used otherwise can harm you. This book is just a
minor part of Knowledge, a subjective point of view, an insight of a yoga instructor as for the
teaching and studying. You can find here the material that enables you to practice correctly
without injuries to your body and consciousness. No doubt that this book may also be useful for
those teaching Hatha Yoga.
Also, the most famous ancient yoga treatises, translated into Russian are gathered in this
book. They were my first “teachers of yoga”. First of all this is “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”, written
by a far-seeing and experienced practitioner Svatmarama in the beginning of the last millennium.
This title can be translated as “Clarification of Hatha Yoga”. The term “Pradipika” however,
means “self-illuminating” or “something that illuminates”.
It is very often nowadays that Radja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are confused and some beginners
try to start Hatha Yoga Practice with Yama (self-control) and Niyama (self discipline), that is
usually very difficult and is almost equal to violence against oneself. Though it is non-violence
(Ahimsa), which is a major precondition for Radja Yoga. The thing is that very few people are
ready to practice Radja Yoga straight away, for the majority it is necessary to purify and prepare
their body and mind. The main motivation to practice yoga for many people is to get rid of
diseases and to trim their bodies. This is quite normal and natural. It is in “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”
we see that Svatmarama does not worry about self-control in the form of Yama and Niyama. He
emphasizes the necessity to purify all the body in the first place – stomach, bowels, respiratory
and other systems that will lead your body and mind to the condition required for practice and to
impart the necessary qualities. Therefore, before starting to practice asanas, it is necessary to do
shatkarma, videlicet: neti, dhauti, basti, kapalabhati, trataka and nauli. This is what Hatha Yoga
starts with.
Such treatises as “Gheranda Samhita”, “Shiva Samhita” and a very famous work on Radja
Yoga – “Yoga Sutras of Patandjali” are also attached to this book. Attaching all these treatises to
my book I wanted to create some sort of a manual for beginners.
Realizing how quickly everything changes in this world, what an active information
exchange takes place nowadays; I am aware that probably in a year I would write another book,
add in it more useful information. Though it is impossible to wait till this information becomes
full and complete – Knowledge remains alive till it is transferred from one person to another. A
yoga instructor is a conductor of information and energy. A real conductor cannot help teaching,
sharing when he/she is incarnated here, in this world, as he/she receives information not for
him/herself, but TO SHARE IT WITH OTHERS MOSTLY. Unfortunately, along with
information exchange there is also information fraud, sometimes unconscious – in the form of
Avidya (delusion), sometimes deliberate. Well, the only possible piece of advice for a beginner is
to be aware and to distinguish, learn to be open, to listen to and to hear, to perceive and feel.
For the question, who my teacher is I would answer that it is easier to say who not my teacher
is. The entire world is my teacher. Sometimes words of a stranger occasionally heard make you
think and these thoughts motivate to start the whole chain of changes in your practice and
consequently - in your life. In some sense our life and Hatha Yoga are very similar. If you show
me how a person practices asanas I will understand a lot about his life. Is there tranquility in his
practice or is it all about self-admiration? Is there strength and stability or are there a lot of

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

obscure things for him/her? Does he know what for he uses this or that element or he/she just does
it because he/she saw it in a book or heard it at some seminar? Does a person use standard
sequences, without analyzing his/her needs or is self-observation and creativity more natural for
him/her in practice as well as in life?
We are capable of learning from everybody and everything even from trees and birds. Pay
attention that many asanas in Hatha Yoga have names of fish, snakes, trees, animals and other
creatures. Readiness to learn and being open to the world – this is the guarantee of success. They
say for a reason that when a pupil is READY – The Teacher will appear. I have gained much
evidence that this belief is true.
If we purified our consciousness enough, the WORLD can teach us. It is only the matter of
our readiness and openness. It can teach us through great gurus as well as through common
people, sometimes through life situations, events and even animals. For example, once I was
sitting at the kitchen table waiting for my meal to be cooked and was thinking about principles of
asanas mastering. On the table I noticed a small beetle - the sort of beetles that sometimes infest
cereals. I started watching it. Suddenly, the beetle, having probably noticed a motion of my hand,
lay still and pretended to be dead. Even after quite a while it did not move. I was extremely
curious: why was it not in a hurry to run away from the table? At the same time I was still
wondering how to formulate for beginners the principle of mastering difficult asanas. And at this
very moment I realized: the WORLD is teaching me! The tiny insect shows me this principle – it
is better to stay longer in a more simple position, escaping danger, than to hurry and get injured or
even to die! So, Patience is the most important thing. How simple and logical it is! Though very
often ignoring this principle can cause injuries.
The beetle became my teacher, explaining the principles of doing asanas. There are many
similar examples in our life. Very often I learn from the people that come to classes, passersby and
certainly from my immediate teachers.
I would like to say thank you here to those people that shared their knowledge with me. With
some of them I studied for quite a long time and with others I just communicated for a little while.
Though time in this case is quite relative, as we are studying all our life. Sometimes several
phrases can lead to huge changes in Yoga practice and teaching methodology.
For the first time I met a person who was seriously practicing Hatha Yoga, when I was 14-15.
It was Vasiliy Terekhin – a teacher of physical culture from Kolomya (Prykarpatie region of
Ukraine). At that time he had been practicing Yoga for 12 years. I studied shatkarma from him and
some asanas. Then I had a period in my practice of self-study of the Yoga wisdom through ancient
treatises. In those days, in the territory of former USSR, there was not any hereditary yogi or at
least a certified one, especially in the depths of the country. Though almost in every town you
could have met people that were studying and practicing ancient Yoga to their own hook. They
were lonely amateurs educating themselves from the self-printed literature. There were many
mistakes in their practice but they had strong spirit and aspiration for knowledge. The literature on
Yoga – usually photocopies or handwritten copies of the yoga treatises translations – were worth
their weight in gold and it was almost impossible to find them. Later on the books of
contemporary yoga experts such as Andrey Syderskiy, Andrey Lapa and many other wonderful
practitioners were published. They helped me to improve my practice and other components of
yoga. Although now I cannot fully agree with the principals of asanas doing and building
consequences, described in these books; for a long time the authors of these books were my
distant teachers and idols.
From 1989 my interest to yoga turned into constant practice. Yoga became a dominant
component of all my life. At the beginning of the 1990’s there were lots of experiments in my
practice as for the usage of asanas. I lived at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains at that time;
mountains were within walking distance from where I lived, that is why I was practicing in the
open air quite often. Because of the peculiarities of the Carpathian climate, the practice of asanas
was formed accordingly. Only during the summer period it was possible to practice static forms
and during autumn, winter and spring the practice was naturally turning into dynamic
Author’s Preface

consequences. Certainly prior to it there was a period of mastering the forms in the static mode
indoors. Now I can see lots of my mistakes that caused the injuries of musculoskeletal system and
spine especially. I understand the reason why I was about to die practicing pranoyama in the
mountains, having at that time a dislocation of thorax vertebrae. Thanks to my great experience
“how you should not practice”, teaching now is held at a different level. But things were different
in those days. There was not enough information, but zeal for practice and commitment were
compensating the lack of knowledge. I realize that only with such an experience of incorrect
practice, I was able to formulate later the spine friendly approach to the workout in asanas
(correct approach to the spine).
Being a student at a medical assistants department of a medical college, meeting with
different people at the hospitals, I was trying to find a unified system of curing diseases. It seemed
to me that everything in this world has its structure and you can find the main link in every
phenomenon, influencing which you can achieve as a desirable result. If yoga asserts that a
disease is an energy circulation imbalance, then it is necessary to find the reason why it happens. I
managed to understand it only in 2005-2006 when I paid attention to the condition of my spine
and to the vegetative nervous system. The Medicine could not give me the answer to this question
at that time, but solid knowledge of anatomy and physiology of a human body became very useful
for me in the future as a yoga instructor. During the day I was studying Medicine and all the rest
of my time I devoted to yoga practice. I was having quite an interesting life-style at that time that
looked more like some kind of a retreat; having almost no friends and no communication with my
peers, taking literally the recommendations given in the treatises to escape “common people” as
well as the principles of “brahmachari”. I was practicing too much, as it seems to me now,
devoting to practice day and night. Now I smile, remembering that time, though I must admit that
it was quite an interesting experience.
By the fourth year of studying at the college I became completely disallusioned in Medicine
and it did not make much sense to me to continue my studies at the Medical University. All my
efforts even with more zeal were concentrated on studying Yoga and practicing. The closest
related sphere of education, as it seemed to me at the time, was the institute of Physical Education,
where I went to study. I was not mistaken, as biomechanics and methodology of physical
exercises were described and researched pretty well. At the same time I started to teach yoga in
the center of tourism and sport and later during my third year of studies at the University, I was
working as a teacher of SSI (Sport Skills Improving), specializing in Hatha Yoga. This was in the
late 90’s and I was probably the only teacher of Hatha yoga in Lutsk and the first teacher of Yoga
in the Lutskiy State University by Lesya Ukrainka at the Department of Physical Education.
Having studied yoga for more than 10 years by that time, I had never been taught by an
experienced teacher, I had just never met one. All the information I was receiving was from the
Yoga treatises available in different translation variants. Thus my teaching of Yoga at the time was
based on modern knowledge of medicine, biomechanics, theory and methodology of physical
education and information from the ancient treatises.
The first time I met famous yoga teachers Sergey Sidortsov and Alexander Taishev in
Chernigov was after 2000. I managed to attend several informational and practical trainings and to
receive valuable experience on work with the body and consciousness. Then I met with Andrey
Lapa – the president of Kyiv Yoga Federation. I moved to Kiev and began to teach, renting the
sport halls and inviting everyone who wanted to study yoga and started at the same time to study
the Universal yoga style from Andrey Lapa – one of the most experienced yoga instructors of CIS.
At the same time I accepted his invitation to work at Kyiv Federation of Yoga in the “Ideal”
Then there were seminars by Kali Ray “Try yoga”, that taught me smoothness and how to be
conscious; communicating and attending seminars held by Lev Teternikov that introduced me to
his “Tantra Yoga” and certainly meeting with Andrey Siderskiy, whose books I’ve been reading
several times and almost remembered by heart. Unfortunately our communication was not as long
as I wish it to be, as when we met Andrey told me that he was not teaching yoga any more.
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Although later, in 1-2 years, he probably changed his mind and I managed to visit one of his
seminars in Egypt.
Thus my studies of yoga in the 1990’s were regular and gradual; from 2000 there became
more impetuous. By this time my pupils started to teach yoga. And I, having collected some
information, started to create a unique school – spine friendly workout in asanas. I must admit that
I had to revise all the previous asanas practice, as the information that I came across, made me
look at the human body, the role of spine in physiology and biomechanics of movement, from a
different angle. I received the answers to all my questions as for the key notions in the processes
of origin of illness or recovery of a human being. At this time I started to learn from the folk
healer, chiropractor and clairvoyant – Iurii Glavchev.
Iurii Glavchev is a unique person that has a direct perception of energy – clairvoyance. He
cured many people. It is knowledge that he shared with me, his help with analyzing asanas and
biomechanics of separate segments of the spine in asanas that enabled me to differentiate methods
of influencing. As a result, it aroused an opportunity to create and formulate the principles that
became the basis for this book.
Watching the work of Iurii Glavchev, I became a witness of many amazing healings. The only
method he used was influencing the key element – spine. When dislocated vertebrae are located to
the proper position – the organism recovers regardless of the illness. In spite of the fact that
Medicine and therapy were not my major interest any more at that moment, that experience was
quite useful and it became a key element in forming the style of correct approach to the spine
(spine friendly approach).
The information about a correct workout with a spine was so revolutionary at the time that all
the instructors I knew, including my own pupils, first refused to accept it. Although later on many
of them started to use the principles of spine friendly approach in their teaching. Perhaps the
pupils of Kyiv Yoga School ( were the only ones who accepted all the
changes. Probably it was a test on people’s openness to new knowledge, degree of trust to those
who teach them. Some of them started to teach with me and now they are the backbone of Kyiv
Yoga School. When the foreign instructors started to study the method the International Yoga
Federation of SFA (Spine Friendly Approach) was created and all the certified instructors are
represented there.
Analyzing my experience, I can conclude that forming the style of Correct approach to the
spine (CAS) was influenced by many styles and schools of hatha yoga. Except the above
mentioned schools, my practice was strongly influenced by Ashtanga-vinyasa school. The
elements of this style can be easily recognized by specialists at our yoga classes.
I would like to express my gratitude to all the teachers of the College and the University
where I was studying Medicine and Physical education. This is where I received my knowledge of
Anatomy, Physiology and Biomechanics, that became the basis of understanding, analyzing and
interpreting the influence of Hatha Yoga upon a human being. A special thank you goes to my
teacher Namkai Norbu Rinpoche who inspired me to study the Tibetan yoga and dzogchen in
Also, I would like to say thank you to Leonid Tolstihin, the director of Tourism and Sport
Center in the Volynskiy region of Ukraine. It is thanks to him I started to teach Yoga officially, as
he allowed me to use the hall in Lutsk.
Special thank you for preparing this book for publishing goes to my friends and colleagues –
an experienced practitioner of hatha yoga – Tatyana Tanskaya (the editor), the instructor of Kyiv
yoga school – Sergey Kryjanovskyy (photos of asanas), Oxana Alekseeva ( for
support and spreading the idea in Moscow and Korolevo, Sergey Fedorov for consulting regarding
the Sanskrit terms as well as to many other colleagues that help to spread the idea.
Thank to Julia Gandy for the translation of this book into English, and to Natalia Pakhomova
for the page-proof of this book.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Chapter 1. Hatha Yoga

Practicing asanas makes the body and mind of a human being
steady and healthy, limbs lithe and the body light.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Hatha Yoga is an ancient system of body and mind self-improvement. This is a method of
putting everything in order, achieving harmony first in your body and then in your consciousness,
then realizing integrity and harmony of your individuality and harmony with the Universe; later.
Practicing Hatha Yoga correctly, a human being achieves health of body and mind, tranquility,
balance and joyful state of mind.
There are many translations and interpretations of the word “yoga”. It can mean “joining”,
“control”, “bridle”, “curb”, “knowledge”. These meanings can be related to the state of
consciousness, that is keeping control, getting rid of vritti (agitation of mind) and referring to the
physical body – controlling it, restraining of ailments, deliverance from diseases through
systematic and regular efforts.
There are many Yoga schools that include different methods of achieving a goal. Though for
convenience it is possible to single out more or less two parts of sadhana (self-improvement):
Hatha Yoga, that is based on purifying and improving a physical body; and Raja Yoga – a part of
practice, in the process of which an adherent learns how to restrain his/her mind and to purify
Hatha Yoga means joining of two energy flows of our body – “Ha” and “Tha”, using them
Raja Yoga can be translated as “royal yoga”. This is an inside work, deliverance from your
ego, achieving inside freedom, state of clear consciousness in which you are free from any
agitation. It means that the mind of a human being is in a state of complete tranquility, rest and
self-sufficiency. When you experience such a state, you cannot be influenced by anything as you
see the unity of everything.
This is how Patanjali explained the notion of yoga in his work “Yoga Sutras”, written in
200B.C. as well as it was described the same way in Upanishads even much earlier. In the second
shloka of his treatise Patanjali writes: “Yoga is restraining of vritties (agitation), typical for mind”.
So, yoga is achieving the state of chittavritti nirodhah. In the word for word translation of this
expression “chitta” means “mind”, “consciousness”; “vritti” – “agitation of mind”, “nirodhah” is
quite difficult to express in one word – this is “quieting and balance, absence of any alteration and
not generating or absence of any vritti”. In general chittavritti nirodhah means not generating
alterations of consciousness.
So, Hatha Yoga is a step for achieving the yoga state, the state chittavritti nirodhah. Usually,
a human being can not start the practice of improving his/her consciousness without prior
purification and preparation of a physical body. That is why first it is necessary to use the methods
of influence of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha and Raja Yoga are interconnected and represent the parts of one system. It is
mentioned in the treatises that Raja Yoga is senseless without Hatha Yoga as well as Hatha Yoga is
useless without aspiration for Raja Yoga. In this case it turns into physical exercises or yoga-sport
– that is even worse.
The problem is that the majority of people identify their “I” with their bodies, as their bodies
are the tools for perception of the World. That means that reality is forming our consciousness,
though it should be vise-versa. Only strong practitioners achieve the state when their
consciousness determines their reality. The body condition of a common person influences a lot
the state of consciousness. Problems with the body draw to a very deep depression, cause vritties
– mind agitation. We cannot live jolly, when one of our organs is dyeing, it is impossible for us
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
because we identify ourselves with our bodies. If we are in pain, our mind is full of vritties or falls
into depression and we cannot even think about Raja Yoga! All the world is turning upside down
because of our physical suffering. Only a few people can keep their spirit and consciousness
balanced when the body is dying. Such people are called mahatmas.
That is why, to my mind, Raja Yoga is senseless without Hatha Yoga for the majority of
people. The thing is that any prescriptions or recommendations as for the methods of achieving
the balance of consciousness remain useless as soon as any serious problem occurs with the body.
Only in rare cases when a person was born with a perfect body, he/she can neglect Hatha Yoga and
start Raja Yoga straight away.
Hatha Yoga is useless without Raja Yoga because it just develops Ego, making the tool of
perception – our body stronger. Improving only his/her body, a person turns into an ego-maniac.
One of my teachers said: “There is a sound spirit in a sound body. But, unfortunately, not in every
body walking along the streets there is space for Spirit…”
Incidentally, learning from different yoga teachers I never met anyone who achieved the ideal
state of the body with the help of practice. Usually even masters suffer from some disorders or
illnesses. The only teacher that I acknowledge as the greatest master of working with a human
body is Iurii Glavchev. He could tune the body on any human being close to the ideal state.
Although I saw that even he sometimes was struggling with patients whose bodies of which
“refused” to keep the normal state and got back to illness almost straight away.
Hatha Yoga, according to the ancient treatise “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” (Clarification of Hatha
Yoga), starts with six purification actions (shatkarmas) and only after purification it is possible to
start practicing asanas. This is the basis for all further practice. Kriyas (in Sanskrit “actions”)
Shatkarmas purify body and allow to acquire necessary qualities of mind for a further practice.
Then the practice of asanas (conscious positions, body forms) starts. Asanas are physical exercises
combined with mind disciplining. Apparently ancient yogis were right to single out such reasons
of illness as:
Normal, caused by the wrong attitude to the body or wrong conditions of “exploiting” the
Karmic reasons. In this case the illness is very difficult to cure and it it’s necessary to change
the attitude to the world.
However, the teacher denied the second reason and always thought that the illness can be
influenced from the physical level. Here I should, probably, tell a little bit about my teacher so
that the reader can understand that these are the words of an extraordinary person. On one hand he
is a great healer with paranormal capabilities and on the other hand he is the one who destroys
most of the esoteric stereotypes that exist nowadays. The thing is that he destroys these
stereotypes mostly with the facts, logic and actions supported by the results and not just the talk.
My teacher is a very interesting person in the sense that he is capable of seeing the aura;
sometimes he can see the past and sometimes even the future. To bring the reader up to date I will
give some examples from real life. Iurii Glavchev is not only my teacher but also a close friend;
we sometimes travel together; he comes to see me at my place quite often. Although at the
beginning when we just met I was more scared of him and, at the same time, attracted to him
because of his knowledge and capabilities. He looks like an ordinary person and you, probably,
would not notice him in the crowd. Though sometimes there is depth and wisdom of centuries in
his eyes.
One interesting occurrence happened once when we were planning a normal trip out of town
to the forest. We were ready to leave when the teacher said that there was a great likelihood of an
accident on the road and that he would not go and advised me not to go either. It goes without
saying that we cancelled our trip.
Another remarkable thing that characterizes my teacher is that once he told me about some
ancient treatise from which some Upanishads and famous texts were written although this source
text is unknown to the public and is kept in secret, the teacher even told me its title.

Chapter 1. Hatha Yoga
Once he showed me on the map the location of the Atlantis continent and outlined clearly its
It may seem that all these are facts that cannot be checked that means that they are potentially
not real and that there are enough eccentric men in the world. But in fact I had many opportunities
in my life to get convinced that he was telling the truth. An incident that happened to me shows
very well the practical application of my teacher’s capabilities.
Once I was in the mountains where I drove my car. I took a tent and went up to the mountains
but when I came back I noticed that somebody had seriously damaged my car. I did not know
what to do and called my teacher to ask for advice. The car was parked not far away from the
building of a tourist shelter. Iurii Glavchev was about 1500 km away from the scene of action; he
advised me to find the perpetrator. I asked him - how would I find him? The teacher told me that
the perpetrator should still be in the building of the shelter. He gave me a precise description of his
appearance – his height, how he was built, color and the style of his hair, his eyes and even what
he was wearing! I listened to him and called the police. I was greatly surprised when the police
officer found the perpetrator and he looked exactly how my teacher described him. I had quite a
lot of similar examples that helped my belief in guru get stronger, as I am naturally quite skeptical
and not inclined to trust straight away everything that I hear.
Once I was asked a question: “How long do yogis live? They know the right diet and they
should not fall ill at all and live up to 120 years old minimum, don’t they? Is that true? What is the
average life span of yogis?”
An average life span of yogis is the same as of those people who do not practice yoga. Even
if there is a difference it is not that significant. The thing is that nobody stated that yoga is
practiced to achieve longevity. Yoga is practiced to calm down the mind. I would say more:
vegetarians get sick as much as those who stick to other diets. Health and longevity depend on the
following factors:
Heredity. There are many parables and anecdotes (that come from the folk and life
experience) telling that a person that does not do anything can live as long as a person that
exhausts him/herself with diets and exercises. At the same time, it is mentioned even in the yoga
treatises that heredity plays a very important role.
Presence of an experienced Teacher. The thing is that nowadays many “yoga exercises” are
just borrowed from gymnastics or just made up by the contemporaries and they do more damage
to the spine and the whole body than help them. Consequently - “all that glitters is not gold”. It is
also, by the way, from the folk wisdom. It is known that it is very difficult to achieve something in
yoga practice without a good teacher.
Exercises and diets. There are not that many good experts on body friendly approach in the
world and even less experts on diet. There is no universal diet for everyone. It is just something
impossible. Everybody who states the opposite is mistaken or just wants to make money on
people’s ignorance and trustfulness. It is similar to how all the leaves on the tree differ from each
other, every organism reacts differently to different foods. It means that the diet should be
customized and from my own experience I came to the conclusion that there is no logical scheme
but just energy compatibility with this or that product and the thing is that they may be compatible
at that particular moment but it can all change in a week. Occupation, inclinations, climate, time
and so on. All these factors change constantly.
As for the cleansing procedures, they are used to fix some disorders; at least this is how it
works most of the time.
Environmental factors. It is also important where the person lives, which air he/she breathes
and so on.
Yogis pay more attention, not to the banal expanding of the life spans of their bodies, but to
becoming conscious of and to living fuller during the time they have got. It is also important to
ask ourselves: “What can I do for others during my life?”
There are many nuances and secrets that make your practice successful. Ignorance of them
can lead to multiple obstacles and even injuries. That is why it is better to study yoga with

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
knowledgeable teachers that have devoted many years to studying it and have successful practice
on the body level as well as on the level of consciousness. Unfortunately, it is very often
nowadays that yoga is misrepresented through organizing sport competitions and shows. It
happens not only in Western countries, but also in India. It shows a lack of understanding of
practice basics, distortion of real nature of Hatha Yoga, as yoga is a state of consciousness…
Practicing yoga, a human being achieves a state when all vritties – agitation of mind -
disappear. In other words a person unites with nature, becomes similar to an infant. Only after
becoming free from worries of mind a human being is capable of knowing him/herself and
looking at the world with clear eyes. Having got rid of agitation of mind as well as from illness
through yoga practice, in the state of chittavritti nirodha a person discovers him/herself. This is
the essence of yoga – discovering yourself and the world.
If a human mind is absorbed in agitation, it can discover neither him/herself nor the world
around, as he/she perceives only vritti instead of the real world. The mind of a human being, in
this case, turns into these vritti and the entire world is perceived as if through some dim prism. It
can be compared with the attempt to see the bottom of a lake when there are ripples on the surface
of the water. Ripples prevent you from seeing anything even if the water is clear. These waves are
vritti. Only when the water settles down it becomes clear a person can see what is really at the
bottom of this lake. Otherwise we see only waves on the surface, ripples. It is the same when a
person is racked by vritties, his mind and spirit are transformed into these vritti. As a result this
person is no longer an individual, but this very agitation. He/She does not see his/her spirit,
experiences not him/herself, but his/her vritti.
What are vritti? There are five categories of vritti – mind agitation: true knowledge, false
knowledge, dreaming, memory and imagination. True knowledge is based upon the direct
perception of energy, authoritative source or analyzing of conclusions. True knowledge is called
vidya. False knowledge – is delusion that is knowledge or notion based on false statement. It is
called avidya. Dreams, memory and imagination are also mind agitation. All these conditions are
considered to be the obstacles for yoga. Pay attention that in yoga true and false knowledge are
considered to be vritti anyway. That means that achieving understanding and deep knowledge
have nothing in common with yoga state as well as delusion. Neither of these two states is yoga
and neither of them is better from the position of achieving yoga state. Whether you know
something or not, whether you are happy with it or not, it does not matter. Each of these vritti is a
state of your consciousness that is available for a common person in the ordinary range of
The absence of all these states is chittavritti nirodha. When you become aware of yourself,
and you are neither sleeping nor staying awake, when you are neither thinking, nor remembering,
when you don’t know anything for sure or stay in delusion, then you will achieve the yoga state.
This is a crystal clear state of consciousness. When a human being achieves the chittavritti
nirodha state he/she realizes it clearly, believe me.
In fact you have more than once in your life experienced the state similar to chittavritti
nirodha. For example when you were a baby, when you went into ecstasies or when some artwork
took your breath away. In such a state your mind becomes totally empty. But that state was not a
real chittavritti nirodha as you had not realized it. It is extremely important to realize the
moment when one thought has gone and the other has not come yet. Only in this case it is possible
to talk about achieving chittavritti nirodha.
One of my teachers – Kaligy – for the question what chittavritti nirodha is answered that it is
sachchidananda. This word combination is translated as the state of bliss. Once after the class I
realized why she said so. Before the class my mind was very agitated and worried, but during the
practice I managed to get rid of these vritti. Achieving chittavritti nirodha – calming down,
deliverance from pain, worries and thoughts – is really accepted as bliss. Transition between these
two states is especially noticeable if you are absorbed in strong vritti. Everything makes sense in
comparison. If a human being stayed in all day, did nothing and then lay down – he/she would not
feel much difference, but if he/she was working hard all day long or was walking in the mountains

Chapter 1. Hatha Yoga
and after this lay down – his/her perception would differ a lot. The thing is that interpretations
come later when you transfer from the state of nirodha…
At the same time, having experienced the chittavritti nirodha state, you will realize that it
probably does not make a significant change to you– siddhis does not appear, you do not become
cleverer, your ego does not decrease and your fears do not disappear. The thing is that you cannot
“gain” anything, as this state is self-sufficient and it is the aim and the result. You will not
probably attach that much to anything and will not be afraid of anything. You will always
remember the state free from these vritti. That is why the only thing that will be different between
the people who have achieved the chittavritti nirodha state from the one, who has not, is the
ability not to be racked by vritti for a long time. This is similar to a child’s interest for playing
with toy-cars and dolls when a teenager can enjoy playing with them every now and then, but not
for a long time and for an adult the toys are of no interest at all.
Sometimes I am asked how to distinguish the chittavritti nirodhah state from the nervous
system overload when a human being does not want to do anything, to think about anything and to
communicate with anybody. The answer is awareness and clarity. When you achieve chittavritti
nirodha you achieve lucidity of mind. You do not experience any tension when you are sick and
tired of something or pressurized by something. It is the state from which compassion arises.
When you transfer from chittavritti nirodha, you are very compassionate towards a person asking
you about something, because with the background of complete tranquility this will be the first
vritti that arises. This vritti becomes yourself and you can experience strong compassion towards
that person, listen to him/her attentively and be very patient. Though, this is not the chittavritti
nirodha state. When you are in this state a person asking you about anything and the one that
keeps silent are equal, because you do not have any vritti. You are just looking at this person and
realizing that everything is integrated and it does not make sense to talk or to keep silent, act or be
The chittavritti nirodhah state should be just experienced. It is possible to talk a lot about it,
but only using allegory. To understand what it is, you should just experience it. To explain it, it is
necessary to find the right words, but all our language, thoughts, explanations are vritti and the
chittavritti nirodha state is opposed to vritti. It is the same as to show what light is by means of
darkness. One can give lots of definitions and say: “But this is not what it is”. Daoists have a
notion of Dao in their eastern philosophy. What is Dao? Whatever you express in words, it is not
Dao. Similar question is: What is Zen? You cannot explain it with words as it is beyond any
A state similar to the chittavritti nirodha state occurs in different civilizations and in different
systems of self-improvement. In spite of the fact that it was named differently the essence is the
same. A wise person sees in religions and philosophy not separate fragments but integrity of
everything. Figuratively speaking, he/she does not see the separate leaves of a tree, but the whole
tree on which they grow. Everything is integrated in this world regardless of whether it is Dao,
Zen, Yoga or some other system of self-improvement. Even Christianity adherents, describing
their experience, are talking about the same things, but using different words. The state of
awareness they call the presence of God in consciousness and the state of lucidity – God’s grace.
So, people that exceeded the bounds created by ritual religion achieve deep understanding and see
integrity in everything. One of the translations of the word “yoga” – is INTEGRITY.
People that experience this state are capable of communicating at ease with representatives
of other schools, confessions. One of the illustrations of this example is when the Dalai Lama
meets with a representative of another religion or school. These people can talk, communicate at
ease, laugh and find common ground because they see integrity. At the same time people,
absorbed in vritti, ritual and material aspects see only differences, only opposites. Vritti can make
even the representatives of one religion, regardless of whether it is Buddhism or Christianity,
argue and fight with each other. Thus, when an ignorant mind is plunged in vritti, when a human
being is using rituals it can be even worse than if he/she did not use them at all.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
That is why when you practice anything, ask yourself, become aware of whether this leads to
deliverance from vritti or aggravates them. For example, if something enhances your strength and
suppleness you should ask yourself if it helps you to reach chittavritti nirodha or more vritti, more
thoughts about it arise. If a human being becomes more lithe and at the same time he/she gets
vritti how wonderful he/she is and how great he/she is at doing everything – his/her Ego grows,
which brings him/her away from yoga. It is even possible to say that this drives a human being in
the opposite direction from yoga. Though if a person with the help of practice becomes free from
worries about health as his/her diseases vanish – this is the way of yoga.
Same practice depending on the fact if there is awareness or if there is not any, can have an
opposite effect. There can be different variants of events development. Contemporary Hatha Yoga
has some trends, that will not make your practice successful, that is for sure. However, they are
referred to yoga by mistake or to be more exact. For example, hypermobility of musculoskeletal
system – this is what we are trying to avoid in our practice at Kyiv Yoga School. Aspiration for
hyperstrech and hypermobility, in my opinion, according to my perceptions, leads only to ego
strengthening. A person comes to a class and starts to compare: “Ok, somebody is doing it this
way, and what about me, can I not do it the same way? I can do it even better”. Then this person
does a complicated asana and looks around: “Ok, nobody did it– that is wonderful, that means I
am the greatest yogi and I have advanced in my practice quite a lot”. Why do I say so? Because I
experienced all this myself. I used to do the most difficult asana and if nobody in the group did it I
was looking down on everybody with a smile. Though the more you practice the more you come
in the state of viveka – discernment, awareness and you start realizing: “What was it? It was ego!
This is not yoga at all.” And then you are trying to dissolve your ego or to get rid of it.
Our inside state, elements of our human consciousness, are similar for all people. It is a big
mistake to think that somebody has ego and you do not. To think that you do not have ego just
because it is You and you are not like anybody else. It is a display of ego and absence of viveka,
absence of awareness. Experienced psychologists and esoterics will probably agree with me that
people are very alike inside. We have similar elements (reactions, templates), that build our
consciousness. Every person is capable of feeling fear, jealousy, malice, greediness or joy, love,
compassion. We possess all this to some extent. It is awareness of a human being that allows
him/her to increase some element and to make it the main element of response.
At the same time we should understand that each element of our consciousness is given to us
for a reason. It is impossible and unnecessary to get rid of it totally, let us say, from fear, because
it is some sort of defense mechanism that makes a human being survive in some situations.
Though for a wise person, for a yogi, fear should not be the main type of response, the main type
of interaction between him/her and the world. The same is applicable towards ego; egoism makes
sense in some situations. It is egoism that made mankind survive in general and it allows an
individual human being to live in a society. Survival instinct is based on ego. A person without
ego stops eating, as he/she does not have a survival instinct.
Though, at the same time, if Ego becomes the main type of response then it is a way to
deadlock. A human being does not see anything except: “myself”, “my”, “to me”. If such a person
gets rid of fear of death, he/she turns into a kamikaze. Such a kamikaze, killing him/herself, kills
dozens, hundreds, thousands of people in the name of some idea. This is how some radical
religious and political organizations are turning people into zombies: they tell them that they are
the select few, creatures of higher consciousness that they will go straight to heaven, should they
only get rid of their mortal body and punish as many infidels as possible; those are demon-
possessed and criminal people. Then this person with hypertrophic ego, having no fear of death,
boards the plane and crashes into a skyscraper or blows him/herself up in a crowd with a feeling
of a well-done pious deed. This human being does not have a state of viveka – discernment at all.
This is what happens in reality.
So, all the elements of our personality, should be present in us in some amount. The human
being should decide for him/herself what the main type of response is going to be like. This can be
an inside smile or love or viveka – discernment and awareness. Everybody can choose how to

Chapter 1. Hatha Yoga
react to and perceive the world around. Another option is to perceive the world the way it is,
though not everybody can do it. Believe me, if you do not do it consciously, then the mass media
or somebody else will do it for you and you will react the way it is convenient for somebody else,
but not for you. At the end of your life you may glance back and realize that again you have not
done anything you wanted, because you were doing what other people wanted.
Talking about achieving chittavritti nirodha, I would like to touch upon the theme of
difference between male and female yoga practice. There are many speculations on this topic.
Supporters of the opinion that there are differences in male and female practice insist that there is
some exclusive knowledge that is accessible only to people of certain sex. Though in my opinion
the state of consciousness, state of yoga, is the same for men and women. As for the methods of
achieving this state, they can differ though not essentially. The thing is that structure and
functions, let us say, of the bowels or respiratory system of men and women are the same and
arms and legs bend in the same directions. This is the reason why men and women practice
successfully in mixed groups. Certainly you should take into consideration and be aware of the
anatomical and physiological differences between men’s and women’s bodies; for example, during
the practice of upside asanas (we will discuss it in detail a little bit later).
Achieving the YOGA state does not depend directly on difficulty of the asanas that are
practiced. Those who think otherwise may confuse Ego with Yoga. However, every person has
his/her own opinion, delusion and ways to achieve designated goals. From my point of view, there
are more common factors than differences in the male and female practice. For example:
intention, persistence in practice, ability to discern, strong faith, deliverance from fear of death,
cultivating patience and forgiveness, achieving calmness and balance of spirit and so on.
At the end of discourse in Hatha Yoga I would like to underline that it is wrong to practice
asanas without an understanding of the principles, according to which these exercises are built;
you can cause more problems than gain benefit. Remember! In the ancient sources only several
asanas are described though there are no detailed descriptions there. That is why to be able to use
Hatha Yoga and especially to teach it, even at the level of “gymnastics”, knowledge of medicine,
physiology, biomechanics, psychology and understanding of physical improvement principles are
required. “You should learn Gymnastics from those who propagate medicine”, - it is said in the
study book of a doctor Mercurialice “Art of Gymnastics”, published in 1573. This knowledge
should also be “let through” the personal experience to achieve understanding and ability to
discern. This is certainly required only for an instructor. A practitioner only needs to find an
experienced instructor, although that is not so easy nowadays.
Though even if you understood all the principles of work with a physical body – it can only
guarantee you to have a healthy, strong body that is not prone to illness. After this work with mind
as well as with ego (ahamkara) starts. Here is a quotation from the ancient treatise on yoga
“Gheranda Samhita”: “There are no bonds equal to bonds of Maya; there is no power greater than
Yoga; there is no friend better than wisdom; there is no enemy worse than egoism (ahamkara)”. In
fact, the process of improvement in yoga lasts all life long and this is, probably, the only worthy
occupation that a human being can find for him/herself.
In the yoga treatises you can come across a “formula”, that a beginner should stick to: “A
yogi should not stop practice even when he is within a hairbreadth of death”. This means that even
if minor or major problems arise in your life or otherwise things are going swimmingly and you
are on the “tide” – you should keep practicing. Whatever is going on or happens – we are
practicing. And later, after many years of practice you may understand that this is your practice
that allowed you to survive in a figurative and direct sense, enabled you not to waste your energy
on temporary and unnecessary things, to preserve an inside core. Yoga practice may become a
thread that will evolve your consciousness. You should just tell yourself: “Whatever happens I
will keep practicing”. Sometimes it can become the only motivation to go on with your life. It can
be otherwise when lots of temptations like power, knowledge, wealth, fame and new opportunities
and in this case only practice helps to stay irreproachable. When during the Roman Empire era the
governors were moving to the conquered cities, where they had fame and wealth, in order to stay

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
irreproachable they had a person next to them who’s responsibilities were to whisper in their ear
that all was perishable and they were mortal. Yoga practice can become such a reminder in our life
if it is the correct one.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Chapter 2. Shatkarma
Those who have too much fat or mucus should perform
shatkarma (six purification techniques) first of all. For others
who have balanced doshas it is not necessary to perform
them. Dhauti, basti, neti, trataka, nauli and kapalabhati are
known as shatkarma or six purification procedures.
“Hatha Yoga Pradipika”
According to “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”, those people who have unbalanced doshas (some
drawback, reason of dysfunction) should practice shatkarma. Dosha is the notion from ayurveda
(ayurveda can be translated as science of life). It is possible to say that doshas are the
combinations of prevailing elements of Ether, Water, Earth, Air and Fire. There are three doshas:
vata, pitta and kapha. Literally vata means – wind, pitta – bile, kapha – mucus. Vata is formed by
vibrations that reproduce mostly the qualities of ether and air; pitta – of fire and water; kapha – of
water and earth. That is why vata reflects the following qualities (gunas): dry, dynamic, cold,
light, variable, quick, thin; pitta – hot, light, wet, fluid; kapha – fat, cold, heavy, sluggish, soft,
durable. Combinations of vibrations of qualities that they reproduce in a human being provides
him/her with certain constitutional type –prakriti (innate qualities) and vikriti (acquired qualities).
According to my observations, amongst the people that come to practice yoga, only 1 person
from 100 has balanced doshas. That means that almost everybody should practice shatkarma…
The base of hatha yoga is shatkarma (it can be translated as – “six actions”). It becomes clear
from “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”. Though even if the meaning of shatkarma was not mentioned in the
treatise, it would become obvious because anybody who started to practice Hatha Yoga and to use
Shatkarma can notice what a tremendous influence on the body and mind of a practitioner it has.
Such great changes take place because we have cleaned the bowels, we use nauli – stimulate and
control inside organs, balance doshas, we can clean our nose, cleanse our stomach, eyes and
respiratory tracts. And by and by it becomes obvious that we have changed our body with the help
of our consciousness and we form our objective reality.
Having cleansed all the cavities, a human being acquires a steady mind and healthy body,
thus he/she achieves a basic state for practice of the next stages of hatha yoga and radja yoga. The
thing is that if the body is foul, then the practice of hatha yoga will be defective and it is
practically impossible to achieve the state of radja yoga. For example, if somebody has got
problems with their digestive system, then he/she cannot do much of hatha yoga and cannot even
think about radja yoga.
Asanas are the next stage after shatkarma. In our group practices we use only some
shatkarmas – nauli, kapalabhati and switch to asanas because there is some specificity of other
shatkarmas that does not allow using them in the group practices. In the groups we can practice
only some kriyas (actions). This can sometimes cause a tendency when shatkarma loses its
primary meaning. Though, this should not take place. Shatkarma should be practiced with strong
intention and persistence especially by people who only started to study hatha yoga. When I only
started to practice yoga, I practiced it with strong intention and persistence – shatkarma was the
base of my daily practice. I was performing all six actions every day for a long time and only then
was practicing asanas and pranayama. I noticed that asanas had less influence on my
consciousness than shatkarma that is shatkarma has more influence on the state of the body and
the state of consciousness of a practitioner. It is easier to improve your body with the help of
shatkarma if there is such a necessity.
Similar to the body that has three doshas, the mind has three drawbacks. The first one is mala
(dirtiness), the second is vikshepa (distraction of attention), the third one is avarna (cover,
Dirtiness is psychological junk that appears in your mind when you sit down for
contemplation. There are five types of dirtiness: kama (lust), krodha (anger), moha (delusion),
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
mada (haughtiness or pride), matsariya (envy). All the mentioned types of dirtiness are the
product of ego.
When different images come through your mind, when it is anxious and it is impossible to
stop it – this is vikshepa. When your mind is not capable of understanding itself, this is called
ignorance or avarna.
With the help of shatkarma practice the centers of the physical body that are responsible for
arousing these doshas in the mind are stabilized. Shatkarma works on the physical level but it
influences your mind, the waves of your brain and blocked energy.
Shatkarma actions are described in the treatises “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” and “Gheranda
Samhita” that you can find at the end of this book. Every kriya of shatkarma can be explained in
details from different points of view. They have very strong influence on the body on the energy
level, as well as the physical one, but at the end of the day this differentiation is illusive. A human
being is a single whole because everything is interconnected.
Kriyas of shatkarma are performed mostly with the help of water and air; water is a universal
data medium, that is why even if your nose or bowels are clean it makes sense to practice neti and
basti to purify them on the level of a more delicate energy. Besides the cleaning effect, these
exercises are certainly influencing energy level – a human being feels more energized and
partially because of the informational cleansing. These exercises also change the qualities of your
mind, making it more stable and easier to control. When it is within the power of a human being
to control his/her inner organs and he/she can do it with the help of consciousness, rather than
only through the vegetative nervous system, he/she becomes self-confident and fearless. Besides,
additional energy gets disengaged, energy that is wasted by a common person for vritti
(anxiousness), related to the condition of the body.
Now let us pay attention to the kriyas of shatkarma.

1. Kapalabhati
“Kapala” means “scull” or “forehead”. “Bhati” means “light” or “glitter”, “splendor” as well
as “perception and knowledge”.
This is a purification exercise for respiratory tracts. Kapalabhati is a technique of pranayama
that energizes the whole brain and arouses drowsing centers that are responsible for delicate
perception. It has also a strong energetic impact of awakening the body. It is very good to use it in
the morning and at the beginning of any work outs.
In the modern urban conditions of living it is advisable to perform kapalabhati every day.
Kapalabhati purifies respiratory tracts. There are several descriptions of kapalabhati
techniques performed in different ways with different rhythm, inhale and exhale ratio. All of them
are correct, there is not any mistake. The most important is to make a sharp exhale. With the help
of a sharp exhale we free our lungs from remaining carbonic acid. In “Pradipika” kapalabhati is
described as breathing “similar to forge bellows”. In some other descriptions you can come across
a combination of sharp exhales and quiet, natural inhales (Svami Muhtibodhananda Sarasvati). In
“Gheranda Samhita” there are three variations of kapalabhati: vamakrama (alternating breathing
similar to nadi-shodhana pranayama), viutkrama (using water), sitkrama (inhaling through the
mouth, similar to shitali pranayama).
The thing is that our lungs are not just a cavity with tubes at the top; they have a more
complicated structure. They look more like the crown of a tree with many crotches. So, when we
are breathing we are breathing in the middle of diapason. As a result carbonic acid stagnates in the
upper part of lungs (near collarbones) and in the lower part (closer to celiac plexus) and it can
remain there for many days. Such remnants of carbonic acid can be only removed with the help of
kapalabhati. Knowing that, yogis use this kriya every day at least 12-108 times.
To get rid of the remnants of the carbonic acid full yogi breathing may also be used, though it
is not a part of shatkarma. Performing such breathing we gradually and consciously inhale
upwards, similar to a vessel being filled – we fill with air first the lower part of lungs, then middle

Chapter 2. Shatkarmas
and upper. Exhale is performed in reverse order. Involving all the parts of lungs in the inhale and
exhale process allows to fill them in with fresh air and to release the remnants of carbonic acid.
Also, during kapalabhati the mucous membrane of the nose gets purified. There are lots of
extraneous substances in the air we are breathing. If bacteria or microparticles of dust get on the
mucous membranes of the nose, they are immediately covered with mucous to prevent them from
coming to the lungs. This is the function of the mucous membranes of the nasopharynx, nasal
cavities and partially of the trachea. So, if nasal cavities of a human being develop mucous – it is
normal. Usually, if there are no bacteria, there should not be too much mucous. If there is mucous
in your nose that means you have been in a very unclean, dusty place.
There is also one more mechanism of how kapalabahti works. On the different parts of our
body there are receptors with the help of which we can influence our internal organs. Large zones
of such receptors are located on the feet, palms, ears, lips, genitals, eye retina and tongue; local
zones are almost all over the body. Influencing these zones – making pressure point massage or
contemplating a candle – we are activating the work of the internal organs. Different zones require
different intensity of influence. The greatest number of receptors – and they are the most
sensitive- are located at the eye retina, tongue and genitals. More inert points, that require longer
influence are located at the palms and feet. Besides, there are quite big zones all over the body –
on the hips, hands and belly. These zones look like spots, they are called marmas.
In Ayurveda, marmas are represented as points, though in principle, they can be considered as
local zones. For example, when we are performing a stone asana – pashanasana, a great number
of muscles are working and they influence the marmas. In the given example we activate our body
through marmas in such a way that it becomes strong and more muscular. The more intensive the
influence upon marmas is the less time is required for it. For example mayurasana or pashanssana,
those have quite strong influence upon marmas; do not need to be practiced for long. At the same
time utkatasana has less influence that is why it should be practiced longer. During kapalabhati we
delicately influence marmas in the nasal cavities by the air flow; nasal cavities are usually very
sensitive. Time for practicing capalabhati should be chosen individually, according to personal
As with the help of kapalabhati a human being purifies his/her respiratory tracts and removes
remnants of carbonic acid from the lungs, this exercise has a strong influence on the
consciousness. Breathing is the most important energy exchanging process in our body and
conscious managing this process is practically equal to becoming aware and managing all life
energy in the body. Andre van Laysbet in his book “Pranayama: the way to the secrets of Yoga”
wrote about the following physiological phenomenon: during the normal inhale the fluid
surrounding the brain and the brain itself get a little bit compressed. During the exhale the
compression of the spinal fluid decreases and the brain widens a little bit. Compulsory exhale
during kapalabhati increases the massage effect on the brain through increasing decompression
with every exhale. This mechanical influence of the breathing process on the brain is similar to
massage and during the normal breathing the frequency of it is 15-18 times per minute. During
kapalabhati the frequency of these vibrations reaches 120 times per minute, that initiates heavy
blood afflux, that nourishes the brain cells as well as endocrine glands – pituitary gland and
epiphysis. Thereby kapalabhati purifies the brain (that is reflected in its title) and tops up all the
nervous system. Although my teacher told me that the rhythm of liquor movement depends upong
the general breathing cycle but the liquid itself moves due to the contraction of specific muscles
(they are not breathing muscles). One way or the other, during kapalabhati the nervous system
gets activated.

2. Nauli
Nauli (wave) – is the most important part of shatkarma. It balances all the doshas and is the
main purifying practice in Hatha Yoga. Nauli inflames digestive fire, eliminates all the digestive
disturbances, disorders in doshas and also creates a happy state of mind. The truth of the last
statement can be experienced by everyone who practices nauli not less than 1080 times a day.
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 2.1. Nauli

Practice technique: Exhale completely, draw in your belly as much as you can (uddiyana
bandha). To do so you should close your larynx with a swallowing reflex, widen your chest and
move up your diaphragm. As a result the abdominal cavity creates a vacuum and your belly
naturally draws in. That is, drawing the belly in happens without using the abdomen muscles, but
because of the way the diaphragm works it creates vacuum. This is the first step. Then you need to
move forward, rectus abdomen muscles in the middle, in such a way so it looks like a vertical
wave, located along all the abdomen.
Rectus abdominal muscles are two long vertical muscles, located in the front part of the
abdomen, that start from the point under the center of the chest near the diaphragm till the pubic
bone. Practicing nauli, these are the muscles that you manipulate with, oblique and transverse
abdominal muscles are also used.
When rectus abdominal muscles are tightened together and a fixed wave juts out in the
middle – this is madhiama nauli. When abdominal muscles move left to right (counterclockwise),
it is called dakshina nauli. When they move right to left, this is vama nauli.
Learning to move a wave right-left across the abdomen is advisable to start after mastering
how to fix a wave in the middle. Moving a wave should always be finished to the left as the colon
moves (vama nauli).
Before trying to practice nauli you should be able to perform uddiyana bandha properly (see
chapter “Bandhas”). It is necessary to remember that during uddiyana – abdomen muscles are
relaxed and during nauli they contract, creating a wave.
It is easier to master this practice in the standing position, resting your straight arms against
half-bent knees. First you are practicing nauli, bending your body forward and resting your arms
on the hips just above the knees. If you mastered this, then you can practice in the more upright
position, resting your arms on the upper part of the hips, it is also possible to practice it in the
sitting position.
Nauli and uddiyana are very powerful yoga practices that can redirect the energy in the body
in a special way. Quantity of nauli that we use at our classes is perfectly safe and very healthy
(108-216 times).
Nauli practice has no restrictions for healthy people. Nauli is not practiced only during acute
diseases of the abdominal cavity, during menses and pregnancy. That is women will have cyclic
nauli practice.
You can come across some schools where, on the contrary, uddiyana and nauli are
recommended to practice during menses. Here every yoga instructor proceeds from what he/she
wants and what people that came to the group want. At Kyiv Yoga School our aim in general is to
get rid of vritti – agitation of mind and achieving the balance of energy flows. This balance has
the effect of health improvement, recovery from diseases.
At some yoga schools uddiyana and several other practices are used with pragmatic purpose,
for example to stop menses. Though not everybody needs it.
In the treatise “Gheranda Samhita” this practice is called lauliki. The word lola means
“rotating”, or “mixing, stirring”.
Chapter 2. Shatkarmas
Nauli fixed in the middle is also used in Tantra Yoga to manage the energy flows. This is a
powerful practice that enables a practitioner to move the energy from the lower chakras up. Nauli
is also used whilst practicing vadjroli mudra. Vadjroli is more related to the tantric tradition,
though it is mentioned in “Pradipika”. It is used in individual practices and it is usually not taught
in groups.

3. Basti
Basti is purification of the bowels. There are two types of basti: djala basti (using water) and
sukshma basti (without water).
The more practical one is djala basti (purification with water), that is why it is described here.
Although the most important shatkarma is considered to be nauli, the most powerful influence on
the body and consciousness a human being achieves, is by using basti.
Practice technique. Sit down in the water reservoir (bath) waist-deep. It is better to squat
(deep variant of utkatasana). You should relax the muscles of the pelvic floor, perform nauli – as a
result of a vacuum, created in the bowels, water will start filling it in rapidly. You should get in as
much water as you can, leave the bath and release the water. This procedure should be repeated till
the water you are releasing is clean. If it is difficult for you to relax your anus, yogis recommend
using a straw. In India yogis used a bamboo straw for such a purpose. In our conditions you can
just pick up a straw from any material at hand. Using such a straw some yogis manage to draw out
water from a small vessel, tub or a bucket, then it is not necessary to sit in a bath or a water
reservoir. During performing this practice a powerful upwards energy flow is created, that on the
physical level can be tracked as water moving up the bowels.
There is an ancient saying “the shorter the bowels the longer life is”. In this case it certainly
does not depend upon the bowels length, but how quickly a human being can excrete out of his
organism waste materials– dejection.
Basti is the most powerful instrument, having mastered in which a beginner can experience a
positive influence on his/her body. Everybody who mastered basti can agree with me that this
kriya is very effective. A human being starts even thinking differently and his/her attitude towards
his/her own body changes as well. In the ancient yoga treatises it is mentioned that the body of a
person practicing basti gets controlled by his/her will and becomes as beautiful as the body of the
god of love.
According to medical statistics, bowel contamination is the secondary reason diseases
originate, in 60-80% of cases. A primary reason can be the spine state. Though if the bowels do
not work properly, this is the reason many diseases originate. Certainly if a human being cleanses
his/her bowels, all the inside organs get preconditioned for normal function, even if there are some
disorders in the spine.
It is necessary to understand that if a human being has two meals a day, he/she should pass a
stool 2 times a day too. In very rare cases, with certain state of doshas, a person can have
defecation once a day. Though if you have 3 meals a day and did not have any bowel movement at
all, putrid processes start in the bowels, that lead to intoxication and naturally it influences your
consciousness. You should not think that our consciousness exists separately from the inside
organs. We are one whole human being and everything has an effect on our consciousness.
Disorders in bowel functioning is likely to make a person aggressive and angry. Certainly it works
the other way as well – if a person feels aggression and anger, he/she will experience disorders in
the working of the bowels and will suffer from constipation. If a person is kind and gentle, this
will be a precondition for a good working bowel, though at the same time it is necessary to take
into consideration different factors, for example what kind of diet this individual has and the state
of his/her spine. No matter how kind this person is, if his/her diet is not healthy and he/she has
disbalance of doshas or vertebrae shifting in the section responsible for the bowels, there can be
observed disorders of the bowels.
Our colon consists of several departments (photo 2.2). A little bit below the point of joining
of the small intestine with the large one there is a blind gut with vermiform appendix, then there is
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
the ascending colon, the transverse colon, the descending colon and the sigmoid colon that is S-
shaped. At the end of the colon there is a rectum. Total length of the rectum is 1,5-2 m.
The easiest variant of basti is cleansing of the lower departments of the bowels. This
technique can be performed every day if there is such a necessity. All the other departments of the
colon can be cleansed once a month. Such a total cleansing can be combined with fasting on the
same day, but it is not obligatory
To cleanse the rectum, sigmoid and ascending
colon it is enough to absorb water once, but to
cleanse the other compartments more repetitions of
absorption are required. It should be performed in
the following way: first you should do quick
cleansing, absorbing water and expelling stool till
clear water runs out of your anus. Then you should
absorb as much water as you can. To push it further
in the colon you should perform viparitakarani
mudra (see the chapter “Mudras”) or - if you are a
beginner – just lie down on your back with a folded
blanket under your pelvis. The water will start
flowing in the transverse colon and to make it flow
further in the ascending colon you should get up and
lie on your right side. Photo 2.2.

To get rid of the water it is necessary to do the same routine but in the opposite direction:
perform viparitakarani mudra or just lie down in such a way so that the pelvis is above the
shoulders, wait a little bit and then lie down on the left side. Having stood up it is necessary to
perform nauli to get the water out of the bowels. This is how the complete purification of the
bowels is achieved.
It is also possible to absorb water and without changing your body position perform first
madhiyama nauli (fixing the wave in the middle). Having absorbed enough warm water, perform
dakshina nauli (moving a wave right) many times. Then perform vama nauli (moving a wave left)
and empty your bowels.
Such total cleansing takes quite a long time. It is better to perform it on your day off also
because some water can be caught in the compartments of the colon. The thing is that the caught
water has a piquant peculiarity to come out rapidly at the most unsuitable moment and usually this
reflects the emotional state of a human being. Imagine that a person goes on a date or has an exam
and suddenly he/she realizes that he/she needs to find a toilet quickly. It would look quite
eccentric. Certainly, if you master nauli properly, nothing will be left in your bowels after
performing basti. Though it comes with experience…
Some people say that when you practice basti you wash out all the natural gut organisms.
This is a delusion. Usually, people who cannot perform basti make such statements to justify their
laziness. I have been using basti in my sadhana since 1990 and have never had any bowel
dysfunction after using basti. The same can be confirmed by hundreds of adepts that I have taught
during all these years, as mastering shatkarma is obligatory in our studies.
Even after the total cleansing of all the sections of the bowels by the natural water with the
help of nauli, gut organisms will not be washed out. Basti is a natural procedure; we do not use
any external devices. This function is as natural as swallowing and digesting food. It is because of
avidya (ignorance) a human being cannot be aware of his/her capabilities.
Above all, the appendix takes an active part in supporting the healthy microflora of the
bowels. Earlier people used to think that the appendix is an atavism and used to excise it normally
to avoid inflammation. Though, such an approach is a result of avidya. Later medical research
showed that the appendix performs a vital function. During performing basti the water does not go
in the appendix but it washes out all the morbific microflora from the bowels and all the remnants

Chapter 2. Shatkarmas
of the food fibre on which it develops. Consequently this helps to develop normal healthy
bacterial flora.
If everybody who does not practice basti had healthy microflora and those who started to
perform it had their microflora imbalanced, then the shatkarma technique would have not passed
the test of time. All human beings practicing shatkarma would have died of disbacteriosis. Though
disbalance of bowel microflora is observed in those who perform basti as well as in those who do
not and even have never heard about it. The thing is that in 90% of cases disbacteriosis develops
because there is some shifting in the part of the spine responsible for bowel function. This is the
reason why the bowels do not perform its function properly and consequently the microflora gets
imbalanced. Performing basti, as well as not performing it, does not make any difference. This
should be understood clearly. Basti just cleanses your bowels from congestion of dejection and
releases your mind from vritti (agitation) on the matter.
I am often asked, what is the difference between basti and enema? I would say: violence. The
difference between enema and basti is similar to the difference between effort and coercion. They
have a completely different impact on psychic, physiology, nervous system and the condition of
all the other organs, although they seem to be very similar at first sight.
Performing basti a human being manages the energy streams, turns back the energy flow,
naturally absorbs the water in the bowels; the amount of water is equal to the vacuum he/she can
create in the abdominal cavity. Using an enema, a human being injects the water in the bowels
externally. It is because of using enema there can be disorders though not of microflora but the
state of the bowel muscles. The thing is when the bowels are clogged with dejection its muscles
are overstretched already and then a couple of liters of water are injected. The muscles get
overstretched even more and then cannot contract properly. That is why the enema, unlike basti, is
Here you should also take into consideration that if a human being has got his/her bowels
blocked then it is better to administer an enema than to do nothing. It is better than to die from
intoxication! Though, if there is choice between basti and enema, then it is out of question for
During performing basti the principle of redirecting the energy flow is used. Performing nauli
we redirect upwards the flows that are usually directed downwards. On the physical level the
water starts flowing upwards in the bowels against the normal flow. This principle is used with the
main objective – when we “release” the flow that has been turned back, the natural energy flow
increases considerably. It can be compared with a river, where the water is the energy. When the
river is temporarily dammed, the water accumulates and when we consciously remove this dam, it
flows with great force along the natural course of the river, cleansing it.
The principle of redirecting the flow is often used in Hatha Yoga. Almost all the bandhas are
based upon it as well as viparitakarani mudra.
As a result of using nauli, basti balances doshas and cleanses the bowels making our mind
peaceful. Though at the same time basti is the practice, excessive performance of which can be
harmful. You should bare in mind a Slavonic proverb: “Make a fool pray to God, he will break his
forehead”. Also, if you remember an eastern symbol of balance Dao – transition of black into
white: any excessive effort can lead to transition into the opposite quality.
Taking this into consideration, cleansing of the lower departments of the bowels can be
performed every day if you have disorders with your bowel function and you do not pass as many
stools in as many meals you have. Though if you move your bowels at least once a day it is also
not obligatory to use basti every day. Though if there is such a day when you have not passed the
stool – this is a great catastrophe for your organism. That is why you should use basti.
In the classical treatises it is said that basti can be performed by beginners every day during
2-3 months and then upon necessity. Experienced practitioners use basti upon necessity or once
every fortnight to keep up proper tone.
During mastering basti the question about which water to use for bowel purification arises
quite often. Usually I answer that the ideal variant is to use the cleanest water you can find. If you

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
ask me which water I use, then I answer: tap water. I have been practicing this way for many years
and nothing wrong has happened to me. If a human being uses asanas properly and his spine is in
normal condition, then in any case the chlorinated water is better than the contents of his/her
bowels, believe me.
The water for basti should be warm. If you make it cold, then the bowels will cramp. On the
other hand, sometimes I like to use cold water because it tops you up. Though for beginners it is
better to use warm water so that you feel this water inside, how it has flowed in and where it is.
Meanwhile, the bowels will start relaxing naturally.
Sometimes women complain that during practicing basti the water is absorbed in the vagina.
Cleansing of female genitals including the womb in such a way is known in yoga, though this is
not a classical shatkarma. Though I have great doubts as for the necessity of this procedure for
everyone, in spite of the fact that I came across it being mentioned in the yoga treatises. If you
practice such cleansing and know why you do it, then appropriate water should be used, maybe
with some antiseptic qualities, herbal potion, etc.
For those who want to avoid the water flowing in the vagina during basti, one of my
acquaintances and I found the way to do it. It is possible to perform basti lying in the bath with
legs pressed together and the water should be absorbed then only by the bowels.
Sometimes shankha-prakshalana is reckoned as a part of shatkarma, being confused with
basti. This is not correct. Shankha-prakshalana is a part of ayurvedic panchakarma, treatment
procedures and does not refer to shatkarma of Hatha Yoga.
From my point of view, shankha-prakshalana should not be practiced by one and all – it
should be used if there are certain disorders, as a result pitta dosha gets reduced and it should be
prescribed by Ayurveda specialists when it is necessary.
Also, the widespread description of shankha-prakshalana contains twisting, that is a
dangerous direction of spine mobility. So, it does not make sense to cure one system or organ of
the body and harm the other. Certainly, if a human being that has got his bowels clogged a lot
performs shankhprakshalana he/she will feel better as the bowels at least get cleansed this way.
Though this is the same when a person has got shifted vertebrae and let us say he/she makes
twisting after which this person will feel better temporarily. But this is not the reason to say that
twisting is good for your spine. In this case twisting has the same impact as the “fix” for a drug
Although, there is one nuance. In “Gheranda Samhita” the practice similar to shankha-
prakshalana as one of the variations of basti is described, when a human being drinks lots of water
and performs nauli, he/she achieves almost the same effect that way. Why almost? The thing is
that the principal of redirecting the energy flow is not used. That is a human being does not absorb
this water upwards, but he/she just drinks it naturally and purifies in such a way his/her
gastrointestinal tract. I think this method can be used by infirm people that due to their age or the
organism state cannot perform basti. Let us draw a conclusion. If you are seriously practicing
yoga, you should learn how to perform basti. At the same time you should not abuse it and
practice it too often. For example, if the bowel movement is regular, you may not need to practice
basti at all or to practice very rarely, e.g. once in every season “not to lose the skill”.

4. Dhauti.
Dhauti is a cleansing of the stomach. There are several variants of dhauti known. For
example, Chanda Kapali in “Gheranda Samhita” mentions eight variants of dhauti; Svatmarama in
“Pradipika” describes one more variant (with the help of fabric). I will describe the most simple
and effective variant of dhauti – djala dhauti – cleansing with the help of water. Svatmarama also
describes djala dhauti as a separate practice and calls it gadjakarani.
Dhauti consists of filling up your stomach with water and emptying it with a vomiting reflex.
It is performed by influencing the receptors located at the root of the tongue that were provided by
nature for us to manage the direction of stomach and gullet peristalsis. Experienced yogis can

Chapter 2. Shatkarmas
perform dhauti at their will. They just activate the same receptors by creating mental images that
irritate these receptors.
Technique of performing: drink 1.5-2 liters of warm water. Activate vomiting reflex by
irritating with fingers the root of the tongue. Continue till all the water that has been drunk, comes
out. First it cannot be very easy – you will be coughing, sneezing, choking… Though, in the
course of time, a vomiting reflex will be as natural as a swallowing one. Dhauti can be practiced
about once a week or more often. Though people with vata dosha prevailing should not practice
this kriya more often than once a month. There are people that cannot master easily such practices
or they make them feel extremely uncomfortable. There are no mandatory practices or procedures
in yoga. If you do not feel comfortable with any practice, feel free to eliminate it from your
routine. The thing is that it is not a human being that was created for yoga but yoga itself was
created for us to use wisely and to help our bodies. This practice can be related to the treatment
and therapeutical type. It is advisable to practice it, as well as most of the yoga practices under
supervision of an experienced teacher.
A contemporary human being, especially the one who lives in a city, every day, consumes
with food toxins that it contains, for example preservatives, chemical aromatizers, stabilizers,
smell and taste intensifiers, etc. Also, if a person does not eat very fresh food, unhealthy products
of microbes vital functions get into our organism with it. What becomes of these unhealthy
products in our bodies? If there are lots of them, they say that a person has got food poisoning.
He/she does not feel good – he/she has got diarrhea and vomiting. Generally speaking, the toxins
influence the digestive system, as much that it tries to get rid of them as soon as possible –
through the colon as well as through the mouth. And what if there are not as many toxins to cause
such a reaction?
Unhealthy matters together with food get from the stomach into the bowels, where they are
absorbed into the blood. The main part of toxins gets detoxified by the liver that converts them
into matters harmless for the body. These substances are excreted with urine and stool. Some
toxins are also excreted through the skin, lungs, as well as salivary glands and the stomach.
Here we approached the most important part – besides motoric (food transporting) and
secretory functions (producing digestive secretions), the stomach also performs a releasing one. It
is not without reason that doctors prescribe gastric lavage for gas poisoning, the thing is that some
toxins from the blood get straight in to the stomach.
A natural question can arise: why are toxins from the blood excreted to the stomach, but not
to the bowels so that they can be ejected naturally with undigested remnants of food? Everything
is very simple. The main function of the bowels is absorption. That is if toxins get into the bowels
they will be absorbed into the blood. At the same time the function of absorption in the stomach is
very low.
The releasing function of the stomach, certainly, is not the main one and portion of the
unhealthy matters excreted through it is not very big. But! Let us remember about the barrieral
and protective function of the liver. If supply of toxins into the organism is regular, then the liver
does not cope with them, all the more it has to perform many other important functions in the
body. Imagine that after a five day working week you are required to work the weekend as well?!
Liver function gets disturbed, and it is well-known that disorder in the work of one of the system
components results in the failure of the whole system. Consequently some of the matter from the
duodenum gets into the stomach. Certainly, these matters are not supposed to be in the stomach.
As a result the walls of the stomach get covered with mucous lumps containing remnants of bile
and toxins that get into the stomach from the blood. Should not this filth be ejected from your
stomach by vomiting, it will remain on its walls, fretting them slowly or it will be pushed through
to the bowels, where toxins will be absorbed into the blood again and get into the liver. The circle
Dhauti allows us to get rid of everything that was accumulated on the walls of the stomach, to
improve its functioning as well as the functioning of the liver. It is better to practice dhauti in the

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
morning after you wake up on an empty stomach so that the toxins accumulated in the stomach do
not mix up with food and do not penetrate into the bowels.
As well as rough purifying of the body on the physical level, dhauti has also a very strong
energy impact. With its help we can release the energy body from alien “stickers”. There is an
expression “I am sick and tired of this person”. In fact this saying is very apt. The thing is that in
the extreme situations or during interacting with difficult people, energy fibres in the region of the
stomach get tensed and as a result we can feel heaviness, tension in the stomach or sickness.
Sometimes it can be accompanied by some “sticker” on energy fibres. It is possible to get rid of it
only with the help of dhauti. Those who found themselves in the difficult situation, experienced
strong paroxysm of fear, horror, anger, should remember that sometimes after these feelings
nausea and vomiting could be observed. This is how the body tries to get rid of the alien energy
“stuck” to our energy fibres. If you feel sick having communicated with a difficult person,
practice dhauti.
Dhauti intensifies vata dosha, that means that it promotes weight loss and slimming of the
body. On an empty stomach with vata dosha being insufficiently expressed, dhauti can be
practiced every day for some period of time, for example, for half a year. Then, naturally, you
should switch into a softer routine; let us say, once every 2-3 months.

5. Neti
Neti is cleansing of the nasal passages. There are two types of neti: djala neti (with the help
of water) and sutra neti (with the help of a special thread). For djala neti yogis recommend to use
a special netipot, spout of which could fit into the nostril. Purifying with the help of water is more
practical and easier...
Though it is necessary to understand that in our climate such practices have some nuances.
For example, during the cold season, this procedure should not be performed before going out.
Remnants of the water, caught in the sinuses of the skull (frontal and maxillary) can lead to
exposure that prompts colds. That is why it is better to practice neti before going to bed during
such periods or even substitute it (especially beginners) with longer kapalabhati. During the warm
season neti has quite a wholesome effect on the body as well as the mind of a practitioner.
Technique of performing: pour water in one nostril, having bent your head in such a way so
that water easily flows out from the other nostril. Then switch sides. The water temperature should
be the same as your body temperature. It is recommended to use salted water, but this is not
obligatory. Sometimes warm milk or other liquids are used instead of water.
On the rough physical level neti cleanses the mucous membrane of the nasopharynx from
mud and dust and on the spiritual level purifies your mind. On the energy level a human being
obtains clearer vision and understanding of things.

6. Trataka
Trataka is purifying of the eyes. This practice is related to contemplative yoga practices
(inside trataka - antaranga) as well as to cleansing ones (outside trataka - bahiranga).
Technique of performing outside trataka: stop your eyes at some point and look at them
without blinking. There are many objects for contemplation – running water, a candle flame, a leaf
or you can just stare. Continue till tears start running. Perform this practice 5-30 minutes.
According to medical research, tears contain lots of toxic matters that are excreted from the
body in such a way. More often contemplating a candle flame is used for trataka.
During the practice of inside trataka you should stare at the object of contemplation till its
delicate form, its energy component reveals to you.
Trataka prompts the unmani state (absence of thoughts) that is a step to achieving the
chittavritti nirodha state. Yogis also use this practice to achieve the state of dhiyana –
In the ancient treatises the necessity to keep secret the performance techniques is emphasized,
which indicates the importance of this part of yoga: “these shatkarma practices that purify the
Chapter 2. Shatkarmas
body are secret. They give lots of wonderful results…”, “… and actually to be efficient, the
practice should be kept in secret; being revealed it loses its power”.

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas

Chapter 3. Bandhas
Before studying bandhas, let us remember the energy structure of a human being. There are
psychophysiological centers in the spiritual body of a human being that are called chakras (from
Sanskrit – wheel, disk, the Sun, gods’ weapon). Chakras are all over the body and the largest ones
are located along the spine from the perineum up to the crown of the head. They are vortexis of
energy formed as revolving cones, the tops of which (padmas) rest on the spine and the bases go
out at the frontal part of the body. They are compared with lotus flowers that have different
numbers of petals and are of different color; as well as with spokes of a rotating umbrella.
For a clairvoyant they are
represented as a glow of
energy in the form of
vortex in the region of
nervous plexuses and
endocrine glands. Chakras
are also called knots
(granthas) or dots (bindu).
Different sources give
different estimations as to
the number and functions
of the chakras. The most
ancient is a four chakras
system; the most popular
nowadays is a seven
chakras system. There are
systems in the structure of
which 13, 21 or 49 chakras
are mentioned.
Photo 3.1. Seven chakras

One of my teachers, Yuri Glavchev, being a clairvoyant, confirms that it is possible to single
out quite a lot of chakras or in other words - minor energy vortexes – along the peripheral nervous
system, as any nervous plexuses and indurations, as well as endocrine glands, glow more
intensively than the rest of the body. It was similar clairvoyance that became a base for the
acupuncture system and reflexology. Sometimes, watching my teacher Yuri Glavchev, I was a
witness to him using needles for treatment in spite of the fact that he did not study in details the
eastern acupuncture system – he just saw the points of the spiritual body that had to be influenced.
Yuri was saying that energy vortex flow, which is red, works for “absorption” of energy and
enriches the body from outside, promoting the brain irritation. The yellow spot is more neutral, it
requires pressure and it has a local meaning, it irritates the peripheral nervous system. Through the
blue vortex the energy is “discharged” outside. The purple vortex is constantly pulsating;
influencing this spot can affect the central as well as peripheral nervous systems. Taking into
consideration these factors it is necessary to choose between silver, copper, iron or stone needles
according to their aura.
Though there are seven main vortexes (chakras) along the spine. They are located in the
following order (top-down): Sahasrara (is situated on the crown of the head), Adjnya (between
the eyebrows), Vishuddha (around the thyroid gland), Anahata (in the center of the chest),
Manipura (around the solar plexus), Svadhishthana (between the genitals and navel), Muladhara
(the base of the spine; women have the most intensive glow of Muladhara around the clitoris and
men – a little bit lower than the torso around the testicles).

Chapter 3. Bandhi
Chakras have certain sounds (bidja-mantras), symbols, letters etc. corresponding to them.
Symbols of chakras are compound compositions in which you can distinguish the main element
shaped as a geometric figure, corresponding to one of the fundamental matters.
Also seven colors of the rainbow correspond to chakras. The thing is that if one of the
chakras was not active enough, sometimes my teacher would use one of the elements (usually
metal or stone), that having a similar glowing spectrum with the chakra intensified it. For
Muladhara, that has red glowing, copper is appropriate, for Svadhishthana and Manipura – gold,
as it has a yellow and orange glowing spectrum. For Anahata (green color) iron is appropriate, for
Vishuddha (light blue) – diamond, for Adjnya (navy blue) – chalk, for Sahasrara (purple) – zinc.
Though only clairvoyants can choose the elements for intensifying the glowing of chakras, as
sometimes individual peculiarities can come into effect; similar to allergen they can reject some
metal or stone completely. It does not happen that often, though it should be taken into
Besides chakras, there are energy channels (nadi) in the human body. They number 64 or
even 72 thousand. Nadi connect chakras with inside organs and interlacing, they form the subtle
body. Three central channels are called sushumna, ida and pingala.
Ida (the lunar nadi) provides the energy flow downwards from the left nostril to the left
testicle (ovary). The nature of this channel is female; emotional, physical energy flows along it.
Pingala (the solar nadi) starts from the right testicle (ovary), the energy flows along it upwards to
the right nostril. This channel has a male nature and it transmits intellectual, mental energy.
Sushumna is located between them, it flows through the inside part of the spine, touching every
chakra. The main energy flow runs up along it from Muladhara to Sahasrara chakras. Ida and
Pingala are ascending in parallel with each other along sushumna and join in the point called
Brahma-dvara (the doors of Brahma, Sahasrara chakra). There is an opinion that ida and pingala
run in a spiral around the spine. My teacher, being a clairvoyant, says that ida and pingala do not
cross each other and run along sushumna. Similarly to what he said I saw the ancient pictures of
Tibetan Yoga. However, it is not that important in my opinion.
There is a system of prana circulation in the subtle body that is similar to the circulatory or
respiratory system. Distribution of prana is regulated with the help of asanas, pranayama and by
managing life winds (vayu) of prana. There are five of these flow-winds that are connected with
chakras. One of the vayu that is called prana is connected with Anahata chakra and helps with
respiration. Apana vayu is responsible for the secretory functions and is related to Muladhara
chakra. Samana vayu maintains proper digestion and is connected with Manipura chakra. Udana
regulates the work of the lungs and muscles; it is related to Vishuddha chakra. Vyana helps to
maintain vitality of the organism and is connected with Svadhishthana and Adjnya.

A human being can partially distribute strength and direction of the energy flows in the subtle
body with the help of special practices – bandhas. Generally acknowledged meaning of the word
“bandhas” is a lock. Literal translation is “to bind”, “hold” or “compress”. Bandha is a technique,
that helps to keep together the opposite poles of energy (shakti). As a result of contracting the
muscles and organs of the physical body, shakti is accumulated in certain centers. The principle of
viparitakarani, that is redirecting the energy flow backwards, is used in the bandhas. As I have
already mentioned, this principle can be compared with installing a dam across a fast flowing
river. The water is restrained for some time and after removing the dam, it rushes along its course
with more power, washing off all the stagnant dirt. Similar to it the energy of a human being is
restrained temporarily by bandhas and then it rushes with greater power along its natural course,
removing all the obstacles. Three bandhas are working in such a way: mula, uddiyana and
djalandhara. Nabho bandha is, on the contrary, similar to the bridge, uniting two banks. That is
why the first three bandhas should be practiced for short durations at a time and nabho bandha
can be practiced for a long time without a break.
The great advantage of these practices is that they do not require specially allocated time and
they can be practiced simultaneously with any exercise (with some minor exceptions). Bandhas
could be fully considered as a way to accumulate some energy. Similar practices, except yoga, can
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
be found in many other systems, for example in Taoistic, Buddhistic, Toltecan techniques and
others. They are probably natural “locks”, that allow to manage the inside energy flows. They are
just described better and properly arranged in yoga treatises.

1. Mula bandha
Mula bandha (the word mula means root, source, beginning, the word combination mula
bandha means root lock) prompts accumulation, purification and transformation of sexual energy,
acquiring control over the sexual impulses. It eliminates constipation and all the troubles related to
it – hemorrhoids, premature ejaculation, excessive sexual excitability combined with impotence,
lack of appetite and etc. Yogis affirm that regular practice of mula bandha keeps your body young
till declining years.
Mula bandha and udiyana bandha are techniques that redistribute and redirect pranic warmth
and nervous impulses from the lower centers to top ones and from rougher centers to more subtle
Yogis believe that when the perineum contracts constantly, prana (energy) shakti that usually
flows out from this meatus, gets redirected to Manipura chakra, that is the location of the “fire”
element or agni tattva. This center is responsible for maintaining the temperature of the body and
for regulation of the digestive fire.
I am often asked if it is possible to perform mula bandha separately from other bandhas and
on which breathing phase it should be performed. Final effect from combining Mula bandha and
Djalandhara bandha is the same as combining Uddiyana with Djalandhara. In fact to achieve
better results all bandhas should be practiced together in maha bandha, although each of them can
be practiced separately; it is necessary to master each of them properly. As for the correlation with
breathing, mula bandha can be combined with breath-holding as well as without any reference to
any breathing phase. Mula bandha can be combined with pranayama or it can be performed as an
independent practice.
To perform mula bandha it is necessary to sit in padmasana or other pose with straight back,
to exhale all the air and to contract the sphincter muscle of the urethra and other muscles related to
it with force. Then, with slow inhale, it is necessary to contract the sphincter muscles of the anus,
lower part of the front stomach wall and the muscles of the pelvic floor, as if squeezing the pelvis
contents upwards. After the full inhale it is necessary to perform djalandhara bandha (to stretch
upwards the crown of the head and to press the chin against the subjugular fossa) and to contract
muscles with more force. With the beginning of the exhale it is necessary to raise the head, having
released djalandhara and relax all the muscles.
The influence of mula bandha on the energy level is the following. Above the perineum
inside the pelvis there is an energy lump that is egg shaped and it is called kanda. All the nadis
start from it. When we perform mula bandha, kanda gets compressed a lot and prana gets pushed
through the energy channels and the flows inside them get stronger.
Mula bandha can be viewed to consist of three parts for convenience: central (muladhara
mudra), front (vadjroli mudra) and back one (ashvini mudra). Vadjroli mudra – is the contracting
of the sphincter muscles of the urethra that entails pulling in and contracting the lower part of the
front stomach wall. Ashvini mudra – is contracting the sphincter muscles of the anus. Muladhara
mudra – is contracting muscles of the pelvic floor; this mudra stimulates the energy flow upwards
and its even distribution amongst all the channels.
Whilst contracting all these muscles, prana flows upwards along the energy channels and
after relaxation – flows down, being accumulated in Manipura chakra.
Also, it is possible to practice simpler variant of mula bandha – through contracting the
muscles of the small pelvis, for example during asanas practice. In this variant mula bandha is
performed without correlation with a breathing cycle; it can be performed once, keeping muscles
contracted for some time as well as a succession of pulsations.

Chapter 3. Bandhi
2. Uddiyana bandha
Uddiyana bandha (“flying up”, abdominal lock). During the practice of uddiyana bandha
organs in the sphere of the abdomen are pulled up and inside, creating the natural upward energy
flow; that is why this word is also quite often translated as “pulling up the abdomen”.
Uddiyana bandha prevents dispersion of energy in the middle part of the energy body, it is
used for raising the energy. It is a powerful stimulating exercise for all inside organs. According to
“Pradipika”, uddiyana practice helps prana to flow up along sushumna (central energy channel).
The rise of shakti in the body is described as the rise of a bird. It is said in “The Upanishads” that
switching activities of ida and pingala catches the consciousness in a trap and it becomes similar
to the bird bound to its pole. It tries to fly away again and again, but all the time it gets dragged
down. Although, if shaktis of ida and pingala are united and released through sushumna, this
energy will rise and at the end it will get released in Sahasrara chakra, in the highest heaven.
Svami Muktibodhananda Sarasvati in the comments to “Pradipika” describes that uddiyana
bandha changes downward flow apana vayu (energy that flows down from the umbilical center)
and unites it with prana vayu (energy that flows up from the umbilical center) and samana vayu
(energy that is responsible for digestion) in the umbilical center. When two opposite energies
apana and prana meet in the navel zone, release of potential power similar to an explosion takes
place and it goes up along sushumna nadi. Taking power from udana vaya as well, it flows up to
the highest centers. This is certainly an important event in sadhana of a practitioner; it cannot
happen as a result of two or three sessions of practice. This technique requires patient and diligent
practice in combination with other techniques.
Technique of performing:
Uddiyana bandha should be practiced on an empty stomach. After the exhale, it is necessary
to hold the breath, close the larynx, open the chest, diaphragm goes up and abdominal wall gets
tucked in towards the spine. Though it happens not because of the muscle tension, but because of
the vacuum created in the abdominal cavity. This
practice is also called vacuum uddiyana.
Uddiyana bandha is not practiced during the
period and if there are acute diseases of abdominal and
thoracic cavities.
Uddiyana should be mastered carefully to
eliminate painful sensations. During performance of
uddiyana by experienced practitioners it is possible to
palpate their spine through abdominal muscles. Usually
the beginners cannot pull in their stomachs deep
enough in consequence of their bowels being
unpurified. Besides, with unpurified bowels, the
practice of uddiyana will cause unnecessary tension
and increase intoxication, because of the rush of blood
to the bowels that are clogged with dejection. That is
why to practice uddiyana bandha properly I would
recommend to purify the bowels completely with the
help of basti.
Photo 3.2. Uddiyana Bandha

3. Djalandhara bandha
Djalandhara bandha (neck lock) it regulates ascending energy flow and also helps to prevent
the bindu flow (life energy from Adjnya, some authors correlate it with epiphysis and its
secretion) run bellow vishuddha chakra. Although djalandhara is easy to perform it is quite an
important practice.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
Technique of performing: Stretch upwards the crown of the head and press the chin against
the spot where the clavicles join. At the same time it is necessary to pay attention to the neck; it
should not go down but stretch upwards.

4. Nabho bandha
Nabho bandha (heavenly, tongue lock). Chanda Kapali describes this bandha in the following
way: “Wherever yogi is and whatever he does, he should always keep his tongue [turned]
upwards…” This is nabhi bandha that keeps him/her safe from diseases. It prevents energy
dispersion in the upper part of the energy body. Another name of the bandha – khechari mudra.
Khechari mudra is also known as nabho mudra and Svami Shivananda calls this practice
lambhika yoga. There are two forms of mastering khechari mudra. The first one includes gradual
trimming of the tongue frenulum and its lengthening; it is the form of this practice from Hatha
Yoga that can be practiced only by those who have purified their bodies and use the instructions of
a guru.
This mudra is taught early, in childhood – from twelve till sixteen, when the body is still
developing. First you should massage your tongue and this is performed by catching it with a
piece of fabric and slight stretching forward and from side to side. Then little by little the tongue
frenulum is trimmed by the sharp and sterilized blade. There can be a little bit of blood, but it is
not painful. After this the place of trimming is rubbed with turmeric powder, rock salt powder or
antiseptic to avoid contamination and to speed up healing.
The process of “milking” that is rubbing and stretching should be performed every day;
trimming should be performed every other day or every several days. When the tongue gets
lengthened it goes to the nasal cavity without assistance otherwise fingers or thin hook-shaped
tool can be used for this purpose.
When the tongue is inserted directly into the nasal cavity, the air can be directed to any nostril
by the movement of the tongue tip. The tongue tip will be able to block right or left passage; it can
also be located a little bit lower so that both nostrils are open. To lengthen the tongue so that it can
reach the center between the eye brows, many years of constant practice are required.
The second variant – it is also used in Radja Yoga more often – is described below. The form
of khechari mudra from Radja Yoga is much simpler and can be performed by everyone.
Technique of performing:
The tip of the tongue should be lifted up and pressed against the palate just after the upper
teeth. This bandha should be kept all the time during performing of asanas and it can also be
practiced almost all day long.

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas

Chapter 4. Mudras
Besides asanas, there are also exercises extensively used in Hatha Yoga, called mudras.
Mudras (from Sanskrit “seal”, “sign”) – are special exercises that sometimes resemble regular
asanas, but have greater influence upon the body and consciousness.
In yoga treatises mudras are described in the form of performing
physical exercises with certain concentration of attention. Also in
yoga some states of consciousness are sometimes called mudras.
In one of the most ancient among the known treatises on Hatha Yoga
it is mentioned that there are 25 mudras. They are the special positions
of certain parts of the body or the whole body. In this chapter we will
discuss in details two of the most important mudras – viparitakarani
mudra and mahamudra.
It is necessary to remember that in Hatha Yoga there is mahamudra
as a physical exercise. This is a synonym of mahamudra as a state of
consciousness. These two notions should not be confused.
Description of mahamudra as a combination of asana, bandha and
dharana is given in the chapter “Asanas”.
Special finger postures are also called mudras in yoga – they are
finger mudras. Finger mudras are not mentioned in the popular
Hatha Yoga treatises. These mudras, that we use a lot in our classes
in Kyiv Yoga School (see the chapter “Circle of attention”) I learned
from Svami Kalilakshmi Devi who is also known as Kilidji or Kali
Ray. She said that she knew more than 500 mudras.

Photo 4.1 Shirshasana

1. Viparitakarani mudra
Viparitakarani mudra is not a concrete position of the body or an asana. It is more kind of a
principal of positioning “the Sun” (solar plexus, the region of Manipura chakra) upwards and “the
Moon” (the region of Adjnya, hypophysis and epiphysis) – down. In this position special impulses
of the nervous system are formed; influencing the whole organism of a human being in a special
way, they switch on the endocrine glands that prompts activation of the life power.
In the treatises this mudra is described as a headstand or shirshasana (photo 4.1). It is much
later, under the influence of yogis of 19-20th century, that viparitakarani mudra got associated with
a simpler variant of performance that is similar to a gymnastic exercise “shoulder stand”, or
similar to the incomplete sarvangasana position.
To perform a classical viparitakarani mudra you should place your head on the ground and
embrace it with your hands. Then you should raise your feet up very high and stay motionless in
this position. According to the yoga treatises, by practicing this mudra constantly, it is possible to
get rid of ailments and to keep your body in good shape. This practice can be used only by
experienced practitioners.
Mentioning the fact that it is necessary to stay motionless in the upper position, means that
the muscles of the torso, especially the deep muscles of the back, must be able to keep the spine
motionless. In Kyiv Yoga School I introduced a criterion for a person to be fit to perform this
mudra: if a practitioner is able to raise slowly and easily, without jerks, STRAIGHT legs up – that
means that the spine muscles are ready to keep the spine straight (photo 4.2). Though, if in order
to perform this posture, a person needs to bend the knees or push off the ground with the feet and
jump – that means that this person is not ready to use viparitakarani mudra in his/her practice. In
such a case the person should strengthen the muscles of the torso with the help of other asanas.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
Viparitakarani mudra is a very powerful and healthy
exercise. Though the body should be able to cope with such
physical stress, otherwise instead of benefiting from it a
human being will hurt himself/herself. If the muscles of the
back do not hold the spine, which happens in 30-50% of
the cases when similar asanas are used by practitioners who
are not ready physically to perform them, it will lead to a
minimal shifting of vertebrae.
Certainly, not everyone will suffer and not
immediately. Though, one drop can make the cup run over.

Photo 4.2. Intermediate stage of

performing shirshasana

Using regularly even very useful Hatha Yoga techniques inappropriately a human being can
get negative results. Although the body has some robustness, everything has its limit. It is
impossible to mistreat your body for a long period of time and to avoid
Now let us study the popular variant of viparitakarani mudra in the
form of “shoulder stand” and sarvangasana. The principal of
viparitakarani mudra is used in both asanas.
In the standard variant of viparitakarani mudra the pelvis is
supported by the arms, legs are pointed upwards and held above the
pelvis. Thus there is an angle between the legs and pelvis.
This exercise should not be confused with a similar one –
sarvangasana (photo 60) that is perfomed almost the same way but
there is no angle between the legs and pelvis – the body is straight, the
hands are located beneath the scapulas and muscles of the back are
contracted. Besides, in sarvangasana, a human being performs deep
djalandhara bandha and the asana is more complicated. That is why we
will be talking further about a simpler variant of viparitakarani mudra
(photo 4.3).
Ultimately this is a very good exercise for the spine, but only for
those who are ready for it. To master reverse poses certain experience
in practice is required.

Photo 4.3. Viparitakarani


Though it is not because experience adds some awareness in this mudra.

The thing is that a human being that attends classes regularly has stronger back muscles than
a common person that is why the probability of vertebrae shifting is much lower. Interestingly, the
muscles in this asana work mostly in the process of pelvis rising upwards and they are not used in
the completed posture as the greater part of the weight of the legs and pelvis is held by the arms.
Why does it happen? The thing is that the muscles are not capable of holding the spine straight in
the reverse position the same way they do in the normal position – with the head upwards. This
happened in the process of evolution and is related to walking on two limbs. To give a rough
comparison, it is possible to say that in this situation the muscles would help the same way as the
roots of the tree that they try to put upside down. No matter how strong the roots are, they will not
help in this situation.
That short period of time when a practitioner lifts the pelvis up is potentially very dangerous.
It is dangerous because subtle vertebrae shifting can happen at that moment. If a vertebra of a

Chapter 4. Mudras
human being shifts for even a fraction of a millimeter – the nerve that is responsible for work of
one of the organs will be pinched. As a result in some period of time functional disorder of the
organ will start that can lead to an ailment if the inversion is not restored.
Besides, the muscles of a human being are developed unevenly – for example one arm is
stronger than the other. The back muscles are developed the same way – right half can be stronger
than the left one and vice versa. If there is minimal vertebrae shifting in the spine to the weaker
side, contracting of stronger group muscles can only aggravate the condition.
That is why this exercise should be practiced only after you have strengthened the muscles
and ligaments by other asanas and when you transfer into the final position – you should help
yourself by pushing the pelvis upwards.
Young strong and healthy people can think that all this is not related to them. Though if there
are 30 people in the group then the muscles of some of them will definitely not be ready to
practice this asana. That is why to use this practice equally for everyone and from the very first
class during the group classes it is not appropriate and even deleterious.
The thing is that a young and healthy person may also not notice minimal vertebrae shifting
straight away, especially if his/her body is warmed up by the previous asanas. And when much
later some disorder in the function of an organ occurs, innervation of which is interrupted as a
result of vertebrae shifting, the inexperienced person cannot restore the cause-effect relationship
and understand the reason of the ailment. I assert, as a yoga teacher with medical background that
90% of all somatic diseases are caused by pinched nerves of the vegetative nervous system,
caused by vertebrae shifting. Learning from one of my teachers – folk healer Yuri Glavchev
( – I had an opportunity to observe that after returning vertebrae back in
place, different ailments healed, starting from disorders in the psychoemotional sphere (different
fears, phobias and so on) and finishing with tumors that modern medicine stated as an indication
for routine and even urgent surgery. I am not mentioning different gastritis, ulcer and etc.
Reflecting about how to avoid the potential danger of vertebrae shifting using reverse asanas,
I have not found anything except two variants – whether a person just practices and muscles with
ligaments are getting stronger by and by. In such a way we show patience towards our body and
then in half a year or a year – sometimes earlier, sometimes later – a human being becomes
capable of performing this practice. Another variant is to use elements of yoga with a partner
when one person lifts up another with strength holding his/her legs, relieving back tension.
If the muscles of a human being are not ready to perform viparitakarani mudra and this
person needs it for some reason, the same effect can be achieved by putting a blanket or a pillow
underneath the pelvis. Using this method you should first sit down on a blanket or a pillow then
slowly lie down on your back. In such a way, the shoulders will be down, pelvis – up, and we will
practically have viparitakarani mudra. Although, this is an individual practice.
There is one more interesting fact that should be taken into consideration during
viparitakarani mudra practice: the majority of the practitioners nowadays, at least in Ukraine, are
women. And although in the East traditionally men as well as women were practicing yoga, in
India and Tibet, as far as I can tell, among popular yogis and their disciples, men prevail. In
Ukrainian schools there are more male instructors and among individuals attending classes
women prevail. At least this is how it has been going on in my groups for more than ten years.
That is why practicing reverse poses it is necessary to take into consideration the peculiarities of
anatomical structure of a female body.
Women have a larger and heavier pelvis than men do. Also, most women have their center of
gravity in the region of the navel or pelvis whereas men have it in the region of the chest or solar
plexus. What does this mean? This means that during pelvis lifting, women’s back and abdomen
muscles should work harder than men’s. Compare: what is easier to lift, a metallic rod or a mace
of the same length?
Though this is not everything. The female’s pelvis has more forward inclination than the
male’s one. Now let us take a side view of a human body and imagine how the gravitational force
influences its center of gravity. The gravitational force is directed towards the center of the Earth

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
that is why the impact vector of this force that starts in the body’s center of gravity will be
directed vertically downwards and perpendicularly to the surface of the earth. Men have this
vector matching with the vertical axis of the body and women do not, as the angle of their pelvis
forward inclination is wider and the center of gravity is located lower. The vector of the
gravitational force impact on the female body is shifted relative to the vertical axis of the body by
a distance between 2.5 and 7 cm. That means that whilst lifting, a woman will expend 15% more
effort than a man.
That means that lifting a heavier pelvis in comparison with the men’s one in the reverse
asana, the muscles of a woman work much harder. Also, her center of gravity appears to be higher
and to keep her body with her legs upwards is more difficult.
Now think how much stronger the muscles of a woman should be to perform viparitakarani
mudra! Female muscles should probably be 1.5 times stronger than the male ones to perform
reverse exercises without any harm for her health. That is why a healthy young man can practice
this asana straight away, but a woman needs longer preparation for strengthening her muscles.
This can take half a year or a year or even several years of regular exercises. Though lately, I more
often face the situation when men also have deteriorating back muscles due to the lack of physical
exercises. This is a modern life style. That is why men should also not forget about that.
As a result it is possible to conclude several criteria for the safe performance of the reverse
exercises, including viparitakarani mudra. The first one is the capability to raise your lower part of
the body straight and smoothly without jerks. If the muscles are ready to perform such a job, that
means that they are ready to keep the body and the spine in the normal state during the practice of
viparitakarani mudra.
One more criterion - is the ability to breathe normally. Our body is held in the vertical
position with the help of the back muscles, as well as the muscles of thoracic and abdominal
cavities, that work as “pistons”. If a person does not have enough muscle strength, he/she has to
hold his/her breath to use these “pistons”.
Smooth breathing, in principal, is a good indicator of the ability to perform complicated
asanas. In such a situation you should not listen to your ego, think and worry that somebody can
already perform such an exercise and you still cannot. It is necessary to be aware of the fact that
during the practice there is only you and your aspiration for perfection, there is nobody else
around you; even to emulate the instructor is a mug’s game, as he/she has been practicing yoga for
decades, that is why the state of his/her muscles and body is absolutely different. You should take
your cue not from the instructor but from how you feel. You should not be striving for performing
some complicated forms, especially if you are out of breath and have lost your attention during the
previous asana. What sense does it make to perform this form if your objective is to achieve the
state of yoga, chittavritti nirodha state? In this case it is not clear at all what a human being is
trying to achieve if starting to perform a complicated asana he/she pants and fails. It is not even a
work out, because in this situation even physical exercise will have doubtful effect.
From the above, one more simple criterion can be concluded: if you can perform an exercise,
but there is danger in it – do not practice it. Wait till the danger is eliminated. That is all.
Remember that nobody became enlightened straight away when he/she stood on his/her head.
Many people fall and get injured, trying to perform those asanas that they are not yet ready to
practice. That is why the risk is quite high, but the prize is doubtful – satisfaction from the feeling
of self-importance, indulging your ego.

2. Mahamudra
First of all I would like to clarify the notion as well as origin of mahamudra in yoga. There
are many interpretations of this term depending upon which doctrine, school and trend the text is
related to. We will consider one narrow definition and meaning of mahamudra that in my
subjective point of view is the closest one to the essence. That is why you should not consider this
chapter as a manual to achieving this state or as the only true description of mahamudra. This is
my personal perception of mahamudra.
Chapter 4. Mudras
In view of the fact that initially yoga was developing for a long time in the territory of India
and Tibet, this tradition has been influenced by different doctrines including Buddhism. In
Buddhism “mahamudra” (“great mudra”) sometimes stands for the Buddhist way in general, all
the Buddhistic strategy of achieving “liberation”. Also mudras are interpreted as symbols of six
main Buddhistic perfections (paramitas): six mudras (shanmudra) – a diadem, a bangle, earrings, a
belt, a wheel and ashes – symbolize realization of generosity (dana), general morality (shyla),
patience (kshanti), zeal (viriya), meditation practice (dhyana) and wisdom (pradjnya). Mudras
were also interpreted in other ways, for example, as generalization of cardinal achievements of
Buddhist practice such as purifying of the body, speech, mind and acquiring occult “extraordinary
There is also a definition of mahamudra in yoga as the process of becoming aware of daily
actions; as a result we acquire a permanent state of uninvolvement, impartiality, spontaneity and
discernment. In the school of Tibetan Yoga where I studied, a similar practice is called lhatong.
This practice together with the shine practice is one of the most important practices. Shine is a
practice of achieving the state of tranquility. Though if in Indian schools they describe yoga as
achieving the state of nirodha (stopping the thinking process completely), then in the Tibetan Yoga
it is considered to be valuable to achieve a preliminary state of peace of mind; when the thinking
process still goes on, but slowly, and a practitioner does not get involved in his/her thoughts. But
we cannot always sometimes achieve straight away even the state of tranquility. And our effort
directed at achieving shine, on the contrary, can cause the mind agitation. To cope with such
situations in the Tibetan Yoga, they use the exercise lhatong. It enables a practitioner to eliminate
activity of the mind directed at achieving the shine state and he/she can observe how a new
thought arises. Although we have not yet stopped the thinking process during these practices and
have not achieved the state of unduality, shine and lhatong can be considered the main practices
and they can be found in any Buddhist school with possible variations. These practices cannot be
called contemplation but a well-known word “meditation” would be more appropriate. When the
thinking process is stopped and we are in the state of presence – at that very moment we are in the
state of rigpa (true self-releasing awareness).
In the other Tibetan Yoga Schools such a state can be called mahamudra.
This means creating some inside space that does not get involved in what is going on – so
called “inside observer”. We become ultimate observers to inside and outside events of the world,
our feelings, fluctuations of consciousness and our reactions. It can spring up viveka –
discernment. This state is very helpful in achieving chittavritti nirodha.

Basics of Mahamudra practice

To hold mahamudra a person should be present with his/her mind in this state and not get
distracted by anything. To be here and now. First it is extremely difficult to achieve such
awareness as the mind will be getting constantly distracted by things and ideas as well as getting
totally involved in what is going on. That is why at the early stages of practice it is recommended
to deliberately eliminate outside influence. For example, some period of seclusion or just
prolonged contemplation in total quietness and privacy. In this period you can choose for
contemplation, let us say, your breath or such elements as water, flame, air (sky), earth (horizon)
or vacuum. It is necessary to point out that for experienced practitioners there is no such necessity
but there is the opposite one – to stay in the usual, let us say, “Unfavorable conditions”. The thing
is that only staying in the usual conditions; a human being can feel all the strength of mahamudra.
When he/she becomes capable of holding an uninterrupted state of awareness when he/she is calm
and contemplating, it is possible to switch into the practice of becoming aware of the daily
Body preparation is also important as our body is the instrument for experiencing the world
and the receptacle of mind. It goes without saying that there is reciprocal influence between body
and consciousness. That is why to practice mahamudra it is necessary to achieve health and a
strong body resistant to ailments.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
The practice of mahamudra encourages development of balance, relaxation and naturalness.
The first quality means achieving equilibrium of the body, speech and mind. The way of
mahamudra to achieving the balance of the body is relaxing it (it is possible to slow down the
movements during practice of asanas as well as in daily actions); the way to achieving the balance
of the speed is slowing down the breathing or becoming aware of it. Achieving the equilibrium of
mind means not to get attached to anything and not to rely on anything, to have no support in
To achieve relaxation means to get rid of the stress of mind, leaving everything as it is,
setting aside all the ideas and thoughts. When the body and mind of a human being get relaxed, he
can remain effortlessly in the natural state that is, per se, not dual and does not depend on any
distracting factors.
To achieve naturalness – means not to “receive” and “keep” anything, in other words a yogi
does not perform any slightest effort of any kind. He/she allows the mind thoughts whether to stop
or to flow on their own neither helping nor restraining them. To practice naturalness – is to make
no efforts and be spontaneous.
The above can be summarized in the following way:
The essence of balance is – not to get attached.
The essence of relaxation – is not to restrain.
The essence of naturalness – is not to perform intensive efforts.
To practice mahamudra it is necessary to keep the mind as well as the body relaxed, but to do
it without special zeal and tension, having set aside all the doubts and worries, to stay balanced.
Practicing mahamudra, you may identify everything you face with “Unborn Vacuum” and to
remain natural and relaxed.
To keep the body relaxed does not mean to give up totally all kinds of activities. The action
should be performed, but smoothly, on a relaxed and spontaneous mode. We should not keep away
from our daily activities. As ideally the task is to hold the mahamudra state in those conditions
where you are; not to change your conditions in order to achieve the state (it can be used only
during the initial stages).
To keep the mind relaxed does not mean to make it insensible or dull. You should strive for
increasing and perfecting its capability for clear awareness. To avoid losing the keenness of
awareness, it is recommended to use positive affirmations (for example, the practice of the inside
smile) and to accept the events of life with some humor, not to take everything seriously, be
capable of laughing; first of all at yourself.
To identify everything with Unborn Vacuum for a person that has reached Self-awareness and
is capable to hold this state, means that he/she should then try to allow everything that he/she
faces outside and that he/she experiences inside to reach liberation in the Vacuum.

Five delusions and Mahamudra practice

1. Sometimes uninvolvement is misunderstood as the elimination of virtues and vices,
avoiding communication. Misinterpreting of Vacuum – is a lack of understanding that the essence
of the existence and Vacuum themselves is the same. On the other hand if a human being has some
understanding of this verity (he/she is not an “empty chalice” and is overflowing with his/her own
judgments), he/she cannot perceive it through his/her own experience; they say that such a person
lost the way of mahamudra. It is necessary to always be open to the world for new impressions
and knowledge.
2. Anticipating results of the practice is a deviation from mahamudra. Practice of mahamudra
should be performed and cultivated as an “action without rewards”. If a human being does not
know that the practice of mahamudra (the Way) does not differ, per se, from achieving the object
of mahamudra (the Fruit) and that all wonderful findings are already in the practice, he/she is
inclined to think that practice comes first and realization follows it and that, in such a way,
“Enlightenment” is the result of the practice. On a daily, normal, level this is probably true, but

Chapter 4. Mudras
from the point of view of mahamudra they say, about such a person, that he/she strayed from the
3. If a person can make efforts in mahamudra practice with sincere zeal, but he/she does not
have an unshakeable belief in the Yoga doctrine, he/she is inclined to cherish a “secret” hope that
one day he/she will come across a doctrine that will be even superior to Yoga. This is also a sign
of deviation from mahamudra.
4. Those who do not know that healing and healed are, per se, the same, are inclined to stick
to the idea that yoga practice (method of healing) and desires-martyrdoms (something that has
been healed or should be healed) are absolutely different notions from each other. This is also a
deviation from a mahamudra idea.
5. In mahamudra practice a yogi always tends to do too many corrections. The person that
discovers that he/she is constantly trying to correct some mistakes has, for sure, lost his/her way.

Three main mahamudra experiences

Performing the contemplation practice of mahamudra results in three main types of
experiences. They are Bliss, Enlightenment and Unduality.
Experiencing Bliss some people can feel an extreme ecstasy seizing their bodies and this
ecstasy does not decrease even under unfavorable circumstances, such as strong heat or cold.
Other people can feel that their bodies and minds disappear and they are filled with incredible joy
– that is often when they start laughing very loud. Other practitioners can feel full of inspiration
and enthusiasm or they can feel an infinite peace, satisfaction and happiness. Ecstasy can be so
intensive and deep that a human being stops realizing the changing of day and night.
Experiencing Enlightenment originates from the state of clarity and discernment (viveka) that
arise during prolonged practice. Having got rid of the extraneous vritties (worries of the mind) a
human being is able to look clearly at him/herself and the world around.
Experiencing the state of Unduality or absence of Duality, many persons can feel that
everything became cavitated or they can see the cavitated nature of the world; others start to
perceive everything as essenceless or start feeling that their bodies, as well as minds, do not exist
in reality; sometimes they achieve true understanding of Vacuum. A human being becomes
capable of understanding the unity of everything. The thing is that one of the variants of
translation of the word “yoga” is “unity”.
None of the described above experiences can be considered as perfect and complete and you
should not bind to any of them. The most important and unerring is experiencing Unduality.
Experiencing Enlightenment and Bliss can lead to delusion and can even be harmful.
The most profound from all the oral instructions on mahamudra is the following:
Get rid of all the attachments and do not bond to anything – the essence will reveal itself to
you immediately.
The core of Mahamudra practice consists of two conditions – performing no effort and
making no corrections. Although it is necessary to understand clearly what resistance from any
amendments mean. Jetsun Milarepa gave a clear explanation of this principal. He says that
It is necessary to know three things as to the practice of making no corrections. If a person
does not make any corrections as to wondering thoughts, as well as desires and passions, he/she
goes to the lower kingdoms. If a human being does not make any corrections as for the Bliss,
Enlightenment and Unduality, he/she goes to the Three Kingdoms of samsara. Only imminent
Mind does not need any corrections.
All day long, during the contemplation and after it, a practitioner should try not to lose the
“Essence”. In other words, he/she should try to apply the experience of awareness to all kinds of
daily activities.
It is quite understandable that a human being can get distracted whilst performing daily
responsibilities, forgetting in such a way the “Essence”, but he should be constantly trying to
return Awareness and if he/she succeeds in doing so, the “Essence” will become immediately
evident again.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
Similar to how Yoga starts when we “fold the math after the class”, the practice of
mahamudra does not finish with daily tasks, it goes on during the night as well. A practitioner
should strive for keeping self-awareness during the day and night. It is extremely important to
practice mahamudra whilst you are sleeping and in your dreams. Although awareness during the
night will appear only when there will be enough practice of mahamudra during the day, as the
night practice (Yoganidra) is more “subtle” and requires preliminary preparation during the day. If
a person is not capable of keeping the state of mahamudra during daily activities, then initially
he/she should spend more time practicing relaxation, asanas and contemplation, creating in such a
way “favorable conditions”. It is necessary to remember that practices should be performed
without special effort and overstraining, that is why sometimes you should have a break for a day
to rest. You should not despair and worry if you do not succeed in keeping awareness during the
whole day. You should strive for it persistently and constantly. The best piece of advice in such a
case is to practice further as if you succeed in keeping awareness all the time.

How to cultivate Mahamudra under unfavorable conditions

After you have accomplished holding the mahamudra state under favorable conditions, you
can start complicating your practice.
A Practitioner can use distractive thoughts as a part of his/her Way.
You can create situations in which you would experience discomfort and your Ego hurt so
that you can observe these states. First, such situations can be created artificially in the form of
training. Also you can use wishes-passions in order to achieve awareness. Experienced
practitioners can use all the range of the egoistic trends to become aware of them. That means that
sometimes you should, on purpose, provoke in yourself such desires and passions as lust, jealousy,
hate and then observe them in their depth. You should neither follow them nor brush them away or
make any amendments – you should just stay in a relaxed and natural state of clear awareness.
This is a difficult practice and it requires long preparation and preliminary practice under
“favourable conditions”.
To use compassion and grief to achieve Realization.
As after final analysis our life and life in samsara are suffering, try to feel deep compassion to
all the creatures alive. When contemplating human suffering, a feeling of deep compassion arises
and at that very moment when you start feeling compassion, you should practice awareness of
mahamudra regarding it. At the same time the level of Wisdom as well as Compassion will
To use ailment to achieve Realization.
When you are ill, you should practice mahamudra in respect to your ailment. Also it is
necessary to observe with special attention the essence of the ill person as well as the ailment,
eliminating in such a way duality of the subject and object.
To use the idea of death for becoming aware. Everything that has its start has its finish,
whether they are things, relationships, phenomena or our body. That is why mahamudra practice
also covers the state of death of the physical body. A yoga practitioner does not have fear of death.
He/she will be able to discern correctly all the visions and feelings that take place during the
process of death.

Chapter 4. Mudras
Mistakes during performing mahamudra practice
This is how the mistakes during the mahamudra practice are described in the book
“Teachings of Tibetan Yoga” by Lama Kong Ka:
“1. If one's mahamudra practice is confined solely to the effort of stabilizing the
mind, the activity of practitioner’s consciousness will be halted or dimmed. This type of
practice is called “frozen ice”, and is a very inauspicious tendency in Mahamudra
meditation which must be avoided.
2. He/she who neglects the clear “Awareness” but abides solely in Unduality will see
or hear nothing when confronted with visual and tangible objects, sounds, smells . . . This
is a mistake related to the state of inertness.
3. When the last thought has gone, and the next one has not come, this immediate,
present moment is a very wonderful thing if one can abide therein; but, if he/she does so
without clear awareness, he still falls into the error of inertness.
4. He/she who can hold the clear Awareness but thinks that there is nothing more to
mahamudra, also falls into error.
5. If a person cultivates only “Bliss”, “Enlightenment”, and “Unduality” without
practicing “observation of the mind with deep penetration” it still cannot be considered
correct practice of mahamudra.
6. He/she who develops aversion to manifestation of the outside world is most likely
to have gone astray from the true way of mahamudra.
7. He/she who concentrates on his/her Awareness and cultivates the Mind of
enlightened Vacuousness is said to practice Mahamudra correctly. However, this
'concentration-effort' has a tendency to hinder that spontaneity and freedom, without
which it is difficult to reach unfolding and the unlimited and liberating Mind. That is why
one should never forget about the practice of the “looseness”, “unboundedness”, and
What, then, is the correct practice of mahamudra?
The mind in its natural state itself is the practice. That means to let the natural mind
remain in its own natural state. If to this mind one adds or subtracts something, it is then
not the natural mind any more but the so-called “mind-object”. To make not the slightest
effort to practice, to have not the slightest intention and, at the same time not to be
distracted for a single moment, is to practice the natural mind properly. Therefore, as long
as you can keep your Self-awareness, no matter what you do, you are practicing

Chapter 6. Inside work in yoga
Chapter 5. Spine friendly workout in asanas
1. The Spine is a sarcophagus of the nervous system
The first and the most important function of the spine in our body are to protect that part of
the central nervous system that runs inside it. Being a part of the support-locomotion system is the
secondary function of the spine. The nervous system is the main apparatus of managing the
organism that functions as a very complicated cybernetics. Misuse of the spine can lead to
damaging this system that is responsible for the working of all internal organs. A spine friendly
practice that is based on the understanding of its functions and capabilities will provide stability of
the internal organs, recovering from any current ailments and promoting a healthy body.

Photo 5.1. Spinal column

Our spine consists of 33-34 vertebras between which there are cartilaginous layers –
intervertebral discs. Inside the vertebra there is a reach-through hole. Joined in the column, holes

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
of all the vertebrae form together the spinal canal that is a receptacle for the spinal cord. During
the spine unfriendly workout in asanas or any other physical exercises, shifting of the spinal
components – vertebrae, can take place; it can result in pinching or entrapment of the
nerves that run from the spinal cord, or they can be strained.
When such shiftings or, as they are also called, “vertebrae subluxations”, take place,
development of intervertebral hernias that may pinch vessels and nerves, is likely to happen. The
initial cause of a hernia is shifted vertebrae. I got convinced about it when I was observing how
my teacher was curing people. The first thing that he was doing was to place back the shifted
vertebrae. A person that was scheduled for hernia removal surgery, had all the ailment symptoms
eliminated and completely recovered. Almost all somatic diseases (diseases of the internal organs)
were cured the same way. Having a medical background and knowledge on physiology and
anatomy, I was surprised why neither me, nor anybody else have ever tried to examine the cause-
effect relationship of “vertebra shifting – somatic disease”. I left medicine when facing different
deviations from a healthy state of people. I did not see an integrated system of ailments cause and
cure. Having realized the helplessness of modern medicine (except, perhaps, surgery, but I also
saw a lot of imperfection and mistakes in it), I decided to focus all my efforts on studying yoga,
where I hoped to find the answers to all my questions.
Although similar to medicine there were many mysteries and unanswered questions in yoga
as well. For example, how can it be that experienced Hatha Yoga adepts that have been practicing
it for many years develop serious disorders of the internal organs, back aches and spine ailments?
Having met one of my teachers – Yuri Glavchev – a clairvoyant and chiropractor, I was able to
find the answers to these questions. In spite of the fact that at the moment I am not interested in
medicine in terms of helping other people and family medicine practice, I was able to find the
answers to all my questions related to the cause of 98% of all the ailments. Besides, I understood
primary and secondary mechanisms of yoga asanas influence upon the body and effects of
healing. Also, I understood why experienced Hatha Yoga adepts and instructors are suffering from
different ailments.
Then I realized the necessity of purifying the ancient practice of self-perfection from modern
delusions and mistakes. I managed to trace certain regularities that allowed me to use the group
classes with higher efficiency in terms of healing. The most important thing though is that it
allowed me to minimize potential injuries and development of any health disorders during group
and individual classes.
If the workout is not spine friendly, one or several vertebrae can shift for a fraction of a
millimeter (up to 2 mm). If this shifting is less than 1mm, a human being may sometimes even not
feel anything. Only sitting still for a long time he/she may have an unpleasant feeling in that area
of the back. This happens because one or several nerves got overdistended or pinched as a result
of vertebra shifting. Thus, distortion of the nervous signal takes place that leads to malfunction of
the organ that the pinched or overdistended nerve is responsible for. Malfunction can develop into
somatic disease if the vertebra is not placed back or the compensative asana is not used.
It is even more dangerous if a vertebra shifts further, for example, whilst performing a contra-
indicated asana. Then the nerve gets pinched even more and it may cause the nerve to stop
functioning as a conduction tract for the impulses of the central nervous system. Sometimes
dystrophic changes of the nerves can take place in such cases. They can become irreversible in the
course of time if a person does not seek the help of professionals or does not try to deal with it
him/herself finding certain body positions in which the nerve gets released. If worse comes to
worst destructive changes in the organ up to its atrophy can take place.
In other words the central nervous system (CNS) in the organism is a commander that gives
orders. Cells of the organs are soldiers that cannot understand the strategic mission from their
position: what needs to be done, where to focus efforts, where to “run” and where to start a battle.
It can be done only by somebody who sees the whole picture. The CNS has got such a picture as it
is constantly receiving information from all organs about the processes that take place in them.
Sending nervous impulses - “orders” – back to the organs, it tunes their work. “The commander”

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
tries to fix any problems in the work of the subordinates, but here an ambiguous situation arises:
the nerve that is the main path for transmission of the information whether gets pinched and
cannot transmit a nervous signal or is overdistended and then the signal gets distorted.
Consequently the inside organ starts working incorrectly and the ailment develops. According to
observations – a similar reason triggers development of all ailments except infectious and genetic

Photo 5.2. Scheme of the structure and correlation between different parts of the vegetative
nervous system with organs

I will not pay close attention here to the detailed structure of the spinal cord and the entire
nervous system as it is quite complicated. It is enough for us to know that through special holes in
the vertebrae 31 pairs of cerebrospinal nerves run from the spinal cord to the organs. These nerves
transmit impulses from all cells of the body to the brain and then backwards from the brain to the
periphery. The part of the nervous system that is responsible for the regulation of the functions of
the inside organs is called the vegetative nervous system. The vegetative nervous system regulates
the functions of organs of the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive and
endocrine systems, skin and metabolism that make it responsible for a functional state of all the
tissues of the human organism.
A human being, as well as other vertebrates, preserved segmental innervations of the body.
That means that each segment of the spinal cord innervates certain parts of the organism. For
example, segments of the cervical spinal cord innervate neck and arms, segments of the thoracic

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
spinal cord – chest and abdomen, segments of the lumbar and sacrum spinal cords – legs,
perineum and organs of the small pelvis (bladder and intestine).
There is a more detailed scheme of the structure and correlation between different parts of the
vegetative nervous system with organs in the photo 5.2.
It is interesting that the CNS regulates functions of the internal organs with different intensity
during twenty four hours. Each organ has its time of activity. For example, from 5 till 7 a.m. the
work of a colon is tuned; from 7 till 9 a.m. – stomach; from 9 till 11 a.m. – spleen and pancreas;
from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. – heart; from 1 till 3 p.m. – small bowel; from 3 till 5 p.m. – bladder; from
5 till 7 p.m. – kidneys; from 7 till 9 p.m. – pericardium, from 9 till 11 p.m. – inside muscles of the
thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities as well as innervation of the part of circulatory and
lymphatic systems that runs through the internal organs; from 11 p.m. till 1 a.m. – gallbladder;
from 1 till 3 a.m. – liver; from 3 till 5 a.m. – lungs.
To understand the principals of performing asanas we should study in depth anatomy. It is
certain structural peculiarities of the spine that can reveal to us the secrets of success or failure
when we perform asanas.

2. Anatomy of the Spine

Vertebrae and types of their junction
The spinal column is formed by the
vertebrae stacked on top of each other. The
vertebra consists of the body and the arch.
The front part of the vertebra – the body –
has cylindric shape and is the most massive
part of it. The vertebral body bears most of
the load while standing and axis of rotation
runs through it. Behind the y there is a
vertebral arch that is shaped as a semicircle.
The body and the arch bind the vertebral
canal. There are three pairs of processes that
stick out from the arch – transverse, superior
articular and inferior articular ones and one
unpaired process – spinous one. Spinous
processes are pointed backwards and they
can be felt whilst bending the back (photo
5.3, 5.4).
Photo 5.3 Thoracic 8, top view
At the point of joining of the vertebral
arch with the body there are two vertebral
notches on each side. Stacked above each
other these notches form intervertebral holes
through which the nerves of the spinal cord
and blood vessels run. Accordingly, there are
two intervertebral holes between each pair of
vertebrae – one from the left and one from the
Vertebrae are joined together with the
help of cartilages, articulations and ligaments.

Photo 5.4 Thoracic 8, side view

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
The bodies of the vertebrae are joined with the help of a cartilaginous intervertebral disk
(photo 5.5), that is a round flat conjunctive cushion that
has a complicated morphological structure. In the center
of the disk there is an elastic pulposus nucleus that
absorbs the shock of the vertical load. Around the
nucleus there is a multilayer fibrous ring that keeps the
nucleus centered and prevents vertebrae from shifting
aside from each other (photo 5.6). Normally the fibrous
ring is formed by very firm fibers. Although, as a result
of the degenerative disease of disks (osteochondrosis),
damaging the disk, during spine unfriendly physical
exercises, the fibers of the fibrous ring get replaced by
the cicatrical tissue. The fibers of the cicatrical tissue
are not as strong and elastic as the fibers of the fibrous
ring. It leads to weakening of the disk and if the
pressure inside the disk rises, is can lead to the rupture
of the fibrous ring.
The main function of the disks is absorbing the
stress from static and dynamic loads that are inevitable
during physical activities. Whilst a human being
performs physical work the vertebrae get compressed
and squeeze the nucleus of the intervertebral disk that
consequently loses some amount of liquid.

Photo 5.5 Intervertebral disk

When the load slackens, the nucleus restores its initial shape reabsorbing intensively the water that
was discharged. Although the tremelloid nucleus cannot work ideally forever. In the course of
time the ability of nuclei to absorb
Quite often initial capability
or inability of a human being to
perform deep arching, bending or
rotation depends on inherent
qualities – height of an
intervertebral disk that defines the
mobility amplitude of one spine in
respect to the other.
The arches of the vertebrae
are joined by articulations that
are called facet articulations.
These articulations are called
coupled that means that the
motion inside them is limited
mostly to the amplitude “forward-
backwards”. At the same time the
spine articulations are also
classified as “compound” joints.

Photo 5.6 Facet joints (III lumbar vertebrae, the connection

between II and III lumbar vertebrae, horizontal cut)

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
That means that mobility inside them, according to mechanics, is naturally limited by their
Practicing yoga we can preserve elasticity and healthy mobility of the spine but to develop
extra mobility is not very wise as well as very unhealthy. The facet articulation is formed by the
superior articular facet of the lower
vertebra and the inferior articular
facet of the vertebra above. (photo
5.6) The ends of these facets are
covered with the articular cartilage.
The articular cartilage has a very
smooth and slippery surface that
prompts decreasing of friction
between the bones that form the
articulation. The ends of the articular
facets are surrounded by a bindweb
watertight saccule that is called the
articular capsule.
The cells of the inside tunic of
the articular capsule produce
synovial liquid that is necessary for
lubrication and nutrition of the
articular cartilage.

Photo 5.7.1. Spinal cords, ligg. columnae vertebralis;

front view. (Lumbar. Frontal section, removed the body I and
II of the lumbar vertebrae.)
Thanks to such articulations,
various movements between
vertebrae are possible and the spine
is a flexible and mobile system.
The structure of these
articulations is similar, let us say, to
the structure of the knee or elbow
joints. But! As the vertebra has two
pairs of the articulation facets each
side, they form four facet
articulations. If we take into
consideration cartilaginous joints
between the vertebral bodies, that
means that each vertebra (with some
minor exceptions) has six points of
fixation! That is each vertebra is
joined with the next one with the
help of four articulations and its
body is fixed by the cartilaginous
joints above and below.

Photo 5.7.2. Ligaments and joints of the spine, ligg. et

articulationes columnae vertebral; right side. (Lumbar.
Spinal canal partially opened.)
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
That is why the spine as a structure, in general, cannot be compared with other bone joints,
for example, with the shoulder joint. Try to fix some module in six points and compare its
mobility with a module fixed in one point. It is clear that you won’t be able to rotate the first
module in different directions but the other could be rotated up to 360 degrees.
It indicates that the approach to the spine should be based upon totally different principals
than to the other bone structures that have articulations in their structure. To use your spine safely
in asanas it is necessary to understand how, where and with which amplitude it can perform safe
movements. A great number of points of fixation provides quite restricted healthy mobility of the
spine. It was designed by nature
this way so that the spine can
perform its primary function –
protection of the nervous system.
Lack of understanding of this
fact and excessive development
of spine mobility leads to injuries
of the nervous system. The spine
should be flexible but without
pathological mobility. It is not
mentioned in vain in the yoga
treatises that the correct yoga
practice provides “flexible limbs
and light body”. The complicated
structure of the spine requires
understanding of the basics of
biomechanics and thorough
consideration of the variants of
its mobility whilst practicing
Besides cartilages and
articulations, vertebrae are
connected with each other with
the help of ligaments. You
should not confuse ligaments
with tendons. Ligaments are
formations that join bones with
each other and tendons join
muscles with bones.
Photo 5.7.3. Ligaments and joints of the spine, ligg. et
articulations columnae vertebralis; rear view. (Lumbar.
Dougie and thoracic spines XII, I and II lumbar vertebrae

The most important ligaments are the anterior longitudinal ligament, the posterior
longitudinal ligament and yellow ligaments (photo 5.7.1- 5.7.3).
The anterior longitudinal ligament runs as a wide stripe down the anterior surface of the spine
from the occipital bone and the 1 st cervical vertebra down to the pelvic surface of the aitchbone. It
is tightly inosculated with the periosteum of the vertebral bodies with the help of the fibrous
bundles and it is inosculated with the intervertebral cartilages in a more friable way.
The posterior longitudinal ligament runs inside the spinal canal along the posterior surfaces
of all vertebral bodies. It is connected with the vertebral bodies with the help of the friable
connective tissue and it is tightly inosculated with the inervertebral cartilages that makes it
broader in these parts. It is the posterior ligament that gets stretched out whilst performing

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
djalandhara bandha. This anatomic peculiarity helps us to align the vertebrae during static
fixations in shalabhasana with fixed djalandhara bandha.
The yellow ligaments fill in the holes between the arches. They are stretched from the inside
arch surface of the vertebrae above to the outside arch surface of the vertebra below and limit the
intervertebral holes at the back. The yellow ligaments, due to their elasticity, draw the vertebrae
together that counteracts the power of the nucleus of the intervertebral disk that, when being
compressed, straightens itself in the opposite direction. The yellow ligaments drawing the
vertebral arches together, work similar to muscles that unbend the vertebral column; they assist
with resuming the upright posture. During unbending of the spine when the vertebral arches get
drawn closer to each other, the yellow ligament gets shortened without forming any folds. During
flexing of the vertebral column it gets stretched and does not prevent this movement.
Also, yellow ligaments prevent vertebrae from rotating in respect to each other (Kashuba V.
A. Biomechanics of the posture – K: Olimpic Literature, 2003).
In the vertebral column there are also small interspinous, supraspinal and intertransverse
ligaments that join the vertebral facets of the same name.
When the vertebrae get shifted and the intervertebral disks and articulations get destroyed,
the ligaments try to compensate for excessive pathological mobility of the vertebrae (instability),
consequently hypertrophy of the ligaments takes place. This process results in decreasing of the
lumen of the spinal canal. In such a case even subtle vertebrae shifting and consequently hernias
of the disks as well as bony excrescences (osteophytes) can compress the spinal cord and the
nerves that run from it. This state is called stenosis of the spinal cord. Using spine unfriendly
directions of its mobility, mainly incorrect performing of twisting and arching can lead to spine
looseness and stenosis of the vertebral canal.
I cannot help mentioning in this chapter the muscles that not really being a connection
element, nevertheless provide stability of the spine. The muscles of the spine are divided into two
groups: superficial and deep muscles. Thus, superficial muscles generally are responsible for the
mobility of the pectoral arch and deep muscles support the spine and are responsible for bending,
arching and turning of the trunk.
The deep back muscles form three layers: superficial, middle and deep one. The muscles of
the superficial layer get developed the most; they are a strong type of muscles that mainly do a
static job. They run through all the back and back part of the neck, from the sacrum up to the
occipital bone. The spots where they start and attach, take quite a lot of space; that is why during
contraction the muscles develop great strength, maintaining the spine in the vertical position that
supports the head, ribs, internal organs and superior limbs.
The muscles of the intermediate layer have oblique orientation; they run from transverse
processes to the spinous processes of the vertebrae. They form several layers and in the deepest
layer the bundles of muscles are the shortest and attach to the adjoining vertebrae; the closer
bundles of muscles to the surface the longer they are and the more vertebrae they run through
(from 5 up to 6).
In the deepest (the third) layer the short muscles run between spinous and transverse
processes of the vertebrae. Not every group of the vertebrae has these muscles; they are more
developed in the most mobile groups of the vertebral column: cervical and lumbar.
Thus the functional unit of the vertebral column is vertebrae-motor segment that consists of
two adjacent vertebrae, the intervertebral disc, nerves, ligaments and muscles that surround each
segment. Normally in the vertebrae segment the vertebrae can move in respect to each other. The
vertebrae-motor segment is the link of a complicated kinematic chain. The normal function of the
spine is possible only if many of the vertebrae segments work correctly.
Dysfunction of the vertebrae segment becomes apparent as instability or block. In the first
case excessive mobility between vertebrae can take place, so called “looseness”, that can develop
as a result of using incorrect turns (without using kumbhakas) and twisting as well as
pathologically deep arching, that can contribute to development of pain or dynamic compression
of the nervous structures. In the case of a segmental block two vertebrae remain immobile. In such

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
a situation mobility of the vertebral column is provided at the expense of excessive mobility in the
adjoining segments (hypermobility) that leads to their instability and can provoke development of
the pain syndrome.
The scientists confirm that one of the reasons for development of osteochondrosis and hernia
of the intervertebral disks is muscle deficiency that is a consequence of a sedentary life style that
is so common for modern people. Normally, according to specialists, muscular tissue should be no
less than 40% of a man’s weight and 35% of a woman’s one. Although to think that the better
muscles are developed the higher level of stability of the spine is also not right. Otherwise all
athletes and bodybuilders would be healthier than common people. However according to modern
statistics, the life span of an athlete is shorter in comparison with a regular person. We must
understand that sport as well as absolute absence of physical activity are the opposite poles of
delusions of a modern human being. Only yoga and systems that are similar to it can offer the
happy medium, but only until such point that they don’t get transformed into sport.
At the end of the last century, scientists discovered that muscles are sui generis micropumps,
“peripheral hearts”. During their contracting-relaxation the blood vessels, tone and blood supply
of the organs get improved. It explains why adequate physical work out helps with returning to
normal vascular disorders of the spine, as well as limbs.
If the muscle bulk decreases the circulatory function of the muscle tissue gets diminished.
The zones that these tissues are “responsible for“ receive less microelements and water.
Degenerative changes take place, that result in ostechondrosis of the vertebrae and hernias of the
intervertebral disks.
When vertebrae get shifted or vertebrae structures get injured (disks, ligaments, articular
capsules), deep back muscles contract involuntarily; the purpose of it is to stabilize the segment
that has been injured; it is called muscle spasm.
A famous Russian vertebroneurologist Andrey Dolzhenkov wrote in his book “To overcome
backpain” that as a result of spasm the muscle shrinks more than its natural length and that is why,
during contraction, it gets less tensed so its strength decreases. That means that the ability of
stressed bundles of muscles to provide support gets lessened, delegating part of their work load to
the other vertebrae-motor segments of the spine, which increases the risk of their inevitable injury.
For example, an attempt to perform an energetic turn of the trunk with the help of the spasmed
muscles may result in tearing or even rupture of the ligament, provided it has normal length. If the
ligament is overdistended and, as a result, vertebrae get excessive mobility, the disk can be
Vertebrae groups
There are five vertebrae groups in the spine: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, coccygeal.
Sacrum and coccygeal vertebrae get knitted forming sacral and tail bones. The sacral bone joins
the spine with the pelvic bones. Nerves that run through sacral wholes, innervate inferior limbs,
perineum and pelvic organs.
The cervical group of the spine consists of 7 vertebrae. They are smaller in size than the
vertebrae of the other groups. There are foramina in the transverse processes of the cervical
vertebrae, through which spinal arteries and veins run. These blood vessels participate in the blood
supply of the brain. Spinous process of the VII cervical vertebra is slightly longer than the others
and is well palpated at the back of the neck.
Two top cervical vertebrae – atlas and axis – differ from all the other vertebrae by their
structure. Thanks to these vertebrae a human being can perform various rotations and bendings of
the head. It is because of the special structure of these vertebrae, turns (and not twists! As turn is a
natural movement performed with the help of the local muscles without using levers, as opposed
to twists where levers are used) in the cervical group of the spine are natural directions of
The first cervical vertebrae – atlas – has no body. It consists of the anterior and posterior
arches. The arches are interconnected with the help of the lateral bony thickening (lateral masses),

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
where glenoid fossae are located: superior fossae are used for joining with the occipital bone and
inferior fossae for joining with the second cervical vertebra (photo 5.8).
The second cervical vertebra - axis or rhachial vertebra - has a bony outgrowth at the frontal
part that is called an odontoid outgrowth. The odontoid outgrowth is fixed with the help of the

Photo 5.8 – 5.9. Atlas and axis

ligaments in the spinal canal of the atlas, working as an axis of rotation for the first cervical
vertebra. Such anatomical structure allows us to perform high-amplitude rotary motion of the head
(photo 5.9, 5.10).
As atlas has no body, the largest point of fixation – cartilaginous joint with the help of the
intervertebral disk - is missing. Besides, there is no yellow ligaments between these vertebrae that
prevent turns. These facts as well as the fact that articular surfaces of the facet articulations of the
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
vertebrae in the cervical spine are practically horizontal (photo 5.11), indicate that high mobility
of this vertebral group is provided by nature.
At the same time, the cervical group is the most open to traumatic injuries. The risk is
stipulated by the weak muscle corset of the neck as well as small size and low mechanical
durability of the vertebrae.
This vertebral group can get injured as
a result of practicing reverse asanas by a
person that is not yet ready to practice
them, as well as during excessive bending
and unbending movement of the head. The
last variant is called a “whiplash injury”
during car accidents or a “diver injury”
when a person hits his/her head against the
bottom whilst diving at the shallow spot.
This type of injury is quite often
accompanied by spinal cord injury and can
lead to a fatal outcome.
The cervical group of the vertebrae is
curved like a letter “C” with forward
curvature – physiological lordosis.

Photo 5.10. The I and II cervical vertebrae on

the right back view.

When I was taught by Iurii Glavchev, he told me that practicing chiropractic for more than 25
years, he got convinced that shiftings of the vertebrae in the cervical spine are not that important if
they are not critical. The nerves that run through
the foramina of the cervical spine are not
responsible for the functioning of the internal
organs. But this is true only about adults, starting
from 8-9 years old. Usually pain in the neck and
headaches are symptoms of the pinched nerves
in the upper thoracic spine. Watching how my
teacher was working, how he was helping
hundreds of people, I got evidence that he was
right, as setting the vertebrae of the thoracic
spine right, eliminated the pain in the neck and
headaches of the patients. I just feel sorry that
none of the experienced anatomists or
physiologists that describe the human body does
not have such information. It is very often that a
person gets treatment for the cervical spine,
although the reason is in the thoracic spine.
Photo 5.11. The direction the articular surface
of of the cervical vertebrae.

Thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae. Normally it is shaped like letter “C” with backward
curvature (physiological kyphosis). The Thoracic spine participates in forming the chest backwall.

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
The ribs are attached to the bodies of the vertebrae and the transverse processes of the thoracic
spine with the help of articulations. At the front the ribs join into the single hard frame with the
help of the breast bone, forming a chest. The intervertebral disks of the thoracic spine are not very
high, that reduces considerably the mobility of this vertebral group. Besides, long spinous
processes of the vertebrae, organized similar to roof tiles, as well as the chest itself, limit the
mobility of the thoracic spine.
In the thoracic spine the surfaces of the facet articulations of the vertebrae are close to the
frontal surface (a surface that divides the human body into front and back halves) (photo 5.12). In
such a way the vertebrae have maximum
protection from any possible shifting
backwards-forwards, under which fatal trauma
The facts mentioned above indicate that
natural mobility of the thoracic spine is very
limited, as the main function of the chest is
protection of the heart and lungs. That is why
turns in this vertebral group are absolutely
undesirable. Though I concede that in some
cases they can be used by the experienced
practitioners with therapeutic purpose.
Practicing turns in the thoracic spine it is
necessary to know that, in Tibetan Yoga, they
were practiced in combination with the closed
kumbhaka (breath holding).
Photo 5.12. The direction of the articular surface
of thoracic vertebrae

The vertebral canal of the thoracic spine is very narrow that is why even small voluminous
lumps (hernias, tumors, osteophytes) and vertebrae shifting lead to compression of nerves and the
spinal cord. That is why all asanas that bring into play the thoracic spine should be performed with
special caution and understanding how and which direction you can stretch and bend. The thing is
that people suffer not because of the hernias but mostly because of the shifting of the bones.
Usually pain in the back region is related to mechanical shifting of the bones. Hernias, on the
contrary, give relief to people in pain, as they prevent complete physical contact of the bones. The
fact that modern medicine states that hernias are the reason for the pain and pathology shows its
lack of knowledge and ignorance. Surgery on the hernias do not relive the pain. Mechanical
shifting requires simply mechanical intervention of the chiropractor or stretching and releasing of
the nerve with the help of a therapeutic asana. Besides, it is necessary to remember that it is from
the thoracic part of the spinal cord that the nerves are responsible for the working of the heart,
diaphragm and lungs – the essential organs of the human body. That is why mistakes and misuse
of flexibility of this vertebral group can cost you a lot.
The lumbar spine consists of the 5 largest vertebrae. Some people have 6 vertebrae in their
lumbar vertebral group (lumbarization), but in most cases such a maldevelopment does not have
any clinical meaning. Normally the lumbar spine as well as the cervical one is slightly curved
forward (physiological lordosis).
The lumbar spine joins the stiff thoracic spine with fixed sacrum. It is the vertebral group that
is responsible for turns of the trunk.
The vertebrae of the lumbar spine experience significant pressure from the upper body. Thus,
the bottom vertebra of the lumbar spine of an average height human being and normal body-build
that stays still, with his/her hands down, experience a load of 30kg; if he/she raises the hands up,
the load increases twice and in the same case if he/she has a 10kg weight in his/her hands, the load

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
increases up to 200kg. Such an enormous pressure is conditioned by the sum of the upper body
weight, the weight itself and the balancing power of the muscles that are used to unbend the back.
Performing arching and turns
incorrectly, using reverse asanas, lifting and
carrying heavy weights can contribute
significantly to increasing pressure on the
lumbar vertebrae. All these are the most
common reasons for deterioration of the
intervertebral discs of the lumbar spine.
Vertebrae shifting and significant increase
of pressure inside the discs can lead to the
rupture of the fibrous ring and expelling
part of the nucleus outside the disk. This is
how a hernia gets formed that can cause
compression of the nervous structures and,
as a result, pain syndrome and neurologic
disorders may develop.
Photo 5.13. Direction of the articulation surface of
the vertebra of the lumbar spine

Usually, a hernia signals that there is shifting of the bones. It is quite often that people that do not
experience any pain may develop a hernia. Our body, on the contrary, tries to the save the nerve
from complete pinching under the circumstances.
The planes of the facet articulations of the lumbar spine are vectored to the sagittal plane (it
divides the body into the right and left halves) (photo 5.13). Such a structure is probably intended
for preventing the spine from the side shifting.
If you take a side view of the spine, it is S-shaped. Such a form provides an additional shock-
absorbing function. The cervical and the lumbar spines are curved forward and the thoracic spine
is curved backwards. Such a form is conditioned by our upright posture and allows us to distribute
part of the load on the perivertebral ligaments and muscles. Besides, such form is favourable for
absorbinging the shock whilst walking and running.

2. Directions of spine mobility

Now that you have acquired a minimum of anatomic knowledge we can start reviewing what
is going on in the spine during different movements. Which directions can we move our trunk to?
We can bend forward and to the sides, arch backwards and turn around the vertical axis. That is,
probably, all there is to it. Though the question is whether each of these directions of mobility
influence the state of our spine equally?
There is a modern concept, among some yoga instructors, who assert that the higher mobility
in each articulation of the body, including the spine, the more success a person has achieved in
yoga. I contend that this concept is defective. In fact, it leads a human being not only to
destructive changes in their bodies, but also to moral and spiritual deadlock. It is known that the
body is a receptacle of consciousness, instrument cognition of the world. There is no need to
prove interconnection of the body and consciousness separately.
In fact there are safe and “dangerous” directions of spine mobility. Why is this? The thing is
that the spine, as a structure that consists of bones joined together, is totally different from all the
other joints in our body. Also, only inside runs the spine central nervous system that manages
essential processes of the organism. That is why to bend forward and to the sides, to arch
backwards and to turn with the same amplitude is neither natural nor safe.
The dangerous directions of spine mobility are turns, bending to the sides and deep backward
arching; the safe directions of spine mobility are bending forward and stretching. Though if you
look closer at the difference between these directions then you may see that “dangerous”

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
directions of mobility become dangerous only when they are applied incorrectly (arching and
turns with shifted vertebrae) or combined incorrectly (for example arching with twisting) and also
when the natural amplitude of mobility is exceeded. That is why difficult asanas are not totally
contra-indicated. You may practice them, but you should be able to perform them correctly and
know how and when to practice them. There is a parable on this topic: “…a disciple came to his
teacher and said: “Teacher, the head stand is good, is it not?!” The teacher listened and made a
comment: “Yes! Though you should have a head to do it…”.

First of all let us specify what twist is and what turn is. Turn is a natural permissible range of
mobility without using inertia and leverage. When we turn we are using local muscles, thus
muscles that are naturally designed to perform this.
If we are using inertia (abrupt turns) or levers (for example, we lean against the floor with out
hands) then it is called twist. It can be referred then not to dangerous directions of mobility but to
harmful ones.
Let us imagine what is going on in the spine when it gets twisted. Vertebrae, as you
remember, are joined with the help of six articulations that are located in different planes. That is
why, when twisted, the vertebrae will not rotate in respect to each other like saucers placed in a
stack. The spatial position of the vertebrae during twisting is distorted, they get slightly warped,
their bodies slightly open, similar to a book, to the side opposite to twisting. In such a way the
effort for ejecting the intervertebral disk builds up. If this disk “goes” too far aside, it will pull the
vertebrae with it, because they are connected by the tendons and muscles; vertebrae get shifted.
Also, if you palpate the back muscles during twisting, you can feel that muscle tension on
one side of the spine is very high and there is hardly any tension on the other side. It is additional
danger for the spine, destabilized by the warped vertebrae. And if there are already some minor
shiftings, uneven tension of the muscles can make it worse, causing pinching of the intervertebral
disk and consequently an intervertebral hernia.
Similar processes take place in the spine during bending to the sides.
Talking about muscles, I can not help citing a scientist and a writer Mark Zholondz who in
his book “Osteochondrosis: practice of healing” provides solid proof that deep muscles around the
spine take the most active part in the compression of the disk: “Muscles of the back have different
lengths. Some long muscles run along all the back, others are so short that their length is equal to
the distance between the bony processes of the two adjacent vertebrae. It is quite obvious that
when the long muscles of the back contract, they compress not one or two disks of the spine but
quite a lot of them at the same time. In any case, contraction of the long muscles of the back take
place along their entire length and not selectively along some minor part of the spine that is equal
to the height of one intervertebral disk. One or (less often) two intervertebral disks can be
excessively compressed only by the short back muscles that only run along that part of the spine
that gets injured. Such short muscles can only be found amongst, so called, deep back muscles”.
And further “So, the main reason of a strongly pronounced paine syndrome in the region of
the spine is the lateral and medial intertransverse muscles of the lumbus and interspinal muscles of
the spine, that is, the shortest muscles of the spine attached to the transverse and spinous processes
of the two adjacent vertebrae. Excessive tension (contraction) of these muscles leads to
development of disease. The thing is, that the muscles may stay in such a condition for an
indefinitely long time, up to several years. Therefore, the main damaging tension is the tension
during bending to the sides and rotating of the upper body. It is these movements that the
mentioned above muscles take part in (bold is mine)”.
Thus, nature provided us with articulations similar to the shoulder and hip joints, in those
places where we need more mobility, and in those places where such mobility is not necessary, it
provided us with different protective mechanisms. For example, more articulations between the
bony structures which are located in different planes. Minor healthy amplitude of mobility

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
between the spine elements is acceptable; to increase this mobility is similar to setting fire to the
wick of the barrel with gunpowder, on which you sit.
How is it possible to define how far you can turn to, so that not to harm your body? How to
perform correct turns? Many people say that twisting is described in “Gheranda Samhita” treatise.
Yes, it is described there. Then, practice it the way it is described! “Flatten your abdomen similar
to the back. Sitting without any tension bend your left leg in your knee and position your left foot
behind your right knee. Place (on the left thigh) right elbow. Turn your face to the right. Gaze is
fixed between the eye brows. This is Matsiendrasana” said in the treatise
“Without tension” that means without creating any levers and excessive effort with your
hands. “Flatten your abdomen” means stretch yourself up first of all. One leg should be
obligatory fixed in the halflotus – this pose influences blood circulation, endocrine glands and
other organs; this is a key element of the asana according to a clairvoyant perception. Turn of the
head and stretching of the trunk just increases the effect of how the leg in halflotus influences the
glands. “Gaze is fixed between the eye brows” means that the attention is focused on the inside; a
person is concentrated on his/her feelings and “listens” to his/her body. It is not mentioned in this
treatise that the arms should be used as levers to turn the trunk.
In other words, whilst turning, only the back muscles should be used to turn the trunk.
That means that it is just a turn and not a twist. Also you should take into consideration the
algorithm of the workout described in thetreatise as1:31. That means that a ratio of one correct
turn to thirty one asana with the symmetric spine.
This asana is more like a subtle influence on the pranic body and regulation of the blood
supply of certain parts of the organism by clamping the channels, rather than a spine twist.
Analyzing asanas with my teacher Iurii Glavchev, I became convinced that all asanas described in
the yoga treatises have an extremely similarly powerful, energetic impact on the body of a human
being and apparently were created by individuals that had understanding of physiology and energy
flow in the human body; some of them were also clairvoyant.
In “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” (one of the latest treatises) it is mentioned that asanas were left by
Shiva. 15 asanas are described in this treatise. Only twist (matsiendrasana) is referred to as the
asana invented by Shri Matsiendranath: “Matsiendrasana. Position your right foot behind the left
thigh, the left thigh is bent in the knee, position your left foot near the upper part of the right
thigh. Hold your left foot with your right hand and stretch your left arm along your waist
backwards. Turn your head and body completely to the left. This asana was invented by Shri
Is is also described to one side, but not the opposite one. It may not just be an “accident”. The
other assimetrical exercise, related to mudras – mahamudra, is mentioned to be required to be
performed to the other side.
Description in “Pradipika” is practically identical to the description in “Gheranda Samhita”.
This asana may be passed on as a variant of soft compensation of the spine. The algorithm of such
a workout is 1:14. One “twist” correlates to fourteen asanas with a symmetric spine.
In the treatise “Shiva Samhita”, that is known nowadays, only four asanas are described.
Three of them are contemplative: Sidhasana, Padmasana, Svastikasana and one asana with back
stretching – Ugrasana. Thus, it is a completely different algorithm of workout, but the most
important components are present – keeping the spine in a symmetrical position and its stretching.
In the description of the mudras there is also viparitakarani mudra with dynamic leg movement
and mahamudra. These exercises also include an asana with symmetric position of the spine. In
“Pradipika” and “Gheranda Samhita” these mudras are described the same way – with the spine
Incorrect performing of turns and nonsymmetrical asanas quite often causes superdistension
of the ligaments that results in “looseness” of the spine. Further performing of twists in such a
condition leads to temporary symptomatic improvement (during twisting the vertebrae diverge
temporarily, releasing the pinched nerve), but eventually twists cause even higher mobility of the
vertebrae. It becomes a vicious circle. Instead of improving his/her condition a human being

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
becomes dependent on twists. As a result, you can notice a person, that has been practicing in such
a way for a long time, cannot sit still even for 15 minutes, not to mention even several hours that
are necessary for contemplation practices.
Correct performing of turns and nonsymmetrical asanas like ashtavakrasana or
parshvatrikonasana is appropriate for compensatory spine alignment if a person has scoliosis or
shifted vertebrae. And it is mostly in theory. At the present moment there is no such a yoga
therapeutist that I know of, that would not only promise but really would help to a person with
scoliosis using twists. Those who state the opposite deceive others and sometimes themselves. It is
necessary to know for sure which vertebra or segment of the spine has been shifted and to which
side; how to apply efforts to place it back and to compensate the state. Let us remember the story
of origin of ashtavakrasana. (see Iyengar. Look at yoga – K., 1992). Ashtavakrasana was invented
by a sage Ashtavakra, who was a spiritual advisor of a Djanaka King. They say that even when
Ashtavakara was in the womb of his Mother he heard that when his Father Kagola was reciting
sacrid Vedic texts, he made several mistakes. Having heard mistakes a sage that had not been even
born yet started laughing in the womb of his Mother. The Father got very angry and cursed his
son; thus he was born with eight vertebrae shifted. When the sage grew older, to compensate for
such a condition of his spine, he invented ashtavakrasana – “the asana with eight angles”. Only
this asana could straighten his spine. Being ignorant some people use this asana when they do not
need such a compensation. In fact it has a pernicious effect on their spine. There are asanas that
should be performed only when you are sure they are needed. Also there are asanas that are
suitable for everyone. If you do not understand the difference between those asanas, you can
damage yourself rather than benefit from such a practice.
Generally blindly copying anything, without awareness, quite often may be very dangerous.
In this respect we can refer to a parable about one guru that had 100 diciples. One day he decided
to perform his ablution on the bank of the Ganges river. He left his beads on the bank and to make
sure that he does not lose them, he made a little sand hill on top of the beads. The disciples
thought that it was a part of an ablution ritual and each of them made his own sand hill. When the
guru came out of the water he had to look for his beads amongst one hundred similar sand hills.
Thus, blindly copying of the asanas similar to ashtavarkasana, without understanding why the
asana was invented and without having basic knowledge of physiology and biomechanics, can
cause only damage, rather than have beneficial influence. As it is said in the treatises: correct
practice helps a human being get rid of ailments and practicing incorrectly he/she only gains
Theoretically, if you know for sure which vertebrae has shifted and to which side, you could
put it back with the help of a twist. But everything is not so easy in fact. The thing is that usually
if one vertebra gets shifted all other vertebrae can not be in the same place either. Secondly, in
80% of the cases when several vertebrae get shifted, they get shifted in different directions, rather
than to one side.
Is it true that manual therapeutists place vertebrae back? Those who used the services of
manual therapeutists can say that immediately after treatment they felt relief and in the course of
time they were in pain again. That means that improvements are temporary. A good manual
therapeutist, certainly, can put vertebrae back. He should have a very good intuition or
clairvoyance, thus he should know which vertebra got shifted, which side and how much, he
should also know how much strength should be applied to place it back. Though such skills are
very rare.
If a person pays attention to his/her feelings he/she is capable of compensating him/herself or
even placing back vertebrae, that got shifted insignificantly, with the help of spine stretching in
asanas. Although, if shifting is quite serious, for example, compensation during simple stretching
will improve the condition only for a short period of time. At this point a practitioner may quite
often make a mistake starting to use twists, that will give him/her “relief” similar to a “relief” that
an addict gets from another fix: the more twists he/she performs the more he/she has to perform it

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
further till the spine starts eventually to crumble. Although, it is practicing of twists that quite
often results in such a condition…
Thus, for correct turn of the trunk we should use those back muscles that are meant for that.
Raise up your hands and turn your trunk to the side as much as you can. This is a limit of a
healthy turn of the spine. Twists can be part of a workout consequence, but the way it is described
in the treatises – using back muscles only. When a practitioner starts to use hands as levers when
practicing twists he/she can cause a lot of damage to him/herself. Why is it that when somebody
buys a new car, he/she does not try to open a door beyond its limit using his/her foot as a lever?
He/she understands that in such a way he/she can break a door mechanism of his/her car. For
some reason when this person performs asanas he/she treats his/her body in a different way… I
can even tell why. We are all the same and I remember myself in that period of time when I was
practicing incorrectly and was doing deep twists. I know what I was motivated by. It was simple
human ego. A human being starts to use his/her mind instead of becoming aware of the wisdom of
nature. “Wit works Woe” when performing some asana “from wit” that nobody else can do or
creating a new one without being aware of the principles of Biomechanics, Physiology of his/her
own body and having no clairvoyance, this person is thinking: “This is a “wow!” – cool asana”.
Such a “yogi” looks down on everybody else who can not perform it. So, what is it? This is
human EGO. This is a factor that is totally opposite to yoga. In yoga there is an inside work on
Ego eradication. Achieving some hypermobility, applying hyperstrength and whatever else is just
expression of human egoism. It is egoism that motivates a person that goes, for example, in for
What is yoga-sport? From my subjective point of view, this is yoga turned inside-out,
something opposite to it. A competition in asanas takes place: several participants show up, a
judge names an asana and the one that has twisted in the coolest way is the best yogi, a champion.
He/she receives a title, medals and “flowers into the car” as one famous yogi said once. It would
not be so bad if they performed the splits, correct stretching or turns in the hip and shoulder
articulations. But the problem is that it is the spine that gets damaged the most. It would be ok if
these people were pleasing their Ego causing harm only to themselves. Though the problem is that
adherents of the yoga-sport are talking about popularization of yoga. People watch how they
perform asanas and being ignorant, try to copy them, that results in damaging their bodies.
Although, if we look at the root of the reason: why do yogi pay attention to their physical
body? The thing is that an ailment is considered to be an obstacle for a normal state of mind, for
achieving chittavritti nirodha. This is the reason why yogis make sure that the body is in the
normal condition – to eliminate distractions of the mind.
Let us make some conclusions. Twisting is a dangerous direction of spine mobility. Deep
twisting with the help of hands, used as levers, is an unnatural direction of mobility, fraught with
vertebrae shifting and all the ensuing consequences. Wide amplitude of spine mobility during
twisting is only provided by nature in the cervical spine. Special structure of the vertebrae of this
part of the spine – atlas and axis - testifies to this. These vertebrae are also interconnected with
each other differently from the other vertebrae. Nature is wise: if human beings could not rotate
the head – saber-toothed tigers would have eaten them ages ago.
Back bends
Back bend is also a potentially dangerous direction of mobility, though not as dangerous as
twisting. If back bends and twisting are performed correctly then they are very good for you.
Whilst performing arching, as well as twisting, first it is necessary to use the muscles that are
intended by nature for it. Lie down on your stomach, raise your arms and legs up and arch
backwards as much as you can with the help of your back muscles (makarasana). This is your
maximum permissible safe backward arching of the spine. Whatever else you undertake, including
the leg and arm muscles, will be beyond safe amplitude of spine mobility. If you can justify
including unsafe asanas in your individual programme, then good luck to you!. Although in group
practice, in my opinion, only safe asanas can be taught, and practitioners should become aware of
the purpose of each asana used, its impact on the practitioners and its “origin”.

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
In the yoga treatises there is no asymmetric arching at all, symmetric ones are mentioned.
Thus in “Gheranda Samhita” there are 6 asanas with back bends among 32 described,
(dhanurasana, matsiyasana, shalabhasana, makarasana, ushtrasana, bhudjangasana), that is about
20%. All of them are described as an arching when only the back muscles are used. In
bhudjangasana, matsiyasana, shalabhasana and makarasana, backward arching is used with
simultaneous isometric tension of the back muscles. Such tension of the muscles strengthens the
back and contributes to stabilization of the vertebrae. In ushtrasana and dhanurasana, arching is
also quite spine friendly and not deep.
In “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” treatise, among 15 asanas, only one contains arching backwards
(dhanurasana). In “Shiva Samhita” treatise – there is not any single asana with backward arching.
Building your own asana practice, the approach to mobility directions of the spine in asanas
you adopt, should be similar to the one that the authors of the Hatha Yoga treatises had and be
aware of the reasons for it.
I do not contend that you should confine yourself only to the asanas described in the
treatises. Though, if we introduce new asanas, we should understand clearly the
biomechanics of their influence on the spine, first of all, and know for sure what we want to
achieve using this asana. This knowledge should be based on the information about modern,
traditional medicine, anatomy, biomechanics and physiology, as well as the ancient science -
Hatha Yoga. It is completely inadmissible to use asanas from the pictures in modern “yoga
books”, the authors of which pay with their disability in later life, as a result of the mistakes in
their practice. The question is: who is going to be responsible for damage caused to other people?
The question is certainly rhetorical as I perfectly understand that every person, the one that
teaches incorrect techniques as well as the one who is taught, has his/her own karma. Everyone
receives the knowledge and the teacher that he/she deserves. As my teacher says, The Planet has a
limit as to the number of human beings. Regulation of the population size takes place via different
cataclysms and wars as well as, probably, incorrect practice that causes health problems.
Not deep, spine friendly back bend (when only back muscles are used) does not change the
structure of the spine segments much. Such back bend contributes to improvement of the trophism
of the disks, intervertebral ligaments and muscles. As as soon as a practitioner performs deep back
bend using levers, the nucleus of the disk gets shifted and starts to “pull” the whole intervertebral
disk and consequently the vertebra, creating a power vector, directed towards pushing forward and
if there is shifting or scoliosis – forward and aside. The thing is that the spine caves in unevenly.
The worst thing happens when deep back bend is combined with compression of the disks (in
“scorpio” asana and incorrectly performed bhudjangasana). In such case, an even more dangerous
position is created. When a practitioner gets up from back bend, the disks may not go back to
where they were. This is how intervertebral hernias develop. Besides, if a person has degenerative
changes at least in one disk, this motor vertebral segment, usually, gets blocked. That is called
segmental block. As you will remember, it leads to hypermobility of the adjacent segments and
their working load exceeds their normal capacity.
Besides, you should remember that during back bend the lumbar spine gets the highest load.
This part of the spine is the most overloaded one amongst all the other parts of the spine, as it
carries the whole weight of the upper body. That is why the risk of destructive changes of the
intervertebral disks of this part of the spine is much higher and, consequently, the risk of the
vertebrae shifting also increases.
I am often asked about a snake pose (bhudjangasana), described in the ancient treatises, as
arching is described there…
Let’s consult “Gheranda Samhita” treatise: “Lie down on the ground on your abdomen.
Keeping your hands on the ground, lift up your head similar to a snake. Digestive fire will be
constantly increasing, all the ailments will get cured and the snake goddess (Kundalini) will
awake thanks to the practice of Bhudjangasana”.
In this description it is not mentioned to use the arm muscles. Even if you take into
consideration inaccuracy of the translation, I think that it is not coincidence that the asana is called

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
“the snake”. Similar to a snake that has no limbs, this asana should be performed only with the
help of trunk muscles. At least if we are talking about the yoga practice for beginners and for
those trying to improve and maintain their health. Though, if you are going to go in for yoga
sports… Well, then you can close this book with clear a conscience and not waste your precious
time. Besides, in Tibetan yoga there is a very interesting way of making the back bends safe, as
well as other dangerous directions of mobility. That is using kumbhakas.
Theoretically an experienced practitioner can perform back bend in Bhudjangasana using
their arms. Though, at the same time he/she should first of all be aware of the spine stretching
creating a power vector that would help to avoid compression of the intervertebral disks.
Secondly, such a practice should be justified. That means that a practitioner should justify, at least
to him/herself, the necessity of using unsecure techniques (adding levers for spine deformation);
such a practice should also be individual. In the group practices it is better to use techniques that
are safe for everyone and help to improve and maintain good health.
Apart from what was said above, I also classify inversions as dangerous. We discussed them
in detail when we were talking about viparita-karani-mudra, but it never hurts to refresh your
For example, head stand (shirshasana) is quite beneficial for an experienced practitioner, but
for a beginner it is totally inadmissible. What is the risk of performing this asana?
The spine load in the normal state can be compared with a pyramid: cervical spine bears the
weight of the head, thoracic spine bears the weight of the head and shoulders, lumbar spine bears
the weight of the head, shoulders and chest. The vertebrae of these segments have adopted to such
a distribution of load in the process of evolving upright posture. What will happen when we turn
ourselves upside down? Massive pelvis with muscular legs are much heavier than the head. The
load that was carried by the largest vertebrae of the lumbar spine would have to be carried by the
cervical spine, the vertebrae of which are much smaller and more fragile; and by the vertebrae of
the thoracic spine that are not adapted to such a load. It is possible to object to this saying that
arms are used to relieve load from the cervical spine. That is true. Experienced practitioners
escape the risk by relieving pressure from the cervical spine with the help of their arms. To be able
to do so a practitioner should master adho mukha vrikshasana – the arm stand. What is the
percentage of those who can perform the arm stand among beginners?...
Let us move forward and turn our pyramid upside down. Will it stand on the top? Well, if you
manage to find a balance point it may stand. Though to find such a point you need to make some
efforts, that is to have muscles strong enough to perform such a task. It takes even more effort as
well as a well trained vestibular apparatus to remain in this position. Otherwise, the body that is
not accustomed to such a position, with muscles that are not trained well enough, will start to
swing, vertebrae will warp, plus the disks will get compressed because of the load and vertebrae
shifting is guaranteed.
How do I solve this problem during the classes? The approach is the following: we start to
master shirshasana not earlier than after a year of practice. After a year I make my students
perform an arm stand from bakasana. As soon as somebody succeeds he/she can perform a head
stand. Do you know what the secret is? The muscles engaged are totally different from those that
are used in shirshasana, but to transfer into this position you need to practice correctly and with
caution. In fact this is not a test. I just stop such practitioners and explain in detail why it is so.
This is how it “protects”.
The second variant of transferring into shirshasana is with the help of a partner, that holds
with his/her arms part of the weight of a practitioner that performs a head stand. This is yoga with
a partner. This is very good yoga practice that helps to master different positions when the
partners assist each other by relieving load from the spine or by stretching. A person that assists
should be experienced so that he/she does not fall or overstretch. He/she should be able to control
the situation and ideally – to lift his/her partner with the arms. If in yoga with a partner two
inexperienced beginners work together, the risk of traumas would not disappear but double.

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
Sometimes I am asked: “If a person has been practicing a head stand without going through a
preliminary stage, should he/she resist from practicing it again?” I would answer that if a person
does not have any difficulties performing a head stand and there is no problem with his/her
physical health, that means that he/she has passed this dangerous stage.
I am talking about the situation when 30 individuals come for a class and the instructor
should make sure that he/she DOES NOT HARM anyone during the practice. Every instructor
should make a conscious choice as to the practices that he/she uses during the group yoga class.

Forward Bends with stretching

Now let us review safe directions of mobility. First of all this is stretching in such asanas as
pashchimotanasana and shashankasana. These are forward bends. Practicing these asanas we are
stretching the spine; the distance between the vertebrae slightly increases, intervertebral foramens
widen and if there is slight shifting and consequently a trapped nerve, the latter gets released and
starts transmitting nervous impulses. Besides, if there were subtle vertebrae shiftings – less than a
millimeter, then in such asanas vertebrae tend to go back into place.
You should also take into consideration that these asanas are completely symmetric. That
means that the muscles contract symmetrically and vertebrae do not get warped, that eliminates
the risk of shifting. Besides, symmetry helps to achieve inside balance.
Using asymmetrical stretching is a part of an individual practice. Quite often if there are
minor shiftings a person can feel him/herself the necessity of asymmetrical stretching. In such
cases you should trust your body and rely on your feelings, but at the same time you should know
the correct way to stretch your spine. Otherwise you can create a situation when you compensate
shifting in one place and provoke it in an other. If you feel, for example, in adho mukha svanasana
the necessity to slightly stretch and rotate the pelvis or stretch your shoulders – trust your body.
Usually only a person with a straight spine can remain still performing asanas and this is rarely the
case. That means that although asanas are defined as “fixed conscious positions of the body” you
should first achieve that kind of state. Only when you release your mind from vritti (worries)
regarding the body – it will be possible to remain still and to concentrate your mind on Infinity, to
release the mind, make it empty and crystal clear.

3. The Golden rule of the work with the spine

The rule of thumb is that the spine should be kept straight in asanas, certainly apart from a
therapeutic yoga practice that is used for pathologic spine states. Certainly physiological curves
should be preserved. In most of the asanas described in the yoga treatises that we inherited,
nowadays, the spine is straight. Various spine deformations in asanas is the “invention” of our
contemporary practitioners, the yogis that lived in 19-20 th century. The reason for these inventions
is a separate question. I will point out the most important reason for the time being – that is the
attempt to compensate the vertebrae shifting in the individual practice on one hand and blindly
copying other people’s practice on the other hand. Though let’s leave this topic alone for now. The
most important thing at the moment, in my opinion, is to answer the question about how to
practice asanas correctly. We will try to answer this question by analyzing yoga treatises and
relying on the modern knowledge of physiology, anatomy, medicine and biomechanics.
Everything is very simple. Having more than 20 years of experience in yoga practice I
managed to formulate a rule about how to perform asanas – shoulders and pelvis should be in
one or parallel planes. This is a golden rule for a correct workout with the spine.
Practicing forward and back bends, the pelvis and shoulders should be in parallel planes.
With such an approach there is a chance that vertebrae will get back into place if there is subtle
shifting or compensation will take place (the pinched nerve will get released temporarily and there
will be improvement in the condition). The thing is that in pashchimotanasana we are stretching

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
the spine along the legs and in shashakasana we also compensate the vertebrae in a special way
that may result in the vertebrae going back into place and the nerves being released.
The Golden rule of the workout with the spine is applicable to the group classes. Using this
rule we provide safe practice in a group and stick to the principle of “do not harm”. The most
important task of a Hatha Yoga instructor is preparing a student for an introduction to Radja Yoga
without hurting his/her physical body. There are many ways to achieve the state of unmani –
switching off the inside dialogue. Learning from different teachers, I came across quite effective
methods for achieving such a state. I must admit that although these methods are very effective,
not all of them promote restoring and maintaining the health of the physical body. For example,
some methods of the “influencing chacras” or methods of “influencing marmas” that I learned
from some modern gurus in Hatha Yoga, being very effective in terms of achieving the changes in
the state of consciousness, in the course of time harm the physical body. It is certainly possible to
have different opinions about such a practice. There is no doubt that everyone has his/her own
way and certainly there are individuals that are ready to sacrifice the health of their physical body
in order to achieve a Radja Yoga state. Though from my point of view such a practice is defective,
as in the course of time a person develops more vritti related to the state of the body. However,
whatever exists in this world has its destination. It is as a result of similar practices that the
necessity and opportunity to research the original sources of the tradition and to purify from the
modern layers the ancient system of self-perfection – Hatha Yoga emerged. I call this process
returning to the source. This process was taking place first in my consciousness and then
consequently affected my physical practice. Although, division between inside and physical
practice is quite illusive for me. The thing is that physical manifestations are the expression of the
inside state and the processes of consciousness.
It is necessary to point out that there is also therapeutic yoga. It is therapeutic yoga that is
responsible for improving or compensating different pathological states of the body. I know from
my experience that the essence of any ailment is problems with circulation in energy flows. The
block that builds up stops normal energy flow. On the physical level it is often manifested by the
pinched nerves and problems with innervations of the internal organs that these nerves are
supposed to innervate.
From the yogic point of view ailments have several reasons. They are disbalance of doshas,
inappropriate lifestyle and karmic reasons. In reality, in any case, except infectious, traumatic or
hereditary diseases, if there is a somatic ailment there will be vertebrae shifting. This very shifting
will be the key reason of the ailment at the physical level. Possessing such knowledge it is
possible to successfully use therapeutic yoga. Though such practice will be strictly individual. It
is quite logical that some therapeutic asanas may include spine deformation to achieve
compensation (if there is any shifting). Though it is totally inadmissiable to use therapeutic
asanas for healthy people. Unfortunately these are the asanas that they started to use in the XX
century for the general public without realizing their influence on the human body. If we refer to
the source of Hatha Yoga, that is ancient treatises, we will not find that many asanas there and
those that are described can be related to the category of a spine friendly practice.

In Shandiliya Upanishad 9 asanas are described:

1. Svastika

2. Gomukha

3. Padma

4. Vira

5. Simha

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
6. Bhadra

7. Mukta

8. Mayura

9. Siddha

In all the asanas mentioned above the spine is straight.

According to the asanas description in “Gheranda Samhita” treatise, “from hundreds of
thousands of asanas 84 of them are explained by Shiva. These 84 asanas are outstanding ones and
32 of them people in this world can use”. Here are those asanas:
1. Siddhasana 17. Utkatasana
2. Padmasana 18. Sankatasana
3. Bhadrasana 19. Majurasana
4. Muktasana 20. Kukkutasana
5. Vadjrasana 21. Kurmasana
6. Svastikasana 22. Uttana-kurmasana
7. Simhasana 23. Mandukasana
8. Gomukhasana 24. Uttana-mandukasana
9. Virasana 25. Vrikshasana
10. Dhanurasana 26. Garudasana
11. Mritasana 27. Vrishasana
12. Guptasana 28. Shalabhasana
13. Matsiasana 29. Makarasana
14. Pashchimottanasana 30. Ushtrasana
15. Matsiendrasana 31. Bhudjangasana
16. Gorkshasana 32. Yogasana

Among the thirty two asanas listed above, there are thirty one with the symmetric position of
the spine and one with the stretched spine and the head turned to the side (matsiendrasana).
In “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” by Svatmarama there is a description of 15 asanas:
1. Svastikasana
2. Gomukhasana
3. Virasana
4. Kurmasana
5. Kukkutasana
6. Uttana-kukkutasana
7. Dhanurasana
8. Matsiendrasana
9. Pashchimotanasana
10. Majurasana
11. Shavasana
12. Siddhasana
13. Padmasana
14. Simhasana
15. Bhadrasana
The thing is that 4 of them are the best, as Shiva said. They are Siddha, Padma, Simha,
Bhadra. If we look at the alignment of these asanas all of them are symmetrical with an absolutely
straight spine. This is another confirmation that those who described the asanas in the treatises had
a good understanding of the essence and the function of the spine, as well as understanding that
the condition of the spine and the state of the body and consciousness are interconnected.
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
No matter how strange it may look the state of the spine influences not only the body but also
the state of consciousness of the practitioner. The thing is that it happens not only through the state
of the body: health or ailments. For example, when the top vertebrae of the cervical spine get
shifted there will be pathological changes of consciousness like depressions, ungrounded fears or
irritability. After compensation or placing vertebrae back such states subside and dissapear. Being
aware of the nature of such states it is necessary to consciously approach the process of mastering
asanas. For example, the inversions should be practiced only by individuals that have some
experience practicing asanas and whose spine is fit enough for such practice. The spine gets fit by
strengthening the muscles, ligaments and tendons in isometric asanas (makarasana, correct
bhudjangasana, shalabhasana and other similar asanas). The thing is that the point at which a
practitioner may start practicing more complicated asanas is going to be different for everyone.
Some practitioners are ready to practice inversions in several months after they have started.
Although, more often, it takes from half a year up to several years. Such an approach for a
Western mind set is not always easy to comprehend. The thing is that prevailing rajas guna makes
a human being fuss and take hasty, inopportune and unconscious actions, it also affects mastering
Hatha Yoga practice.
All the existing directions of flexibility have the right to be there. The expression "dangerous
direction of flexibility" means that at the final phase of its amplitude there is a point after which
further development of flexibility in this direction can be dangerous for your health.
Besides, sometimes the dangerous directions of flexibility and, as it was already mentioned,
spine deformations can be used for the therapeutic purpose to restore its normal state or at least to
compensate for shifting. Though the thing is that to do it properly you should have a thorough
knowledge of the spine, rather than a modern assupmtion that is often quite dangerous.

5. Consequences of the spine unfriendly practice. Individual peculiarities

of the practice

I think, that after all that has been said, it is not difficult to answer the question: what is going
to happen if you practice incorrectly? As a result of incorrect practice vertebrae get shifted, nerves
that run from the spine get pinched or overstreched, nervous signals that are transmitted by these
nerves to the organs and backwards, get distorted or completely blocked. As a result, asanas that
are used for a work out with the spine and that should have a beneficial effect on the spine,
damage it.
An experienced yoga instructor, having defined in which part of the body there are problems
with sensitivity, motor disfunction or malfunctions of the internal organs can make an assumption
at which level the nerves were pinched.
The correspondence of the zones of innervation and malfunction that arise as a result of the
pinched teleneurons are given in the table 1 below.
Table 1

Segment Symptoms of disorders

1st cervical vertebra Headaches, irritability, acute respiratory disease, high
blood pressure, migraine, nervous disorders, amnesia,
Blood supply of the head, hypophysis, scalp, face bones, chronic fatigue, dizziness
brain, internal and middle ear, sympathetic nervous

2nd cervical vertebra

Inflammation of the frontal sinuses, allergies, squint,
Eyes, optical nerves, auditory nerves, sinuses, tongue deafness, eye diseases, ear ache, fatigue, speech
and forehead disorders, some cases of blindness

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
3rd cervical vertebra

Cheeks, external ear, face bones, teeth, trigeminal nerve Neuralgia, nephrites, pimples, acne, adenoids
4th cervical vertebra

Nose, lips, mouth, otosalpinx Hay fever, catarrh, hearing loss, adenoids

5th cervical vertebra

Vocal cords, tonsils, gullet Laryngitis, hoarseness, soar throat, purulent tonsillitis

6th cervical vertebra

Neck muscles, shoulders, amygdala Neck stiffness, forearm ache, tonsillitis, pertussis croup

7th cervical vertebra

Thyroid gland, juxta-articular mucous bursas Bursitis, cold, thyroid gland disorders

1st thoracic vertebra

The arm from the elbow till the tips of the fingers, Asthma, cough, labored breathing, shortness of breath,
gullet, trachea aches at the lower parts of the arms and palms
2nd thoracic vertebra

Heart including valves and the coat, coronary arteries Functional heart disorders, stenocardia

3rd thoracic vertebra

Lungs, bronchi, pleura, chest, breast Bronchitis, pleurisy, pneumonia, flu

4th thoracic vertebra

Gallbladder, bile ducts Gallbladder ailments, hepatitis, zoster

5th thoracic vertebra

Liver, solar plexus, blood Liver ailments, fever, low blood pressure, anaemia, poor
blood circulation, arthritis
6th thoracic vertebra

Stomach Stomach ailments including neurosis, heartburn,

7th thoracic vertebra

Pancrease, duodenum Ulcer, gastritis

8th thoracic vertebra

Spleen Weak immune system of the organism

9th thoracic vertebra

Adrenals Allergies, nettle rash

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
10 thoracic vertebra

Kidneys Kidneys ailments, arterial obstruction, fatigue, nephritis,


11th thoracic vertebra

Kidneys, ureter Poor skin condition, pimples and acne, eczema and
12th thoracic vertebra Rheumatism, meteorism, tenesmus, some forms of
Small intestine, lymph circulation

1st lumbar vertebra

Colon, inguinal rings Constipation, colitis, dysentery, diarrhea, hernias

2nd lumbar vertebra

Appendix, abdominal cavity, top part of the leg Colic, problems with breathing, peracidity, varix

3rd lumbar vertebra

Genitals, womb, bladder, knees Bladder ailments, painful and irregular menstruation,
miscarriages, enuresis, impotence, pain in the knees

4th lumbar vertebra

Prostate gland, loin muscles, sciatic nerve Sciatica, lumbago; labored, painful and often urination,
pain in the back

5th lumbar vertebra

Lower part of the leg, malleoluses, feet. Poor blood circulation of the legs, swollen and week
malleoluses, pain in the legs, cold feet, weak legs,

Bones, hips, buttocks Sacroiliac ailments and spinal curvature


Rectum, anus Hemorrhoidal pile, itch, pain in the region of the coccyx

Making a research on how the spine works I studied from Iurii Glavchev. First of all I would
like to point out that Iurii Glavchev is a unique person that has syddhas (paranormal faculties),
that probably, had the most powerful influence on forming the Kyiv Yoga School. Iurii Glavchev
is capable of not only perceiving the energy and the way it flows in the Universe, but also
perceiving the aura of an individual, seeing clearly the state of the internal organs and tissues. I
sometimes call him a clairvoyant. Though the most interesting thing is that Iurii Glavchev can
restore the events from the past by entering a state of trance.
With the help of Iurii Glavchev I managed to figure out the peculiarities of how asanas
influence “subtle” components of our body, to track the changes of the chakras activity, as well as
to explore the sources of the yogic knowledge, up to restoring the precise circumstances of
creation of the yoga treatises.
Learning the spinefriendly approach to work with the spine from Iurii Glavchev I can point
out some peculiarities of the diseases’ origin and treatment. Although in the table above the zones
Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
of innervations and segments of the cervical spine related to them are pointed out, Iurii Glavchev
told me that during his more than 20 year old practice of healing he had never come across any
pathology caused by shifting in the cervical spine. The only exception was compression fracture
of the cervical spine and consequently the paralysis of the physical body. The reason for most
diseases is the shifting in the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spines.
I would like to point out a typical example of a spine unfriendly approach that I came across
during my studies at the department of physical training at the University. It is not a secret that not
all the teachers lead a healthy life style, even teachers of physical training. Although among them
there are those who take proper care of their health. There was such a teacher at our department.
He was a veteran marathon champion and even won a prize in the marathon in Atlanta. He was in
his 50s but every morning he had a cold shower and ran about 20 km a day. He was a cheerful,
lively and interesting person. Suddenly he died. It turned out that he had stomach cancer. How?! I
was short of explanations… Others overeat, drink, smoke and lie on the sofa all day long and
nothing happens to them, but this person, that had every day quite a strong physical load and took
care of himself, died all of a sudden. In those days it was a complete mystery to me. Although the
truth is that everything has its reason and consequence.
What is a cancer tumour? When the central nervous system, because of some pinched nerve,
cannot tune the organ, every cell of this organ starts to function separately. The impulses of the
central nervous system do not reach the cells and they “make an independent decision” to increase
their number to sort out the defect. Apparently this is how an organism tries to find a way out of
the “data starvation” that took place. As a result the number of cells starts to grow, although the
nervous system cannot tune their specificity. When cells do not receive the signal for which
functions they should perform, they simply start fission and form what is called a benign or
malignant tumour in Medicine. Danish scientists led by Ole V. Peterson from Copenhagen tried to
find the answer for the question: what is it that makes the normal cells of the mammary glands
turn malignant? Having removed the malignant and normal cells from one donor by surgery, they
put them in a Petri dish. They were studying them for a period of time and at some point they
stopped seeing any difference between them! When being stimulated, the affected cells of the
mammary glands started to produce milk proteins and the most important thing is that they
stopped chaoticly increasing their number. The thing is that when a nerve is pinched as a result of
a vertebrae shift, and consequently the central and peripheral nervous systems get inhibited, the
communication between the higher biological center and the cells gets interrupted and the cell
functionality disappears.
That is why, as a result of a spine unfriendly approach, which is quite common in modern day
sports, my teacher developed a cancer turmour and died, in spite of the most healthy lifestyle.
When vertebrae get shifted even a little bit, the muscles that join them “try” to place them
back and that keeps the muscles constantly contracted. Muscle cramp takes place. The thing is that
a person cannot consciously relax the muscles, as they try to keep the vertebra at least in the
position it is at the present moment, to avoid a complete catastrophe. The thing is that if a vertebra
gets shifted even further it may break the nervous fiber or pinch the nerve, which will lead to
destructive changes in the organ that is innervated by this nerve.
Also, continuous muscle contraction leads to a dangerous, continuous, rise of pressure in the
intervertebral disk and as a result – to hindered metabolism, that leads to the destruction of the
protein complex of the disk, that is responsible for water retention. As a result, the disk shrinks,
flattens and becomes fragile, which is fraught with intervertabral hernias.
Disk flattening also leads to the development of excessive vertebrae flexibility. The capsules
of the intervertebral articulations get overstretched making the muscles contract even more. It
works as a vicious circle. Such a condition may last for ages! When the muscles exhaust their
physiological resources, they become dystrophic and cannot perform the necessary work to keep
the spine in its normal shape. And then should such a person turn or bend his/her trunk, he/she is
likely to damage the osteochondrous base of the spine.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
The thing is that if a human being has such a deformation of the muscles, no matter how
much he/she stretches in shashakasana or pashchimotanasana, the muscles in a spasm state will
not react because the nervous system sent an order: “hold no matter what”. In such cases
asymmetric asanas that will contribute to placing the segmen of the spine back, should be
practiced or help of another person that can place the vertebra back, will be necessary. Though it
should be an expert that is very good with such type of problems.
Unfortunately, adherents of modern day medicine are quite willing to prescribe nocuous
medicine or send a patient with intervertebral hernia for operation to remove the part of disk that
came out. Such an approach reminds me of one Dzen parable: “…if you have a headache, let us
remove your head…”
I want one more time to bring to your attention the fact that the reason of intervertebral
hernia, as well as Schmorl’s hernia development, is vertebrae shifting. If this shifting is fixed you
will get rid of the hernia as well as the back pain. Also the intervertebral disk that gets released in
such a case, restores its functions more or less and a person, that could not move easily because of
strong back pain, literally starts a new life.
I will anticipate a question some of you may ask about what the people, that had surgery for
removing a part of their disk, should do? I would say that they should not get upset and worry
about it. The thing is that a human being adapts to new conditions of living better than other
species. Our organism has a great compensatory capacity, believe me. For example, it is a well
known fact that one of the marathon championships – 42 km cross country– was won by an
athlete with one lung. He won it competing with athletes that were running almost 50 km with two
lungs! The thing is that his other lung successfully compensated for the missing one.
The only thing that should be remembered very well is the rule of correct work with the
spine: danger of twists and bends. Otherwise, sad consequences can be expected as it is very rare
that only one vertebra is shifted. The truncated disk can not perform its functions 100% as well.
Be attentive to your body!
If you decide to seek the help of an expert to place the shifted vertebrae back, it is necessary
to understand that after they are placed back, the muscles, ligaments and tendons require some
time to restore as they have been in the overstretched condition for a long period of time. For
some people it would be useful to practice asanas with stretching, for others, only savasana will be
beneficial. Some people will require a long break in their asanas practice. It is advisible that in
every particular case a person that has a strong knowledge of this subject, rather than someone
who guesses, recommends for how long a practitioner should take a break. But this is the ideal
case. If you do not have such a person, you should pay attention to your feelings – your body will
give you a hint.
Iurii Glavchev came up with a comic classification of the spine states of a human being. He
says that there is a “crystal” spine, “aluminium” and an “iron” spine. What does this mean? This
means that every person has different thickness of the bones as well as the state of muscles,
ligaments, disks. For example a slim, fragile girl has minimum muscles; when you look at her it
seems that she does not have muscles at all. That means that she has vata dosha prevailing. If such
a person has her vertebrae shifted in addition to scoliosis, she may have to resist from practicing
asanas for half a year. I came across a similar situation with my acquaintant, that has been
practicing incorrectly for about two years, according to the method of one famous Ukrainian
teacher. Practicing incorrectly this young woman found herself in a situation when Iurii Glavchev
forbade her to practice asanas. “You have a crystal spine” – he told her. “As soon as you perform
more or less powerful effort, your vertebrae get shifted. So, you should resist from any physical
activities for about half a year. You should walk as a crystal vase”. Fortunately, such cases are
quite rare.
The slightest contraction of the back muscles of this young woman caused shifting. Why?
One of the factors I have given already, that is weak muscles and thin bones. I can give one more
factor that is the state of the ligamentous apparatus. It directly depends upon the genetic

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
peculiarity of the anatomical structure, though the factor that is not of less importance is whether a
person managed to overstretch his/her ligaments or not.
Although if you correctly approach the question about the correct work with the spine, you
can eliminate lots of factors that can provoke diseases.
First of all it is necessary that vertebrae do not start to shift during physical workouts in
asanas if there were no such shiftings. Although if vertebrae have already shifted it is necessary to
make sure that an individual does not feel worse after he/she is introduced to the asanas. This is
one of the key factors of a therapeutic influence of Hatha Yoga. Usually, when a person comes to
my class I ask him/her which diseases he/she has and if there are any complaints about the spine.
Here is a very good example. A French woman that worked for the French Embassy came to one
of my classes. She was in her fifties, not especially fit with a leg trauma. She was not good at
practicing asanas and could not perform any single asana. The consequences of the old leg
fracture did not allow her to participate in the class 100%. Although she regularly attended classes
with persistence and never missed one, being very upset when she was even several minutes late
because of traffic jams. After half a year she came up to me and said: “You know, Anatoliy, I have
been to France and did another complete examination of my organism. I had two breast cysts
disappear, as well as cholecystitis, pancreatitis and allergy…”. She was allergic to almost
everything and she was shocked during the first class when I was lighting eastern aroma sticks,
tried to object, but by common effort we managed to persuade her that it was normal and it did not
contain any chemicals. In half a year most of her diseases disappeared. The only nuance is she did
not miss any single class. She was telling later that in the medical center in France she was asked
“What have you done? How could it happen?” “Nothing special, I was just practicing yoga” – she
answered. This woman did not tell me anything about her diseases at the very beginning,
otherwise I would have paid closer attention to her. She was just practicing asanas with everybody
else at least those that she could manage and she has obtained such a result.
How to explain it? First of all it is necessary to remember the fact that has been mentioned
several times earlier, that the spine is a sarcophagus of the CNS and if vertebrae get shifted the
nervous system stops functioning properly and consequently it affects how the internal organs
function as well. A cyst is the beginning of a benign tumour. When the trapped nerves get released
the organism can adjust itself and there will be no need for surgery. Sometimes tumours as big as a
fist disappear and it happened to some of the patients of Iurii Glavchev.
The thing is that during asanas practice, especially for stretching, vertebrae, depending on the
stage of shifting, either go back into place or at least get closer to the right position. First it may be
only for a short period of time whilst the asana is performed, but the more you practice the closer
you get there. If you practice such an asana regulary, by and by the muscles and ligaments return
to their normal state and minor shiftings can be completely corrected.
Shiftings can also be compensated for by asymmetric positions (parshva trikonasana,
ashtavakrana and so on). Although to practice those asanas you should have complete knowledge
about the state of the spine to avoid a situation when we cure one thing and damage another.
Besides, it is necessary to be an expert in asanas and their biomechanical influence on the
segments of the spine. Healthy people should not practice such asanas as it may cause injuries. I
would like to emphasize once again: using asymmetric asanas is possible only in the individual
Talking about asymmetric asanas, I would like to give an example of their inappropriate
practice. At the site of Kyiv Yoga School ( there is a section “Question-
answer”, where everybody can ask a question about the yoga practice and receive a consultation.
All the records are saved on-line and they can be viewed in the archive. For ethical reasons I
would not cite the name of the yogacenter and the surname of the instructor, the author of the
study material:
The question.
11.18.2006 00:16

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
Hello Anatoliy! I have the following problem: whether something is pinched in the spine or as a
doctor said, the cervical spine gets blocked (as far as I understand the vertebrae contract too much) and
that causes difficulties with breathing or pain in the region of heart and shoulder blades, sometimes in the
chest, it is difficult to throw back my head. I am now outside of Kyiv (2 months in Dublin), in Kyiv I
attended classes in the yoga center ***, such symptoms also occurred several times (last time I seem to
have overpulled 1 side when I was doing the pigeon grip) – the doctor fixed it. (manual therapy, after he
“fixed” my back the mentioned symptoms above disappeared). Here I cannot find such a doctor. I practice
on my own (using videotape***) or go to the club – 2 times a week minimum, I stretch, practice “the
golden fish” in the mornings, lie on the bolster (some resources say it should be located along the back,
others – across, under the thoracic spine) – I have been experiencing these symptoms for 2 weeks already.
If you know, please, give me a piece of advice how I can (can I?) fix it myself, which asanas should I use
and so on. Sorry for the long question and inconvenience. Thanks a lot in advance!
The answer:
Everything is correct. Here is the citation from the yoga treatise: performing the exercises correctly a
person will get rid of diseases and practicing incorrectly – will only develop diseases. Most likely, because
of the incorrect practice (asymmetrical back bends – one of the worst and the most dangerous directions of
the spine flexibility) the vertebrae got shifted. Apparently, as a result of the shifting, the nerves that are
responsible for the work of lungs, diaphragm and so on got pinched.
My advice for you is to stop practicing asanas incorrectly. Now you should practice only stretching
like pashchimottanasana and shashakasana (“hare’ ears”). When you return to Kiev, consult my teacher
Iurii Glavchev He will place the vertebrae back into place and only when he allows
you to practice asanas further in full – you should resume doing it. You should remember that yoga should
be practiced with understanding. You should also learn from a teacher that has positive experience of
individual practice (at least ten years. This is not an indicator of course, but having been practicing
incorrectly at least for ten years, a practitioner will certainly face the consequences of his/her practice and
start thinking. Our body is very strong and can compensate for an incorrect work with it for years, but
everything has its limit) and the most important thing is that your teacher should have a HEALTHY SPINE
(or at least he/she should be a real expert in this question). The latest will be a signal for you that if this
person did not harm him/herself – he will help you as well. What may happen otherwise, unfortunately,
you already know. Although there are also exceptions. A person might have practiced incorrectly,
understood his/her mistakes and started to practice correctly. Once my friends and I just for fun introduced
such a classification for yoga instructors:
1. Instructors that know how to practice asanas correctly.
2. Those that have “twisted” every part of their bodies and realized how to practice
3. Those that have not yet “twisted” every part of their bodies and realized how to
practice asanas correctly.
4. Those that have “twisted” every part of their bodies, have not realized anything
and continue to injure themselves and others.
Actually the last group is not that rare…
It is a comic classification of course, but no matter how sad it is, unfortunately, every
joke contains some thuth…
Such examples, unfortunately, are quite often…
I would like to point out that a person that practices asanas incorrectly starts to have problems
not because of the evil intentions of the instructor, but because of avidiya – delusion, ignorance.
You should also understand that. Teaching incorrectly the instructor is far from intentionally
injuring others, but he/she should take into consideration the fact that if he/she starts to have
serious problems with the spine – it is necessary to revise his/her practice and the method of
teaching. Most of the contemporary instructors grew reading the books of the native and world
yoga teachers; these books used to be bestsellers in those days. Nowadays sometimes there is a
tendency to accuse those authors, that described in their books incorrect practice of asanas. But
you should understand that in those days it was the only information that they had and they
honestly shared it with others, quite often experimenting with their own body. Time passes by,
new information appears and we should just stay open and conscious.
Now let us have a look at the peculiarities of the individual practice of Hatha Yoga.

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
What is it to choose and perform asana in a correct way? First of all that means to take a
posture of the body that is ideal for such a state of the body. The thing is that every person has
many individual anatomical peculiarities and different asanas will be performed in a different way
by different people. It depends upon the state of the spine, the state of the articulations as well as
upon the peculiarities of the body structure. I know from experience that a healthy stage of
performing, for example, karnapidasana (when after performing halasana (plough) a practitioner
places his/her knees next to the head) will differ a lot from person to person. It will look different
when performed by a person with kapha dosha prevailing, than by a person with dominant vata
dosha. Kapha type has long torso, short arms and legs and it will be more difficult for such a
person to place the knees down to the floor. In the final form of this asana the intervertebral disks,
especially of the cervical spine will be strongly compressed. At the same time a skinny vata type
person with long extremities and relatively short torso will easily perform karnapidasana, place
the ankles next to the head without much compression of the intervertebral disks. That means that
every person performing some asana, as a result, achieves the form that is most beneficial for
him/her, going deeper into the asana in this case does not necessarily mean violence towards your
own body; in order to achieve the same position of the body as a person on the mat next to you or
as it is shown in the book, but immersing into a certain state of consciousness with aspiration for
improvement in Radja Yoga.
In asanas you need to listen to your body, try to feel the moment when the form perfomed is
ideal and it makes no sense to go deeper into it. It may have a fine line with maximum mobility of
the articulation but without hypermobility. At this stage it is very important to discern what the
body really needs from the egoistic tendencies of the mind. For example, in the pose adho-mukha-
svanasana (down dog) the practitioners sometimes use stretching movements of the pelvis and the
shoulder girdle. It is important to be aware why you are doing this. If the reason is not because
you heard somewhere or read that famous yoga instructors are doing so but simply because you
feel such a necessity – it is very good, though in such case it will be your individual practice
because with the help of these movements certain nerves that are probably pinched, get released.
There is a very fine borderline here. If you feel (it is mostly not related to beginners but to those
who have been practicing for a long time), that you need to move a little bit in asana or to change
a position – you should transfer to the pose that your body tells you. In general you should listen
to your body but not to your Ego. It is our Ego that makes us twist more and arch beautifully, the
body absolutely does not need that. As they used to say in the East – the energy flows where the
attention goes. If a person has a problem zone, he/she should concentrate his/her attention there,
practice asanas safely – it will prompt all the power to be directed into this region. If a person
does not practice safely, wherever he/she concentrates his/her attention – it will not give positive
The thing is that it is necessary to feel your body and be conscious of what it really needs. In
pashchimotanasana, for example, a safe direction of mobility – bending forward with stretching -
is used. In this asana you can use the strength of your hands and stretch your torso more with the
help of “levers” almost without any side effects. Though in dangerous directions of mobility you
cannot act like that. Simple “arching” would be quite beneficial for some people but for others,
due to some anatomical peculiarities, it would be far beyond the limits of healthy flexibility. Such
an asana should be practiced as a part of the individual programme rather than in the group. An
individual programme should be based upon the level of physical fitness of the body, individual
and morphological peculiarities of a concrete human being. The thing is that women have their
pelvis turned forward 10-25 percent more than men. That is why it is easier for them to practice
back bends than it is for men. Although, at the same time, this is the reason why back bends are
more dangerous for the female spine and what seems to be so easy to practice during the first
months of incorrect practice may turn out to cause serious disorders in the work of the pelvis
organs in the future.
Besides, practicing back bends it is also necessary to take into consideration individual
peculiarities of the intervertebral disks structure. The thicker the disk is the deeper a person can

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
perform arching without any harmful consequences. The height of the disk depends upon the
heredity, age, life style, and doshas correlation. Some people have large and solid bones but not
very large disks. In such cases appropriate healthy flexibility will be lower. Such a person may
find that when he/she starts to go into back bends he/she would immediately feel that the spine is
close to a fracture. It is contradictive for such a person to perform arching! The maximum
mobility such a person will achieve in matsiyasana, for example. I know from my experience that
this asana is safe to practice for almost everyone. This is a minimum back bend of the spine. Only
those people with almost dissolved intervertebral disks or those that experience pain in the spine,
which is a signal of serious vertebrae shifting, should resist performing this asana.
The interesting fact is that the height of the disk decreases with age. The older a human being
is the flatter his/her intervertebral disks are. Besides, the disk and its tremelloid nucleus gradually
lose their ability to adsorb water. During continuous performing of shavasana (the spine is in the
horizontal position), the disk absorbs liquid, swells and slightly pushes the vertebrae apart. In such
a case, if a practitioner had minor vertebrae shifting and as a result experienced discomfort and
back aches, all these symptoms disappear. The same effect can be achieved by performing a spine
friendly practice of asanas, as well as swimming or just continuous staying in the water. During
serious shiftings, usually these activities help to compensate the state, but the vertebrae do not
shift back into place. All these processes are more noticeable at a young age when the vertebrae is
still elastic and the protein complex of the intervertebral disks has not been destroyed and has not
lost its capacity to absorb water. That is why middle aged and senior people should be especially
cautious whilst performing asanas that have even minimal danger.
Another extreme state is pathological flexibility of the spine. One day a woman came to my
class and asked straight away if we practice twists during our classes. I was interested why she
was asking specifically about twists. Her answer was that she attended classes of one famous
Ukrainian yoga teacher but she had to stop after a while. She told me that as soon as she performs
twists in “yogasanas” she has to seek help from a manual therapeutist to put back the “leaped out”
vertebrae. That was the reason why she almost stopped practicing asanas. My answer was that
twists were completely eliminated from our practice and we did not even use turning.
My old acquaintance V., also attended classes of a famous Ukrainian yoga teacher. Once I
met him and asked how he was doing. He told me that he almost stopped practicing asanas as he
could not go on any longer – as soon as he performs twists his vertebrae get shifted.
Unfortunately, there are more than enough of such examples.
A healthy spine is capable of withstanding spine unfriendly practice for a long time, the
human body has quite high robustness. Though in the course of time a person that practices in
such a way starts to develop diseases of the internal organs, dull pain in the legs, backache,
inability to sit still for a long time with straight back. Such symptoms can temporarily disappear
after another “dose” of twists, until the robustness of the body reaches its limit. Lack of
knowledge does not allow such a practitioner to see correlation between the state of the body and
the incorrect practice of asanas. For example, hyperflexibility of the articulations of the “yoga-
sportsmen”. First of all, articulations of the spine results in very sad consequences – in 5-6 years
of practice all their organs start to fail. They can not understand why? They are vegetarian, do not
smoke, do not take any drugs and are a complete “brahmachariya”, almost saintly in every aspect
of life, but their organs start to fail. The body grows decrepit. In the ancient Indian Medicine
Ayurveda all diseases are considered to be the result of ignorance and delusions.
Talking about individual peculiarities of the practice, I cannot help mentioning scoliosis. I
faced such a fact that even specialists with medical background and certified yoga instructors
confuse scoliosis and vertebrae shifting! Here is an example. Not long ago a yoga instructor from
L. city (he has a medical background and besides yoga, practices manual therapy) came up to me
and said that he had the 2nd stage of scoliosis. When we examined the state of his spine, it turned
out that he did not have scoliosis but had S-shaped vertebrae shifting instead. When the diagnosis
is not correct – the whole therapeutic approach will be wrong. Even Avicenna said that correct
diagnosis is a half cured disease.

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
This is the reason of contradiction: some specialists say that scoliosis can be cured, others say
that it cannot. Everything is easy. The reason for such a discrepancy is wrong classification and
diagnosis. S-shaped shifting of the vertebrae is not scoliosis. It can be corrected over two weeks
by an experienced specialist. On the other hand scoliosis is a disease that is characterized by
deformation of the vertebra bone – it cannot be cured. Visually it is almost impossible to
distinguish these two states. Here you need the help of a person that is capable of perceiving
information directly, a person that is clairvoyant or X-ray photograph and magnetic resonance
Scoliosis cannot be cured but it can be compensated for with the help of yoga. At the same
time a practitioner should bear in mind that inversions such as plough (halasana), karnapidasana
or sarvangasana are contra-indicative for individuals with scoliosis. Especially it is important to
know for beginners who should be very cautious, as their ligaments and muscles are not fit and
strong enough initially.
Those who suffer from real scoliosis may release the trapped nerves with the help of special
practices and those are the asanas with stretching – the principle of “uttana”. Theoretically it is
scoliosis that provokes the need for using asymmetrical “unsafe” asanas, that are contra-indicative
for a person with a healthy spine.
I would like to underline that the basic principles of structure for the spine friendly asanas
practice, that are used for planning classes in Kyiv Yoga School, are completely suitable for
healthy people as well as for people with scoliosis. The thing is that practitioners with scoliosis
need to use additional asanas selected on the basis of an individual approach.
Though, having such a “present of destiny” as scoliosis – you should not feel upset.
According to my experience if a person practices correctly even if his/her physical state in the
beginning of the practice leaves much to be desired, the body of such a person can serve him/her
longer than a person that was born absolutely healthy but has not been practicing yoga. In the
course of time, having strengthened the body by the safe asanas, it is possible to introduce
inversions step by step. The most important thing is to avoid haste and be patient with your own

6. The basic principles of practice

Practicing asanas incorrectly one can succeed in the incorrect
asanas practice…
Asana is a conscious position of the body. To practice Hatha Yoga efficiently a practitioner
should know the basic principles of practice. Otherwise he/she will learn them from his/her own
experience through mistakes and traumas.
Similar to the principle of Aurveda according to which all the existing substances are
medicine, there is a principle in yoga according to which the number of asanas are equal to the
number of species and all of them can be used. Similar to how in Aurveda the sick person can
recover only if he/she was using the appropriate medicine in an appropriate way and not every
substance should be taken by a healthy person, there are asanas in yoga that are necessary and
appropriate only for sick people and are not necessary and usually harmful for a healthy person.
Lack of knowledge (avidiya) is the reason for many diseases. Practicing incorrectly a person can
harm his/her health. As the ancient yoga treatise says “…Practicing yoga correctly a human being
gets rid of diseases and practicing incorrectly only develops them”. This is the fact.
So, let us review the basic principles of the correct asanas practice. We have discussed some
of them in detail already, the others we will have a closer look at below. Here I would like to
identify and systematize them.

Spine Friendly Approach

This is the most important principle in the process of mastering asanas. Not only is this
chapter devoted to this principle, but also the whole book. I researched the influence of different
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
asanas upon the spine of a healthy person, as well as the possibility of recovery of the spine with
pathologies. The research is still going on at the present moment, but the results, even at the initial
stage, made me completely change my approach to the practice of asanas. I had to acknowledge
defectiveness in the common practice of “asanas”, many of which are meant to be used by sick
people and when healthy individuals practice those it has a bad impact on their spine. Although
this does not mean that there are mistakes in yoga practice. The mistakes are made by those
individuals that use certain asanas without understanding, not on time and not in the appropriate
context, or use practices that have never been a part of Hatha Yoga. Sometimes, by mistake, yoga
is confused with yoga-sport, that is a modern tendency that may look a little bit like Hatha Yoga. I
intentionally excluded from the practices, that are taught at group classes, those asanas that
theoretically can cause vertebrae or intervertebral disk shifting. The object was to structure the
practice in such a way so that if a person with spine pathologies comes for a group class, he/she
will not make it worse, but will improve it (the principle of medicine “do not harm”).
In the process of improvement of the practice a golden rule of the spine friendly approach
was formulated – shoulders and pelvis should always be in the same plane during the practice. It
helps to eliminate vertebrae shifting.
That means that it is necessary to use the whole arsenal of symmetric asanas that require
you to keep your spine straight and only then, if there is such a necessity, a practitioner should use
asymmetry. Symmetry expresses balance and provides for a straight position of the spine. Usually
asymmetry is used only in the positions of the extremities, but the spine remains straight.
Asymmetry of the spine can be used in the individual practice to compensate for disorders if there
are any.
Besides, it is very important to practice safely asanas with dangerous directions of spine
flexibility. It is necessary to be aware of the consequences that twists and bends may have. It is
better to avoid twists and if you decide to practice turns it is strongly advised to combine them
with kumbhakas and it is better to practice ones that you lock after inhale. When Practicing back
bends, take into consideration the fact that we have a bend in the lumbar spine already –
physiological lordosis. To compensate for such a lordosis it is necessary, before transferring to a
back bend, to tuck the tailbone forward and to retain stretching, arching evenly and trying to
eliminate compression of the intervertebral disks.
Have you ever seen a performance of calisthenics gymnasts? Yes, it is very beautiful, but not
for a long time. The thing is that instead of compensation for the lumbar lordosis, they increase it
by raising up the tailbone, that inevitably leads to traumas. If you talk to professional gymnasts
you will find much evidence to what was said above. When gymnasts, as well as most of the yogis
that practice deep back bends, bend backwards, their spine bends unevenly. It is as if it “breaks”
where every two out of five lumbar vertebrae join together. The intervertebral disk between them
is pushed with strength inside with all the consequences resulting from this.
It is strongly recommended to raise the tailbone as high as possible when you practice a
forward bend with stretching. It allows you to bend with the spine being as straight as possible.
Although it is not as important as when we practice back bends.
In the Kyiv Yoga School we avoid hyperflexibility of the locomotive system. One of the
objects of asanas practice at our school is strengthening the muscles that are reliable for spine
stability, creating a strong muscle corset. This is a group of static asanas with prolonged fixation.
Also, specially designed vinyasas are used that help to strengthen certain segments of the
locomotive system, in order to use the potential of the physical body more efficiently. As a result
of practice, the body of a practitioner should become stronger and healthier, which eliminates
vritti (mind agitation). Striving for hyperflexibility leads to traumas and pathologies of the spine
and in my point of view originates from human Ego. Although it is practically impossible to
overbuild the muscles of the back, as stability of the spine depends not only upon the muscles. It
is still possible to increase, indirectly, the potential of having a stronger back if you do it by using
appropriate yoga practices.

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
Thus, our object is to increase flexibility of the articulations of a human being up to a
reasonable level taking into consideration the physiology of a person. It is necessary to be aware
of such a fact that although there are dangerous and safe directions of flexibility, there are certain
stages in both of them after which it does not make sense to go “deeper” into the asana, in terms
of increasing the amplitude of movement, and it may even cause injuries.
The practice of asanas can be compared with having a meal. Do we continue to eat after we
have satiated ourselves, until we feel sick? No, we do not. The main object of having a meal is to
digest and supply our organism with prana and physical elements that our body is made of. You
need to have a beneficial meal to satisfy the hunger and make our organism enriched with missing
chemicals. It is necessary to have as many of those chemicals as our body requires. As it is
mentioned in the treatises – Hatha Yoga is neither for those who fast nor for those who overeat but
for those who are abstemious about food… It is necessary to be abstemious about asanas as well.
Although there were always people who liked to fast or overeat. It is probably similar to how
there are people who do not excersise and those who excersise excessively. The purpose of a true
sadhaki – a yoga disciple – is to find a balance, the golden mean between the opposite poles.

Breathing during the asanas practice

Breathing during the asanas practice should be natural preferably abdominal. As it is said in
the ancient treatises, mastering the breath should be similar to taming a wild animal – gradually,
without haste and as smooth as possible. Otherwise this beast will simply kill you. First you
should achieve an ideal form of the asana that does not cause any tension inside. If your body is
not yet ready to master some posture, you will have to strain yourself. You are likely to be out of
breath as this form is still difficult for you to practice.
I like a lot the comparison of Hatha Yoga practice with making a vessel. In order to fill in a
vessel (filling of an asana is breathing and consciousness) it should be made, modeled first of all.
But this is not enough. If we pour water in the vessel that has just been shaped, it will fall apart. It
should be burned. Burning is a regular, patient practice for a certain period of time with mastering
forms gradually. As a result the burned clay vessel can hold water and it will not change its form.
It is necessary to understand that having achieved an ideal form – we have achieved just an ideal
form. The form requires to be filled in. Afterwards we are filling in our form with natural, liquid
breath, that will allow us to work with our consciousness and to start practicing Radja Yoga.
When a person starts to practice, he/she accumulates some experience and starts to
understand how to work with breath. If a practitioner starts to follow some outside sources
because somebody said that this is how he/she should breathe, problems may develop. That is why
as soon as you start practicing and your body becomes ready, you will understand how it is
necessary to breathe. Your body will tell you. The jar should not think which form the water,
poured inside it, will take. The water will take the form of the jar. That is it.
The same is true about bandhas. When you start practicing and after having gained some
experience, you will feel when you need to use bandha. Sometimes they say that mulabandha
should be used only after exhale or inhale. It is all nonsense. When you start feeling that it should
be or should not be used then you will be able to do everything right. It can be achieved only
through personal experience. You do not think that you need to close the larynx when you drink,
do you not? It closes itself without your mind participating. It should work the same natural way
with your breath and bandhas.
Many questions arise about breathing during viniyasas and transitions between the asanas.
One thing should be said regarding it – a practitioner should retain the same breath rhythm and
avoid being breathless. Sometimes for complicated transitions kumbhakas, that are breath-
holding, can be used. When you use transition with “openning” of the chest – you should inhale
and then with “compression” – exhale. Everything is simple and goes naturally. It is necessary to
remember that movement should be adjusted to the breath and not otherwise. When we practice in
the group, I always say: “Wait for your exhale and then move”. That means that we do not do it all

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
together as in that case somebody would urge his/her breath and try to inhale and exhale quicker.
Breath rhythm should be smooth and movements should be adjusted to it.
At the early stages of practice, asanas and breath should not be linked together at all. Practice
asanas and just breathe naturally. Especially if this is your private practice at home and you do not
have any experience. But I always say that you should not practice asanas on your own as it may
be a “bicycle invention”. Come for a class, master the principles and then you can start practicing
on your own.

“Similar to how we tame lions, elephants and tigers, we slowly master
our breath. Otherwise it will kill a practitioner”.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Breathing of every human being makes the sound “soh” on the inhale and on the exhale – the
sound “ham”. These two sounds make (the word) “soham” (“Ia m That”) or “hamsa” (from
Sanskrit “hamsa” – “swan”).
Over twenty four hours it adds up to 21,600 breaths (if we make 15 breaths a minute). Every
creature alive performs this unvoiced mantra that is called Adjapa Gayatri.
We associate breath with Life. To make sure that somebody is alive we check if this person is
breathing or not. The rhythm of breath depends upon the state of consciousness and the activity.
When we are calm, we breathe smoothly and rhythmically; when we concentrate out attention –
we even sometimes hold our breath, sometimes involuntarily. When our mind is not stable, our
breath gets unstable too.
Our whole Universe is penetrated with cyclicity. Change of seasons, day and night or the
emergence and disappearance of whole civilizations – all these are the laws of cyclicity that our
World is characterized by. The human being is a microscopical copy of the Universe and it is
natural that his/her processes are cyclic. It is manifested in general things like cycles of
reincarnations during which birth, death and birth again take place, or if we look in detail – in the
human body cyclicity of the Universe is represented in the rhythm of work of all the internal
organs: nervous system, heart, kidneys, liver, intestine and certainly – lungs. Our lungs perform
cyclic movements about 15 times a minute. All the internal organs are controlled periodically once
every twenty four hours by the autonomic nervous system that specifies each organ on the cell
level. Some organs can be managed simultaneously by the autonomic nervous system and by
direct willful effort that is by higher parts of the central nervous system. Quite often we do not
even suspect what potential is hidden in our body and what power a human being that can control
his/her thoughts and intentions, and through them the internal organs.
An ordinary person, in the beginning of his/her chain of reincarnation, is not capable of
controlling the general cyclicity (cycle of birth and death) that is quite logical, as to do so one
would need colossal experience. Only people with great experience develop this ability; they
become living legends. Although a human being has a vast potential for self development, from
the very early age we are capable of controlling the most important cyclic rhythm of our body
(that is a microlevel model of the macrocosmos) – breath.
Breath of a human being is controlled in two ways. The first one is used when we are
sleeping or busy with something and so on, we do not notice our breathing rhythm, it is always
controlled by the so called “breathing center”. The second one is deliberate, we control the rhythm
ourselves and hold the breath.
In the 20th century scientists discovered that there is a group of cells in the medulla
oblongata that are responsible for breathing cycles. The breathing center of a human being works
almost all the time. Excitation pulses that are related to the processes of metabolism in its neurons,
arise in its cells rhythmically. After emerging the pulses reach the breathing muscles and
diaphragm along the nervous fibres and initiate inhale and exhale.
The breathing center is responsible for two main functions: motor that is contracting of the
breathing muscles and homeostatic that is keeping the internal environment of our body constant
when the levels of O2 and CO2 change.
Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
At the moment, that part of the breathing system of a human being located in the brain has
not been studied well enough. Scientific and medical knowledge is received mostly from
experiments with the brains of animals and it is mostly of a hypothetical nature, as the nervous
system of animals is not completely identical to the nervous system of a human being.
It is known that when the so called inspiratory neurons (that are responsible for inhale) get
stimulated periodically, the impulse reaches respiratory intercostal muscles and the muscles of the
diaphragm; they contract and the inhale takes place. During inhale the lungs stretch out and the
receptors that are located in their walls get stimulated. They send the impulses to the medulla
oblongata and the activity of the inspiratory neurons gets inhibited. For a deep exhale to take place
it is necessary that the expiratory neurons of the breathing center get stimulated; they make
muscles contract and as a result the size of the chest decreases.
Higher departments of the central nervous system also take place in the process of breath
regulation. This is what allows yogis to use the ability to control their breath in their practice. It
allows to exercise the body as well as the mind.
It is necessary to understand which properties our lungs possess and which volume we can
manage. Capacity of lungs can be devided into breathing, additional and residual volume, for
Breathing volume is the volume of air that is inhaled at a time. In the quiescent state it is
about 500 cm3. The same amount is breathed out from the lungs when we exhale at ease. If
straight after the normal inhalation you inhale deeply, in addition to it without exhaling, about
1000-1500cm3 of air will get into your lungs that is additional or backup volume of air. If after
normal exhale you make an additional deep exhale, then if you breathed out as much as you could
it is possible to exhale about 1000-1500cm3, that is a backup volume of exhalation. Breathing
capacity of lungs depends upon the age, sex, physical shape of a person and can reach up to 5000
cm3. Although even after the deepest exhalation there is about 1000 cm3 of air that is necessary
for the alveoli of the lungs to stay apart, that is the residual volume of lungs.
If you know certain secrets of managing your breath, you can strengthen the whole
respiratory system with the help of these exercises that will make it more resistant to different
colds and infectious diseases. For example, intensive breathing (kapalabhati, bhastrika) activates
the work of the diaphragm that, in its turn, makes different internal organs work more efficiently.
The most important thing that breathing exercises do is enriching the blood with oxygen and
excreting carbon dioxide. Deliberate control of breathing helps to control your mood and
emotional sphere. It is known that a combination of certain pranayamas can cause high spirits and
general euphoria, with the help of other pranayamas it is possible to reach the state of relaxation
and to calm your mind down completely.
From the physiological point of view “Breathing is a combination of processes responsible
for providing the organism with oxygen and excreting carbon dioxide”. Although for Yogi
breathing is something much greater and more important. Controlling breath we can achieve a lot:
from influencing the state of consciousness up to managing the main energy flow in our body
It is considered that varying the time of how long you are holding your breath for is
conscious regulation of the energy supply to your body. The air that we breathe in is understood
by Yogis as energy, “prana” that is accumulated in the organism. Thanks to breathing exercises the
body becomes healthy and more prepared for different neurophsychic overloads.

“If Nadis are purified, you can hold your breath for a long time, digestion improves, you
can hear the (inside) sounds of Nada and achieve ultimate health”.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

A special place in the breathing practices involves breath-holding that is also called
“kumbhakas”. According to Upanishads, there are two types of kumbhakas (breath-holding) sahita
and kivala. Kumbhaka that is combined with exhale and inhale is called sahita (“together with”)
and the one that is practiced without exhale and inhale is called kevala (“pure, whole”). Until you
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
are able to practice kevala it is recommended to practice sahita. Kevala kumbhaka is a breath-
holding that arises as a result of a quieted mind, it comes naturally, as a “pause”. Mostly, this
pause appears during prolonged relaxations or contemplations and is not related to the deliberate
effort of a person. Also kevala kumbhaka can arise in the middle of any cycle – inhale, exhale or
between them. Usually only experienced practitioners can practice it. If you want to master any
breathing techniques you should do it with a knowledgeable teacher or a practitioner that has his
own experience of pranayamas for at least several years. It is necessary to remember that mistakes
in pranayama can lead to serious consequences even to fatal outcomes. Safe practice will give you
a calm mind, feeling of lightness in your body and joy.
Beginners should be mastering sahita first that is deliberate breath-holding.
Besides sahita and kevala kumbhakas we should distinguish breath-holding after inhale and
exhale as well as in the middle of these cycles. It is also important to pay attention to how the
breath-holding is performed – whether it is with closing the larynx lumen or without. The first
variant (with closing the larynx lumen similar to how we do it when we dive) is suitable for those
who begin mastering breath-holding as well as when pranayama is performed with bandhas (for
example with uddiyana). This is a very beneficial variation for therapeutical effect if there is an
inclination to sore throats. Closed kumbhaka can also be used in different asanas when we need to
strengthen the muscles of the upper body and reduce the risk of spinal injuries. For example, when
we practice a back bend in dhanurasana or bhudjangasana or practice turns (do not confuse with
twists), that, for example, are used in the Tibetan Yoga. Practicing asanas in such a way allows us
to strengthen the muscles even more and limits excessive flexibility of the spine, keeping it within
a safe range. The second variant (with open larynx lumen) or “open kumbhaka” has a stronger
training effect, as the breathing muscles are engaged in it. A fixed volume of air is held with the
help of these muscles. Practicing this variation of breath-holding, the yogi leaves the larynx open
as if he is getting ready to perform the next breathing cycle. It is open kumbhaka that is used more
often during the group practices, if we do not need to achieve the goals that were described to be
achieved, practicing the closed one.
Besides being one of the most effective means for quietening the mind, kumbhakas as
breathholding that is different in duration and arises voluntarily, lead to the oxygen reserve being
gradually consumed and carbon dioxide being accumulated excessively in the organism of a yogi.
Thereby, the aerobic system gets heavily overloaded and first of all the processes related to
oxidizing get compromised. It is considered that breath-holding leads to the releasing of energy
(prana) and allows it to distribute better. At this very moment the yogi can direct it to any place
he/she considers is necessary. During the breath-holding our body learns how to use internal
resources and switches to a more efficient mode of functioning. The main process that we are
interested in and that takes place in the organism during the breath-holding is cleansing on the cell
level. Breath-holding practice is the key practice that is used in the Kyiv Yoga School of Spine
Friendly Approach (SFA). Mastering breath-holding and pranoyama, in general, should be done
gradually under the supervision of the instructor. It is quite difficult to explain the techniques of
kumbhakas in a book; we can only discuss the basic concepts and give some principles. That is
why at the beginning stage it is recommended to keep your breath free; you can use abdominal
breathing but without breath-holding. To learn kumbhakas practice it is recommended to meet
face to face at the classes or seminars with a knowledgeable instructor. Pranayama abhors haste
and egoism. You should not cross the natural barrier of comfort when you hold your breath. In the
course of practice this period of time can increase. Pranayama is mostly using nasal breathing as
only nasal passages help to control the air temperature most accurately and protect us from the
external irritants (dust and bacteria).
Learning pranayama practice in asanas under the instructor’s guidance, the practitioner learns
naturalness in the practice of kumbhakas. It is not only about how long to hold your breath (it
should be within a comfortable range), but also about the geometry of asanas. In tasanas with
straight back both variants of kumbhakas are used. Although, for example, breath-holding after
inhale should be performed with the open chest without tension. Usually it is used whether with

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
the straight upper body (padmasana, vadjrasana) or with gentle, natural arching (moderate variant
of ushtrasana), as well as with stretching with open chest (for example, in tadasana with stretched
arms). Breath-holding after exhale is introduced earlier to the practice. It is used mostly in the
asanas in which the natural compression of the chest takes place (for example in
pashchimottanasana or uttanasana). These are only general principles as to the introduction of
kumbhakas to the asanas practice, you should also know how often to use them, and with which
very asanas you should use it and with which you should not.
First of all, beginners should master the body forms, then pranayama practice is first
introduced in the sitting position, with the back straight – in padmasana, vadjrasana or sukhasana.
Then gradually under the direction of the instructor the practice of pranayama is introduced to go
with the practice of other asanas. The practice of pranayama requires patience and calmness that
are gained through the prior practice of asanas, shatkarmas and bandhas.

Awareness and discernment (viveka)

Discernment and awareness of the methods of Hatha Yoga are based upon the studies of how
different asanas and postures influence the state of the spine and consequently the state of all the
internal organs, including the nervous system as well as the consciousness of a practitioner, as
their health greatly depends upon the health of the spine. After completing such research I came to
the conclusion that there are practices that have a positive impact on the state of the spine and that
are beneficial for the well-being of a practitioner but there are also postures that may cause injures
to an ordinary person with a healthy spine and can be used only if there are disorders of the spine
to compensate for. According to these studies discernment of methods of practice – viveka, was

Attention during the practice of asanas should be directed inside, following the feelings of the
body or fixing attention steadily in chakras or other zones. Wandering of the mind (vikshepa)
should be avoided. Physical position becomes an asana also as a result of becoming conscious.

Fluidity of movement and gradual study of asanas and other practices of Hatha Yoga
Fluidity of movement provides control and prevents trauma. Also fluidity is an expression of
being conscious and in control. One of the variants in translation of the word “yoga” is “control”.
Even by simply slowing down the usual movements we can achieve the state of awareness.
Gradual study of asanas is the necessary attribute of the practice, that expresses our patience. Only
when the body and the mind are ready a person starts to practice difficult asanas. Otherwise
difficult asanas can cause traumas of the practitioner’s body and selfish trends of his/her mind.

Liberation from Ego (Ahamkara)

This practice becomes topical in the further stages of development of awareness (see the
chapter “Ego dissolving”).

Achieving chittavritti nirodha

Another important element of the practice is the inside work in yoga and achieving the state
of chittavritti nirodha that means to resist generating modifications of consciousness, when the
consciousness of sadhaki (a practitioner) becomes crystal clear. This state precedes a combination
of Pratyahara, dharana (attention concentration) and dhiyana (contemplation). It is such a state of
mind that is meant when it goes about going deeper in to the asana, but not the degree to which
the physical body is used.
Sometimes the word “meditation” is used to describe such a state. I try to avoid such a word
as it is not related to the period of yoga. “Meditation” is translated as “reflection”, that is vritti,
mind activity. It does not reflect the essence of the process during the asanas practice, especially
the states of dharana, dhiyana or the state of chittavritti nirodha. That is why when I hear a
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
question: “Anatoliy, do you have meditation at your classes?” I answer: “No”, and ask: “Where
did you hear the word “meditation” from? It is the wrong translation of the word “dhiyana”. If the
wrong translation and the wrong terminology are used for a long time it leads to the wrong
understanding of the essence of the process. There is a state of dharana in yoga – that is attention
concentration. There is a dhiyana state - that is contemplation that comes after prolonged
If we address “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” we will find in this treatise a description of the state
that can be called meditation at a stretch. That is – vichara. Although, again, why should we not
use the name that this state already has? For example, vichara is creating an inside smile or the
state of forgiveness when the work with Ego takes place. It is the analysis of your own behavior
and state of mind. The thing is that a practitioner does not stop his/her inside dialogue as in
chittavritti nirodha but creates a certain concept to liberate from and get rid of the Ego. This is a
different state. It should also be practiced but it is not worth to identify one with another.
Sometimes I am asked if it is possible to achieve the state described by Patandjali –
chittavritti nirodha, by practicing asanas incorrectly.
Observing the practice of many famous yogis, I came to an interesting conclusion. Practicing
asanas incorrectly you can still achieve chittavritti nirodha. Practicing the unsafe way, twisting,
causing injuries to his/her spine and worsening the state, such a practitioner still achieves the state
of Radja Yoga, but as a result his/her body “falls apart”. The only choice the beginner should
make is whether to achieve this state, having preserved the health of their physical body or having
completely messed it up. It is clear that we will die in any case and it is impossible to preserve our
instrument of cognition – our body – forever. Although, if it makes any difference to you whether
you go through your life in a healthy body or suffering from different ailments – you should make
a choice. If it does not matter for you, you may practice asanas anyhow and you should not be
bothered by the spine friendly approach.

Devoting the fruits of practice to all beings alive

This practice is fundamental and is a very important principle of a true practitioner.

7. My personnal experience

When I started to study yoga I met an interesting teacher that explained to me the basics of
very important knowledge of traditional yoga. He taught me how to devote the fruits of the
practice that is the most important element of the successful practice. Many years later I found this
principle in Tibetan Yoga. I still cannot fully understand from where and how this knowledge can
filter into the territory of the former USSR. People were secretely, with great conspiracy, sharing
those parts of knowledge that were available to them. Unfortunately there was not any information
about safe asana practice then. For the first 12 years of practice I did not have a knowledgeable
teacher, that could at least understand how to perform asanas correctly. Certainly, I was
communicating with other people that were practicing yoga. Unfortunately at that period of time I
did not know any instructors personally. There were just people that were trying to study yoga
through their mistakes. Many of them, practicing in an unsafe way, were causing damage to their
bodies and received serious injuries. We were communicating, sharing experience. This is how I
was learning. In those days the sources of knowledge about yoga were treatises, translated into
Russian and usually handwritten or photocopies of self-published books. That is why it is possible
to say that in those days my practice was based on the knowledge I got from the ancient treatises.
The first experienced yoga instructors I met were after 12 years of practice. After learning from
some of them, curiously enough, I went back to the original sources, to the yoga practice that is
described in the treatises. Although returning did not proceed as smoothly as I wished. The thing
is that in those days my practice, except the knowledge from the treatises and knowledge that I
gained from the experienced instructors, was based, to a considerable degree, upon egoistic

Chapter 5. Spine friendly practice in asanas
motives. When the necessity to purify my practice arose, I remember how difficult it was to go
through stereotype breaking.
When I came to the conclusion about the necessity to radically change my practice, my close
friends and relatives remember my shock and difficult phsycological state. It appeared that almost
all my previous practice was defective. That popular practice of Hatha Yoga that is taught
nowadays in the Western World is, per se, half defective. Half, because most of the asanas and
practices are very good for you but the second half (twists and pathological bends, asymmetrical
positions) is harmful for the spine.
I thought that it was the end of everything, as I was a professional teacher of yoga and yoga
was EVERYTHING for me. It is not only my primary occupation in life, yoga is the main filling
of my life. Imagine such a situation when a person finds out that everything that he/she has been
doing in his/her life is defective for him/her, as well as for others. It was a deep shock. When I
started to change my practice, even my students who were already teaching themselves, did not
believe me. They said that I was contriving everything in order to create a new brand of yoga.
Although I understood how they felt, as I remembered my own state, when I had to change
everything and to look at the practice of asanas in a different way. That was not easy.
At the same time, the most close friends of mine, colleagues that worked with me in the Kyiv
Yoga School ( and the students, supported me, having realized the necessity to
correct the practice. Later, having analysed everything, the other yoga instructors that were
initially sceptical, joined us. Later the instructors that I taught started to teach the Spine Friendly
Approach outside of Ukraine. From 2008 we established a teachers’ training course. In 2009 the
instructors that teach SFA (Spine Friendly Approach) founded the International Federation of
Yoga (
The only thing that helped me to overcome this stage was the aspiration to purify the yoga
practice from unsafe layers, that have nothing to do with yoga at the end of the day. I understood
the necessity to build a correct practice, that will not contain any elements that can harm the body.
Later, after a deep introspection, this situation even made me laugh. In fact my biggest horror
was that my Ego was hurt. How can it be that I will have to get rid of almost all the asanas that I
like the most! They made me feel almost like superman, especially in comparison with ordinary
people or beginners. These were the exercises that nourished my Ego. I had to go through the
correction of not only my physical practice but also the internal one and it was the most difficult
part. When I managed to overcome my Ego and I decided to do everything in accordance with the
information that I possessed – I excluded all the twists, pathological bends and asymmetric
positions, I realized that there are a lot of spine friendly asanas. In fact, there are not that many
spine unfriendly, defective postures. I managed to restore the workout system that does not
contain any dangerous asana that can damage the body and the spine. It is interesting enough that
these spine unfriendly postures are very popular. Although the most amazing thing was that when
I compared the workout matrix that came together as a result of correction, I saw the principles
and the system that were similar to those that were used in the algorithm of a session described in
the ancient yoga treatises!

Chapter 6. Inside work in yoga

Chapter 6. Inside work in Yoga

1. Unmani and Chittavritti Nirodha

Cessation of the internal dialogue is called unmani in yoga. This is a threshold and a
condition that is necessary for entering the state of chittavritti nirodha that means “resisting to
generate modifications of consciousness” or in other words – absence of vritti (agitation) of mind,
a crystal clear state of consciousness.
A practitioner can achieve the state of unmani after practicing intensively for some time,
although this time will vary from person to person.
According to the classical treatise “Shiva Samhita”, there are four types of sadhaks
(students): weak, moderate, passionate and very passionate. Individuals that are not enterprising,
forgetful, weak, looking for teacher’s mistakes, greedy, vicious; those who have a sweet tooth,
attached to their spouses, shy, inconsistent, sickly, not free, cruel – they are weak sadhaks. They
can hardly achieve any success even after 20 years. They are good only for Mantra Yoga.
Moderate sadhaks have the right for Laya Yoga. They are intelligent, merciful, striving for
virtue; they are good speakers and avoid extremes. Passionate sadhaks have the right for Hatha
Yoga. They have a very cold mind, know Laya Yoga, independent, full of energy, generous, full of
sympathy, forgiving, fair, brave, have strong faith, venerate their Gurus, always practice Yoga.
They achieve success in six years. Literal translation of the term “Laya” from Sanskrit is “rythm”,
“dissolving”, that is coming back to the state of undifferentiated existence (non-duality), when the
individual consciousness of a yogi (Atman) is united with transcendental existence (Brahman).
Completion of the Universe’s existence at the end of the kalpa (time cycle) is described in Vedas
and Upanishads as pralaya – great dissolving, coming back to the initial latent state.
Very passionate sadhaks have the right for all types of yoga. They have a high level of
energy; they are enterprising, know the Scriptures, persistent, free from the influence of emotions;
they are not easy to confuse, abstemious about food from the early days of youth, can manage
their emotions, fearless, clean, skillful, merciful, helping to everybody, knowledgeable, capable,
steady, content, forgiving, have good character, religious, capable of keeping secrets; they are
meek speakers, peaceable, having faith in the Scriptures, worship the God and their Guru, do not
waste their time in society, free from oppressive ailment.
According to the above you can make a conclusion that to achieve success in yoga the
question “how?” is important but not “how much?”
If my memory serves me right, I managed to achieve the state of unmani after four years of
persistent practice, it was somewhere in 1993-94. At this stage I also achieved my first success in
the studies of yoganidra. I did not have a knowleadgeable teacher then and I was practicing mostly
according to the ancient treatises and communicating with fellow practitioners. In those days I had
a rule of practicing all six shatkarmas every day, I was practicing asanas for 2 hours, pranayamas
for 4 hours and was spending up to 2 hours for contemplation practice. Very rarely contemplation
took more time – up to 4 hours. There were days when I was practicing pranayama for up to 6-7
hours. At that period of time I was literally practicing day and night as in the middle of the night I
used to be almost “thrown out” of sleep. I used to get up, put down the dream that I just had and
then was contemplating a void and after some period of time I could fall asleep again. Then the
cycle of contemplation could repeat several times a night. I remember that then the night
contemplations were the most interesting and, as it seemed to me, the most important part of my
life. At that stage of my life I had a mania to keep diaries, where I was putting down everything,
starting from reflections on yoga, sequence of shatkarmas, time spent on asanas and pranayama
and finishing with 5-15 dreams a night. After eight years of practice I had so many diaries that
they started bothering me, causing vritti and I did not know what to do with them. I even had
nightmares that somebody was stealing my diaries. I got seriously attached to them and it started
to interfere with my practice. Once, on one wonderful summer day I went far up to the mountains
with the rucksack full of diaries and burned everything. I remember that I could not fit anything
Chapter 7. Recommendations for beginners in Hatha Yoga Practice
else except the diaries in the big “Yermak” type of oversize backpack. I had to spend the night
sitting near the fire, it was good job that I had plenty of things to burn.
Although, I had practiced yoga from 1989, it is, curiously enough, that only lately I managed
to achieve the chittavritti nirodha state consciously (probably I am a “weak” or a “moderate”
sadhak). At that time my asana practice changed a lot, I completely abandoned pranayama and
moved out from the mountains, where I had been living for a long time, to Kiev. I was learning
then from Andrey Lapa to whom I am very grateful. Andrey Lapa is one of the most famous and
experienced Russian speaking teachers of Hatha Yoga, who studied from many famous and not so
famous Eastern teachers of Yoga.
It was great luck for me to receive, in a compressed way at least, some part of his experience.
It is possible to say that learning from Andrey made my knowledge structured. He taught me a lot,
especially the rules of performing asanas. At the same time I was studying Ashtanga Vinyasa
yoga. I could not afford to go to India at that point, though the good thing was that, thanks to the
fruits of civilization, I could do without it as there were educational movies. I concentrated on the
practice of asanas and was doing Ashtanga-vinyasa classes for 6 hours a day using video (The
Practice Manual by Pottabhi Jois and David Swenson). Although at the moment my sadhana is
totally different. It may be because I have changed the style of my asana practice, intensive
influence on marmas, maybe some other factor or maybe it was just time to change but in any case
I do not practice like that any more and think that nobody should practice like that. Although, this
is another story and I have narrated about it in detail in the chapter about the spine friendly
I would like to calm down at the very beginning those who are craving for this state –
chittavritti nirodha is just the basic state of Hatha Yoga. You do not see stars and do not attain
siddhi. Chittavritti nirodha is just a criteria of a practitioner’s readiness for Raja Yoga. Finally you
become yourself! When your vritti are restrained you just concentrate on your own nature. It is not
occasionally that one of the translations of the word “yoga” is “restraint”. Absorbed in vritti, we
take the form of these emotions and are not ourselves any longer. Ordinary people sometimes live
like that all their life… After achieving chittavritti niridha a practitioner becomes dispassionate.
That is such, a person does not have any slightest desire to possess anything and experience
complete absence of any desires. He/she achieves lucidity. Whatever such a person concentrates
upon – everything becomes lucid and clear, he/she sees the essence of things. Although, it does
not last for a long time. The first fruit of the practice of cessation of the internal dialogue is the
state of bliss due to the absence of the internal movement. In Tibetan yoga this state is called
“deva” and the state that precedes it, is called “shine”; it is the state of inside peace, when
thoughts still arise but they are organized, calm, under control and we are aware of them.
From a practical point of view after the conscious experience of chittavritti nirodha it gets
easier to operate simple human motivations (of your own) and the whole blocks of events of your
own life. Although, I think it is most likely just the result of more efficient utilization of the
central nervous system due to some “reboot” of the biocomputer (matrix reloaded). This state can
be compared with the installation of a more productive version of the operating system. The goals
that an ordinary person may spend their whole life to achieve, you can do for several months. The
only thing is that it starts to be of no interest to you… This is when you start to review your whole
life as the interests and goals of the ordinary people become just an illusion for you. Although you
have to live as you have been incarnated here. Then the only thing that keeps you on this planet is
yoga practice, internal improvement – Raja Yoga. It is the only thing that interests you at least to
some degree. However, afterwards you are basically doing the same that the ordinary people do,
but as if you are just playing it, sometimes you even get involved in the events but not as deep as
earlier. The state of awareness comes…
Beginners should understand that there are different steps for achieving the state of yoga. We
are all different from each other and have different paths. The only thing that unites us is
consistency and persistence in the practice of yoga and then every human being will achieve
success in it, no doubt. Although, there are several recommendations that will indirectly contribute

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
to achieving unmani. Why indirectly? The thing is that even following these recommendations
there is no guarantee that a practitioner will achieve success in this venture.
It seems to me that every person has his/her own threshold, critical amount of efforts and
intentions that are necessary for achieving unmani. The previous experience that is accumulated in
the previous incarnations, is important as well as the power of intention in the current body. Thus,
depending upon the effort applied by an individual in this direction of practice, as directly to
concrete techniques as well as to the intention, taking into consideration if there was past
experience, the time for achieving this state will vary from several months to several years.
Certainly it applies here about achieving a conscious state of unmani, as we all experienced
unconscious states of absence of thoughts. Although as in many other yogic techniques or states,
becoming conscious plays the most important role. To achieve success in yoga it is very important
to have a knowledgeable teacher. If you compare what a practitioner can achive without a teacher
during 10 lives it will be the same as studying with a teacher for several years of one life.
Unfortunately it is quite difficult to find a good teacher. Some people think that to find a good
teacher you need to go to India or somewhere else. They say: “Oh, I cannot afford to go to India at
the moment. How can I practice correctly?”. But believe me, it does not always work that way. I
have spent quite a lot of time now in India travelling and just having leisure time in the quiet
places of Bharat. There are not more good teachers of yoga in India than in Ukraine. That is my
opinion. It can be even less due to the total profanation of yoga nowadays. Yes, there are lots of
those who can teach you how to hold your breath or put your foot behind your head but it is not
always even remotely related to yoga. There is a rule – “when the student is ready the teacher will
come”, that is why you should practice persistently and “look around” from time to time, be
attentive to what is going on around us.
In fact, not everybody who thinks that he/she is ready, is really ready. I noticed several times
in my life when real teachers were giving useful instructions but the students did not pay attention
and they did not understand who was teaching them and it was because of their inattention.
Sometimes the teacher is coming to teach at the same city where you are living but we just “do not
have time” as we need to do so many things. That is why first of all you should attune and be
aware of what is going on around.
On one hand there is an opinion that all the pieces of advice that are given to help in
achieving unmani and especially chittavritti nirodha are completely useless as only personal
experience matters. There can not be accurate stages as, for example, during learning how to
drive. It is a totally different area that is beyond words. I must confess that it is probably true. It is
the premise that I followed when I started my practice of contemplation. Every day I would just
sit down, close my eyes and sit motionless 1-4 hours. After half a year of such practice I realized
that it was totally useless to sit motionlessly just like that and think. It was a real experience of
becoming conscious. It seems to be a simple truth that everyone knows but it is a great revelation
when you realize it through your own experience. I think that at this very stage explanations do
not make any sense as the readers that do not have any experience of contemplation may just
shrug their shoulders and say: “So what! It does not look like a new truth revealed…”. Although
when you explain your experience with words, this is where the catch is. We can only talk around
and around on the subject but it is impossible to express in a realistic way the experience with
words. It is only possible to designate the directions of movement.
One of the most popular techniques that helps in this direction is contemplating the breath. It
was the technique that I started to use during my further attempts of contemplation after realizing
that it does not make sense just to sit. Breath is always with us and you do not need anything else
to contemplate it. Rhythm of inhale and exhale is capable of calming the mind, slowing down the
internal dialogue and it also contributes to becoming aware.
From time to time a good result in mind suppression is achieved through the change of
techniques. It is possible to contemplate different elements – water, fire, earth (horizon), clouds,
trees. For example, I had the strongest experience contemplating running water. During the warm
season I would sit on the bank of a mountain river, fix my eyes on the middle of it and try to stop

Chapter 7. Recommendations for beginners in Hatha Yoga Practice
the stream of my thoughts. Sometimes, when I could not keep my eyes focused in one point for a
long time, I used to build a small pyramid from several stones with a small stone on the top. This
construction was located in such a way so that when I looked at the top stone my eyes were also in
the middle of the river. Looking at this stone, I gradually, in a very smooth way, was moving my
eyes to the water and then the flow of the river did not “carry away” my eyes. It was very
important, at least for me, to keep absolutely motionless and if I managed not to move an hour and
a half or two hours my perception of the river would change. It looked as if the current of the river
had stopped and the water looked like a photograph. Although should I have moved even a little
bit, everything disappeared and I needed at least ten minutes to achieve a similar effect.
At the same time any stream of thoughts in my mind used to cease as well – that is called the
state of unmani. I noticed that if I looked at the water without blinking (performing trataka), I
would achieve ceasing of thoughts quicker. Sometimes, practicing trataka at the water for more
than an hour and a half, I managed to go further into that state when the picture of the running
water would stand still. If I succeeded in keeping my body completely motionless in trataka, the
water would not only stand still it would start to change the color into green. At the same time I
was completely losing the feeling of my physical body and it was as if I had merged together with
the water. It is difficult to explain in words, but in comparison with simple ceasing of thoughts, the
feeling of merging with water was much deeper and intense. Although achieving such a state
required quite strong efforts and often I could not achieve it or sometimes I even did not want to
practice. It was as if I had some sort of satiation with water.
Fire contemplation also gives good results. Although I could not achieve unmani
contemplating fire, I just felt very calm and pacified – that is the state of shine. It may be because
for some reason I did not have any desire to contemplate fire longer than an hour at one time, I
would be sated quite quickly. Usually, I used the flame of a candle staring at it in the dark without
blinking. In essence it was trataka practice. Usually, I used this technique before going to bed as a
threshold to yoganidra. Then I would lie in shavasana and try to relax my body and fall asleep
keeping the state of being conscious.
Horizon contemplation, probably, gives you the most pleasure, especially in the mountains.
You should just fix your eyes at some point of the horizon. Although usually, you can not look at
one point for a long time – your eyes start to “wander” around the mountains. To be more exact,
quite often I did not want to fix my eyes on one point, it seemed right to me to let them move very
slowly. It is even possible to say that I consciously did not interfere in this process and did not
impede it. I was just enjoying the mountain scenery. Probably, that is why it is very rarely that you
can achieve the state of unmani as a result of this practice. On the other hand the state of
pacification lasts for a long time and sometimes even during the next day. A similar effect is the
contemplation of clouds. Usually, I would choose savasana for cloud contemplation. Lying in the
forest border in the mountains in such a way that the part of the sky where the Sun is, is closed by
the trees, I would contemplate movement or immobility of clouds. Quite often I used to finish
such a contemplation falling asleep, probably, because of the horizontal position. Although cloud
contemplation is, probably, the easiest thing as they change the form all the time and it is very
fascinating for the mind.
There is also an interesting technique that can be used at the beginning of the practice. It does
not lead to unmani but contributes to developing consciousness. It is putting down the stream of
your thoughts. You just sit down with a notebook on your lap and a pen or a pencil in your hand,
close your eyes and try to put down everything that comes to your head. Then you can reread what
you have put down. You may not be able to make out everything, although interesting dejavu or
restoring of the neuron chains is guaranteed, that also contributes to becoming conscious. Putting
down and rereading the plot of your dreams has a similar effect. After doing so, you may notice
that your thoughts and plots of your dreams become more logical and consistent. Both of them
become more ordered and conscious.
A good effect for achieving the state of unmani, certainly, creates the practice of asanas and
pranayamas. Although, there is a certain order and rules for arranging the sequences of asanas.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
Especially the fluidity of movements is important when changing the asanas and when performing

2. EGO dissolving
There is no Hatha Yoga without Radja Yoga similar to how
Raja Yoga does not give any fruits without Hatha Yoga
At the further stages a Hatha Yoga practitioner starts coming close to a deeper, inside
practice. Having become free from vritti related to the body with the help of Hatha Yoga and
having become free from different ailments through correct asanas practice and shatkarmas, a
human being becomes ready to the “regal yoga” – Raja Yoga.
According to the Eastern Philosopy, there are 5 kleshas – the reasons of suffering:
Avidiya – ignorance, delusion.
Asmita or Ahamkara – the feeling of isolation, self importance, egoism.
Raga – attachment and aspiration for pleasure.
Dvesha – aversion that accompanies pain.
Abhinivesha – wish for life, that prevails even over the wise.
In the yoga tradition egoism (ahamkara) is considered to be one of the biggest obstacles on
the Way (“Gheranda Samhita”, chapter 1). The nature of a human being is perceiving. Ego similar
to a prism distorts the perception of the world. From the stream of perception some signals,
images and ideas are picked out and intensified. That causes a person to lose objectivity of
perception and ability to analyze. Sometimes even adequacy of reaction is lost. If we examine the
state of a human being at the moment of Ego-reaction, we may be able to notice energy radiating
to the outside field. A human being acts as if he/she creates “protection” that exhausts his/her
energy potential. Thereafter, being permanently in this state a person loses an enormous amount of
energy. If we try to give a brief and accurate definition of the egoism we may say that this is
identification of the ability to perceive with the instrument of cognition.
To understand Ego as a phenomena or a process in our consciousness we need to have a more
detailed look at its components. It is not right to think that in this world there is something
unambiguously useless and harmful or on the other hand something unambiguously useful. Every
object or phenomena has its positive or negative sides at least until we are absorbed in the duality
of the perception of the world. Ego as a part of our consciousness evolves together with the
human species helping it also to survive. From my point of view, it is possible to define the
following components of Ahamkara (Ego):
Fear of Death
Feeling of Self-importance
Feeling Pity
Reproductive Instinct
Other components of Ego (jealousy, envy, anger and so on) are the derivatives of these four.
Fear of death can be singled out as a separate basic component that is included in the stereotype of
unconscious reaction and interaction with the world. Fear of death fetters a human being depriving
him/her of freedom of thinking and movement. Getting rid of this fear, a human being acquires
lucidity and freedom of thinking.
Ego is a complex of stereotypes and reactions. Some of them are initially innate: survival
instinct, fear of death; but some of them are acquired, for example, fear of losing something: a job,
a favourite object, a dear person, relationship. Fear of losing a dear person, to be a laughing stock,
to look silly or to lose something are all fears of death covered with a social mask. Feeling of self
importance hides in the society under the mask of hypertrophic survival instinct, desire to justify
his/her existence, longing for asserting him/herself. Although it does not mean that some element
of your personality is unnecessary, harmful or bad. All these elements should be – a human being
is a social creature, we need to communicate with each other but these elements should take their
own place and perform their functions without becoming the main pattern of reaction. They
should not cover the WORLD itself around us.
Chapter 7. Recommendations for beginners in Hatha Yoga Practice
In the course of interpersonal interaction people start playing certain social games. For
example, you allow another person to feel important and in turn he/she will allow you to feel the
same way. It is some sort of polite communication: two gentlemen tell each other how they bought
some things or visited some place in the World, achieved something in life and so on. One allows
the other to talk to make him/her feel important about his/her existence and the other makes in
return a favour to his partner: he/she allows the first one to talk and to feel important. In principle
these two people feel very good together because they allowed each other to feel their Ego, their
importance. At this moment their mind is similar to a horse with blinkers on that can not perceive
anything else around except “Me, Me, Me”… In such a state a human being cannot fulfill his/her
main purpose, that is to cognize him/herself and the world around.
In principle the feeling of self importance is diametrically opposite to the feeling of absence
of the meaning of life. It is quite often that in order to avoid admitting the meaninglessness of
his/her miserable existence, a person rushes to another extreme – he/she tries to prove to
him/herself and others his/her importance. Asserting his/her importance, a person understands
somewhere deep down that everything he/she does is meaningless as it leads neither to
enlightenment nor to expansion of consciousness, and nor to improvement. Suppose, acquiring
some amount of material things or career promotion does not have any other object except for
justification of his/her existence and nurturing ego. In fact every human being sooner or later
realizes deep inside that there is hardly any sense in this vanity, although many people avoid
thinking about it. In order to justify him/herself, a human being has to squeeze his/her life into the
frame of the social priorities and aims. Whole advertisement industries were created to make
people believe that the purpose of their lives is more and more expensive purchases, possession of
prestige things and attending prestige places, long distance travelling, delicious food and so on. It
makes a human being feel that he/she has bought this and that and it means a lot and he/she is at
the high social level and it means that he/she does not live in vain. It is necessary here that there is
someone who is at the lower level. Only in comparison with others a human being can justify to
him/herself the meaningless accumulation of money and running up the social scale.
Although, in any case these attempts are finished with death. Death draws a conclusion and
shows real value of what a person has been doing during his/her life and what he/she was striving
for. Everything that a human being has been accumulating on the material level, everything except
his/her own awareness, does not make any sense. This is the fact that everybody realizes after
death of the physical body. In the worst case, if a consciousness of the individual did not evolve
above the primitive level, he/she does not realize this even after death and it is not guaranteed that
the Universe will give another chance to learn this lesson here, on this planet, having a human
body. It was always considered in the East that it is great luck to be born human. Death puts
everything in its own place and shows the real meaning of everything. In many cultures death was
considered to be the most important stage of life.
For a yogi death is a spice that adds flavour to life. The thing is that without becoming
conscious of his/her death a human being is not capable of fully appreciating his/her life. Usually
a human being appreciates only what he/she has lost. We all come across it. We lose our life only
after death. In order to value life, it is necessary to understand that it is finite and there is death – it
is here, not far away. Having realized this, a human being gets rid of the fear of death as well as
egoism. Only having really become conscious of the fact that he/she will die, a human being is
capable of taking a sober view at his/her life and starting doing what he/she really wants, finding
his/her dharma (purpose, righteous duty). That is why it is very important to remind ourselves that
life is finite and to ask ourselves: what do I live for? It is not common in our society to ask these
questions. The majority of us are educated people or we consider ourselves to be. We study at
schools, universities but it is very rare that we are taught to ask and answer this the most important
question in our lives.
Achieving the state of chittavritti nirodha, a human being understands and sees all these
elements of his/her psychic in him/herself, in his inside world. A person achieves viveka state –
discernment. If it seems to you even now that you do not have any egoism or fear of death, believe

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
me, you have not developed the ability of viveka yet. When we find all this idiocy in ourselves,
our ambitions and self importance – it should not be a reason for despondency and of inferiority.
You should not experience any negative emotions because of this and tell yourself off. You
should understand your nature. It is necessary to accept yourself the way you are and the best way
of doing so is to talk to somebody or even put it down if you do not have anyone to talk to and to
explain clearly to yourself who you are and that you can feel severely jealous, strong offence and
is able to be afraid of something. You know, Vladimir Vysotskiy has such a song: “I do not like
myself when I am a coward”. He describes his states, acknowledges that he experiences them and
he wants to get rid of them. Thus, to say that I am not afraid of anything, I do not have Ego and so
on – is a dead end because you turn away from yourself. All emotions – positive as well as
negative – are familiar to us and we all experience them, the difference is just in what degree.
When a person starts understanding that all people are very much alike and when he/she sees
evidence of other people’s ego, he/she is capable of feeling compassion rather then mocking. The
thing is that when a person considers that he/she does not have ego, he/she will laugh at the other
person and will not understand that he/she is the same. It is the ability to treat other people with
compassion, understand them or at least try to understand them. Then it results in a totally
different interaction with people. This is the state of becoming conscious from which spiritual
improvement starts.
When you talk about it, everything seems to be simple and easy. Although to get rid of ego, to
become free from fear, to control emotions and truly experience all feelings is, probably, the most
difficult thing that we can do in our life and the most important. If you agree with me, just
imagine how far away from understanding it most of the ordinary people are that do not even
think about spiritual improvement, they are absorbed in the maya (illusion) of this world.
At the same time, even after acquiring the ability of viveka (discernment), we do not really
change. Discernment of everything just creates prerequisites for real changes. This is the most
difficult stage – when you already know yourself, who you really are, but actual changes have not
taken place yet. Improvement is a long process that can last all life long. That is when you discern
your ego it does not mean that when some situation comes up, you will be able to manage it in any
situation. Nothing of the kind. You just will be able to identify it, become aware of it but this is the
first step already. Then over the course of time you will be able to substitute your anger and
offence, for example with love, understanding and compassion. You start to change consciously.
There are special excersises when different situations are provoked on purpose and a person,
instead of the usual type of his/her reaction, starts to show different behavior that is not based
upon patterns and stereotypes but upon understanding and freedom of choice. For example, when
somebody from your family starts to feel anger, usually you start feeling angry in return and the
argument begins. Although, try to say: “Yes, you are right” instead and talk to this person, show
understanding in spite of the fact that you feel inside that you are boiling too. If you let your anger
out in response to another person’s emotions you just start competing for whose ego is bigger and
you end up taking part in some sort of childish emulation. Sometimes, when we are not ready yet
to answer anger with love and compassion , it is better to relieve seething resentment having
transformed it into something else that does not harm others. You can break the dishes, break
different objects or just cry like some animal. It is better than accumulating negative feelings
inside or to throw it over your nearest and dearest.
Although, sometimes, if we react calmly to the negative emotions of the other person, our
interlocutor starts boiling with anger even more. The thing is that some people need the surge of
emotions that they usually receive during the argument. Although if you give them emotion with
the same power but of love, they will “swallow” it as well, for sure. This is difficult and is not
easy but if this person is important to you – make an effort, change yourself, demonstrate love
instead of anger. If you do not need this person and he/she is not important to you – do not deceive
yourself and do not try to behave like a righteous man, just leave, do not communicate and be

Chapter 7. Recommendations for beginners in Hatha Yoga Practice
Psychologists sometimes identify several other components of the inside world of a human
being, as for example, striving for power, money, desire to be acknowledged and so on. Although
in my point of view, all of them can be classified as derivatives from the feeling of self-
importance. The feeling of self-importance is the desire to assert yourself, to feel good (quite often
at the cost of others), need to prove your uniqueness first of all to yourself; it is a never ending
inside dialogue. The feeling of self-importance is also the spirit of competition as well as desire to
make the most difficult asana or high formula of pranayama and desire to learn from the most
advanced guru in India, preferably from a silver haired old man with long lineage, preferably from
Shiva himself or at least from Babadja. It is describing your achievements in society, as well as
your prizes or regalia, titles and initiations into spiritual disciplines. These are all masks that we
wear in the presence of other people or what is even worse - for ourselves.
Quite often if a person has not succeeded in realizing the feeling of self-importance, he/she
has to take off this mask and to reveal the next that was the base for the first one. This is the
feeling of pity, pity for yourself, poor and unhappy and hate towards all those who do not love you
and appreciate: “I will die and then all you will feel sorry…”. A human being can get absorbed in
this feeling with no less ecstasies and pleasure, thoughtlessly dispersing energy. The feeling of
pity is a less intricate mask, it is probably more ancient in our consciousness. If for expressing the
feeling of self-importance we, usually, need some “audience”, presence in the society, then for
pity we do not necessarily need it. Although, usually, a spectator can reinforce this feeling as well.
Although even the fact of the absence of a spectator can be a reason for pity.
Only after taking off this second mask, we find the source of the first two that is fear of death.
It is fear of the inevitable, fear of death that makes a human being hide, put on masks. As soon as
we become capable of looking at the face of our death, all masks become unnecessary. Accepting
his/her own death, becoming conscious of the fact that everything that has beginning in this world
– whether it is an object, phenomena, relationship or a person him/herself – is finite, a human
being becomes capable of maintaining the balance of the spirit and staying conscious in any
The only nuance that should be understood during the inside perfectioning – is the necessity
to preserve your wholeness. That means that all the elements of our psyche and consciousness
perform certain function. It is impossible to benefit from getting rid totally of some of the
elements of the consciousness. This is the reason why we use a combination of words “ego
dissolving”. On a large scale, everything that yogi needs in this respect is to place all the
components of consciousness in “their places”. For example, fear of death also performs a useful
function of self-preservation. If an individual is totally released from fear of death (having
preserved at the same time all the other components of ego), as a result, he turns into some sort of
a kamikaze. There is no instinct of self-preservation in the consciousness of such a person but
there is some idea or image (based upon the pity or feeling of self-importance, his/her race, clan
and so on) that is artificially intensified and singled out from the stream of perception.
That is why to follow the way of spiritual development, having preserved at the same time
objective perception, we need wholeness. Any component of the ego should have place in our
consciousness and perform its beneficial functions. Yogi makes conscious choice of certain
elements of his/her consciousness, makes them the main techniques of interaction with the world
(for example, love or compassion) or gets rid totally from the prism of perception that distorts the
world, achieving enlightenment or liberation.
To dissolve ahamkara a human being needs to become conscious, make some introspective
efforts, inside analysis. Becoming aware a person acquires ability to discern – viveka. Only then
acquiring the ability to discern through becoming conscious, we are capable of performing inside
work on spiritual perfectioning.
I am often asked: “What are the criteria for spiritual development?” This is a difficult and
ambiguous question. I would single out several of them: a person becomes kinder; capable of
helping others unselfishly; released from the fear of death, feeling of self-importance and pity to
him/herself; patient and forgiving. If these changes do not take place then spiritual perfectioning

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
remains just empty words and it is not important how many years a person spends in India,
deserts, mountains, Nepal cloisters and how many years he/she practices asanas. It does not make
any difference.
Curiously enough, becoming conscious and accepting what we were afraid of earlier –
becoming conscious of and accepting our own death helps with dissolving ego. In ancient times
one enlightened yogi was asked how to live life so that not to make mistakes. His answer was –
live every day as if it is your last day. This is the way for us to dissolve the layers of Ego and to
take a sober look at the world, ourselves, your relationship with the world and other people.
Everything is relative. As opposed to perception, refracted through the prism of Ego, there is
a state of chittavritti nirodha in the yoga tradition. This is a “clear” perception of the world
without Ahamkara. When vritti are stopped our mind becomes similar to crystal and acquires the
ability to take the form of an observer, the act of observation or an object of observation.
Without special inside work, even after decades of practice and tenacious exercises, ego is
not dissolved but on the contrary has the tendency to reinforce. Thus, the body as an instrument of
cognition gets improved making the Ego of an individual stronger. Practicing elements of Hatha
Yoga without inside work can lead a human being to a dead end in evolutionary development.
Spiritual improvement requires more effort than all the previous practice of mastering asanas,
shatkarmas and pranayamas. Sometimes it is a life long effort (abhyasa).

Chapter 6. Inside work in yoga

Chapter 7. Recommendations for Beginners in Hatha Yoga

Yoga perishes by these six: overeating, overexertion, talking

too much, performing needless austerities, socializing, and
Yoga succeeds by these six: enthusiasm, openness, courage,
knowledge of the truth, determination, and solitude.
Svatmarama “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”

General recommendations for beginners that come to join our classes of Hatha Yoga:

1. It is better to perform asanas with an empty stomach. If it is difficult you may have a cup
of tea, juice or milk. Allow an hour after a very light meal before the class and no less than four
hours after a substantial meal. Half an hour after the excersises you may have a meal. You should
learn from the very beginning that overeating is the first reason that destroys yoga practice. If you
take evening classes you should understand that if you have a meal in the evening after a class,
you will gain weight and vice versa, if you want to lose weight, you should resist from having a
meal after the classes, then you will have results very soon.

2. The most convenient way to practice asanas is barefoot on the yoga mat. You can use any
other convenient surface.

3. Any comfortable clothes that do not restrain your movements will be suitable for the

4. First of all, demonstrate patience towards yourself. Ahimsa – avoidance of violence is the
first principle of Raja Yoga. You should not force your body and try to perform an asana that your
body is not ready for yet (especially if you just “saw it in some book”). To practice certain asanas
your body and mind should acquire certain qualities. You should master practice gradually,
especially asanas. Practicing an asana on your own at home is advisable only after you have
learned the rules of performing the elements of this asana as well as which position the spine and
extremities should take in this posture. It is better to learn asanas from a knowledgeable,
experienced teacher that understands physiology, biomechanics, anatomy of a human being,
mechanism of influence of the exercises on the spine and the body in general. Be patient with
your body.

5. Hatha Yoga starts from shatkarma and asanas. You should start mastering shatkarma
simultaneously with the asanas and even prior to asanas.

6. Shatkarma should be practiced every day: nauli, kapalabhati, neti. During the cold season
in the continental climate zone, it is better to avoid neti or practice it in the evening, so that not to
go outside and avoid the danger of exposure of the nasal sinuses to the cold. Basti should be used
upon necessity (depending upon the correlation of doshas and the state of the body), you may
practice complete basti once a week or partial with lavage of the lower parts of the intestine every
day. If the excretive function of the intestine is regular you may make do with once or twice a
month. When mastering basti, you may perform it every day for several weeks, but total lavage of
the colon (rectum, sigmoid colon, descending part of the colon, transverse colon and ascending
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
part of the colon) no more than twice a week. Trataka can be practiced once or twice a week.
Dhauti should be practiced once or twice a week or once every two weeks but if you have vata
dosha prevailing in your body no more than once a month.

7. Optimum routine for asanas practice is every other day. If you practice in a group it is
more than enough. I would not recommend practicing asanas on your own beyond group practice
during the first year of practice. If you can not resist practicing on your own, you may just
practice some simple but prolonged stretching (pashchimotanasana, uttanasana), under the
condition that you learn the rules of practicing asanas. Mudras, as well as asanas, are also advised
to be practiced every other day. Pratyahara can be practiced every day. And remember: after you
have learned the rules of perfoming asanas, the most important thing during the practice of asanas
is concentration of mind rather than “fancy” form. You should avoid striving for hyperflexibility
of the musculoskeletal system.

8. Pranayama may be practiced on your own after three years of permanent practice of
asanas. It is better to practice pranayama after asanas, although you may also practice it separately.

9. Dhiyana (contemplation) and yoganidra can be practiced every day.

10. If you have problems with the spine (scoliosis, cyphosis, lordosis or just an unpleasant
feeling in the back) you should tell the instructor so that he can figure out a correct approach for
you to the asanas practice. The instructor will inform you what you should do and what you must
not do according to your state.

Hygiene of the body:

11. Before the asanas practice, or in the morning, a practitioner should have a wash. It may be
shower, bath, bathing in a natural water reservoir. As the practices are quite intensive, metabolic
processes get intensified and excretion of the products of metabolism through skin get intensified
as well. That is why it is strongly recommended to have a wash once a day. For people with vata
dosha prevailing it is enough to wash the whole body with just water and under the arms, pelvic
zone and feet – with soap. If it is necessary it is recommended for vata-type individuals to put oil
on the whole body every other day, immediately after a bath. Pitta and kapha types may wash the
whole body with soap; they are not recommended to use oils.

12. After using a bathroom eliminative organs should be washed with water, soap may be
used as well. It is not only beneficial for the body but for the mind of a practitioner as well.

13. After each meal a yogi/ni cleans his/her mouth, it may be done with the help of a
toothbrush as well. It is also good for you to massage the gums with the fingers once a day. You
may do it when you brush your teeth with toothpaste in the morning.

14. Before a practice you should switch off your mobile phone and all the other technical
products of civilization, so that your mind remains calm during the practice.

Chapter 6. Inside work in yoga

Chapter 8. Asanas
1. Tadasana
“Tada” means “mountain”. Another name of this asana is Samasthiti.

Photo 1 Photo 1.1 Photo 1.2 Photo 1.2.1

Stand straight, stretch your spine up. Distribute the weight of your body equally on both feet.
Position your feet symmetrically in respect to each other that means that the second toes are
pointing precisely forward. Abdomen is slightly in, shoulders are open, tailbone is a little bit tilted
Usually we start the practice of asanas from this form of the body. You should empty your
mind and prepare yourself for the inside practice simultaneously with the practice of the forms of
the body.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
2. Shivanataradjasana

Photo 2 Photo 2.1 Photo 2.2 Photo 2.3

Position of a dancing Shiva. Straighten up your back, reach up with the crown of your head,
open your shoulders, bend the knee of the leg you are standing on, shift the weight of your body
on your toes. Lift the foot of the leg raised up to the middle of the pelvis, lower the knee of this
leg as much to the side as possible. Hands are in vitabhi-mudra. When you start mastering this
asana practicing its moderation, remain on the heel of the leg that is on the floor.

3. Virabhadrasana III

Photo 3 Photo 3.1

“Vira” means a “worrier “, “Bhadra” – “the best”. Virabhadra is also one of the names of the
hero, brave commander, that Shiva created from his hair (from the poem “Kumara Sambhava”).
In this asana the spine is positioned parallel to the ground, the knee of the the leg standing on
the ground is slightly bent, the other leg is raised and stretched out horizontally in the alignment
with the body. It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that right and left hip joints are on the
same level. Hands can be stretched out forward as it is shown on the photo or folded in Vitabhi
mudra in front of your chest.

Chapter 8. Asanas
4. Utthitapadasana
This is the form of the body with the leg stretched out. The back is straight, reach up with the
crown of your head is stretched up, hands are positioned to the sides in Vajra mudra (the thumb is
hidden inside the fist; vajra means means “lightning”). The leg standing on the ground is straight.
Then stretch out the other leg with the knee bent and slowly straighten it. Stretch the raised leg up
as much as you can, point your big toe.

Photo 4 Photo 4.1

5. Utthitapadasana II

Photo 5 Photo 5.1

Keeping your spine straight, tuck your tailbone slightly forward. Keep the leg on which you
stand straight. Stretch the other leg backwards and make sure that you torso does not bend

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach
forward. The gluteus from the side of the raised leg is contracted. Stretch out your arms to the
sides and join your hands in Vajra mudra.
6. Vrikshasana

Photo 6 Photo 6.1

Vrikshasana is a position of a tree. Standing on one leg, bend the other leg and place the foot
of this leg on the inside part of the leg on which you are standing. Stretch your arms up and stand

7. Utkatasana I

Chapter 8. Asanas
Utkata means “powerful”, “tall”.
Stretch your arms up, bend your knees, stretch your spine
up, open your shoulders and straighten your elbows.
Position your feet in parallel with each other. Your knees
should not overlap your toes, that means that when you look
down you should be able to see not only your knees but also
your toes. The anlge of your knees is almost 90 degrees.
Belly is in, breath is smooth and calm. The torso in this
asana is slightly bent forward, the muscles along the spine
are contracted, the torso is straight with a slight bent.

Photo 7

8. Utkatasana II
Contracting the muscles along the spine in Utkatasana I, bend forward until your torso is in
parallel with the floor. Keep your back straight. In the moderate variant you can place your hands
in front of your chest or stretch out to the sides and in the full variant – stretch your arms forward.
This asana helps to strengthen the muscles of the back.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 8 Photo 8.1

Photo 8.1. shows Utkatasana II with djalandhara bandha. It is the same form of the body
(asana), but the chin is down and the crown of the head is reaching forward.

9. Uttanasana II

Photo 9 Photo 9.1

“Ut” means “fixed” and “tana” – “stretching”. In this asana the spine is fixed and is stretching
forward. The muscles along the spine are contracted. Stretch your torso forward in parallel with
the floor, keep your back straight and flat. Position your legs pelvis wide, arms are aligned with
the back. Photo 9.1. shows the same asana with Djalandhara bandha. This body form promotes a
healthier back.

10. Uttanasana

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 10 Photo 10.1 Photo 10.2

Keeping your knees slightly bent, lower your torso down and try to reach your thighs. The
muscles of the spine are slightly contracted. At the same time try to stretch your spine using the
weight of your body. In this asana the legs are in subordinate position in relation to the spine. That
is, the angle of the knees bent should be chosen in such a way so that the spine is stretched under
the most favourable conditions. In similar asanas when the back is straight and stretched
symmetrically, the intervertebral foramina become increased, releasing the nerves of the
vegetative nervous system that innervate internal organs. Experienced practitioners can hold their
knees straight if it makes them feel better but when the knees are slightly bent the spine gets a
better stretch.

Photo 10.3 Photo 10.4

Photo 10-10.1 – moderate variant of the asana that is recommended for beginners. The knees
are bent more, which gives an opportunity to lean your torso against the thighs.
Photo 10.2 – 10.3 – desired final forms.
Photo 10.4 – another variant of practicing this asana when the arms are joined behind the
back and stretched forward.

11. Urdhvo uttanasana

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 11 Photo 11.1

“Urdhvo” means “upper”. Thus the title of this asana can be translated as “upper fixed
stretching”. The legs are straight or knees are slightly bent (that is preferable, especially for
beginners), try to straighten your back by stretching the spine: raise your tailbone, lower your ribs
and reach down and forward with the crown of your head. Raise your shoulder girdle but leave
your hands on the floor. The arms are positioned in relation to the feet in such a way so that hands
are precisely under the shoulders and the feet under the pelvis (photo 11.1). Pay attention to the
position of the head:the neck should be aligned with the spine taking into consideration
physiological bowing (photo 11.2). 70% of the body weight is distributed above the feet and 30%
- above the hands.

Photo 11.2 Photo 11.3

Photo 11 shows moderate variant for beginners when the knees are slightly bent.
Photo 11.3 shows a variant when setu bandha is used: the neck is stretched and the head is
thrown back.
12. – 13. Urdhvo chaturanga
“Chatur” means “four”, “anga” –
“extremities”, “danda” – “stick”. In this
asana you should keep your body straight
similar to a stick, hands are shoulderwide
under the shoulder joints. Sometimes for
beginners it may be difficult to stay in this
Photo 12

Chapter 8. Asanas
In such a case you can lower your knees down to the floor and keep your body straight from
the knees up to the head Photo 13 is a transitional form to the moderate variant of Chaturanga

Photo 13

14. – 15. Chaturanga dandasana

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 15
Photo 14 Unlike the previous asana, you should keep
your arms bent in this form: in the full
variant (Photo 15), the angle of the elbows
should be 90 degrees and in the moderate
variant (photo 14) you should rest your
forearms on the floor, keeping your body
straight. If it is difficult for you to practice
Photo 14 1 even a moderate variant of the asana you can
rest your knees on the floor as well. You can
try to practice a full form first and then
switch to a more simple one. If you do so
during every practice out you may find out in
the course of time that you can stay in the
full form longer and longer and you will not
Photo 14 2 need moderate variants any more.

Photo 14.1 – 14.2 shows one of the

variants of practicing of Chaturanga
dandasana. To practice it you should position
your feet together and, keeping your body
straight, raise one leg. You should stay in this
position for several breathing cycles and then
switch to the other side.

16. Vinyasa and Urdhvomukha svanasana

Photo 16 Photo 16.1

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 16.2 Photo 16.3

Transitional variant (vinyasa) between chaturanga and the next form (urdhvomukha
svanasana) illustrates a spine friendly approach as in this transition the spine does not move and
changing the position of the feet does not influence it. Quite often unexperienced practitioners
make a “roll over” from the tips of the toes to the tops of their feet in this form, that is not safe as
at this very moment the spine gets a shock wave.
The spine friendly technique is to lower your knees to the floor from Urdhvo chaturanga and
then pushing through the knees, slightly raise your feet and place the tops of your feet on the floor.
For transition to chaturanga dandasana use a reverse sequence.
Urdhvomukha svanasana is an “upward facing dog”. Similar to how the dog stretches out
after lying or sleeping for a long time, we stretch the whole body up and forward in this asana
from the tops of the feet up to the crown of the head. A very rough mistake is to lower your hips to
the floor and to wringing the spine during the back bend.
The objective of this asana is to stretch the spine. Very slight back bend can appear only as a
result of stretching and it is usually amongst the experienced practitioners. The beginners should
keep their spine straight aligned with the legs. In the moderate variant you can stretch up from
your knees rather than from the tops of your feet. Keep your feet together or pelvis wide apart.
Hands are shoulder width apart.
17. Adhomukha svanasana

Photo 17 Photo 17.1

Adhomukha svanasana is translated as “a downward-facing dog”. Legs are pelvis wide apart
or a little bit wider. Hands are shoulder width apart. Stretch the back in alignment with the arms.
Push the pelvis up and backwards, stretching the spine with the muscles of your back as much as
you can. Raise your tail bone, push your ribs down, reach down and forward with the crown of
your head. Do not raise your head, it should be in such a position so that your neck is aligned with
the rest of the spine. If you already stretched your torso in such a way that it is aligned with the
arms, you should not push your ribs down and bend, just stretch. Try to lower your heels to the
floor keeping your legs straight. At the same time bare in mind that the most important thing about
this form is stretching your spine, that is why if your feel the need to bend your knees slightly and
raise your heels to straighten your back.
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 17.1. In the downward-facing dog add four bandhas. Whilst performing bandhas hold
your breath after inhale.
18. Mardjariasana
Photo 18. Marjariasana – is a cat pose.
Lower your knees on the floor. Arch your back up. This move
should start from the bottom of the spine and raise up smoothly: first
tuck in your tail bone, then raise up your lumbar spine, then thoracic
spine – up and cervical spine goes down in a smooth wave, lower
your head. Tuck in the abdomen muscles to help stretching up the
back through arching.
Photo 18.1. Back bend. Legs and arms stay still in the same
Photo 18 position as in the previous form. The spine bends slowly back in a
wave-like movement, starting from the tailbone and finishing with the crown of the head.
Photo 18.2 Staying in a “cat” pose raise one of your knees up to the
shoulders. You should keep your pelvis still, do not move your spine
sidewise but only up. Try not to touch the floor with the raised leg
and bring the leg to the shoulder as much as you can creating tension
in the muscle and staying still.

Photo 18.1

Photo 18.3 – 18.4. shows a variation of the cat pose when we stretch outthe right arm and left leg
in the first variant and then the left arm and right leg in the second variant. In these modifications
of the asana the spine is straight.

Photo 18.2 Photo 18.3

Photo 18.4
If it is difficult to keep both extremeties up at the same time, you can raise them in turn: left
arm, right arm, left leg, right leg. You should raise extremities up to the position when they are in
parallel with the floor and fix them still in this position for several breathing cycles.
19. Ashtanganamaskarasana

“Ashtanga” means “eight”, “namaskar” – “greeting”. In this asana we are

touching the floor with eight points: forehead, chest, both arms, knees and
Chapter 8. Asanas

feet. The head is on the floor in

Photo 19
djalandhara bandha. Hands are slightly tensed holding part of the body weight.
20. – 21. Prasarita paduttanasana

Photo 20 Photo 21

Photo 21.1 Photo 21.2

“Prasarita” means “stretched widely”, “pada” – “leg”, “uttana” – “fixed stretching”.

In this body form the legs are spread apart widely, feet are facing forward in parallel with
each other and the spine is getting stretched down. In the moderate variant the arms are on the
floor and in the full variant we embrace the outward parts of our feet or big toes with out hands. In
the final phase of the asana the spine hangs down from the pelvis region, the crown of the head
meets the line between the feet. The feet should be apart in such a way so that when the head
hangs down it is just about to touch the floor, keeping the spine stretched. If the head reaches the
floor, you should position your legs a little bit narrower. In the variation of this asana on the photo
21.2 you can use the weight of your arms to stretch the
back region.
22. Uttana trikonasana
“Trikon” means “three corners”, “uttana” – “fixed
stretching”. Strengthening the back in trikonasana.
Keep your back straight, in parallel with the floor and
still for several breathing cycles. Feet are wide apart
and facing forward in parallel with each other, knees are
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

straight. In the full variant stretch hands forward and in the moderate variant join your hands
together in front of your chest (abhaya mudra or “namaste”). In the final phase of the asana do
djalandhara bandha.

Photo 21.1
23. Uttana ashvaroha

“Ashvaroha” means “rider”. It is

performed similar to the previous asana but
there is a slight bend of the knees. Variations
of this asana: the hands are stretched out
forward in parallel with each other and the
floor, joined or stretched out to the sides in
Vadjra mudra (place your thumb in the center
of the palm and make a fist).

Photo 23

Photo 23.1 Photo 23.2

24. Bhudjapidasana
“Bhudja” means “arm”, “shoulder”; “pida” – “pressure”. From the previous position Place
your hands down to the floor (photo 24).

Photo 24 Photo 24.1 Photo 24.2

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 24.3 Photo 24.3.1

Then, bending forward, place your hands under your thighs as far as possible (photo 24.1).
Transfer the weight of your body more on your arms, place your thighs on your shoulders (photo
24.2) and stay in this position if you are practicing a moderate variant. In the full variant raise up
your legs and interlace your ankles (photo 24.3 – 24.3.1). Stay still for several breathing cycles
and then rotate your legs – change the position of your ankles. Then lower your feet on the floor
and transfer to the position shown on the photo 24.3.1.

25. Ashvaroha
Ashvaroha is a position of a rider. From the
previous form raise up your upper body, join your
hands in Vitabhi mudra in front of your chest. Tuck
your tail bone slightly forward, open your shoulders
and reach up with the crown your head.
Open your hips and try to stretch them out to the
sides to form one line but do not let your tail bone go
backwards. Position your feet at such a distance from
each other so that with your hips stretched out forming
one line; your knees are above your feet. Accordingly if
there is an angle in the hip jointes and you cannot
stretch your hips to form one line, the feet will be open
wider than the knees.

Photo 25

26. Rudraasana
Rudra is one of Shiva’s names. Rudra
is considered to be one of the most ancient
pre-Vedic Gods in India. He was considered
to be the God of lightning, thunder, the
master of storms and winds. He was also
worshiped as a healer, the master of
medicative herbs that can prolong life.
Having gone through several
transformations and having integrated with
Shiva, Rudra became one of the most
important Gods of Hinduism. To perform
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

this asana from the rider position raise up on your toes, arms are stretching out to the sides, the
palms should be open upwards. Try to keep your back straight, slightly tuck your tailbone
forward, open your shoulders.
Photo 26
27. Trikonasana
In this asana the legs are forming a
triangle that is why it has such a name. Legs
and arms are straight. Keep your hands on the
same height with shoulders, palms are facing
down, the spine is straight.

Photo 27
28. Parshvakonasana
“Parshva” means “side”, “kona” – “angle”.
From the previous body form bend one
knee. In the final phase of the asana the
pelvis goes down to the same level as the
knee is. The knee of the bent leg should not
be overlapping the foot. Position your legs
wider if necessary. The pelvis should be
aligned with the shoulders. Arms are at the
same height with the shoulders. Stay still for
several breathing cycles, then keeping your
arms up, slowly straighten your knee and go
back to trikonasana. This movement should
last for one-three breathing cycles. Then,
perform this asana in the opposite direction.
Photo 28

29. Ekapadadhomukhasvanasana

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 29 Photo 29.1.

“Eka” means “one”, “pada” – “leg”, “adho” – “down”, “mukha” – “face”, “head”, “svana” –
“dog”. Perform a downfacing dog (photo 29), put your feet together, then move the knee of one of
your legs up to the shoulder on the same side of the body (photo 29.1). Hands are shoulder width
apart, push out your pelvis up and backwards. After completion perform the asana to the other
30. -31. Virabhadrasana
Virabhadra is the name of the legendary hero that Shiva created from his hair. Take a wide
step forward with your right leg, your hands should be on the floor. (photo 30). Position your feet
in such a way so that from the frontal view they are on parallel lines that are the projections of the
hip joints on the floor. Your pelvis should be on the same level with your knee, the heel of the
back leg is raised up.

Photo 30 Photo 30.1.

Photo 31 Photo 31.1.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 31.2 Photo 31.3.

The moderate variant of the asana (photo 30; 30.1) – the hands are on the floor, stand still for
several breathing cycles. Full variant – raise up your upper body to the vertical position keeping
your back straight, put your hands on the waist (photo 31.2, 31.3) or join them and raise them up
(photo 31.4, 31.5).
Variation of the asana: photo 31, 31.1 – virabhadrasana II. In this variant the upper body is
bent forward, the ribs are touching the thighs, the hands are stretched forward so that they are
aligned with the upper body, the pelvis is on the same level with the knees.

Photo 31.4 Photo 31.5.

32. Bakasana

“Baka” means “crane”. Sitting almost in a squatting position, position your knees closer to
the shoulders and the shins closer to the shoulder joints. In the moderate variant shift part of the
body weight to your arms and raise up to the tips of your toes. In the full variant we transfer the
body weight to your arms and stretch up.

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 32 Photo 32.1 Photo 32.2

There are several variations of practicing this asana - with your pelvis raised up high (photo
32.1), with the head raised up high (32.2) and intermediate variant (photo 32). Mastering the full
variant you can bend the elbows as far as you can to provide more support. Hands should be
positioned not narrower than shoulder width. The wider the elbows are the wider the hands should
be. From the frontal view the elbows should not go beyond the hands to the sides.

33. Vadjrasana
The pose of the diamond hardness. Sometimes this asana is also called virasana – a hero
pose. Sit on your heels or move your heels to the sides slightly so that your buttocks touch the
floor. Keep your spine straight, open your shoulders, stretch out with the crown of your head.
(photo 33). Variations of the asana – stretch your hands up and backwards (photo 33.1), round
your back in a back bend, stretch your hands forward, tuck in your tailbone and perform
djalandhara bandha (photo 33.2). In all these variations keep still for several breathing cycles.

Photo 33 Photo 33.1 Photo 33.2

34. Pashanasana
“Pashana” means “stone”. Practicing this asana makes your body as hard as stone. From
Vadjrasana lower your elbows to the floor between your thighs, closer to your pelvis. Transfer the
weight of your body to the elbows and try to raise up on your forearms without raising your pelvis
too high. In this asana the muscles of the whole body are strongly contracted. In the moderate
variations you can leave your feet on the floor and raise your knees up to your shoulders, try to
transfer as much of your body weight to the forearms as you can. This asana is a little bit similar
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

to bakasana but in the final phase of pashanasana the shins do not touch the shoulders, being
positioned at some distance from each side. It is not recommended for practitioners with scoliosis.

Photo 34 Photo 34.1.

35. Ushtrasana
“Ushtra” means “camel”. Sitting in vadjrasana lower your arms to the floor, behind your
pelvis. In the moderate variation you can bend your upper body only without raising your pelvis.
In the full variant (photo 35) tuck your tailbone forward and raise up your pelvis, then gently bend
your upper body back with your head down. Stay still for several breathing cycles. This asana is
very good for strengthening the spine, that is why stay in it as long as you can according to your
sensations. In the second phase of the asana perform djalandhara bandha and stay still again for
several breathing cycles (photo 35.1).
Practitioners with scoliosis can practice only moderate variant.

Photo 35 Photo 35.1.

36. Suptavadjrasana
“Supta” means “to lay”. In this asana we lay the back to floor, the legs are in vadjrasana
(photo 36). Keep your knees pelvis width apart. In the moderate variant instead of back lay only
your elbows on the floor (photo 36.1) or even hands only (photo 36.2).
You should practice this asana paying attention to how it feels in the region of the lower back.
If there is tension - do not practice this asana.

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 36 Photo 36.1 Photo 36.2

37. – 38. Vinyasa – transferring legs forward

Vinyasa is a movement, combination of several asanas. Although this movement should be
performed holding the asanas shown in the photos 37 and 38. You can start this vinyasa from
urdhvochaturanga dandasana or vadjrasana. This movement should be as slow as possible and far
from being “jerky”. Asana in the photo 37 is called lolasana from the word “lola” that means
“hanging, dangling”. The legs in lolasana are crossed underneath the upper body and then they are
slowly straightened forward.

Photo 37 Photo 38

Stay above the floor for some time supporting yourself with your arms, legs should be
straight (photo 38), then lower your straight legs to the floor. In the moderate variant this vinyasa
can be mastered step-by-step without lolasana. For example, from urdhvochaturanga dandasana
step forward with your left leg and place it crosswise under your upper body. Holding the most of
your weight on your arms, pull up your right leg and position it crosswise as well. Then lower
your pelvis, start straightening your legs forward and up and sitting on the floor lower straight legs
slowly on the floor. You should practice all these phases very slow to prepare the muscles in the
course of time for the full variant of vinyasa. There is also vinyasa – transferring legs backwards
that is the same but vice-versa.

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

39. – 44. Vinyasa with the belly up

This is a long vinyasa and it consists of several phases. In each phase there are long fixations
in asanas that are shown in the photos and there is flow between them. Start vinyasa from the
position in photo 39 (this starting position is used for transferring into many asanas) – the legs are
straight and facing forward, hands are on the floor next to the pelvis with fingers facing forward.

Photo 39 Photo 40

Photo 41 Photo 41.1

Photo 42 Photo 43

Photo 43.1 Photo 44

Raise your body on your arms, bend your knees and transfer your pelvis to your feet (photo
40), stay still for several breathing cycles. Then, raise up your pelvis as high as you can and tuck
up your tail bone; hold (photo 41). Without changing the position of the body, perform
djalandhara bandha (photo 41.1). Next movement – without changing the position of your arms
and legs, move your pelvis backwards and up, bend your upper body forward, try to press your
upper body to your thighs and raise up your pelvis as much as you can (photo 42), stay still for
several breathing cycles. Then transfer the pelvis again forward to your feet and raise up onto the
Chapter 8. Asanas

tips of your toes (photo 43), then lower your pelvis to the floor (photo 43.1) and raise up your
straight legs up, holding them at about 90 degree angle towards your upper body (photo 44). Stay
still in the last phase of vinyasa for several breathing cycles.
45. – 46. Mahamudrasana

Photo 45 Photo 45.1

Photo 46 Photo 46.1

“Maha” means “large”, “mudra” – “seal”. Seat on the floor, legs are straight in the starting
position (photo 39). The heel of your left leg rest against the region of your perineum (between
anus and genitals), rise a little bit and sit on your heel, directing your left knee forward, thighs are
in parallel with each other. Right leg is straight, the toe is flexed. The left hand goes on the floor in
front of the left knee, grasp your right foot or the shin with your right hand. Stretch up your spine,
perform mula bandha, uddiyana bandha and djalandhara bandha (one of the variations) (photo 45).
Another variation – hold your breath after inhaling, perform djalandhara bandha and five cycles of
the pulsating mula bandha. Then, having released the left leg, stretch it up and raise yourself on
your arms (photo 45.1). After completion repeat this routine to the other side (photo 46-46.1).

47. – 48. Marichyasana

Photo 47 Photo 47.1

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 48 Photo 48.1

Marichi is the name of the ancient sage, the son of Brahma. Sit on the floor with your legs
straight, starting position (photo 39). Bend your left knee and hug it, lower your foot on the floor.
Put your hands on the floor and holding yourself on the arms raise yourself up on your left foot.
Then, raise your right leg up so that it is in parallel with the floor and hold it for several breathing
cycles (photo 47). Then, transfer your whole body weight to the left foot, grasp with your hands
your right foot or shin and keep balance (photo 47.1). Then, repeat this routine to the other side
(photo 48-48.1).
49. Kurmasana

Photo 49 Photo 49.1

“Kurma” – means “turtle”. In this asana the back is arched similar to the tortoiseshell. Sitting
in the starting position (photo 39), join your feet together, the distance between your feet and your
pelvis should be equal to the length of your spine, grasp your feet with your hands. Lower your
knees down to the sides. Arch your back and lower your head on the feet joined together.
50. Tolasana

Photo 50 Photo 50.1

Chapter 8. Asanas

“Tola” means “scales”. Perform padmasana, lower your hands to the floor. Then, raise your
legs and your upper body using your arms. In the moderate variant if you have not mastered
padmasana yet – sit crossing your legs (sukhasana) and raise up only your pelvis, leaving your
crossed legs on the floor.

51. Yogamudrasana

Photo 51 Photo 51.1

Perform padmasana, bend your upper body forward pressing your abdomen against your
thighs. Stretch out your hands. Make sure your upper body is bent precisely forward. If your hip
joints are not flexible enough, you can use sukhasana instead of padmasana or perform
ardhakurmasana. (photo 70).
52. Purvottanasana
“Purva” means “east”, “uttana” means “fixed stretching”. Due to the fact that traditionally
asanas were practiced facing east the frontal side of the human body was called eastern. In this
asana we are stretching the frontal surface of the body. From the starting position (photo 39) move
your hands slightly backwards, put them on the floor behind your pelvis shoulder width apart.

Photo 52 Photo 52.1

Contracting the muscles of the upper body and legs, raise up your upper body and legs so that they
are aligned. Continue pushing your pelvis up, stretching the frontal surface of the body (photo 52).
Hold this posture for several breathing cycles. Then perform djalandhara bandha (photo 52.1) and
keep still for several more breathing cycles.
53. Pashchimottanasana
“Pashchima” means “west”, “uttana” – “fixed stretching”. Stretching of the western side of
the body. In this asana we are stretching the spine aligning it. From the whole routine of asanas
represented in this book, this asana should be practiced two or three times longer than others.
Another title of the similar asana that comes from Shiva Samhita – Ugrasana. “Ugra” means
“powerfull”, “majestic”. This is the effect that this posture is known for. First of all in this asana
we are stretching the spine, that is why the legs come second. The legs are positioned in such a
way so that you can press the upper body down in the most comfortable way, without any tension
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

in the lower back and thoracic spine and stretch forward. Usually only experienced practitioners
are comfortable with stretching with straight legs. Beginners should keep their knees slightly bent.
The toes should be pointed up skywards, make sure your toes are not pointing outwards.

Photo 53 Photo 53.1

Photo 53.2 Photo 53.3

Practicing pashchimotanasana keeps your legs together in parallel with each other and practicing
urgasana – keep your legs a little bit wider than your shoulder width. Also make sure that your
feet do not turn inwards and that your soles stay at 90 degrees angle towards your shins as if you
are staying on the floor. In the first phase of this asana we are stretching up with our spine (photo
53), chin is slightly down, try to reach up with the crown of your head, grasp your feet or your
shins with your hands. Then, perform bandhas: mula, uddiyana, djalandhara (photo 53.1).
Performing bandhas in this asana is not obligatory. In the course of time every practitioner learns
how to use bandhas according to his/her internal feelings. Then lower your abdomen and ribs
down, pressing them against the thighs (photo 53.2). During the last phase stretch completely
along your legs (photo 53.3). If you stay in this asana for more than 20 minutes, your leg may go
to sleep. You should not be frightened by that. Stay in this asana as long as you are comfortable
but preferably no less than 20 breathing cycles. Release your body slowly from this asana, raise
up your upper body, then arms and stretch.

54. Matsyasana
“Matsya” means “fish”. If you look from the top, the body of a practitioner in this asana may
remind you of a fish. In the moderate variant the legs are straight and in the full variant – in
padmasana. Position your hands on the region of pelvis and sacrum, big fingers inwards and
others outwards. Reclining backwards symmetrically, lower your elbows on the floor and arch
backwards, pushing your solar plexus up (photo 54). In the full variant if the head touches the
floor, stretch out your hands along your straight legs (moderate variant) or grasp your feet in full
variant and keep bending back, stretching between your pelvis and head.

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 54 Photo 54.1

Photo 54.2

Another variation is to raise the straight legs up, keeping the back bend, stretch out your arms
in the same direction with your legs. You should not throw back your head too much in this asana,
it is better to allow some mobility reserve without reaching the limit of robustness of your neck.

55. Ardhachakrasana
“Ardha” means “half”, “chakra” – “wheel”. Lie down on the floor on your back with the
arms stretched along the body, knees are raised up, feet are pelvis width apart in parallel with each
other (photo 55). Tucking up your tail bone, raise up your pelvis (photo 55.1). Then, pushing your
pelvis up, arch your upper body slowly. Muscles of the back, buttocks and legs are contracted.
Continue to tuck up your tail bone and keep still for several breathing cycles (photo 55.2).

Photo 55 Photo 55.1

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 55.2 Photo 55.3

Photo 55.4

Another variation is to position the hands on the pelvis in the last phase of the asana and to
push up the pelvis from the shoulders as much as you can, stretching the spine at the same time
(photo 55.3).
The third variation is to straighten the legs whilst you still support your pelvis with your
hands. Continue to push the pelvis from the shoulders with your arms. (photo 55.4).

56. Stretching in savasana

Photo 56
Lie down on your back and stretch yourself as if you have just woken up.

57. Pavana muktasana

“Pavana” means “air”, “mukta” – “releasing”.

Photo 57 Photo 57.1

Chapter 8. Asanas

Lie down on your back pressing with the whole surface of your back against the floor, pull up
your bent knees to your upper body. Grasp your knees with your hands (photo 57) or grasp your
knees into your elbows and perform apana-prana mudra with your hands (photo 57.1).

58. Urdhvopadasana
“Urdhvo” means “upper”, “pada” – “leg”. Lying on your back pull up your legs to form a 90
degree angle towards your body, flex your toes (photo 58), then perform Djalandhara bandha
(photo 58.1). The arms are stretched along your upper body.

Photo 58 Photo 58.1

Photo 58.2 Photo 58.3

Another variation of this asana is with grasping the feet (photo 58.3). You should pay
attention that your whole back is pressed to the floor. In the moderate variation hold you thighs
(photo 58.2).
59. -60. Sarvangasana
“Sarva” means “whole”, “anga” – “body”. In this asana the whole body starting from your
shoulders, goes up (photo 60). In the intermediate variation (photo 59) your pelvis is resting on
the hands. This form is sometimes called Viparitakarani mudra. According to yoga treatise,
Viparitakarani mudra is described as a head stand (shirshasana), that is why the appropriate name
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

for this asana is Sahadja Sarvangasana or Ardha Sarvangasana. These are inversions and being
potentially dangerous for an unexperienced practitioner should be practiced by THE
EXPERIENCED PRACTITIONERS ONLY. We have already discussed inversions in more detail
in the chapters about mudras and the spine friendly approach.

Photo 59 Photo 60
The moderate variation of this asana for beginners can be substituted by practicing the
previous asana – Urdhvopadasana.

61. – 62. Halasana

“Hala” means “plough”. From the previous asana (photo 60) lower gently your straight legs
down to the floor behind you head. Most of your body weight should be focused on your

Photo 61

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 62
This is also an inversion and should be practiced only by experienced practitioners. You
should not start mastering it earlier than after a year of normal practice of asanas focused on
strengthening the spine muscles.

63. Viparita samakonasana

“Viparita” means “reverse”, “sama” – “the same”, “kona” – “corner”.

Photo 63 Photo 63.1

Lying on your back move your legs apart to
the sides, keeping your back pressed against the
floor, the sacrum should not rise from the floor.

In the full variation – grasp your feet (photo

63). In the moderate variation grasp your thighs
(photo 63.1), keep still for several breathing
cycles. In the second phase of the asana lower
your arms down but keep your legs still (photo

Photo 63.2
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

64. Viparita bhudjapidasana

“Viparita” means “reverse”, “bhudja” – “hand”, “pida” – “pressure”, “grasp”. Lying on your
back, grasp the big toes and move your feet up, your whole back should be on the floor, knees
bent. Open your hip joints. It is a semi relaxed position.

Photo 64 Photo 64.1

65. Yoganidrasana
“Yoga” means “control”, “restraint”,
“unity”; “nidra” – “sleep”. Lying on your back,
pull up SIMULTANEOUSLY both of your legs
with crossed ankles behind your head. This is a
very beneficial asana for your spine if you
practice it correctly. You should not position
your legs behind your back one by one and roll
backwards and forwards with your spine on the
floor. Having pulled up your legs behind your
head you should stay still. Usually, only
experienced practitioners can practice this asana,
Photo 65
as a moderate variation, beginners can substitute the previous asana – viparita bhudjapidasana
(photo 64) for it. After releasing the asana stretch your whole body in savasana and a have rest for
several breathing cycles. (photo 56).
66. -67. Ubhaya padasana
“Ubhaya” means “both”, “pada” – “leg”. In
this asana we are grasping both our legs (photo 66)
and straightening them up (photo 67). In the
moderate variation keep your knees bent at 90
degrees angle between your thighs and your shins.
(photo 67.1)

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 66

Photo 67 Photo 67.1

68. Navasana
“Nava” means “boat”. Release your arms from
the previous asana and position them in parallel
with the floor. Straight legs should be stretched
forward and up. Transition into the next asana is
accomplished with the help of vinyasa transferring
legs backwards. Refer to asanas 37-39 but in
reverse order.

Photo 68

69. Shashakasana

Photo 69 Photo 69.1

Shashakasana means “hare ears”. In this asana the shins are resting next to the head and
remind us of the hare ears. From the starting position (photo 69) round your back and pull your
head closer to the pelvis (photo 69.1).

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Photo 69.2 Photo 69.3

Gently roll onto your head, transferring part of your body weight onto your hands (photo
69.2). In the full variant grasp your feet with your hands (photo 69.3). This is one of the best
asanas to release the trapped nerves but you should practice it moderately and carefully, especially
if you are skinny and have weak back and neck muscles.
70. Ardhakurmasana
“Ardha” means “half”,
“kurma” – “turtle”. From the
previous asana lower your pelvis
on the heels, stretch forward your
hands, your upper body should be
resting on your thighs.

Photo 70

71. Nakrasana
“Nakra” means “crocodile”. Lie down with your abdomen on the floor, stretch out your thoracic
spine from your pelvis as far as you can,
position your forehead on your arms
resting on top of each other in front of
you, big toes are joined.
Photo 71

72. Shalabhasana
“Shalabha” means “locust”,
“grasshopper”. Lying on your abdomen,
position your hands next to your pelvis
with fingers towards your legs, elbows
are slightly bent the forehead is on the
floor, perform Djalandhara bandha.
Photo 72

With gentle effort raise up your straight legs above the floor. Do not bend your knees, the legs
should be pelvis or shoulder width apart. Keep still as long as you can. This asana, as well as the
following two, is good for strengthening the deep muscles along the spine but it should be
practiced with moderate tention and legs should not be raised very high by those who have

73. Makarasana

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 73

“Makara” means “dolphin”, “sea monster”. Lying on the abdomen, raise up your straight
arms and legs simultaneously (photo 73). Keep still as long as you can but do not overdo it.
If you have scoliosis –do not raise you legs and the upper body too high.

74. Sarpasana
“Sarpa” means “snake”. Similar to a snake that does not have hands, you should practice this
asana without using the strength of your arms but only with the help of the upper body muscles.

Photo 74

Photo 74.1

Gently raise up your shoulder girdle (photo 74). In the second phase of the asana perform
Djalandhara bandha and raise your straight legs up.
If you have scoliosis – do not raise your upper body as much as you can, apply moderate

75. Uttana nakrasana

“Uttana” means “stretching”, “nakra” - “crocodile”. Stretch yourself on the floor, join
your legs together in such a way so that your big toes touch each other. Stretch out your
arms forward. Lie relaxed for several breathing cycles.

Photo 75

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

Transition to the next asana can be done with the help of the following sequence of asanas:
Urdhvochaturanga dandasana (12), then Adhomukha svanasana (29), Vadjrasana (33) and Vinyasa
– transferring the legs forward (37-39).

76. Padmasana
“Padma” means “lotus”. Sit down with legs
crossed in such a way so that you can rest
your feet on your thighs. Mastering this
asana may take from two weeks up to five
years. It depends upon the flexibility of the
hip joints. You should use this body form
only after you have developed flexibility
and this position does not cause any
discomfort, but on the contrary, is pleasant
to stay in. Only then this asana promotes long
still sitting with the straight back. It is quite
dangerous to foster mastering it as there is
possibility of light knee trauma.
If you haven’t mastered this asana yet, use
moderate variations: Sukhasana (easy pose)
– with the legs crossed under the thighs or
ardha padmasana – with one foot on top of
the thighs and the other underneath.

Photo 76

77. Yoni mudra

This mudra is also called

Sunmukhi mudra. This
mudra is practiced to enter
the state of Pratiyahara –
when all the sensations and
attention is directed inwards.
Hold your breath after inhale,
cover your organs of
perception with your hands:
big fingers cover ears,
isolating hearing; index
fingers – eyes; long fingers –
nostrils, ring fingers are
positioned on the upper lip;
little fingers – on the under
lip. Stay in this mudra for as
long as you are comfortable
during kumbhaka – breath-

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 77

This should end the asana practice for beginners. Transfer to the last asana (84) - savasana.
78. -79. Viparita Vrikshasana
“Viparita” means “reverse”, “vriksha” – “tree”. This asana should be mastered before
Viparitakarani mudra. Stay straight, lower your hands down on the floor, shoulder width apart or a
little wider, slowly, without jerks, raise your straight legs up.

Photo 78 Photo 79

Depending on how smoothly you can raise your straight legs up it is possible to say if you are
ready to master the next asana. You should distribute your body weight equally between your

Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

arms. You should not use your legs (push off from the floor) to raise yourself up. If you cannot
raise your legs up using the muscles of your upper body and arms, that means you should go back
to practicing simpler forms and strengthen your body.
Photo 79 demonstrates variation with padmasana.

80. – 82. Viparitakarani mudra

Another name of this asana is Shirshasana (“shirsha” means “head”). This form is described
in more detail in the chapter about mudras.

Photo 80 Photo 80.1

Chapter 8. Asanas

Photo 80.2 Photo 81 Photo 82

Photo 82.1 Photo 82.2

The starting position (photo 80): sitting in vadjrasana lower your head down, grasp your head
with fingers interlaced. In this asana it is necessary to keep the spine straight, especially the
cervical spine. That is why try not to throw back your head too much. The head is set against the
Hatha Yoga: Spine Friendly Approach

floor with the middle part between the forehead and the crown of the head. Interlace the fingers
having grasped the head. Forearms are on the floor forming the sides of the equilateral triangle. As
cervical vertebrae are not meant to hold the whole body weight, 80% of the whole body weight in
this asana is held by the arms – this is the secret of mastering this asana. Then transfer your body
weight to the arms and straighten the legs (photo 80.1), stay in this position for several breathing
cycles. Then slowly raise up your straight legs in parallel with the floor, stay still in this position
for one-two breathing cycles (photo 80.2). Then continue raising your straight legs up to the
vertical position (photo 81) – this is the final phase of the asana. Stay still in this asana as long as
you are comfortable and then lower your legs in the reverse sequence.
Photo 82-82.2 – shows variation of Shirshasana with Padmasana. To practice Padmasana in
the vertical position without using your hands your need to have hip joints flexible enough to do
so through the previous practice.

83. Suptamatsiyasana
“Supta” means “to lay down”, “matsiya” – “fish”. Sit in Padmasana, lower your upper body
backwards and lie down on your back. Fold your arms behind your head.

Photo 83

84. Savasana
“Sava” means “motionless body”. Lie down on your back, make sure your back is
comfortable, straighten your arms and legs. Relax your whole body.

Photo 84

Chapter 9. Circle of Attention

Chapter 9. Circle of Attention

Circle of Attention is a combination of asana, bandhas, mudras, pranayama and dharana. This
complex I received from Kali Ray (TriYoga). The main object of this sequence is purification,
activation of chakras and three main energy channels (Ida, Pingala, Sushumna). It results in the
balance of the consciousness and subsidence of the inside dialogue that contributes to the further
practice. It is good to perform the Circle of Attention before the contemplation practices as well as
before the asanas practice. During the Circle of Attention kapalabhati breath is used (it is intensive
inhales and exhales similar to forge bellows with the accent on the exhale). In the variant of the
Circle of Flame passed on to me, kapalabhati is used during the whole complex. As most of the
people are not preapared enough for such an intensive practice, at our classes we use kapalabhati
only twice (12-24 cycles) when performing Ishvara Pranidhana Mudra and focusing on Adjna
chakra. In the individual practice, if you can, you may use kapalabhati during the whole Circle of
Attention. Some mudras are asymmetrical and to balance right and left flows of the body, Circle
of Attention consists of two cycles. The cycles are the specular return sequences with mudras on
the other side.

1. Position: sit in a comfortable position with a

straight spine. Only having straightened the spine
ideally, we get ready for such practices. It is necessary to
understand that an “ideally straightened spine” certainly
preserves physiological curves. You may use Padmasana
(photo 9.1), Sukhasana or Vajrasana. Very often
beginners can not perform Padmasana straight away and
sometimes even Sukhasana because hip joints are not
open enough. You should not get upset but understand
that these asanas are advisable but not mandatory. It is
more important to straighten the spine, that is why you
may practice simpler asanas, for example Vajrasana (sit
on your heels).
Photo 9.1

If you can not perform vajrasana as well, you may sit on a folded blanket or use a chair. The
most important thing is for you to sit without tension with your back straight. You should keep
you neck straight, chin is a little
bit down, the crown of the head
reaches up and the shoulders are
open. If you sit in Vajrasana or
on the chair – move your knees
apart a little bit. Hands are on
the knees in Djnyana Mudra
(the thumb and the index finger
are joined, other fingers are
straightened, the palm is facing
up). Your breath should be
smooth and deep, you may use
Uddjayi. Attention is in
Muladhara chakra (Dharana).

Photo 9.2
You should clearly understand what dharana is. It is keeping your attention still for a certain
period of time. That means that you should fully focus on the chosen region or a point rather than
looking at it in the background of your thoughts. All other perception should be “cut off”.
2. With Mula bandha raise your attention up the spine to the crown of the head – to Sahasrara
chakra. It means that keeping the muscles of the small pelvis strongly contracted we move
attention slowly up as if sliding up the spine with the inside eye until we reach the crown of the
head. Simultaneously raise your hands slowly up in Djnyana mudra (photo 9.2).
After your attention reaches the crown of the head, release Mulabandha and join your hands
at the top in Vitabhi mudra (it is also called Andjali mudra). In this mudra the hands with straight
fingers and thumbs are joined symmetrically together (photo 9.3)..

Photo 9.3

Focus your attention in Sahasrara chakra (also known as

Brahma chakra).
Keeping your eyes closed look up towards the crown of
the head
3. Keep your attention still in Sahasrara chakra and place
your hands in Vitabhi mudra on the crown of your head (photo
9.4). During this movement keep looking up towards the
crown of the head with the eye balls rolled up and backwards.
Breathe Udjai (or you may use kapalabhati). In spite of the
arm movement, try to keep your attention still, focused
concentrated on the crown of the head (Sahasrara chakra).
4. Then slide your
attention forward along
your head
towards the space between the eyebrows. Move your

Photo 9.4
to Adjnya chakra (between the eyebrows) (photo 9.5) and
place your hands in Ishvarapranidhana mudra in front of the
area between the eyebrows. To perform this mudra, bend
your index fingers down and join them with their second
Chapter 9. Circle of Attention

phalanxes. Place your thumbs on top of the index fingers. Continue keeping your spine straight
and reach up with the crown of your head. Perform 12-24 cycles of kapalabhati.
5. Having completed kapalabhati in the previous position, sit still for some time (according to
how it feels). Then move your attention to Vishudha chakra (throat region), place your hands in
front of Vishuddha chakra in Andjali mudra (palms together) (photo 9.6). All the movements of
the Circle of Attention should be very smooth and conscious, expressing our intention to resisting
the alteration of consciousness.

Photo 9.5
6. Move your attention to Anahata chakra (center of the
chest) and fold your palms in front of Anahata chakra in
Padma mudra (photo 9.7).

Transition into this mudra can be performed by smooth

circle movements of the palms forward and down from the
previous mudra, simultaneously lowering your wrists to the
level of the center of the chest.
Try to avoid your attention being caught by the input
from outside signals but move it consciously from one
chakra into the other. Sometimes attention may “drop” into
chakras and remain there still for a long time. Try not to
interfere with it. Leave attention still in the chakra as long
as your body needs.

Photo 9.6
The Signal to start the next part of the Circle of Attention
may be a feeling of “satiation” of the current chakra. Usually
to achieve such a state you may need to work on developing
your sensitivity for a long time. However, sometimes even
beginners have natural high sensitivity.
7. Lower your hands in Djnyana mudra to the knees and
make Udjai inhale. Move your attention to Muladhara chakra
(lower part of the spine, perineum region). Put your palms
facing down on your knees and make Udjayi exhale (photo
9.8). Breath is slow and conscious. Simultaneously with Udjai
you may also use full yogi breathing inhaling up from the
bottom. With inhale widen first the lower part of the lungs
then the middle one and the top one at the end. Exhale should
be processed in the opposite direction - down from the top.

Photo 9.7

8. Perform Mahabandha (holding your breath after

exhale perform
Mula bandha,
Uddiyana bandha,
bandha and
Nabho bandha),
move your attention up to Svadhishthana chakra (2-3 cm bellow the navel) (photo 9.9). Hold
bandhas for a
comfortable period of time.

Photo 9.8

Photo 9.9
Releasing bandhas should be performed the following way – first release bandhas and only then
open larynx lumen, finish exhale and then calmly inhale. Try to make inhale similar to Uddjayi,
moving to the next step at the same time.
9. Performing Uddjayi inhale, raise attention
to Manipura chakra (navel region), folding hands
in Chin mudra simultaneously and placing them
in front of the navel or chest (photo 9.10). This
mudra is similar to Djnyana mudra, the only
difference is that the little finger, ring and long
fingers are held tightly together (in Djnyana
mudra they are held apart similar to petals of a
flower) and the first phalanx of the index finger
is pressed tightly to the long finger and forms an
acute angle in its first articulation forwarding
down the second and the third phalanxes that are
stretched in one line, towards the thumb.

Photo 9.10
10. Holding attention still in Manipura chakra, perform Apana Prana mudra, Kumbhaka
(holding breath after inhale for as long as it is comfortable), Mula bandha, Djalandhara bandha
and Nabho bandha (Nabho bandha is turning the tongue
up, it is held all the time during the Circle of Attention as
well as during many other yogic practices) (photo 9.11).
To perform Apanaprana mudra interlace all the fingers and
thumbs and then forward the joined index fingers up and
the joined thumbs – down, hold hands against Manipura
chakra region. Apanaprana mudra is an asymmetrical
mudra as when you interlace the little fingers, ring and
long ones, the fingers of one hand are on top of the fingers
of the other hand and the others are underneath. Such a
posture in spite of the fact that it may not seem to be
important, nevertheless influences a lot the energy flows.
That is why to
balance the
energy flows the
second cycle of the Circle of Attention is used
Photo 9.11
where the fingers and the thumbs change place in this
mudra and those that were underneath, are placed on
11. Uddjayi exhale and perform Inda Pingala
mudra. To perform it, having released the hands from
the previous mudra, make a wide circle movement with
your hands similar to a windmill and continuing this
movement, interlace your arms. One shoulder should be
above the other, forearms clasped and hands joined in
Chapter 9. Circle of Attention

such a way so that the middle parts of the palms touch each other, fingers and thumbs are
interlaced (photo 9.12). Then, perform Suniyaka (holding breath after

Photo 9.12
exhale for as long as it is comfortable), raise your arms a little bit and add all the bandhas (holding
your breath after exhale – Mula bandha, Uddiyana
bandha, Djalandhara bandha and Nabhi bandha). Focus
your attention in Vishudha chakra (throat region). Ida
Pingala mudra is also assymetrical that is why you should
be conscious and remember how you placed your arms
during the first cycle and perform specular reflection of
the hand position during the second cycle. Although, you
should stay conscious all the time. The fact whether you
remember or not which arm or a finger or a thumb was on
the top is just an acid test for your consciousness. Besides,
performing the Circle of Attention at the next class, you
should use assymetrical mudras on the other side. For
example, if yesterday you used mudras with the left side
domineering during the first cycle, then you should start
with the right one today. Such an alternation will
contribute to developing the state of being conscious.

Photo 9.13
12. Lowering attention to
Muladhara chakra (perineum region, lower part of the spine), perform Sushumna mudra. From the
previous practice, leave the elbows joined together, first open your hands and start lowering them
down. Then, when the hands go lower than the elbows are, open your elbows slowly, sliding one
forearm on top of the other and join hands. Sushumna mudra consisits of two parts. In the first
part the lowered hands are joined, index fingers are straightened and pointed down, all the other
fingers and thumbs are
Photo 9.14
interlaced (photo 9.13). This mudra
is also assymetrical. In this part of the practice, focus your
attention at the bottom of the spine. With inhale start the
second part of Sushumna mudra.
13. With inhale and Mula bandha, raise your attention
along the spine up to the crown of your head to Sahasrara
chakra, index fingers rasing should point to the spine and
hands turning inside should remain in mudra (photo 9.14).
Perform this movement slowly and keep your hands
joined. Leading element in the coupling hands-attention is
ATTENTION. In the final phase of the flow the fingers
and the thumbs are pointing up, attention is fixed on the
crown of the head, gaze pointes up as well.

Photo 9.15
14. From the previous position, having released the

hands, we make a wide circle movement raising your hands through the sides and up keep your
attention still at this moment. Make Devi mudra with your hands above your head and place them
in front of your chest (photo 9.15 – 9.16). Move your attention from Sahasrara chakra (crown of
the head) to Anahata chakra (center of the chest). Devi mudra is probably the most complicated
mudra in this sequence but also it is the most beautiful mudra. Its final phase is shown on the
photo 9.17. Let’s try to look at it step by step. Turn your palms with the inside part towards you,
place them next to each other with little fingers joined. Lower down your long fingers and start
turning palms towards each other placing ring fingers of the opposite hands on the first phalanxes
of the long fingers, lowered down, closer to the base. Then lower down your index fingers,
Chapter 9. Circle of Attention

Photo 9.16

grasping the ring fingers of the

opposite hands. After this all you have
to do is to raise up your long fingers
and close the bases of your palms.
15. Djnyana mudra, place your
hands on the knees. Contemplate your
inside space. The first cycle of the
Circle of Attention is completed. The
second cycle is practiced similar to the
first one but fingers and thumbs in
mudras are placed to the other side. For example if in the first cycle left finger was on top in
mudra then in the second circle it should be the right one. Assymetrical mudras are Apana Prana
mudra, Ida Pingala mudra, Sushumna mudra and Davi mudra.
Photo 9.17

Photo 9.18
A version of yoga class sequence
A version of yoga class sequence
A version of yoga class sequence
A version of yoga class sequence