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Chiropractic and Yoga

Swami Karmamurti Saraswati, DC, DO,


director of Satyananda Ashram, Melbourne

What is chiropractic?

To most people a chiropractor is a name on a brass plate or billboard beside a door leading
into an office where large men push people into ridiculous attitudes and 'crack their backs'.
To a few people, a chiropractor is a miracle worker who has cured them of a crippling or
incapacitating complaint which had defied all conventional medical treatments for many
years. To still a few other people, a chiropractor is an alternative to the family doctor,
someone who treats by natural means many illnesses which the orthodox physician treats
with chemotherapeutic drugs.

The word chiropractic is made up of two Greek words 'chire' meaning hands and 'praktikos'
meaning do. The compound word means 'to do with the hands', and this is originally exactly
what the chiropractor did. He treated his patients with nothing but his hands, by
massage and adjustment of joints. Chiropractic, in the form of a well formulated science,
has been practised for less than one hundred years, but there have always been 'bone
setters' in different societies ever since ancient times. They were often the only people
available who possessed any 'medical knowledge', treating diseases by 'setting' bones and
joints into their right place, as well as setting broken bones. They usually had some
knowledge of herbal medicine as well. They passed their knowledge on by word of mouth,
and it was common to find a family tradition of such healers spread over many generations.
Unfortunately they were sometimes regarded as witches or wizards, and persecuted as
such.

The development of chiropractic as a scientific discipline began in the closing years of last
century. It was largely the result of the experiments and observations of two American
physicians who completely altered the traditional approach to manipulative medicine. The
first was Andrew Still, a medical practitioner who inadvertently cured himself of persistent
migraine headaches by unwittingly realigning the bones in his neck. Further experiments on
himself and on others led him to discover that misalignment of the bones in the neck and
spine could cause many common physical problems which were not obviously associated
with the site of the misalignment. For example, sciatic pain in the lower legs can be relieved
by adjusting the joints of the lower spine, while some forms of migraine and deafness
respond to neck manipulation. Dr. D.D. Palmer, a magnetic healer, took this work further,
eventually establishing a school where students were taught how to manipulate certain
joints of the spine and neck to treat specific diseases, as well as the manipulation of other
joints and tissues in the body to treat localised disorders.

Today, chiropractic is a popular method of health care in western countries, along with other
systems such as osteopathy, homeopathy, naturopathy, herbalism and acupuncture.
The scientific basis for chiropractic

Why does misalignment of the spine cause disease or disorder in apparently


unrelated parts of the body? Modern research has not yet been able to completely
answer this question, and it is here that the ancient practices of yoga and the modern
manipulative therapies of chiropractic have a fundamental and deep connection with one
another. The explanation for both lies in the deeper psycho-physiological mechanisms of the
human nervous system which are only now being unravelled by researchers such as Dr.
Motoyama of Japan, The physiological basis for the yogic techniques which transform
individual conscious awareness, as well as for the nadis or meridians of Chinese
acupuncture also contains the full rationale for the efficacy of chiropractic.

We can liken the central nervous system to a telephone system, by which every cell is
connected to the network of nerves in the spinal column and the brain. At the same time
each cell exists not in isolation but as an integrated part of a grid or field of pranic energy
which is connected to the centres of psychic energy (chakras) lying in the spinal column in
the psychic and pranic body. These centres are the switches of consciousness, and are
directly connected to the various brain centres, including those responsible for respiration,
circulation and hormonal secretion, as well as the centres of emotion, intellect and memory,
and the normally dormant centres of higher conscious perception and intuitive
understanding.

In this light it is clear that each individual cell is immediately conscious of, and influenced
by, the events throughout the whole psycho-physical framework of the individual. If any
influence, say an emotional setback, a lung infection or a fearful psychic experience,
interferes with one part of the overall system, then even the cells at the end of the little toe,
in consequence, do not function quite as well as they should.

In this way both the dysfunctions responsible for diseases and the healing and rebalancing
effects of yoga therapy and chiropractic manipulation are relayed throughout the cells,
tissues and organs of the body. While the actual wiring circuits of the nervous system are
incredibly complex, from the point of view of the chiropractor, it suffices here to simply
understand that every single cell in the body, no matter where it is, is connected to the
brain, and that most of the nervous connections pass through the spinal cord.

The organs and systems of the body do not operate in isolation from the nervous system,
and everyone should understand this principle in relation to health and disease. A person's
gallbladder does not go into painful spasms of its own accord, but because of the nerves
which enervate it to do so. If the gallbladder is receiving correct and normal directions, its
function is normal or physiological When the nervous system directs the gallbladder to go
into spasm, pain results and the gallbladder is called pathological. The gallbladder itself has
not changed, only the directions being sent to it have changed.

This is the nature of disease and health, and this is where the different modes of therapy
diverge. Faced with the symptom of gallbladder pain, the surgeon will probably opt for
removal of the gallbladder; the chiropractor will check for misalignment of the lower
thoracic and upper lumbar vertebrae of the spinal column; while the yogi will probably
choose to treat himself using yogic techniques.

The spinal column

Both yoga and chiropractic place great emphasis upon the spinal column. For the yogi, the
spinal cord is the inner axis within which the energy is awakened and utilised to bring about
higher conscious awakening, while for the chiropractor it is the site along which
manipulation is applied. Yoga encourages spinal flexibility through the careful, controlled
practice of selected yogasanas, while chiropractic seeks spinal flexibility by way of manual
manipulation.

The spinal cord itself is enclosed in the bony spinal column, which is made up of
approximately thirty four separate vertebrae. Emerging from the spinal cord and passing
through holes in the vertebrae are the nerve roots. If the spine is not correctly aligned, with
each bone exactly in position corresponding to the one above and the one below, then the
holes in the vertebrae through which the nerve roots emerge will not be correctly
positioned. This means that there will be some tension on, or displacement of the nerve
roots, interfering to a greater or lesser degree with their ability to transmit nerve impulses.

Since each nerve root is ultimately connected to thousands upon thousands of body cells, a
displacement of the spine could cause any bodily organ or part of an organ, any single
muscle or group of muscles, or any part of the body, not to function as it should and to
produce symptoms of disorder in the form of pain.

While administering an analgesic agent will ease the pain, it does not act upon the cause of
the pain. The cause and therefore the pain, will remain resurfacing to awareness whenever
the effect of the drug wears off.

A chiropractor is not so concerned about the pain itself. He tries to find the cause and to
remedy it by manipulating the part of the spine which enervates the part of the body
involved. Often this produces dramatic results. We know of a case of crippling sciatica,
suffered for fifteen years by a lady over eighty years old who had been to every doctor and
specialist she could find, had taken every drug imaginable, and had been going to a
physiotherapist three times a week for five years, with nothing but temporary relief. One
simple manipulation which took five minutes stopped the pain immediately. The relief was
so dramatic that the lady forgot her two walking sticks when she left the chiropractor's
office.

Chiropractic is probably best known for its efficacy in curing 'bad backs' or slipped discs, and
there are many dramatic cures produced in these areas every day. Man has a habit of
mistreating his body and injuring himself. For example, the business executive who drives
himself to his office, sits at a desk all day, drives home and sits in an easy chair until he
goes to bed from Monday to Friday, then on weekends spends eight or ten hours digging in
the garden, lifting heavy loads. On Monday morning, when he wakes up, he can't move for
the pain in his back. Not only has he got stiff muscles through overusing them, but, because
his muscles are not properly exercised and healthy, they have not been able to hold his
spine in the correct position under the unaccustomed stress of gardening.
One or more vertebrae have been displaced, causing the intervertebral discs to bulge,
resulting in acute, crippling pain. He has a so called 'slipped disc'. A visit to a competent
chiropractor will bring relief and the beginning of a cure, if not an immediate complete cure.

'Bad backs' and slipped discs are not the only things which can be helped by chiropractic. No
matter what the disease or complaint, it is worth having a competent chiropractor check the
spine and adjust it if necessary. The chances are that the symptoms will at least be
relieved. This is not to say that other healing methods should be disregarded; for each has
its place in the maintenance of good health.

The flow of energy, consciousness and spinal fluid

The flow of life energy which is termed 'prana' in yoga, is known in chiropractic as innate
intelligence. Its flow is related to movements and currents within the cerebrospinal fluid
which surrounds the brain and spinal cord. This fluid possesses remarkable properties. While
nerve cells are killed or inactivated when surrounded by any other fluid, the cerebrospinal
fluid (CSF) alone, produced by the choroid plexus of the brain itself, is found to actually
nourish and activate nervous tissues. It has been found that this CSF flows up and down
both inside and outside the spinal cord and brain, powered by the respiratory mechanisms
which generate the cyclical inflowing and out flowing breath.

In the system of chiropractic medicine the actual respiratory function of exchange of oxygen
and carbon dioxide gases via the breathing process is considered to be absolutely secondary
to the primary respiratory mechanism of pumping this consciousness sustaining fluid around
and inside the brain and spinal cord.

Movement of the spinal column, such as occurs in both chiropractic manipulation and yogic
asanas, profoundly alters the peripheral resistance against which the fluid circulates, while
suspension or control of the breath brings stability to the circulating fluid, and is the
prerequisite for stability of consciousness or meditation. In physical terms, a stream of
thought corresponds to an eddy current or movement within this fluid. Relaxed awareness,
with absence of thought disturbance, on the other hand, corresponds to stillness in the
spinal fluid somewhat like the crystal, mirror surface of a still lake. Similarly, the effect of
chanting or concentration upon a mantra is to enhance the inherent rhythmicity and
vibrational qualities of particular individual centres, establishing harmonious currents in the
CSF.

Both chiropractic and yogasanas seek to still the CSF so that the inner rhythmicity of the
deeper self can manifest, and both systems are based on the structural alignment and
manipulation of the human body into positions of better function.

Asanas have the added advantage of incorporating relaxation and mental concentration into
their practice. They are a means whereby the person can improve his own health, and
thereby gain great satisfaction. Chiropractic, on the other hand, depends on expert
manipulation of the body by an external source, and is thus limited to professional practice.
The best means of incorporating yoga and chiropractic treatment is for the chiropractor to
utilise his techniques as a means of alleviating acute suffering or for giving the necessary
push so that the body can immediately resume a position of better function. He should then
recommend asanas as a method of sustaining this position and preventing recurrences. The
combination of chiropractic and yoga offers fast and sustained relief from suffering and
discomfort.