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.