My  yoga teacher Dassa Oppenheimer, who was a student in Iyengar’s first Western class, is in her nineties, but we and she would never mention this because it is not important. “In yoga there is no age,” she says. She’s right: we are only as old as our spines are flexible. Her poses are filled with energy and that’s what she wants us to find. “Feel it?” she asks. It’s a sense of awe and freedom that she wants us to find comfort in after we have worked to ‘get’ the pose. It’s a beautiful wave of authority that we find. Not for beginners.

Dassa teaches (and demonstrates) it all: backbends, twists, inversions, dogs,and forward bends. No one teaches the forward bend better than Dassa.

For years, I have been working on leading with my navel and maintaining a flat back as I descend my upper torso towards my thighs and knees. “The head is last, always last.”

Still, after thousands of forward bends, at a certain point in the descent I round my shoulders before getting my front body onto my thighs and lower my head. It’s not my hamstrings, calves or ankles that cause the rounding.

Each year I have inched up the spine, widening and loosening the muscles away from fascia, or stickiness as I like to call it. To achieve the desired flatness, I’ve lengthened the sides of my torso and arms, stretched under my armpits and the sides of my gluts. I’ve been taught to lift my sternum without hollowing my back. And never move the hips once you ‘go.’

It’s as if something pulls the hips backwards. And there is a compactness in the hips that creates space in the eyelids of the groin (the crack between the upper torso and the upper thigh.) You have to pull in the abdomen to achieve the space and work a rotational movement of the skin that begins at the navel around to the lower back.

So here’s the epiphany: It’s the expansion of the five lumbar vertebrae that allows the flatness and complete separation of upper and lower body. It’s the fifth vertebrae that is the point of exchange between the upper and lower bodies.

Normally the five lower vertebrae stack up in a slight curve. We straighten it.

Here’s how we got to it:

Sit on a chair: Iyengar alignment (hips towards the front of the seat so that you can feel both sit bones, feet flat on the floor right under the knees. The knees form a right angle between the  back of the calves and back of the thighs. Thighs extend directly out from the hips.) Once established, absolutely nothing moves in the lower body. It is cast in concrete, so to say.

Extend spine. Torso even and stretched upwards– right left, front back. Shoulder blades point down. Armpits relaxed.

Grab front legs of chair (right under seat). Once you grab the legs don’t reposition the hands.

Push down with the hands. Lift up the torso, the upper half of the body.  Lengthen, expand and fortify the torso. Front. Back. Right. Left.

Pull up with the hands. Maintain all the lengthening from the push down.

Push down. Pull up. Press feet down. Move abdomen in towards back spine. No back hollowing. Establish space between the five lumbar vertebrae so that they stack up straight rather than be slightly curved.

From this position descend forward, leading with the sternum. It is a beautiful wave of energy! Back remains flat!

Things to remember: Start at the feet. “Go down to come up.” The forward bend epiphany begins at the feet. The feet are the anchors ( as they are in normal forward bend on the mat). Engage the entire body. “Face always relaxed.”

The sacrum and fifth lumbar vertebrae

The body divides in half below the waist. The dividing point is the sacrum ( the ‘holy bone’) and the fifth lumbar vertebrae. The fifth vertebrae lies directly above and connects to the sacrum. It is the transformer between the earthly energy of the lower body and the heavenly energy of the 24 vertebrae above it.

The fifth lumbar vertebrae is a loaded/charged/important/ mysterious bone. Here’s just one mind blower: *A Midrasnhic legend identifies the fifth vertebrae as a luz. According to the legend, the luz is the bone from which a new body will be formed during the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Age. The bone is believed to survive the disintegration of the body after burial, the only part of the body that will not disintegrate with time.

This is wild, and there’s more. The same legends often call luz by another name:J Jerusalem, denoting it as the center of the world and the holiest of cities.

* Legend from book Jung and Yoga by Judith Harris