Thursday, 23 January 2014

Sacrum - the holy bone

Credit: http://prenatalyogacenter.com
Your sacrum is the large, triangular bone at the base of your spine. It consists of usually five initially separate vertebrae which begin to fuse at about age 16–18, and are usually completely fused by your mid-30s. The sacrum sits like a wedge between your two hip bones (ilium), forming the sacroiliac joint (SI-joint). Below the sacrum is your tail (coccyx).

The whole sacro-iliac area is incredibly interesting when it comes to movement, yoga, and our energetic system. But have you ever thought why the sacrum is called that? I certainly hadn't until I heard someone the other day refer to it as our sacred bone. Wow, of course! – sacrum, sacred. Is this a true connection, or just a coincidence? Why would the sacrum be sacred??

A very brief Wikipedia search shows that the name "sacrum" originates from the Latin os sacrum, a translation of the Greek hieron (osteon), meaning sacred or strong bone. So it does come from the word sacred...

In this paper researching this history of the term (yes there's even a paper on the subject!), Oscar Sugar found that in European/Middle-Eastern tradition the sacrum is associated with resurrection, identifying it as the "almond" or luz of the Hebrews and the ajb of the Arabs. The idea goes that the sacrum is the last bone in the body to disintegrate after death (it's one of the hardest bones in the body) and is therefore necessary for resurrection – it seems there are a few mentions of this in the Bible, for example in Psalms 34, 21 it says "He watches over all the bones; one of them shall not be broken". He concludes that the word ultimately derives its conceptual meaning from the ancient Egyptians who associated it with Osiris, the god of the afterlife, the underworld, and the dead.

Interestingly, according to this paper, some Mesoamerican Indian languages also named this bone using words referring to sacredness and deity, meaning that they must have independently come up with this concept. So it's not just the Europeans!

Another reason given in a few studies why it's called 'sacred' is that it's located next to the reproductive organs, which are obviously historically, culturally and symbolically highly significant! It looks like their proximity has led to people thinking that they share similar life-giving or spiritual qualities. Several cultures around the world (including the ancient Egyptians and some Indian cultures) have even believed that the sacrum channels seminal fluid through the spinal column to the penis (apparently because spinal fluid and semen are very similar in form). The great Leonardo da Vinci looks like he might've made a similar wrong assumption when he drew a seminal duct leading from the sacrum at the bottom of the spinal cord to the penis in his drawing of a man (I can't find the actual drawing on the internet though).

On a purely physical level, the sacrum bone forms the centre of support for the human bodily structure, and as such is well designed to take great physical stress. Unfortunately, if we put too much stress on it or move badly this area can be the source of much lower back pain. One of the things we work on in our yoga practice is the opening and stabilising the hips, sacrum and the SI-joint so that we can sit comfortably. This stability allows us to sit still for long periods of time, as we do in meditation.

In Indian spiritual practices, the area around the sacrum is seen as the seat of Kundalini. The word kundalini comes from the Sanskrit word 'kundal' meaning coiled up. It is seen as the primordial dormant energy present at the base of the spine in the sacrum – often visualised as a coiled snake. According to the texts, Kundalini is associated with the Divine Mother (Shakti, or the earth). One of the primary goals of traditional yoga practice is the uncoiling (release) of this feminine energy at the base of the spine, which can then travel up the central energy channel (susumna) to unite with the masculine energy of Divine Father (Shiva/Shakta, or the universe) in the seventh (crown) Chakra. This union of opposites is the essential meaning of yoga (to unite or yoke, bring together), and is a powerful symbol in pretty much all cultures.
"The word Kundalini is derived from a Sanskrit word 'Kundal' meaning coiled up. It is the primordial dormant energy present in three-and-a-half, coils at the base of the spine in a triangular bone called the Sacrum - See more at: http://www.adishakti.org/subtle_system/kundalini.htm#sthash.XV2FJOBC.dpuf"The word Kundalini is derived from a Sanskrit word 'Kundal' meaning coiled up. It is the primordial dormant energy present in three-and-a-half, coils at the base of the spine in a triangular bone called the Sacrum
"The word Kundalini is derived from a Sanskrit word 'Kundal' meaning coiled up. It is the primordial dormant energy present in three-and-a-half, coils at the base of the spine in a triangular bone called the Sacrum - See more at: http://www.adishakti.org/subtle_system/kundalini.htm#sthash.XV2FJOBC.dpufjjjjjjjjjjjj

In East Asian practices, the sacral area is associated with the lower Tan Tien (or Dan Tian; Chinese, Tanden; Japanese) literally translated as "field of elixir", and your 'hara'. They use the word 'elixir' to refer to the same kundalini energy. In practices such as Qigong, Taoist yoga, and Zen, instead of awakening that energy and just allowing it to rise up the spine, they practice balancing both the rising and descending energies (yin and yang) by learning how to move it up the back and down the front of the body in a complete circle (the snake swallows its tail). This is known as the microcosmic orbit.

So there we have it. In all our modern scientific medicalisation of our bodies we have, in our name for the sacrum, a persisting shadow of our past beliefs and spiritual practices. Our sacred bone: made of 5 fused vertebrae, the physical centre of support for our body and often the source of lower back pain when we move/lift/strain badly, necessary for resurrection, and the seat of our feminine kundalini or elixir energy.


I teach Zen yoga and mindfulness at the ZenYoga studio in Camberwell, London. See my website for my class schedule and more details.


I'd love to hear from you

Got another take on the sacrum bone and why it's called that? I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment below, join the discussion. 

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22 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Hello:

      I had a very complicated experience in that God revealed Himself to me and my sacrum bone reacted violently! I can't describe it in detail in this little reply box. But I found out the hard way that the sacrum bone is holy. I have discussed this experience with monks and nuns and they are clueless.

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    2. Do you want to e-mail me directly and explain more? mark@youruniverseyoga.co.uk

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    3. In Christianity it refers to this process as sacred secretion.

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  2. i had a down load yesterday after a year and 5 months of a 5-8hour day practice of medical chi gong during lachi inside out outside in that the sacral bone is where all the divine blueprint /stem cell is stored... and then i looked this article UP ...perfect, now i plan to enroll back in gaim yoga again and add a yin practice to my all day practice, i have a brtual diagnosis and have had been a participant on a wild hope.. for a healing from a film maker i did not know' i did what she asked done a no budget doccumentary for a year and came back from the gates of death now twice.. i am so greatFULL for your article validating my download yester day ... with love kelli the healing continues as the awakening ..i did a small article on elephant journal, and a bunch of news papers to break the stigma, and change the hoplessness the west offers... there is IS MORE...

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  3. I broke my sacrum almost 3 month ago, want I have been going through is one of the most painful, confusing, and complicated injury I ever had!!! .. but I was also a blessing because touched me to the core of my being at all levels! I am healing, but not only physically but emotionally and mentally to a level that I could not reach before!!! I FEEL BLESSED & SACRED ;)

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    1. That sounds like a difficult injury. It's lovely to hear of your journey.

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  4. So ...if you don't have one ? What does that mean in your perception please ?

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  5. Osteoarthritis and joint pain, will yoga help ?

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    1. Yes it certainly can. Any gentle weight-bearing exercises done in a kind way will help osteoarthritis and yoga has been proven to help with joint pain. The trick it to find a good teacher and practice with acceptance and kindness. Good luck!

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  6. thank you so much. i am a student and stuying drawing human figure,yesterday we just learned this word and i was thinking why it was called holly bone,then i research online and found this article!

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  7. I've got a two piece sacrum. Diagnosed at age 50. Explained a lot! Not comfortable sitting or standing in one place for very long. I guess common in Neanderthals and canines! Physiotherapist Sarah Key (s?) Has a great maintenance exercises for this. Maybe this makes me extra holy or just better off climbing trees n chasing rabbits! LOL

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    1. I've not come across that before. Thanks for describing it. I'm almost certain that must make you more holy...!

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  8. any one can explain what is the connection in spirituality about the "SACRAL DIMPLE"?

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  13. My experience of the sacrum as related to energy is a feeling of intense heat that slowly spreads around the buttocks. It 'draws itself' in at the sacrum where it halts for a nano of a second before travelling up the spine at an enormous speed. A very intense experience! It taught me to sit on the back of my thighs and keep my spine straight and my chin tucked in.

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