Yoga or Massage?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Yoga or massage I say both!

Massage is – manipulation of tissues (as by rubbing, kneading, or tapping) with the hand or an instrument for relaxation or therapeutic purposes.

My first professional massage was gifted to me many years ago from my then boyfriend now husband. It was at a very high end spa and included a long soak in a beautiful tub surrounded by candles and flowers. Once warm and relaxed after my soak I was ready for the massage part of the package.

A gentlemen entered the room draped me beautifully with the linens applied warm oil and began applying long massage strokes to my back. I remember thinking to myself this feels so good. I understand now why people enjoy and will splurge on a massage for themselves or gift to another. Although there did come a point during the massage where I did feel some discomfort. At the time I did not understand why? I thought to myself why would this gentlemen want to add some pain to all of this pleasure? I haft to laugh at myself when I think back to being so naive.

Fast forward to several years later in what seemed like a different lifetime. I now was a licensed massage practitioner. In the beginning of my practice I did offer more of a relaxed feel good only massage. I think mostly because I was at the time a licensed esthetician and was transitioning my skincare clients into my massage clients. An opportunity came to relocate and I soon found myself gravitating from the spa setting style of massage to offering pre and post race massage at downhill mountain bike races. I did feel abit out of my element at first however, I adapted quickly and found my stride. From then I was hooked on offering a more sports friendly massage style. That is not to say the athlete did not feel relaxed after all I was relieving some aches and pains.

Fast forward to many more years later again what seemed like a different lifetime. Married, a household set up and a new baby boy I decided I wanted to become a yoga teacher. Again I started out more in the feel good realm with music, candles and essential oils all included in my yoga class teachings (not to say these are bad things). At the time my husband and myself had an outfitting backpacking business and the space next door became available and a yoga studio was born.

As life continued to evolve an opportunity came about to relocate to the Island of Kauai where I soon began my YogAlign training with none other than the founder of the YogAlign Method Michaelle Edwards. Again I was brought back to a more anatomy based yoga teaching style to go along with my sports massage technique. For now as many times in the past I am constantly learning new things and ideas as well as building off of what I already know.

Getting back to massage and what that means for me today. One way massage has continued to play a big role in my life is in the YogAlign method. Self massage is a huge piece of the practice. Whether it is with your own hands, various size balls or a little extra attention from the teacher. It feels just as good when you are your own massage therapist.

Another way massage plays a part in my life is going back to getting a client on the massage table. And depending on what the reason is that they are on the table in the first place dictates how I will proceed. For some it is the everyday aches and pains of a life well lived for others it could be more specific. An example may be a recent injury, recovery from a surgery or postural abnormality such as Thoracic Kyphosis or Lumbar Lordosis.

I tend to think of Kyphosis and Lordosis as hills and valleys of the spine and back. These two postural issues are addressed with incredible results during a dedicated and regular YogAlign practice however, massage therapy can also add a lot of value. Utilizing massage techniques while working towards and away from the spine focusing on the hills and valleys idea all the while manipulating the fascia of these two areas produces amazing results.

Kyphosis gives a hunchback appearance in the upper back which I consider the hill. Where Lordosis has a swayback appearance right above the buttocks which I think of as a valley. Therefore when massaging a Kyphotic back I am going to use manipulation that works the superficial back line fascia medially towards the spine. Creating space and freeing the tissues for more movement. The opposite would be true for the Lordotic issue aka swayback. I would massage the superficial back line fascia laterally away from the spine creating length and possibly alleviating some of the compression. The possibilities are endless to the amazing benefits a massage therapy session can yield.

Lastly self massage is also a part of my daily routine as is YogAlign. If I have sometime in the morning before I get out of of bed I like to do a quick foot, leg and low back rubdown. Especially if I did a long walk/ hike the day before. At the end of the day after a nice shower and before I go to sleep I allow myself an hour in bed to quietly decompress from the day. This time includes full foot and leg, arms and fingers, back and scalp self massage. Yes, there are times this does not happen however, it always happens in my YogAlign practice so I am covered.

When looking for a yoga class or massage practitioner always check their credentials, ask questions and make sure it is the right fit for you and your personal needs.

See you on the mat.

Travel and Yoga.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

When I think of travel I instantly think of freedom, adventure and fun. My second thought would likely be some logistics like when, where and how much is this going to cost. Finally I might start going over what I am going to pack and if I need to purchase any new gear for my trip.

I will tell you what does not cross my mind, however I do know it does cross many other minds is the long uncomfortable plane ride. Let’s face it unless you splurge for extra comfort or first class at some point you are going to be uncomfortable.

I myself am considered one of the lucky ones (as I have been told) because I can sleep almost an entire six hour plane flight. That is not the case for most folks and my husband and son fall into the can’t sleep on a plane category. Although my beloveds are much taller than me and having enough leg room is a bigger issue for them.

Something else most folks do not think about when they are going on a long distance business or pleasure trip is yoga. Packing a foldable yoga mat, bringing extra funds for a yoga class or finding an app to watch and follow along with yoga class. I do know folks will visit the 24 hour fitness space in their lodgings for a work out if sleep is out of the question.

For me I know after a long distance plane ride the only thing I want is to create space in my body. Re-set the tension in my possible aching back, knees, shoulders and neck. To create more length in my current state of resting muscles. As I am sure they have become short and tight from the curled up and balled posture I have maintained will sitting for hours.

One example of why we all maybe feeling some of those aches and pains as well as stiffness and possible indigestion is due to some simple unbalanced body mechanics.

We have already taken out any possibility of getting any length in our legs by just being seated. If you are lucky enough to have some leg room in front you might be able to bend forward to get length in the back line and relief from gravity while hanging your head forward. What can help get some comfort and support is simply sitting back in your seat. And practicing a few of the YogAlign principles listed below.

The image on the left: you can see how the head is jutted forward, the chin is starting to tuck in to the chest and the shoulders are starting to round and pull forward. All of the forward head carriage and placement is causing the frontline of the body to collapse. When the frontline of the body collapses that means so do the breathing muscles. Short and shallow breaths are probably the best it is going to get. This could lead to a headache or just pure mental frustration, While the frontline collapses the backline gets stretched and pulled forward as well. After 6 hours of these type of body mechanics I can guarantee the head, neck, shoulders and back are going to be very unhappy and will be letting you know through physical symptoms. If you plan on eating anything in this hunched over posture your digestion functions are going to be questionable.

The image on the right: by simply drawing the shoulder blades under you and pressing the back of the head into the headrest you have won half the battle. The weight of the head is supported and look at how much length is naturally created in the neck. The shoulders have come down away from the ears and the chin has naturally fallen into alignment. This second image proper body alignment means you are able to breath easy. The frontline is open and spacious allowing for full diaphragm breathing. Which like a domino affect keeps full inhales and exhales flowing, relaxing not only the mind but also the shoulder girdle. Another benefit of keeping the frontline of the body open is while eating you will be able to digest your food more effectively (we know sitting does not help). And maybe, just maybe you might even fall asleep.

Now for the bottom part of the body that is so much trickier. I do like to bring a small pillow to place in my lower back region. This helps to support the natural curves of my spine and may even take some pressure off of the sacrum. Really, the only thing you can do for your legs is to get up and walk down the aisle when you get a chance. Aside from some possible self massage and toe/ foot movement. Remember, it is all connected so if you wiggle your toes and feet you are going to feel that in your legs as well. I also like to bring warm socks and a scarf or small blanket to keep my feet and legs warm. Once the body starts to get cold it is going to for sure collapse in on itself in an effort to stay warm and you will be back to square one.

Once I have landed and feel settled in, a grounding YogAlign practice is where I start first to regain my composure and get my body back in its happy place. Although I was able to practice some of the YogAlign principles on the plane (in the above mentioned) to really come back into homeostasis I need to include the entire body. Sometimes long distance traveling can create some anxiety and having some familiar breathing habits and relaxing yoga postures is just what can bring us back to feeling safe and supported. To that I wish you safe, comfortable and happy travels.

See you on the mat.

I believe the Lanai Cat Sanctuary just might be a form of the fountain of youth!

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I just recently traveled from my home island of Kauai to Oahu and then onto the island of Lanai. My solo mission was to reach and then visit the Lanai Cat Sanctuary located just minutes from the airport. This adventure is something I have been wanting to do for sometime. There’s no admission fee, but if you love cats, your tax-deductible donation will help them continue their rescue work and provide lifelong care.

If you know me or follow my blogs then you know I am always observing body posture and the visitors coming into the sanctuary were not immune. Although not a first because of course I was so taken with the beautiful property and all the amazing cats. I did not start really observing or thinking back until I started looking at the photographs I had taken. Then all that joy and goodness came rushing back to me. I remembered how much I enjoyed watching the various age groups of folks faces lighting up in the days experience. I mean you do not need to be a cat lover to really appreciate the endless hours and true kindness it takes to care for over 600 cats. Now onto my incredible findings, thinking back and observing the photographs I had taken.

I believe the Lanai Cat Sanctuary just might be a form of the fountain of youth!

When I walked in the main get their was a mature couple bouncing from cat to cat bending over at the knees with ease feeding the cats treats. At which point when the gentleman was bent over one of the cats jumped on his back and he could not stop laughing with joy. That is when I noticed how at ease he was in his mature body. He looked completely stable, balance and pliable all at the same time. I thought this experience is really bringing out the best in this couple in terms of their physical prowess. I became even more excited when I saw how he was engaging his entire leg muscle instead of this low back to continue to bend and feed all the cats.

If he had any physical limitations he certainly did not show it during his and his wife’s adventure on that day!

I continued on exploring the grounds when I happened upon CB one of I believe ten full time caretakers. He to was moving about quite freely amongst the cats and visitors. I had a moment to sit and speak with him at which point I learned he was not yet a full time resident on Lanai. He was from a mountain environment where it was cold and not short of hard physical work. He started about two to three months on the island at at time and now is about ten months living on the island. Looking to become full time in the near future. When he spoke of the life he was leaving behind he appeared heavy with a serious face. When he spoke of being at the sanctuary full time he lit up like a child on Christmas morning. As he continued on with his daily tasks he had a spring in his step, bending, twisting and even getting down on the ground with the cats. Moving with ease and purpose in a childlike body.

I could not help but getting caught up in his love for what he was doing and how it affected his body mechanics.

I continued to visit with the cats petting them and feeding them with much anticipated treats. When I noticed a large sized van pulling up with what looked like a full load of visitors. Sure enough they pulled in everyone jumped out except for one gentleman who moved a bit slower with a cane. I later learned they had come over on the ferry this morning from Maui to go snorkeling. They had sometime before heading back to Maui and decided to head over to the cat sanctuary. Again they appeared to be of a more mature crowd. Upon entering the main gate several of the ladies plopped themselves right down on the grass. Twisting, turning and crawling to get to the various felines in front or behind them. It was a sight to see they looked like toddlers crawling on the ground in their own playground. They laughed and smiled but mostly just moved with ease and grace. At one point they all came to standing and began their exploration of the property. I sat there fascinated with the way folks were using their bodies down on the grass as well as while standing, walking and bending. Again I thought if any of these folks have physical limitations those limitations were not visible to me.

Not even a moan or groan on the way down or on the way up just pure excitement.

The day was drawing to an end and I felt full of goodness on so many levels. I will never know if these folks I observed had a regular yoga or exercise program in the daily schedule. If they did I hope they saw and felt the results of their practice like I did. If they didn’t then I do believe they found and experienced some of the fountain of youth that day. Even the gentlemen with the cane seemed to rejoin his group and get into the van with a bit more ease than upon arrival. I learn a lot about body mechanics by being aware of my own body and how it moves, but also by observing others. Usually you can tell when someone has an injury or something is hurting them. Just looking at they way they walk or lack of movement is a for sure sign of possible limitations. I do see a number of people who appear to be in pain when I am out and about in the world. On this particular day that was not the case I saw and felt nothing but inspiration!

See you on the mat.

The Yoga Mat of Shame

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Let’s start off this blog by becoming familiar with the definition of shame by Merriam-Webster:

Shame – a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

Yikes! The thought of wrong or foolish behavior in some yoga classes could send chills down your spine. (lol) Especially in the thoughts of folks new to yoga or simply someone who tends to be a perfectionist. I agree going to a yoga class for the first time can be extremely intimidating and yet on the other hand it could feel like the perfect fit.

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman in regard to expectations. Expectations in a yoga class to expectations of going to get a massage. This guy did not consider himself a spiritual person, had never attended a yoga class and had received a gift certificate for a massage. He had concerns about feeling humiliated or distressed with the idea of attending a yoga class or using his massage gift certificate. Which then turned the conversation topic from expectation to participation.

I got the impression he felt he needed to be a spiritual person to participate in a yoga class. He started to then speak with an example (the what if):

What if a guy has no idea what he is getting himself into when he thinks of attending a yoga class?

I replied: This guy you speak of would have to have lived under a rock to not have any thoughts or ideas of what would be entailed in a yoga class or massage (he laughed).

At that point as a yoga teacher, mother and human being I knew he needed to have the yoga talk.

I could only speak for myself and the way I teach the YogAlign method. I do my very best to put new and existing students at ease. I let them know please stop me if you do not understand what I am saying or asking of them. I let them know this is their time and not mine to stand on my soapbox. He seemed intrigued and even his body shifted to a more receptive posture.

I continued by explaining that I did not take a spiritual approach to teaching YogAlign (I feel spirituality is very personal). That is not to say the student may or may not connect with something or someone outside themselves during their practice. My approach especially for a new student is purely physical. I know everyone can take one hand and touch their arm and it makes perfect sense however, not everyone can go into or believes in a meditative state. I explained when we move through the physical YogAlign practice we begin feeling more comfortable and relaxed in our breath and body. Feeling more joy physically allows us to then feel more joy mentally. Which in some cases can lead into a meditative place of peace without even realizing it is happening. At this point I could see the gentleman becoming even more at ease with the thought of participating in a yoga class. He was starting to loosen his grip on the idea he would do something foolish or wrong (shameful) on the mat.

I myself never want a student of any level to feel they are standing on the yoga mat of shame in my classes and yet it happens. I have seen the frustration in a long time YogAlign student when she could not do a properly aligned push up. I reminded her there are other postures that will give the same result we are looking for in the push up. My job is to support students in feeling empowered not shameful. I also see new students struggle with watching other students be able to move their arms more from their back and not from their shoulders (like they keep doing).

Everyone reacts different to stressful situations when they feel they may not measure up. When the shame starts to creep in I see students shut down, start giggling and get hot/ sweaty. These and others cues lets me know a student may feel they are standing on the yoga mat of shame. I want to shift that perception immediately or that could be the first and last time they ever try yoga again.

We all create a story about something we have never tried. Sometimes that narrative may even come from what we have heard or seen on television. Whatever the expectations we have created for ourselves or the experience once we decide to make that appointment and show up for that class shows we are willing to participate. A willingness to fall on your face however, you need not fall into the shame game.

Take some time and research what yoga class/ style would create favorable conditions for your success. I myself teach many mixed level classes meaning someone new to yoga who needs more of the class (to be taught) to long time students who need more of the practice (moving through the postures) not all teachers/ styles of yoga can accommodate that type of experience.

Remember falling on your face is not always a bad thing in fact that is one way we are able to build self confidence. Resist the temptation to compare and compete in a yoga class. After all we as teachers should be holding space for your yoga experience to unfold in a safe and supportive environment.

See you on the mat.

Same Yoga Story Different Year.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I myself find comfort in the title “Same Yoga Story Different Year” knowing some things that are working do not need to be changed. Taking off some of the New Year resolution pressure and freeing up more space for gratitude.

As we approach the end of this year (2019) I am already hearing folks talking about their New Year’s resolution. I find the patterns always seem to remain the same in regard to the fitness New Year’s resolution. January comes in with high levels of new beginnings and fresh starts. Only to be followed by the distant reminder of what was to be.

A New Year’s resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life. (Wikipedia)

I am not here to judge or saying we should not take opportunities to set goals to improve ourselves or our health. I know for myself I have made many a New Year resolutions in the past. Some stuck and some did not I would say that the majority did not. One thing that has remained the same is my dedication and commitment to my YogAlign practice. Why? Because I continue to feel the positive physical benefits, mental clarity and ease of life it provides me with daily.

Like many others interested in health and fitness I have tried and stuck with mostly things I have enjoyed or made me feel good. I firmly believe when it all comes down to it we all just want to feel good and be happy. That is why my yoga story will remain the same as we enter into this new year. Although, you might be thinking that sounds uneventful in regard to the possibilities of a New Year’s resolution or maybe even boring? I agree however, YogAlign is a yoga practice based on health sustainability thus constantly supporting me in possible new physical endeavors daily. As I continue to practice a method of Yoga that supports real life movements it keeps me unconsciously setting new goals and smashing them.

I find for myself with age I have a better sense of what is working for me and what is not and in a more timely manner. The years continue to roll by and few things do remain the same. Especially in the neck breaking speed the world is currently moving in. Change is good an inevitable and yet I find it ironic by keeping my yoga story the same it allows me to keep up and sometimes ahead of the game.

I like you, as well look, forward to the new year and all the opportunities just waiting to unfold and yes, I can imagine the possibilities in a body I can trust I hope you can to!

To that I end this blog by saying Happy New Year to you!

I wish you and your beloveds health and happiness ~ sending love and aloha

Yoga Milestones

By Renee’ Fulkerson

We are fast approaching the end of 2019 and this has me thinking about milestones: an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development. Which then got me thinking about my personal yoga practice and yoga in general.

I consider my yoga practice alive and connected meaning it has the ability to change from day to day in regard to what is going on in my life. Everyday is a different day full of various challenges, victories and levels of flow.

Yes, in a general sense I practice certain YogAlign postures in every practice however, I may add or take away postures depending on what I have going on that day. When I teach a YogAlign class I teach to the students needs and again that may vary from day to day.

Does this mean that you cannot have milestones in yoga if you do not practice the same set of postures everytime you hit the yoga mat? I guess this would depend on how you interpret your development in regard to your personal yoga practice. One way I can see an action or event marking a significant change is through sustainability in my everyday life.

What I mean by that is If I can walk (hike) longer without my feet or back aching and needing a weeks recovery. I am able to keep up with housework, yardword and my 16 year old son without exhaustion. Participate in all the physical activities I enjoy in a comfortable, strong and stabe manner. When I see that I am performing beyond my previous physical abilities during and after a long trek I consider this event a milestone a YogAlign milestone.

Another way I can see an action or event marking a significant change is when I have a YogAlign Aha moment. This could be finally feeling that core connection engagment during a posture that I had practiced many times. Building from that Aha moment that allows me to dive a bit deeper into my practice enhancing the benefits.

As for my students I see them transform, develope and become more sustainable on a regular bases. One student enjoys golfing and wants to be strong and in proper form while playing to avoid injury as well as enjoy her activity. Another student has had full back surgery, cares about her bone density and enjoys taking long walks on a daily basis with a proper stride and no aches and pains. Yet another student before a regular YogAlign practice was needing a chiropractic adjustment on a weekly (monthly) basis and has recently been suffering from mild headaches. She is now at a place were Chiropractic visits are far and few (YogAlign milestone) and is getting the headache relief she desires through her YogAlign practice.

One of the many results my students and myself share is we desire to see these milestone during real life events. Some may want to track their development by practicing to acheive a head stand and I say to each his own. That headstand milestone may allow them to build on a particular set of postures they desire. Milestones may also develop during ones meditation practice. For us to sit quietly for any lenght of time can be challenging not ot mention clearing our mind and experiencing pleasure while doing so. But in my experience I see it happen all the time in savasana (resting pose) a fidgeter becomes still and peaceful. Building from that milestone they are able to dive deeper into the practice and enjoy the effects.

Yoga milestones to me are like a gift you receive without expectation. You just keep showing up and participating in the practice and then some unexpected goodness comes your way. The tangible results of pure hearted effort. Unlike goal setting where levels of expectations can play against you. In regard to levels of commitment and follow through.

Like you I too look forward to the coming year and the next Aha moment. That moment where everything seems to make complete sense. When You feel as though you have gained some much needed confidence. You have accomplished another level of insight which can allow for a deeper yoga practice. To all of this I say cheers to this years unexpected goodness.

Shopping Spree or Living Spree?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Tis the season of holiday shopping, plentiful gift giving and festive gatherings with family and friends . Consumers are being enticed by Black Friday, Cyber Monday and a variety of deep discounted department store sales. Some might even refer to their shopping adventure as a shopping spree: a spell or sustained period of unrestrained activity of a particular kind.

I started thinking about how I have never considered myself a person who enjoys going shopping not even grocery shopping. I link it back to my childhood and to my family who were never over the top shoppers. We lived comfortably and had what we needed (and then some). I never felt I was lacking for anything. I also considered myself very physically active growing up. I definitely was more actively moving than actively shopping which rings true even to this day.

Some could argue that shopping especially holiday shopping is a physical activity and I would agree. There is a great deal of walking, lifting, bending and movement in general and at the end of the day we are exhausted. But what comes to mind for me is the poor posture, aching back (shoulders) and sore feet that come from a day of lugging packages and endless searching. I asked myself the question what would you rather be doing? My answer – having a Living Spree!

What would my living spree look like? Hiking outdoors which ironically comes with the same description of the above mentioned:

  • possible poor posture – from fatigue (shallow breathing)
  • aching back and shoulders – from carrying a backpack
  • sore feet – from a long haul

Although for me I have much more body mechanics awareness when I am on the trail then when I am in the department store. Mostly because when I am in nature I feel more connected to my settings. The esthetics are visually more pleasing and the surroundings are far more quiet. The natural light and fresh air make it easier to achieve a balance between relaxation and meditation. I feel less physically drained and more contently tired with my accomplishment. I naturally take breaks to stop, sit and snack in the beautiful spots along the way. I am purposeful about what I am carrying (weight wise) and the proper fit for my diaphragm. Can all of these mindful practices be applied to the Shopping Spree? To this I say yes!

YogAlign Shopping Spree Tips:

  • Breathe

In YogAlign we use the SIP Breath (structurally informed posture). Start by forming an O with your lips, sip in like your sucking on a straw and feel your diaphragm muscle (ribcage) start to expand and lift (keep your shoulders down away from your ears). Pause at the top of the SIP Breath and as you SSSSSS hale like a snake smile and feel the goodness that is breath. Use this SIP Breath technique like fine chocolate not every breath will be a SIP Breath but a gentle reminder or as we like to call it rewiring the brain to practice full inhales and exhales.

  • Posture

In YogAlign one of the ways we check in for proper body alignment is the occipital (back of the head) and sacrum (low back) line up. Start by taking the palm of your right hand and cup the protruding bone at the back of your head. Then take your left hand flip it over and place the back of your hand on the small of your back (around top of underwear). As you check the lineup stand straight with shoulder blades down. You can then remind yourself (rewiring the brain) to keep the frontline open allowing for ease of breath and less overall body fatigue.

  • Balance

In YogAlign we think of and move our body as a whole. We move from the center or core of the body with our eyes gazing forward thus allowing for our eyes to communicate with our brain more effectively. When we pile ourselves up with oddly shaped packages and possibly a purse it can really throw us out of balance. Stop and take a moment maybe in front of a mirror or glass while you are shopping and check your balance. While carrying your load are your shoulders even on both sides with your shoulder blades down away from your ears. Are your hips squared and level not allowing uneven weight to dump you into one hip or another. Are you standing on the full of the foot or more on the toes or the heels? When walking with this load are you moving from the center of your body? You can tell this if you are able to comfortably take a full inhale and exhale while walking. If necessary take the time to put packages in your car and ease up your load.

  • Savasana (stillness)

Yes you can take a shopping savasana (get off your feet) after all it is a form of stillness (between relaxation and meditation). You can find a quiet spot either indoors or outdoors and sit (depending on the space maybe even lie down). Pull out a small bottle of your favorite essential oil put a dab on the end of your nose and enter into mindful breath. If you have a Mantra or Japa practice this can also happen here silently reciting or chanting your mantra. Pulling out and unraveling your mala (beads) and again silently going through your meditation (eyes open or closed). If you just cannot stop for a shopping savasana pull out your small bottle of rose water give yourself a spray and keep breathing,

Rounding out these YogAlign holiday shopping tips would be to stay hydrated and fortified with healthy food and snacks.

I wish you a very happy and healthy shopping spree and or living spree!