Does your yoga practice align you and build core strength?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I have found that it isn’t so important how you perform on your yoga mat regarding glamour poses. But, how those real-life postures you practice propel you into a healthy and active lifestyle. In YogAlign, we practice real-life yoga postures engaging muscle groups that you will need for all of your favorite activities and everyday life movements.

My friend Corrine has been showing up for YogAlign practice faithfully for many years now. She is an avid golfer and plays golf with a group of ladies of all ages and backgrounds at least once a week. Golfing is an activity she enjoys on so many levels. The social aspects, being outdoors, and the challenge of the game. I would not teach or advise her to practice Sirsasana or headstand to improve and enjoy her golf game more. What I do teach her is how to engage and build her core strength. Building strong core muscles will provide ease of rotation, balance, and power. Hitting her golf ball farther and follow through with a powerful golf swing.

It all starts with the SIP Breath (structurally informed posture). Breathing is an exercise that is at the center of all actions in which we engage. In YogAlign, learning to breathe from your core – using our primary breathing muscles, and balancing the muscles of respiration to free the ribcage – is one of the most important skills we can learn. (quoting Michaelle Edward’s creator of the YogAlign Method). When practicing the Core SIP breath, you begin to feel the length from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Not to mention Aligning you into good posture from the inside out.

Natural curves, spine alignment and soft knees.

The above image shows the spine’s alignment with the body’s natural curves. A cue you often hear in some yoga classes is to pull your navel to your spine. You are inevitably taking all of your spine’s natural curves away and restricting your breathing. We also take care not to practice yoga postures that require you to draw your toes towards you. Why? Because you lock out your knees and, we do not walk with straight knees. Keeping your spine’s natural curves with soft knees allows your body’s natural shock absorbers to give you the gift of lift.

Rotation without collapsing.

rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center (or point) of rotation. In yoga practice, we would refer to this action more as a twist. You have heard the claim that yoga poses, especially yoga twists, detox your body. The liver is responsible for your body’s detox and happens mostly on a cellular level. In YogAlign, we think of our body as globally, not in pieces, and maintaining the ability to breathe when moving through the spiral line. What is so great about the picture above is the rotation/ twist is not wrenched. Meaning there is space between her chin and chest. The openness and ability to breathe have allowed her to engage her core. The Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal/ external obliques, quadratus lumborum. That core engagement will support her with the power she needs to hit her golf ball farther.

Powerful connection with the ball.

There is a level of confidence in knowing you can trust your body. Knowing that with every YogAlign practice, you are re-programming your internal software. Software/ habits that are going to bring you back to good posture. It takes more effort to be in poor posture than it does to be in good posture. Other muscles that are equally important are the hamstrings and glutes providing proper posture throughout your golf swing. With postures cues – draw your toes back towards you makes it impossible to engage your glute muscles. You will also have a hard time taking a full inhale. Pointing your toes enlists your hamstrings and glutes with ease. Come to standing and place one foot slightly in front of the other. Come up onto the center of your tiptoes engage your inner thighs to feel your glute muscles follow. Then switch feet and come up on to the center of your tiptoes. To add more challenge pulse, up and down by slightly bending the knees. Make sure to have some fun with it!

Balance and follow through.

In the above picture, Corrine’s balance is spot on! Our balance declines with age due to loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility. We spend our early years trying to achieve balance milestones first steps, riding a bike, hopscotch, cartwheels, and riding a skateboard. As an adult we are still achieving balance milestones in tennis, golf, running, and dancing. Maybe you are not the athletic type? Walking across the room or down the block requires balance. Standing from a chair, going up and downstairs, carrying packages. A balance posture in yoga is Vrikshasana or tree pose. However, there are so many other real-life ways to practice balance. Practice squatting instead of bending over (also protects your low back). Practice sitting down and standing up from a chair without using your hands. In YogAlign, we add limbs/ arms to our tree. Our arms move about at different heights and levels. For more of a challenge, we will also come up onto our tiptoes in tree pose. Try it! It can be more challenging than it sounds.

A birdie was achieved.

From the height of her peak balance back into proper posture with ease. The transition has become instinctual due to the kind of real-life postures practiced on the mat. By thinking of our body globally and not in pieces, movements begin to benefit us as a whole. Recap a squat engages muscles, builds balance, and protects the low back when picking things up. Tree pose a balance builder, move arms about explore proprioception. Then come up onto tiptoes and engage inner thighs and glutes. Don’t be afraid to question some of the postures you practice that do not feel good to you. Avoid practicing postures that pull you apart because you feel tight and possibly destabilizing joints and tendons. Practice postures that put you together create confidence, strength, and power. Point your toes like a dancer during leg circles stabilizing the hip joint. If you feel or hear a grinding stop, and re-adjust posture. Make a bigger or smaller circle, point-toe more or avoid that posture altogether. Evaluate your yoga practice. Can you breathe while in postures, see and feel the positive effects?

Does your yoga practice align you and build core strength?

YogAlign is simply the art of being in your structure and breath. It is pain-free yoga from your inner core. We actively seek out positioning, alignment, and movement that reflects how we move in daily life. To me, YogAlign is movement, health, fitness, and fun.

Cheers to you Corrine!

Hang in there – living or not living with back pain?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Definition of pain: a localized or generalized unpleasant bodily sensation or complex of sensations that cause mild to severe physical discomfort and emotional distress and typically results from bodily disorder (such as injury or disease).

Definition of back pain: physical discomfort occurring anywhere on the spine or back, ranging from mild to disabling.

COMMON CAUSES
Back pain can have causes that aren’t due to underlying disease. Examples include overuse such as working out or lifting too much, prolonged sitting and lying down, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, or wearing a poorly fitting backpack.

I recently had the opportunity to work with someone regarding YogAlign (posture education) that I hold near and dear to my heart. She suffers from chronic back pain challenges. I refer to her back pain as a challenge because it challenges her while moving through her daily activities. Pre- pandemic she had a regular exercise practice at her local YMCA but is no longer able to attend (due to closures). Her daily exercise practice and weekly walking kept her back pain at bay. She continues to walk when she can. The chronic and nagging back pain does not let her get very far. All of the above mentioned has made her feel a bit depressed with a great deal of frustration.

I have asked the question before was it the depression that gave someone poor posture, or was it the poor posture that gave them the depression? In this case, the poor posture (aka back pain) is creating feelings of depression. I know she is one of the many out there suffering from chronic back pain. These are some of the ways her chronic back pain and discomfort have negatively impacted her every life.

  • unable to get a good night’s rest
  • taking a walk around the neighborhood is cut short
  • getting up and down from a seated position is hard
  • house cleaning takes longer due to needing more breaks
  • gardening has become more painful than pleasurable
  • standing to cook and do dishes is uncomfortable
  • getting in and out of the car is not easy

These are just a few of life’s basic movements that are becoming a real struggle for someone who is suffering from chronic back pain. I offered to work with her utilizing the YogAlign method and started with the basics. I also mentioned to her do not believe anything I say. Follow my cues through the practice, and your body will be the judge. I sensed she had some apprehensions before we began and was afraid it was going to hurt. I reminded her that the YogAlign method is pain-free yoga from your inner core and let your body be the judge. I needed to know if she could get down on the floor. She answered yes although, we could have started on her back on her bed. I also wanted to know if she could get up and down off the floor without aid. Getting up and down off the floor is something I teach in all my YogAlign classes. Students don’t even know that is what we are doing (practicing). Other times they do know we may be lying on our backs taking a resting breath. They believe Savasana (resting pose) is coming next. And I say let’s come to standing, drink some water, and then come back down on your backs for Savasana (resting pose). Sometimes they grumble but, I explain to them how important getting up and off the floor properly is. It is a skill you want to keep as long as possible.

Getting started: you will need a yoga mat, blanket, or towel (make yourself comfortable).

  • lying on your back (I placed a soft blanket under her )
  • place a bolster or rolled blanket/ towel under the bend of the back knees for low back support
  • allow the space between the shoulder blades to draw together
  • drop shoulders away from ears
  • arms out like a downward facing V by your sides with fingers spread and palms facing up
  • settle in, adjust for any discomfort, and begin to breathe normally
  • press the bulbous part of the back of your head into the mat/ blanket
  • you are in perfect alignment – now relax and enjoy the support of the floor

The SIP Breath: you will need a straw if you have one.

  • place your hands on your ribcage
  • create a small O with your lips
  • sip in like you’re sipping through a straw (you can use a straw)
  • feel the ribcage expand
  • retain the full breath for a few seconds (shoulders down away from your ears)
  • smile and start to s-hale like a snake with closed teeth (take the straw out before s-hale)
  • feel the ribcage contract
  • take 3 X SIP breaths feeling the ribcage expand and contract
  • take a resting breath through the nose
Supine Heron Stand

The Supine Heron Stand: this posture can be down lying on your back or standing up with a few tweaks.

  • extend the right leg and bend the left knee
  • start SIP breath and reach up with the right arm alongside the ear
  • retain the breath and make a fist with both hands and point the toe of the right foot while squeezing the glutes and inner thighs
  • Smile, S-hale slowly opening the fingers and spreading the toes of the right foot while keeping the ball of the foot level
  • the kneecap should face the ceiling
  • keep the lumbar and cervical curve especially paying attention during the exhalation
  • repeat on the other side

PNF -Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: you will need a yoga block, thick book, or rolled towel.

Not only does it increase flexibility, but it can also improve muscular strength.

  • arms back to a downward facing V, palms facing up and fingers spread
  • bend both knees and place a yoga block between the thighs (squeezing gently)
  • start your SIP inhale, fist your hands, and squeeze the yoga block between your knees
  • hold the full diaphragm for a few seconds and watch your shoulders are not rising up
  • open the fist, relax the thigh squeeze and begin to s-hale
  • 3 X with a resting nose breath in between
  • pressing the bulbous part of the back head against your mat/ blanket
  • gently rock your head slowly from side to side (stick your tongue out)
  • gently squeezing the thigh block rock your knees from side to side
  • inline or opposite of your head
  • massaging the back of the head and the low back (sacrum)
  • straighten both legs with arms overhead Pandiculate (like your morning getting out of bed stretch)
  • arms back to a downward facing V, palms facing up and fingers spread
  • bend both knees and place a yoga block between the thighs (squeezing gently)
  • start the SIP inhale, lift and extend the right leg (with toe like a dancer away from you) fist hands
  • open fist and start s-hale with toes spread and pushing through the ball of the foot
  • alternate legs 3 X each side with resting nose breath between sides

Repeat supine heron stand from above on each side and then come back to neutral with legs supported with bolster and resume normal breathing.

The Core Connector: feel how the legs grow from the center of your body.

  • arms back to a downward facing V, palms facing up and fingers spread
  • left knee bent and right leg straight
  • start SIP breath lift the right leg straight up to meet the height of the left knee (keep the lumbar curve)
  • retain your breath for a few seconds, make fists
  • then open the fingers and spread the toes pressing through the balls of the foot
  • s-hale the right leg towards the floor slowly (option is to hover above the ground for a few seconds)
  • 3 X each side with resting nose breath between sides
  • straighten both legs with arms overhead Pandiculate (like your morning getting out of bed stretch)

Prepping for Savasana- final resting pose: please have a drink of water, a yoga block, and a rolled towel

  • pressing the bulbous part of the back head against your mat/ blanket
  • gently rock your head slowly from side to side (stick your tongue out)
  • gently squeezing the thigh block rock your knees from side to side
  • inline or opposite of your head
  • massaging the back of the head and the low back (sacrum)
  • coming back to neutral and removing yoga block from between your knees
  • place a bolster or rolled blanket/ towel under the bend of the back knees for low back support
  • start SIP inhale and then stick your tongue out and exhale like a lion 3 times (letting go of any residual tension)
  • come back to your normal breathing and close your eyes
  • allow yourself to relax in Savasana for at least 10 minutes (if your back allows).

When you open your eyes, please take your time getting up to a seated position and then to standing to avoid any dizziness that might occur when getting up too fast. Also, you may want to check with your physician before starting any new movement or exercise practice. And let your body guide you through what works and does not work for you. Pay attention to pain. Do not continue with any posture if you are experiencing pain!

In conclusion, the beloved whom I worked with for about an hour to an hour and a half for three days straight with the above YogAlign practice had positive results. She felt great relief after our first session regarding chronic back pain. She felt none of her regular twinges of back pain during her sleep and slept through the whole night. After our second session, she was able to do her housework pain-free without having to stop for several breaks. By her third session, she was ready to go for the kind of walk around her neighborhood that she used to enjoy (and she did). I even noticed her mood and appearance seemed to be more relaxed, refreshed along with a pep in her step. She now has a YogAlign practice to grow with and into allowing her to reimagine the possibilities for life and enjoy all the activities she loves.

I hope this information can be useful to you or someone you may know and remember you never get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Aloha – see you on the mat.

Stay Safe; Stay Well.How to restore balance back into the body from sitting too much.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Resting at a right-angle on a climbing route affects the human body differently than resting/ sitting in a chair at a right-angle.

I recently spent some time in Joshua Tree National Park camping, hiking and, rock climbing with friends. While we sat and stood on big beautiful boulders waiting for the next climber on the rope the topic of sitting kept coming up. Complaints of knee, hip, and back pain came up several times all with the same comment ” I am not used to sitting so much”. Of course, as a YogAlign posture educator, my ears perked up when I heard these statements. Mind you these experiences were coming from very fit and active human beings however, since the pandemic they have not been so active.

My gal pals.

Ironically two of my gal pals (pictured above climbing and on belay) are both teachers one a second-grade teacher and the other a P.E. (physical education) teacher to high school students. The second-grade teacher is in her middle fifties and extremely fit in every sense of the word. When she is not in the classroom you can find her engaged in a plethora of activities. Hiking, backcountry skiing, scuba diving, kayaking, swimming, and teaching/ practicing yoga. She is also very active in her classroom with her students keeping their little bodies moving. The high school P.E. teacher is in her early forties healthy, active, and always on the move. After school, you can find her rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park or training in her fully outfitted home Crossfit Gym. Both complained about the negative impacts that sitting was having on their entire body. Their teaching has transformed from various movements into sitting in front of a computer for extended periods.

I began to explain to them sitting in chairs puts your trunk and legs into a right angle position. This position causes sagging in the sacrum, spinal compression, and weakens our core muscles.

Sitting: is a basic human action and resting position in which the body weight is supported primarily by the buttocks in contact with the ground or a horizontal object such as a chair seat. The torso is more or less uprightWikipedia

Ironically so many things are happening (good, bad, and ugly) and not happening while sitting.

One of the complaints was the IT (iliotibial) band feeling dense to the touch and pain in the knees. The IT band is a long piece of connective tissue, or fascia, that runs along the outside of your leg from the hip to the knee and shinbone. The IT band helps to extend, abduct, and rotate your hip. Excessive sitting or repetitive flexion of the knees (from sitting) keeps the IT band stretched and sedentary. Which can cause instability in the hips, knees, and pelvis referring to hip pain or Iliotibial band syndrome. Iliotibial band syndrome is an injury often caused by activities where you bend your knee repeatedly, in this case sitting who knew?

Creating length in the IT Band

What are some solutions?

In this case, I explained tightening what is already tight to get more out of the resting length of the muscle, fascia, and connective tissue. Think of when you laugh hard and you can’t breathe because your stomach muscles are so tight. When you stop your stomach is spacious and relaxed.

Creating length in the It band

  • lay on your back, with arms stretched out to both sides at shoulder height
  • palms facing up and fingers spread
  • with your left knee bent, and right leg straight roll onto your right side
  • placing your right hand onto the IT band of the left leg
  • while keeping your left shoulder connected to the floor (palm facing up towards your ear)
  • begin your SIP breath (like breathing through a straw) feeling your diaphragm expand
  • make a fist with your left hand and hold the breath for a few seconds
  • begin to resist by abducting your left leg towards the left (against your open-palmed hand)
  • while keeping the left shoulder on the floor and toes pointed
  • open the fist of the left hand
  • begin to S-hale like a snake (with a smile) feeling the diaphragm contract
  • releasing the tension (wrestle) from the hand against the IT band
  • drawing your left knee, a bit closer to the floor
  • massage vigorously the IT band and muscles around it creating healing circulation
  • repeat 3X on each side of the body
  • starting with the knee up and away from the floor and not open further than a right angle towards you
Using yoga blocks to get hips above your knees.

Next, I suggested to both my gal pals when sitting getting your hips above your knees which is not easy with a standard desk. Fortunately, one has a desk that adjusts to standing or sitting. She could stack a few sets of yoga blocks on her standard chair as pictured below or get more of a bar stool type chair to again to get her hips above her knees. This is not going to work with a standard desk because when you lift your hips above your knees the desk is going to be lower and you would then haft to slouch over. Some would think having a standing desk would solve the problem of excessive sitting however, that is not the case. Especially if when standing you are not in proper alignment and are starting to slouch after a period of excessive standing. In my opinion, it all comes back to balance. Balance in the body and balance between sitting, standing, and activity. I try to stand or be active equally to the amount of time I need to sit. In other words, if I sit for 30 minutes I then stand/ move my body for 30 minutes. Switching between sitting and moving my body throughout the day helps to keep me in balance.

Inner Breath Yoga ~ YogAlign focuses on the now, supporting our physical and mental health and wellness to create a sustainable body. A pain-free body with a positive mental outlook that allows us to keep enjoying the people, places, and new adventures that keep us thriving in life.

Aloha see you on the mat.

Living Long and Dying Short or Living Short and Dying Long?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

In other words, having a body you can trust and living pain-free. With a sustainable body that allows you to imagine all of the endless possibilities well into the future.

Or, having a body you cannot trust and maybe living with discomfort and or pain. A body that limits you from enjoying life and all the activities you love.

Living long and dying short or living short and dying long?

I had first heard this phrase in my first YogAlign Teacher Training. Then again recently in a two-week intensive YogAlign Posture Education Certification Course. I started thinking about the phrase once again and wondered do we have a choice? And, the answer was of course in almost all cases we do have a choice. I feel most certain if people were asked which they would prefer from the above-mentioned phrases living long and dying short would be the most appealing option. I know it would be for me!

Pain knows no age, race, or gender, and becoming aware of bad posture habits is the first step in changing the existing habit.

The most common issues I work with are neck and shoulder discomfort and or pain. Various aches and pains along the entire back body (mostly low back). Also, hip discomfort and or pain is an issue that comes up often.

The first thing we need to look at is our daily posture habits:

How are you standing, walking, and sitting? Do you find it difficult and tiring to stand for even a short period of time (such as doing dishes)?

When walking are you able to walk with ease? Have you ever looked at the bottom of your shoes to see how they are wearing (evenly or unevenly)?

Do you find it difficult to sit comfortably for any period of time? Have you created a sag in the support system of your chair or couch from sitting too much?

How does your posture translate into your workspace and weekend activities? These are all good questions to ask yourself as the answers will be very telling and helpful. And a jumping-off point into good posture. With good posture habits/ body mechanics, your life can be long and prosperous and without maybe uncomfortable and or painful.

Let’s start by looking at some of the reasons for neck, shoulder, back, and hip discomfort and or pain.

We are developed in the womb and birthed from a C shape or the fetal posture. At this point, we do most of our breathing from our bellies. Babies and young children will use their abdominal muscles (bellies) much more to pull the diaphragm down for breathing. The intercostal muscles are not fully developed at the time of birth. The baby has to grow to develop these. Once babies are placed on their tummies curiosity gets the best of them and they begin by lifting their heads to fully see their surroundings. Soon after they can get themselves up on all fours (hands and knees) and start locomoting forward known as crawling. Next pulling themselves up and walking supported by a person or object to eventually walking all on their own. During this process, we are developing the natural Lordotic and kyphotic curves aka shock absorbers in our spines. We are still very comfortable moving from the center of our bodies and bending at the knees with ease when picking something up.

Fast forward to today and as a teen, young adult, adult, or elder take a look in the mirror from your side profile or lateral line and what do you see. Natural Curves in your spine or have you returned to the C shape posture? If your answer is C not to worry we just need to shift some outdated posture habits. Also known as rewiring and updating your body’s posture software. But, before we do that we need to look at why this C posture is creating negative impacts on your breathing, mood, and possibly causing you discomfort and or pain.

Having the body in a perpetual C posture draws your chin to your chest, your pubis to your sternum, rolled forward shoulders, and forward head carriage just to name a few. Your spinal curves aka shock absorbers are non-existent and not putting a much-needed spring in your step. This C posture makes it quite impossible to get a full diaphragm inhale or exhale (as adults we should not be belly breathing). With proper diaphragm breathing, we can work on our good posture habits from the inside out (the diaphragm is a muscle and also needs to be exercised). The C posture puts all the weight onto your knees and can very easily add to those achy, painful, and unstable knee joints. As the body curls forward it puts the front of the body into full-blown flexion. Meaning muscle groups whose actual job is to be stabilizers are not being able to do their job. They instead are being enlisted out of necessity to keep the heavy forward-leaning body up. That forward pressing body is affecting the space for your organs and possibly creating some fear and anxiety emotions/ mood responses.

Meanwhile, the back of the body is stretched out and exhausted. Think of your back like a shirt riding up towards your shoulders and ears. Again take a step in front of the mirror and looking from the side angle or lateral line view are you able to see your vertebral column very close to the surface of the skin? If the answer is yes again the natural curves aka shock absorbers are not being able to do their jobs in keeping you agile and bouncy. The back body is also in need of some extra support to keep your head up as it is falling forward and calls in the fascia. The fascia lays down more fascia in the upper back area usually between the top of the shoulder blades to the Occipital (bulbous part) of the back of the head. Causing those tight and stiff feeling shoulders, neck and causing possible headaches. The lower back is not tight needing to be stretched it is stretched and exhausted in need of support. How does the back get the support it needs? Simple answer proper posture. Believe it or not, you have a muscle corset around your midsection made out of muscles and muscle groups which we call stabilizers. These stabilizing muscles and muscle groups are some of your most important and necessary posture muscles. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above if you are leaning forward in a C shape some of these stabilizer muscles start to work as flexor muscles. Just by getting your body back into its natural curves and proper posture we can tap into our body’s internal back support brace (stabilizers).

All of these above issues and so much more can be addressed and overcome with rewiring and reprogramming of your body’s posture motherboard.

Getting started:

  1. Breathing from your diaphragm and not your belly
  2. Balancing the flexor chain or front of the body. With the extensor chain at the back of the body.
  3. Firing up posture muscles and posture muscle groups that have forgotten how to engage.
  4. Creating tensegrity or balance throughout the body.
  5. Being mindful of how we stand, walk, and sit.
  6. Questioning movement, yoga, and exercise classes that put you intentionally in bad posture (reinforcing bad posture).
  7. If you tend to be hypermobile creating new habits not to take a posture to your edge ultimately pulling yourself apart.
  8. Find exercise, yoga, and movement classes that focus on real-life movement (reinforce good posture).
  9. Create a space for movement, health, fitness, and fun in your life.

Aloha

Loneliness and Movement Solutions? Sometimes you need to get creative.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Definition of lonely:
Being without company: LONE
Cut off from others: SOLITARY
Not frequented by human beings: DESOLATE
Sad from being alone :LONESOME
Producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation

I have had feelings of loneliness focus on the word feelings. When I verbally expressed this to a friend, she reminded me that this was a state of mind and not the reality of the matter. That got me thinking yes, I could reach out via phone, facetime, Skype, or physically show up to another human being and connect.

Although, that last part may be a bit difficult given our current situation.

I have been able to continue to teach my regularly scheduled YogAlign classes I am very grateful. Why because I work with a small group of regulars and one student generously offered to host our YogAlign classes at her home. Which, may not be the case for many yoga teachers, students, and beyond.

For the students and myself that meet several times a week for YogAlign Class, this is part of our community, relationships, and for some a lifeline. We can continue to move our bodies, fill our diaphragm with deep full breaths, and best of all smile, and laugh with one another. Keeping our spirits as well as our immune system/ body happy and healthy!

My mom is a perfect example of a lonely state of mind. She is in her early seventies and has attended her regular exercise classes at her local YMCA for years. This weekly ritual has been her lifeline as she lives alone. She can join in community with others in group classes, socialize a bit before and after classes and then get her personal workout on. Due to our current situation and not having that resource she is having all the feelings mentioned above.

The solution?

Across the ocean on Kauai, where myself, husband and teenage son live. He also is feeling some degree of loneliness. For him, it is manifesting in feelings of boredom, unmotivated, and lack of engagement. For most seventeen-year old’s school, every week is their lifeline. Meeting in community for classes, socializing during lunch, before and after school. With his school being completely virtual (online) he is missing out also on connection.

The Solution? Sometimes you haft to get creative.

We packed up all things precious to a seventeen-year-old (his gaming computer) and sent him across the ocean to his Grammys. This was not necessarily easy for dear old mom and dad but, it felt right and he was all for it. Although none of us were sure how this would unfold? I haft to say we all have been pleasantly surprised with the outcome thus far.

It has been a little over a month now and there is more comradery, movement, and breath on both parts. How? Aside from having a change, they both are doing for each other. Meaning my mom is motivated to get up and get creative with cooking, work in the yard, and take walks with her grandson. Joaquin is spending less time gaming (on his computer) and out of boredom, also cooking, running errands, and again taking walks with his grams. With more movement, breath, and a few laughs, this keeps their mind, immune system/ body, happy and healthy.

Remembering loneliness is a state of being (a feeling) is half the battle.

I mentioned in another blog post that we can connect with the physical. sometimes it’s easier than spiritual as it is more tangible. We can connect with unpleasant feelings just as easily as pleasant feelings like joy. Once we can get motivated and get our bodies moving with gardening, going for a walk, or practicing YogAlign some level of happiness will follow. You have everything on your side to succeed in-breath, purposefulness, and movement. Maybe you won’t always have a partner by your side but, you still can create joy. I find listening to music with headphones or a book on tap/ podcast while participating in activity proves to be a great companion.

The Movement does not always haft to be a grand gesture. Washing the car is a pretty good workout.

As a YogAlign posture educator, I will be teaching and practicing YogAlign postures during class. I never show up teaching with a planned class I teach to the energy of the students. During these last six months, the energy has varied from day to day. With some comments before class being, I am just happy I am awake and got here. To follow up comments after class, “am I going to be a lump today”? YogAlign was my accomplishment for the day. I now feel motivated to get other things done after my YogAlign class. All good stuff I recommend honoring how you feel days you need to be a lump and other days a firecracker.

Playing with my pal Max.

I like to be playful when the energy feels heavy. For example, after travel has opened back up a few of my students who also happen to be grandparents will be traveling to see their precious grandchildren. Some of those grandchildren are infants and toddlers who spend most of their independent time on the floor. As they begin to lift their heads out of curiosity. A necessary phase to create the natural curves in their spines. Littles are born with a C-shaped spine and with head lifting and crawling, they start to create the natural S curves in their spine. I teach YogAlign postures that will allow them to get down on the floor, move around comfortably and trust their bodies to perform pain-free doing something they love with someone they love. When students are lying on their back on the floor in their last full-body stretch or practicing self-massaging they think savasana (final resting pose) is next. I instruct them to come to standing. There are not too many times during the day when you come to standing from lying on the floor next we have a glorious and well-deserved final resting pose.

Practice getting up and down off the floor from lying on your back or stomach postures a few times. It’s all about movement.

That is the beauty of practicing YogAlign pain-free yoga from your inner core consisting of real- life movements. Practicing movements that reflect who you are and how you live and want to live your life. We can all tap into feeling joy instead of loneliness. Syncing movement with breath is a beautiful way to get there.

See you on the mat.


14 Day Self (love) Quarantine.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I thought that a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine was going to be rough. But, that was not the case.

Self-quarantine: verb – to refrain from any contact with other individuals for a period of time (such as two weeks) during the outbreak of a contagious disease usually by remaining in one’s home and limiting contact with family members.

My father had become ill and left his physical body at the end of March. I spent the next month on the mainland doing all the things one does in an event like this.

As I left the Kauai I was informed when I returned I would need to self-quarantine for 14 days. I had so much on my mind I did not think much about it. It turned out to be a time of great healing.

Upon my return back to Kauai, I felt depleted.

I found my physical body at this time to be very tired, tense, and wanting to curl up into a ball. I found my breathing to be nonexistent. In other words, I was unconsciously holding my stomach so tight I could not take a full breath. My mental state was mostly distracted by anything and everything.

The good news is this was and is all fixable!

I knew I had two weeks of self-quarantine and that moment I felt great relief in knowing I could focus on myself. Let’s face it in our day-to-day lives the thought of even one day to focus on ourselves seems unattainable.

I began this self-quarantine AKA Self Love Quarantine by:

  • allowing my emotions to show up good, bad, and ugly
  • not judging my accomplishments or lack thereof
  • sleeping and eating on demand
  • asking for help
  • tuning into my breathing patterns
  • being patient with my tense and tight body
  • letting go

I also participated in all the tangible supportive rituals like – journaling, meditating, chanting and most beneficial for me YogAlign.

In my yoga practice and teachings, I find most students can connect to the physical part of their yoga practice first. Why? Because it is tangible you can feel it. That is what is so incredible about the YogAlign Method you can physically feel the benefits instantly. Once your physical body feels good everything else follows. Your breath flows more freely, and mood elevates to happy you are back in balance.

An example of this for me during this 14 days Self Love Quarantine was freeing up the frontline of my body so I could breathe. I mentioned earlier I could not get full inhales and exhales due to me clenching my tummy. Which then made my entire frontline shorten, my backline stretched out and exhausted. What to do? The YogAlign Downward Dog Series.

The series of postures creates space and length along my entire frontline and backline from head to toe. I can feel the balance return to the front, back, and sides of my body. Bringing what felt like a C posture collapse in the frontline (chin to chest) back into my body’s natural curves, balance, and breath.

The YogAlign Downward Dog Series: when practicing this series use the SIP inhale (sipping through a straw) and exhale either with the S snake sound (with a smile) or lion’s breath (tongue out). Moving through the sequence taking three breaths per posture and leg.

YogAlign High Dog

YogAlign High Dog

YogAlign Traction Dog

YogAlign Traction Dog

YogAlign Core Dog

YogAlign Core Dog

YogAlign Psoas Dog

YogAlign Psoas Dog (back)
YogAlign Psoas Dog (front)

Another posture I rely on when I need to create space in my belly is Cobra. Like the postures above- Cobra will balance the fascial forces between the front and back body. The superficial front line lengthens from the top of the toes to your head. The core line strengthens in length and integrity.

The Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose

During this 14 day Self Love Quarantine I realized what a gift this time had been for me. It was not all fun and games but, I would not change a thing. I could fully relax in my body to allow the feelings and emotions to move through me without restrictions. Reconnect with breath allowing my inhales to expand my rib cage and let out a long sigh of tension. (much like lion’s breath)

Sigh: verb – emit a long, deep, audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or a similar feeling.

Ironically, I ended up returning to the mainland a month later for various reasons and had a second opportunity for a 14 day Self Love Quarantine.

This time was a completely different experience as I was in a much different place. It was so much easier and more time to achieve some of benefits mentioned above and then some. And although I knew it is unrealistic to have this amount of time as well as mostly unnecessary. I highly recommend taking a few days for a Self Love Quarantine now and again.

Sending love and aloha

Renee’

You are Safe, You are Loved and you are Not Alone.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

“You are safe, loved and you are not alone”, is a mantra I have been practicing more frequently these days. It helps to have a gentle reminder of these positive and powerful words when I am in need of self-soothing.

Fear: is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something, is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Loneliness: is a state of mind that can cause people to feel empty,alone, and unwanted.

Above is just one of many definitions of fear and loneliness I have come across and have felt myself. Not to mention there are so many different circumstances and situations where fear can arise in our day to day lives. What intrigues me the most are the feelings or ideas of fear. It is not only the mental effects but also the physical effects on the human body.

Some of the physical characteristics I have observed and experienced myself have been:

  • Tension in my muscles in the form of drawing my shoulders to my ears
  • Shortness of breath inhales and exhales become very rapid along with increased heart rate
  • Stomach ache and or poor digestion due to pulling the belly in creating a collapse in the frontline
  • Withdrawal and uninterest in activities or life,in general, leading to possible depression and anxiety
  • Sleepless nights leading to exhaustion that exacerbates the fear into a fight or flight bodily response

The list could go on and on as there are so many short term and long term possible effects on the physical body during trying times of fear and uncertainty.

I have found great relief when keeping with my routine regarding my YogAlign practice. I use the term regular loosely as we all know some days are easier than others. And some days I complete two hours and other days maybe an hour. The benefits outway the negative effects on my body being in the fight or flight mode for extended periods.

Loneliness is more of a state of mind rather than an emotion. Meaning your state of mind is your mood or mental state at a particular time. Example: when waking up you already feel off and then the rest of the day does not seem to go so well. Mostly due to the fact you woke up on what some call the wrong side of the bed. And then there is the snowball effect. Your state of mind or mood starts a bit unsettled. After creating several more stories in your head, you are feeling empty, alone, and unwanted.

The good news is we can change our mood and our thoughts – what a relief!

How can YogAlign support us physically and mentally through fearful and uncertain times?

Resetting the tension in our bodies while practicing YogAlign postures, breathwork, and self-massage brings our bodies and breath back into alignment. When we are aligned with the spine in the body’s natural curves, the body connects naturally as a continuum and, we begin to feel relaxed, balanced, secure, and peaceful. Creating the space to obtain and maintain a comfortable, and natural state of being (safe, loved and not alone).

I would love to offer some of my self soothing yoga techniques:

1. The YogAlign Full Body Stretch – ly on your back, arms stretched out overhead (keeping shoulders down), fingers spread and palms facing in towards one another. Allow your spine to arch creating space in the small of your back, lengthen legs and point those toes away from you. Now make the letter O with your lips and inhale like you are sipping through a straw (feel the ribcage expand). At the top of the SIP, breath tighten your entire body, fist your hands, and tighten your glutes. It is not so much your pulling yourself apart as pulling yourself inward tight, tight, tight. Now exhale (feel the ribcage contract) sighing with your tongue out (a.k.a lion’s breath) completely let your body go limp. Resetting the tension in the body, creating length in the front and back lines of the body. (repeat two more times)

2. Spine rolling on a small ball (75% inflated) – lying begin by placing the ball in the curve of your neck and slowly turning your head side to side sink into the ball. Work the ball down and around the shoulder blades and continue down the spine. Keep your knees bent (keeping pressure off the low back) as you move through the natural curves of the body. Lastly moving the ball into the arch of your back and sacrum. Be slow and gentle if you are a first-timer or have suffered an injury. Continue wiggling and squiggly up and down the spine with full inhales and exhales. You can also raise the arms gently overhead if that feels good. Either way, let yourself fall heavy on the ball and completely let go. Please do not overdo it 5 to 10 minutes total is perfect.

3. The two-block chest opener and neck elongator – start by sitting up and then set one yoga block on its lowest side (sideways) ultimately to be placed between the bottom of the shoulder blades. For women right around where your bra hooks sit but, everyone is a bit different and you will need to play around a bit till you find the most comfortable spot. Next, place the second yoga block upright at the highest point supporting the back of your head. Once the yoga blocks are in place lay back and adjust accordingly to find that sweet spot. Again, knees are bent to take any pressure off your lower back and support your body’s natural curves. Breathe, and you can also slowly rock your head side to side. Do not tuck your chin to your chest, as you will not be able to get full inhales and exhales. You should be feeling an openness, release, and a feeling of relaxation in the entire body. Let’s create even more space in the neck and shoulders by dropping the yoga block supporting your head on its side. It may feel awkward at first if your neck and shoulders are locked up (take your time). To come out easiest way is to roll onto one side or the other and remove blocks. Allow yourself a moment to lie flat on your back and feel the effects.

While moving through any or all of these offerings above make sure you can inhale and exhale effectively. If you are not breathing effectively come out or adjust your posture. Silently or out loud, repeat “I am safe, loved, and I am not alone”. Combining powerful words full inhales/exhales, and postures that create spaciousness in the body is a beautiful blend. Allowing us to come back into balance, peace, and love.

I hope you find something useful in my offerings and you and your beloveds stay happy and healthy.

Namaste

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.