By Renee’ Fulkerson
This question not only do I ask new YogAlign students but also long time practitioners. Do you understand what I am asking/does the information translate?
It can be intimidating to walk into your first yoga class with or without previous experience. But then not understanding what the teacher is asking of you is not only confusing but also frustrating. It takes courage and confidence to let an instructor know that you do not understand or ask why I am doing this posture? How is this benefiting me? So much so students will continue to try to do what is being asked of them even if it hurts or is very uncomfortable. I do not recommend continuing to move in a way that causes discomfort to your body, mind, or spirit.
So please stop and ask the question if not to the instructor to yourself:
- Does this posture allow my spine to maintain its natural curves (shock absorbers)?
- In the posture – do I have the ability to do deep, full, rib-cage breathing?
- Does this posture serve my human design and create functional movement positions?
- Does this posture cause me pain?
YogAlign translates to pain-free yoga from your inner core it is a practice I am confident to teach a mixed class of beginners and longtime practitioners side by side. Aside from having health concerns and needing a one-on-one session, the above-mentioned seems to sync beautifully. I also find YogAlign is an experiential yoga practice. Meaning I like to keep the verbal cues limited and relatable as we move through the class. Allowing the student the experience as well as building the trust and confidence of the practice. In a short time, my words will bring you to that Aha moment. The postures and the feelings that come with it will all connect.
Starting with the breath is a sure way to change your perspective from the outside world and transition into your yoga practice. I find most folks’ breathing habits come from the shoulders. With the muscles around the neck and shoulders lifted and contracted. The easiest and most relatable way to shift the breath from the shoulders to the diaphragm let your shoulders relax away from your ears. And let your shoulder blades ease down your back as you draw them slightly together. That allows the chest/ frontline to open up and pulls the breath deeper from the diaphragm. Also known as our primary breathing muscle. A muscle that also needs exercise.
Then some self-massage not only allows you to relax into your practice but also allows a connection to the nooks and crannies of the body that do not get much thought or exploration.
For example (have two yoga blocks or two small rolled-up towels available to you)
- Starting by lying your back, shoulder blades underneath you supporting your body’s natural curves.
- Start by bending your knees and placing a yoga block under your right foot. Then put your left ankle on top of your right knee.
- Next, begin to press on each toenail bed on the left foot for a few seconds and then gently roll down the toe joint (drawing circulation down into the toes and feet).
- Continue massaging the arch, heel, and top of the foot. And below the ankle on the inside of the left foot.
- Work your way up the back left lower leg between the ankle and knee.
- Then around the knee cap and into the large muscles of the upper left leg. Don’t forget the entire inner thigh.
- Finally, straighten the left leg, push the block from under the right foot out to the side, point the toes of the left leg to activate the left leg muscle (keeping the hip joint stable), and begin to do leg circles in towards the body. We do not want to hear or feel grinding (bone on bone.) Let your hips move and your right knee.
- You will then hook that left leg over the right knee and roll onto your right side. The bottom right leg is straight (not locked out at the knee). The yoga block you pushed to the side earlier will now support your slightly bent left leg/knee. Grab another yoga block to place under your head. Be aware not to bring the left bent knee in too close to your stomach or bring your chin to your chest. Why? Because this puts you in a fetal or C posture and collapses the whole frontline, squishing your organs and inhibits the ability for full diaphragm breathing.
- Lastly, continue to relax the body by massaging your behind (gluteal muscles), outside of the leg (IT band), hip (iliac crest), up to your side into the chest (pecs), armpit (arm flexors), side of the neck (levator scapulae), the ear lobe and the side of the head. Massage back down the sideline while thinking and feeling the body as a continuum. Not in pieces.
As a student moves through this massage sequence, I can name some of the muscles, etc. While the student touches connects to them, and feels less intimated in the possibility of not knowing it all. Meanwhile, the longtime practitioners are getting a little deeper with their massage and maybe covering more ground. Then we repeat the massage sequence on the right side of the body, finish by laying on our backs with shoulder blades underneath us and prepare for three full body stretches.
Full body stretch may sound like we are pulling the body apart but, it is the exact opposite. Everything about YogAlign is to empower the body. Allow it to feel whole, and put together the pieces in a continuum.
- We begin lying on our backs, shoulder blades underneath us and down towards the floor.
- Place your hand in the small of your back and feel the space between your body and the floor. These are your natural curves or springs/ shock absorbers. That is what we like to call them in YogAlign.
- Next, reach your arms overhead, hip-distance apart (shoulders relaxed do not squeeze your head). Fingers spread, and palms facing each other.
- Point your toes away from you inhale through the diaphragm (SIP breath if you have learned it)
- Tighten the entire body like you are laughing so hard you cannot breathe. Fist hands and pull down like you are pulling ropes towards you, this will engage your core, and they exhale or lion breath with tongue out (ssshale if you learned it) and completely relax the body. (2 more)
Why do we do this full-body stretch? To reset the tension in the entire body by tightening what is already tense. That allows us to get more length in the resting muscle. We can now come up to standing (slowly do not get a head rush), have a drink of water, and begin our standing YogAlign practice with hopefully some confidence and a better understanding of our body and the method.
Starting something new with a negative outcome due to not knowing or continuing with something that may hurt or you do not understand is a disservice we have all made to ourselves at one time or another. Your yoga practice or self-study is that time to ask questions. Get to know why you are doing what you are doing. And better yourself and most of all feel good before, during, and after your class. After all, looking forward to your yoga class and feeling better when you walk out than before you arrived is the whole point of the practice. To this, I say YES!