Are You Equally Flexible as Strong?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I was sitting on one of my favorite beaches this past weekend. And after a heavy rainfall that had affected all of the Hawaiian Islands. And I could still feel the weight of the moisture in the air. I sat there looking at all of the picturesque surroundings that make this particular spot so beautiful. One, in particular, is a grand palm tree. But today it, looked very different to me. Most days the, palm tree stands tall and proud and depending on the season with our without coconuts. Today the long trunk was almost parallel to the ground and engorged with coconuts. My first thought was the picture of flexibility and strength right in front of my eyes. It got me thinking about teaching my next YogAlign class.

The next day when long-time YogAligners walked into class. I asked them the question would they consider themselves equally strong as flexible? They all kind of took a few moments to digest the question. One response was, “yes, I do feel equally strong as flexible since I have been practicing YogAlign.” Another student chooses one over the other and, some did not have any response. One student asked, do you mean by flexibility? I quickly responded, what I don’t mean is the image you get in your head of Stretch Armstrong being pulled completely apart (we all laughed). Flexibility is no laughing matter when it comes to yogis pulling themselves apart like Stretch Armstrong. I then began to elaborate on what my idea of flexibility is and in what context I was asking them in the above question. Flexibility to me is the ability to move through your everyday life in a pain – free flow. While you are walking your, arms, hips, and legs are propelling you forward with ease, being able to reach up and grab a glass out of the upper cupboards, maneuvering in and out of the car with ease, and bending down to pick something up from the floor gracefully. These are just a few examples of flexibility in everyday life. 

Flexibility – sports definition: the capacity of a joint or muscle to move through its full range of motion. Flexibility is specific to a particular movement or joints, and the degree of flexibility can vary around the body.

That same student ask what do you mean by strength? I responded with not Mrs. Olympia.  What strength means to me is? The ability to move from the center or (core) of your body in proper alignment. Allowing you the ability to pick up that bag of recyclables and get them to the redemption center, put the box of books in the car to take to the library, purchase the value size of detergent and pick up your toddler or grandbaby. Again just a few examples of strength in everyday life. 

Strength – sports definition : the ability to carry out work against a resistance. strength is the maximal force you can apply against a load.

It can be easy to take flexibility and strength for granted in our everyday lives when these physical attributes are in a good standing order. But when they are not our, daily lives can become limited in ways. As we become more mature in our, lives we have this image of frailty regarding flexibility and strength. If we maintain a consistent full range of physical activities well into our, years that alone will keep us independent, flexible, and full of power. For example, I have always considered myself flexible, maybe even too bendy in some regards. Before I was aware of flexibility becoming a liability (as Michaelle Edwards, creator of YogAlign puts it). I would pull my body apart in yoga postures. Well beyond its full range and overtime began feeling pain and discomfort in my regular yoga practice. Although, my life has never suffered due to a lack of strength. But, traditional yoga practice was not building my strength. Then I shifted to a committed YogAlign practice, and I have seen an improvement in my level of strength and flexibility. That happened because of the Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching technique practiced in YogAlign. PNF is a more advanced form of flexibility training. Involving both the stretching and contracting of the muscle group targeted. It is also excellent for targeting specific muscle groups, and as well as increasing flexibility, it also improves muscular strength. 

When wanting to improve physical appearances, I suggest taking the time to think about if those desires are realistic and beneficial for your entire well-being. Meaning, if you are looking to build your strength and or flexibility, not all yoga classes are created equally. I find that yoga classes that move a bit slower and with natural body alignment awareness, full diaphragm breathing, and attention to moving from the core are your best bet. Finding a teacher who knows how to move through the posture with stable ligaments and joints is high on the must-have list. And a knowledgeable teacher who instructs your body as a whole and not in pieces. (the pose needs to benefit the entire body). Attending a yoga class that is more than 10, students are going to lessen your chances of getting one on one attention for your specific needs. Sometimes very large regularly attended yoga classes appear to me as a choreographed production. Verses a yoga class where the instructor gets to know your body personally, knows what is comfortable and beneficial for your build, and can que you specifically for your needs. Remember, you matter in the yoga class of your choice. And this is your paid opportunity for self-study and teacher guidance that is proper and professional. Now go out and use your strength and flexibility for good!

Aloha

Do The Yoga Teachings Translate?

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!

Aloha

What Is The importance Of Breathing? Maybe Your Quality Of Life?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

What is the importance of breathing?

Every system of the body relies on oxygen – From cognitive to digestion, effective breathing cannot only provide you with a great sense of mental clarity, but it can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels.
Let’s sink a little deeper into what is the importance of breathing. And I would like to share the moments that provided the evidence that made the above statement true for me.

In the year,2010 I received a phone call from my uncle that my dad had been hospitalized and was unconscious and unstable. When admitting my dad, the doctors had no idea what was going on with him. Later that same day I, arrived to see him. He was still in what they now were calling a coma. At this point, a machine was breathing for him. Flash forward to days that turned into weeks of testing and near-death moments. The diagnosis was my dad had the West Nile Virus. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. About 1 in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system. Such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis 

An Inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. My dad ended up being 1 of those 150 people and his symptoms included;

  • high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, and over 60 years of age put him at a greater risk for complications and death.

After several months of lying in a hospital bed, paralyzed and having a machine breathe for him. He was stable enough to be moved to a rehabilitation facility. That marked the beginning of what the rest of his quality of life would be. To the naked eye, the scene appeared bleak when a machine was breathing for him.

A reminder – what is the importance of breathing? Every system of the body relies on oxygen – From cognitive to digestion, effective breathing cannot only provide you with a great sense of mental clarity, but it can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels. My dad struggled daily with all of this.

Fast forward – after many months of rehabilitation, my dad was finally able to breathe on his own. It felt like the first breath he took jump-started his body. With the tube out of his throat, he was able to eat and digest food. Giving him the sustenance and strength he needed. And with the ability to breathe on his own relieved a great deal of stress for him. Letting him get the healing rest/ sleep his body needed for recovery from this trauma. Every time I would come to visit him, his mental clarity was getting sharper. His ability to talk, laugh and, communicate was getting better. The best gift he received after literally getting his breath back was his immune system. When the machine was breathing for him, he constantly had pneumonia and was always coughing and fighting for breath like he was in a never-ending loop of despair. However, once his breath kicked on his immune system, his cough ended. And he never again got pneumonia in the rehabilitation facility. With his breath flowing freely through his body, the next step was getting him out of bed. And walking on his own again and over time, this too happened. I stood in front of my dad, cheering him on when he took his first steps. I thought my heart would burst with pride and joy for him. With the sweat on his brow and the racing beat of his heart, I knew the ability for him to breathe on his own was his turning point to a quality life. The moment that happened, all systems were ago. And he had everything he needed on his side to succeed with his breath.

My dad at home with his girlfriend.

After a year in rehabilitation, my dad was ready to go home to the quality of life he could be happy with. He started in a wheelchair, could not feed himself as his whole right arm was still paralyzed, and needed help with bed and bath. Over time with breath and movement, he walks on his own, has learned to do almost everything with his left arm/ hand, and gets out as much as he can. His left arm does remain paralyzed to this day, and he is unable to drive. He does get frustrated and down but, he is a beautiful human being with a heart of gold. Getting his breath his life force back gave him the ability to beat the odds.

Aloha

The Quality Of Your Health Is A Reflection Of Your Independence.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

in·de·pend·ent
/ˌindəˈpendənt/ adjective – not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.
“I wanted to remain independent in old age”
synonyms – self-sufficientself-supportingself-sustainable.
 
My experience with this has happened within this last year and got me looking around at folks moving through their daily lives.
 
I grew up in Southern California and spent every summer (June, July, and August) in Baja California. At my grandparent’s house on the beach until I was well out of high school. In both geographical locations, the weather was mostly sunny and warm and, I am a fan of warm and sunny. I spent most of my days wearing cut-off Levi shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. In other words, closed toes shoes, socks, pants, and jackets were far and few in my everyday life.
 
I do everything in my flip-flops (called slippers here on the Hawaiian islands). Not the best option for most of my outdoor projects. When I was thinking back to my 16 years living in Big Bear, I still spent a great deal of time in my flip-flops. I had a large yard/ garden in the mountains like here on the island. Consequently, digging, raking, weeding, etc. yes in my slippers. I have also done many hikes, walks and, dancing in my flip-flops. Side note ipanema slippers are my favorite.
Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (1)
 
Last June as my family and myself were preparing for our annual summer mainland – mountain road trip. My flip-flop existence took a turn for the worst. I was outside in the garden digging with a shovel pushing down on the metal piece with the arch of my foot and, I felt a stretch and pull of discomfort and, my heart dropped as I knew I had injured my foot. I hobbled into the house and began icing three to four times a day with a frozen bottle of water, lightly massaged the surrounding areas (directly rubbing a soft tissue injury may make it worse), and slept with my foot wrapped in an Ace bandage.
 

When arriving back on Kauai and to this very day, September 9, 2019, I continue to feel some pain in my foot. I have continued my normal daily activities at home (although I wear shoes and socks now while gardening). YogAlign, snorkeling, and continuing icing and wrapping have kept me comfortably active. In my humble opinion being sedentary after an injury is the wrong way to go – the body wants to heal and, circulation is necessary. I have purchased a new style of flip flops during the healing process OOFOS Recovery Footwear.

 
Inner Breath Yoga YogALign Kauai Hawaii
 
As I began looking around me one day while I was out running errands in my OOFOs feeling comfortable, confident, and mostly pain-free when I noticed how many folks were not stable on their feet. Young and old, small and large, black or white. It did not matter their health or lack of was hindering their independence. Canes, wheelchairs having to be pickup or dropped off from the car, and needing a partner’s arm for assistance was what I was seeing. Again these were not just mature folks (who can also stay very independent). That’s when it hit me the quality of your health is a direct reflection of your level of independence or lack thereof. I think most of us would agree it is hard enough to ask for help. Much less be reliant on somebody to get you around physically. I could not imagine my life without my physical independence.
 

What have I learned:

  • Directly – flip flops/slippers have a time and place. 
  • Staying physically active is a necessary component of independence. 
  • Moving in proper posture and alignment while performing tasks keeps you less likely to get an injury. 

When I teach SIP-ups in YogAlign class, students prepare their bodies by moving into proper alignment for optimal results. Injuries are less likely to happen when the body is in proper alignment. 

  • Students begin by lying on their backs with their knees bent toward the ceiling. 
  • Then they place a yoga block between the meaty part of the inner thighs. 
  • Their shoulder blades under them create and support the natural curves in their spine. Do not draw the belly button to the back body (flattening our natural spinal curves). 
  • They place hand over hand, palms facing up and supporting the Occipital Bone on the back of the head. 
  • When they lift the elbows, they raise them high enough to see their Peripheral vision turning on the arms. 
  • With a lion’s exhaling, they let out all their breath. 
  • Next, they look up at the ceiling, take in a full diaphragm SIP breath, squeeze the block between their knees, engage the core, and lift with the SIP inhale. (maintaining an open front line – no chin to chest). 
  • And S-hale like a snake before they come back down. 

I may see a student pulling from the neck with their hands or rounding the spine by pulling their chin to their chest. I would request they come out of the posture immediately. Why? Because they would be doing more harm than good to their body. We do not want to rob Peter to pay Paul. Again it is more important to practice a yoga posture correctly to receive the optimum benefits than doing more harm than good.

I wish us all to be proactive in maintaining our independence – you don’t know what you have until it is gone.

Aloha

Is Your Yoga Practice Sustainable?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

SUSTAINABLE | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary
https://dictionary.cambridge.org › dictionary › english › sustainable
sustainable meaning: 1. able to continue over a period of time: 2. causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.
We could exchange the word environment for the human body.By the above definition, the question could be re-worded to – Is your yoga practice causing little to no damage to your human body? Will you be able to continue this yoga practice for a long time? The answer for me is yes at this current time as my yoga practice is The Yoga Align Method – pain-free yoga from your inner core focuses on proper body alignment and real-life movement.
I have found whether we are young or mature in age. We all want to feel good and be happy in our mind, body, and spirit. In my teaching and personal experience, most of us can connect to the physical body by touching it, seeing it and, feeling it. Whereas; the mind takes time to connect with meditation and stillness. The spirit for some is altogether unattainable in the tangible sense. They cannot find the connection. So doing some physical movement seems like a place to find some joy and happiness.
For some yoga, practice means only physical movement (asana). For others, it is only meditation they seek. Actually, in this day and age yoga, can come in many forms. For this blog, let us stick with yoga practice in the physical sense.

When you are in your next yoga practice/ class, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Am I able to take a full deep breath in this posture?
  • Do my spine and sacrum maintain their curves and integrity?
  • Does this posture simulate functional movement? Am I comfortable and stable?

In my public YogAlign class, I have found that some folks do not and have not ever felt comfortable and stable in a forward lunge. A lunge is a lower-body exercise that works several muscle groups at once. The targeted muscles include the glutes, hips, and butt, in addition to the hamstrings and quadriceps in your thighs. The calf muscles in your lower legs, your abdominal muscles, and your back muscles act as stabilizers during this exercise. Not feeling stable in the forward lunge restricts deep breath, alignment, and therefore is not comfortable or supported. The solution, to place a yoga block under the back foot for a double-duty purpose. One, getting alignment from the foot to the hip. Two raises the heel to a comfortable level and creates the stability the student was lacking. Once they are in a stable lunge everything, else falls into place.

Inner Breath Yoga Yogalign kauai hawaii

I have also had students lunge with the assist of a prop. Stepping their right foot forward and placing their big toe close to the wall. (but not touching) Next stepping their left foot back on a block or lifting their heel once they feel stable. (foot in alignment with hip) I have them check to see if the back of their head (the Occipital bone) and the sacrum are in alignment. Next, when we are in alignment and stable, we sink into the front knee. Placing the pads of our fingers (fingers open to turn on the arm muscles) against the wall to upper chest height and start our SIP breath. (structurally Informed Posture- informs our body of how to be in good posture by aligning from the inside out). Allowing this core breath to stabilize the body and drawing the shoulder blades together creates even more stability. Once we are aligned, in a posture with effective breathing, balance, and, comfort we can reap all the benefits. The above described YogAlign Power Lunge is sustainable for the human body as it ticks all our boxes.

If we are moving through a yoga practice that is harming or damaging our body, what would be the point? Although sometimes this may happen and, we do not even realize it is happening. Be careful when an instructor cues a posture is meant to be painful and to breathe through the pain. That may be somewhat true for a person who has had a debilitating accident and is in recovery (physical therapy) But, even then, I would question the motive and benefits.

We can create a happy, healthy mind, body, and spirit well into a mature age by putting our body in breathable, aligned, functional, comfortable, and stable yoga postures. Now go out and use your sustainable body for good!

Aloha

How Does To Much Time sitting Damages Our Ocean’s Reefs? 

By Renee’ Fulkerson

You might be thinking, what does sitting in a chair haft to do with an ocean’s reefs? I would be thinking the same thing if I had not made the connection personally. Last time I was out in the ocean snorkeling.

A little back story:

Last year April 2018, Kauai received 50 inches of rain in 24 hours that devastated the island. The north shore communities of Wainiha and Haena were isolated from the rest of the island. Due to countless mudslides that covered the only two-lane road in or out of these communities. It took over a year to repair the road to a safety standard that would allow all non-Wainiha and Haena residents to re-enter the area.

YogAlign Inner Breath Yoga Kauai (18)

During this one year, the only folks allowed in and out of the while massive road repairs were taking place were the full-time residents. As a full-time resident living in Haena, I saw with my own eyes the land transform. The locals and I had an opportunity of a lifetime to spend time on the secluded and empty beaches. We began to see the fish returning, turtles nesting that had not been there since folks could remember. The reefs were coming alive again.

DCIM100GOPRO  DCIM100GOPRO

That happened to be the time when I began my regular snorkeling adventures! During this time, I continued teaching and practicing YogAlign – pain-free yoga from your inner core. I began to realize how my movements in the water reflected my postures in my practice. Breathing through the snorkel replicated the YogAlign SIP breath. And similar to YogAlign, the activity of snorkeling required full-body engagement and global body perception. The primary muscle groups needed to engage in snorkeling are the Hip flexors, hamstrings, upper and lower abdominal’s, quads, and gluteal muscles. A fair amount of flexibility in the ankle region and the ability to point the toes like a dancer is necessary (if you prefer to avoid leg and foot cramps). A strong core (abdominal, Oblique, and back muscles) helps to create a stable platform. And allows your legs to kick and balances your front and back leg strength.

Here is were the sitting in a chair comes in as none of the core muscle groups are engaged during sitting – it is quite the opposite. (the average American spends 7.7 hours a day sitting)
Take an average person who sits 7.7 hours a day in a chair put them out in the ocean snorkeling. Chances are they and the ocean reefs (fragile underwater ecosystem) are going to suffer.

Why? Because they would be expecting their bodies to perform in a way it was not capable. The primary muscle groups they need to fire when they are snorkeling have amnesia. Why? Because they are sitting in chairs all of the time. The flexibility in their ankles and the ability to point their toes would be limited. Due to the shortening and tightening of the front line while sitting. Their core would be void-creating, an unstable platform for their legs to kick. Thus, creating an imbalance between the back and front leg muscles.

How does all of this affect the ocean’s reefs?

On my last snorkeling adventure, I realized I had gained greater endurance, strength, and stamina (all supported by my regular YogAlign practice). When I looked all around me as far as my eyes could see, people were STANDING ON THE REEFS! Why? Because they were tired and or had leg/ foot cramps and difficulty breathing (and yes, I asked).

I swam up and said do you realize you are standing on a fragile underwater ecosystem that has had a year’s gift to repair itself from the endless years of damage it has received? Usually, the response was I was so tired I could not get back to shore or, I was having trouble breathing and got a leg cramp. lol

I encourage everyone to get out and get moving. However, not for the sake of our ocean reefs (fragile underwater ecosystems) or their safety. #getupstandupforyourlife

Aloha

Top 10 benefits of Snorkeling