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.

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.

Same Yoga Story Different Year.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Milestones

By Renee’ Fulkerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping Spree or Living Spree?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

YogAlign Shopping Spree Tips:

  • Breathe

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

  • Posture

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

  • Balance

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

  • Savasana (stillness)

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

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

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

Are You Equally Flexible as Strong?

BY Renee’ Fulkerson

I was sitting on one of my favorite beaches this past weekend 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. As I sat there I noticed all of the familiar picturesque surroundings that make this particular spot so beautiful. One in particular is a grand palm tree however, on this day 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 completely parallel to the ground and engorged with coconuts. My first thought was wow 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”. Others choose one over the other, some did not have any response and one student asked what 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 much 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 being able to move though your everyday life in a pain – free flow. While walking arms, hips and legs propelling you forward with ease, being able to reach up and gab a glass out of the upper cupboards, maneuvering in and out of the car easily 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 not Mrs. Olympia. Strength to me means moving from the center (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 grand baby. 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 good standing order. When they are not our everyday lives can become limited in certain ways. As we become more mature in life we have this image of frailty in regard to flexibility and strength. I believe if we maintain a consistent full range of physical activities well into the mature years that alone will keep us independant, flexible and strong. For example I have always considered myself flexible maybe even to flexible 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 certain yoga postures. Well beyond its full range and over time began feeling pain and discomfort in my regular yoga practice. As far as strength I would say my life has for the most part not be limited due to a lack of strength however, a regular yoga practice was not building my strength. Once I shifted to a regular YogAlign practice I have seen an improvement in my level of strength and beneficial flexibility. I would say this happened as a result of the Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching technique practiced in YogAlign.

PNF is a more advanced form of flexibility training, which involves both the stretching and contracting of the muscle group being 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 certain physical desires 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 and strong ligaments and joints is high on the must have list. A teacher who instructs to your body as a whole and not in pieces (the posture needs to benefit the entire body). Attending a yoga class that is more than 10 students is going to lessen your chances of getting one on one attention for your specific needs. Sometime 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 your yoga class of choice and this is your paid opportunity for self study and teacher guidance in a proper and professional manner.

Now go out and use your strength and flexibility for good!

YogAlign and Gaming – how can gamers best prevent injuries?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

When most folks think of injuries gaming is not the first activity that would come to mind.

Gaming is a very hot topic in today’s world and also in my household. The topic of gaming contains many layers of knowledge, judgment and opinions and yet little research has been done to determine the long term effects, if any; on our mind, body and spirit.

What is Gaming? Definition from Techopedia – Gaming refers to playing electronic games, whether through consoles, computers, mobile phones or another medium altogether. Gaming is a nuanced term that suggests regular gameplay, possibly as a hobby or competitive sport.

I myself, am like many other parents today navigating this new and very different world of online gaming. My biggest concern is poor posture however, equally important is eye strain, repetitive strain issues and lack of movement. I often remind my 16 year old son to find balance between gaming and physical activity with one being a regular YogAlign practice.

First of all let’s take a look at a typical gaming posture below:

61025718_2154854977883000_2534553101512212480_o

To the naked eye we can visually see the forward curving of the spine – backline of the body, shaping into a C formation. The shoulders are also rolled forward due to the way in this picture and with most gaming mouse are used in relation to the hand, wrist and arm position. The head, neck and chin are jutted forward as the eyes are pulling the head closer to the screen. Some of the things the naked eye may not be able to see is the tightening and clenching of the jaw and teeth (as the gaming becomes more intense or gamer becomes more irritated). As the spine – backline of the body curves forward into a C, the frontline of the body becomes collapsed. The chest, diaphragm and organs of the frontline are being squeezed making it difficult to take a full inhale and exhale (breathing becomes shallow).  While the gamer sits for long periods of time daily some muscle groups are becoming shorter and tighter making other muscle groups longer, stretched out and tired. The body is a continuum and can only be affected as a whole not in pieces as some might believe.

We are just scratching the surface here in regard to the intricacy of the human anatomy while sitting and it’s wear and tear on the body, when done on a regular basis for long periods of time.

I found that once I transitioned my yoga practice to YogAlign I learned and became more aware of the intracicies in regard to human anatomy, movement and function. Not only during my YogAlign practice, but in mine and my families everyday life (including my sons gaming posture and habits).

How can gamers best prevent injuries?

Let’s go back to the ergonomics – at a very basic level. “Ergonomics”, as defined by the International Ergonomics Association, is “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and over all system of performance”.

Ergonomics relating to gaming  explains how players interact with their hardwares and tools. Gaming products should be designed to support the natural posture of the body and the repetitive movements of the body that are necessary to operate them. Shoulder, wrist arm position, seating posture and playing style all come into effect when it comes to ergonomics in gaming. Self control, limiting the amount of time playing for pleasure or for competition daily and days weekly can be helpful in preventing injuries. Movement before, and after gaming is key especially movement that re-wires the brain from poor posture habits to proper posture habits.

Here are a few ergonomic gaming tools I have come across:

Logitech 

An ergonomic mouse that better fits the user’s hand when scrolling and clicking.

Gunnar Opticks

Safety glasses designed to eliminate eye strain and block a computer’s blue light.

Couch-master Cycon 

Helps players keep an ergonmic posture from their couch or bed by not having to rest their keyboard on their lap.

Whether  you sit in an office staring at a computer all day or sit gaming for hours we all need to get up and move. So, next time you sit for an extended period of time, check in with your body, breath and ask yourself:

  • How long has it been since I stood up, stretched and maybe walked around a bit?

Sitting all day is bad for your health – A University of Waterloo professor says his research shows that people should be standing for at least 30 minutes per hour to get health benefits.

  • Do my eyes feel strained and maybe even feel a slight head ache coming on

Extended computer use or inadequate or excessive lighting may cause eye strain.

  • When was the last time I had a drink of water or a healthy snack?

There are many different opinions on how much water you should be drinking every day. Health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals about 2 liters, or half a gallon. This is called the 8×8 rule and is very easy to remember.

  • Am I sitting closer to the edge of my chair to allow by spine to lengthen?

Sit up at the end of  your chair with your back straight and your shoulders blades down, all three natural back curves (cervical, lumbar and thoracic) should be present while sitting. (if possible get your hips above your knees).

  • Are my shoulder blades relaxed down my back or creeping up to my ears?

Tight shoulders can be caused by sitting for extended periods causing pain or stiffness in your neck, back and upper body.

  • Am I clenching my teeth and tightening my jaw?

Stress or anxiety can cause the muscles in the jaw to tighten. A person may clench their jaw or grind their teeth without even noticing it.

  • Am I able to take a full inhale an exhale from my diaphragm?

On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 a year.

Believe or Not, it takes more precious life force energy in our everyday lives and activities to have poor posture than it does to have proper posture.

My motto “sit up and cheer up, get up stand up – for your life”.

There are many similarities to look for and learn from in watching a yogi as well as an endurance athlete.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I just returned from attending the 2019 Ironman on Kona, Big Island, Hawaii and it was epic. The Ironman race is a multi-event sporting contest demanding stamina, in particular in a consecutive triathlon of swimming 2.4-mile (3.86km), cycling 112-mile (180.25km), and running a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20km).

I am familiar with this environment as before I became a  Hatha Yoga teacher I did many years of pre and post race massage at Norba Mountain Bike Race events in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. I have also attended many Xterra off road triathlons and trail running races as well as Tough Mudders.

I myself am not the competitive sports women type however, I enjoy attending these events and gain an incredible amount of knowledge about the human body, training and recovery. When I first arrive to a endurance sporting event like the above mention I feel as though my head might spin off while trying to observe all of this amazing human anatomy in real life. I observe these athletes while racing much like I approach my YogAlign classes there are many similarities to look for and learn from in watching a yogi as well as an endurance athlete.

First point I observe at an endurance race is at the starting line what does the athletes body language tell me? What is the expression on their face? At the take off does their body react with ease to the initial movement or is it clunky and out of sync? Much like I observe a new or longtime YogAlign student. At first glance do they look open and receptive or nervous and guarded, maybe tired from a long day at work or inspired and ready to rumble. When the new student or longtime student begins their YogAlign practice do they move with ease or do they appear to be stiff and sticky? Unlike the endurance athlete during a race I cannot shift anything for them to create favorable conditions however, in YogAlign class I can and will do just that. In keeping my YogAlign class size small and non competitive I can see what each student is doing as well as needing in order to create favorable conditions and results.

Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (9)
She is moving with ease, aligned and her feet are light and ready to go.

Second point I observe in regard to the endurance athlete and yogi or yogini is the transition between events/ postures. Has this transition been thought out and again is there an ease about it and are they showing any signs of pain/ fatigue in the physical body or facial expression? How is their breathing quality? I can tell the student or athlete is becoming fatigued, resistant, bored/ given up or is in discomfort when the gaze of their eyes begins to lower, chin starts tucking to chest (frontline collapsing), shoulders slump and or roll forward and feet/ legs look like heavy blocks pounding at the ground. Again I cannot support the endurance athlete but to only cheer them on and shout out keep going, keep breathing you got this however, the YogAlign student I will immediately attend to the issues in realigning the body posture, breath and hopefully the enthusiasum or bring them out of the posture all together if no positive benefit is being produced.

Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (8)
He is ready to transition to the run with his shoes already off.

Third point I observe and most important point is the halfway mark I ask myself by observing the athlete/ yogi are they doing more damage than good at this point? Meaning have they sustained and injury or woken up and old one that is creating a limp or undo pain, are they pushing beyond the bodies ability to sustain the pace/ posture and is it time to call it when more negative impacts are wreaking havoc (widespread destruction) on the body and a common recovery will not be enough. For the YogAlign student upon observation and possible communication with the student if I feel the negative is creeping in I ask the student to immediately stop or come out of a posture and possibly to not practice said posture at all. Example – if a YogAlign student is practicing full body recalibrator (supported splits) and I see, hear or feel they are in pain they need to come out immediately however, if they are feeling a small discomfort (2 on a scale 1-10) I can give them more yoga block support, que engage the core with breath and we will both know if the posture has been practice/ supported correctly with the benefits of the posture when the student comes out and up to standing (the discomfort will not linger). Yes, they may feel some sensation (created space or re-setting of the tension) in the groin, thigh or glutes but not pain. Remember you never get comfortable by being uncomfortable yoga is not supposed to hurt! As for the endurance athlete that is a personal judgement, personal trainer or a beloveds call to stop.

Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (19)
He has lost his stride foot steps close together (fatigue?) and facial expression (pain?)

Forth point and last point I observe (in regard to this blog) is about 15 minutes before the end of class or end of race. Now this is where body language and facial expression says it all bueno (good) or no bueno (no good). This point really encapsulates the first, second and third point however, I do understand an endurance athlete is going to drag themselves over the finish line when they are so close to the finishing (good, bad or ugly). lol  The YogAlign student however, will be ready for final resting posture savasana  or beaming with that feels so good face/ body, and does not want class to end by savoring space and time a little longer. I can personally relate to both the endurance athlete and the yogis desire for accomplishment and peace.

I consider it an honor to be sharing the last moments of a race or a YogAlign practice with an athlete or student as they have both equally committed their time and energy to this event/ class. I feel as though I also get to share in the joy, pride and gratitude they feel for themselves physically, emotionally and mentally after putting themselves out there and being vulnerable (some call that being brave).

If you are like me and enjoy anatomy in real life, being inspired and connecting  energetically on a heart level with others I highly recommend these type of events and yoga classes.  “once you stop learning, you start dying” -Albert Einstein

See you on the mat.

The struggle is real.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

What does the struggle is real mean?
The struggle is real:
A phrase used to emphasize that a particular situation (or life in general) is difficult. It is often used humorously and/or ironically when one is having difficulty doing something that should not be difficult or complaining about something that is not particularly problematic.

When we were children growing up we moved our bodies though life with great ease. There might have been times we felt awkward in our bodies as they were growing and changing but still felt an ease in our movements. As young children turning into young adults we probably did not give much thought to the way our bodies carried us in our day to day lives. With the exception of the way we danced or if our parents told us to stand up straight because we were slouching. Fast forward to becoming an adult/ middle aged and beyond and suddenly what was not difficult or even obvious to us is now right in our face and possibly affecting our daily lives.

Why does our body begin to react in ways we are maybe not used to when we become an adult/ middle aged and beyond? There are many factors to consider however, I would consider stress, responsibility, finances and relationships in early adulthood could surely draw your shoulders up to your ears from time to time as the bodies way of reacting to the stressors. A job being stationary sitting at a desk all day could also contribute to the body talking to you through aches and pains. Starting a family, marriage and simply setting up a household are all heavy transitions from a single carefree life. Not to say these changes are not wanted and don’t bring much joy however, on the flip side take up a great deal of time, attention and energy. So do we blame our aches and pains and movement struggles on getting married? To this I say no that would be silly.

What once was a non issue in regard to our youthful body movements and stamina comes down to re-wiring the motherboard or simply creating new movement habits.

What do I mean by this? Our brain is wired to make things happen without much or any thought for example when we get out of bed in the morning we do not think to ourselves I am going to hobble to the bathroom or I am going to hunch over with my shoulders drawn to my ears it just happens. Why? Because these are are current movement habits. When we were kids we just jumped out of bed, wiggled and squiggled are way to the start of the day because those were are movement habits at that moment. Some days maybe we even dread that first step out of bed because we know it is going to be a struggle for various reasons. The struggle is real – having difficulty doing something that should not be difficult or complaining about something that is not particularly problematic.

The good news is you can rewire the motherboard and create new movement habits that will leave your body feeling pliable, happy and healthy once again. In YogAlign we refer to these changes as getting your kid body back. We let go of the regular tendency or practice of drawing our shoulders to our ears by becoming conscious with new positive habits. Example every time you get in your car when you sit (driver or passenger) draw your shoulder blades down underneath you and then simply rest and gently press the back of your head into the headrest. Yes, at first it may feel awkward and every other minute you may need to remind yourself to just relax – shoulders blades underneath me  and back of the head gently pressed into the headrest. As this posture becomes more comfortable and familiar the rewiring will begin and this posture que and comfort will follow through to other opportunities for your shoulders to relax such as in your office chair.

In regard to YogAlign it is a practice that is pain free from your inner core utilizing the SIP Breath giving us the gift of lift. I see new students as well as some long time students struggle with push ups due to the lack of connection to the core and trying to lift the weight of the body simply with their arms and old and not useful habit. I then gently remind long time practicing students and sometimes myself to remember to use the SIP breath and core engagement to float their/ my pushup up. I also reassure new students once they utilize their core (powerhouse and not their shoulders) with the SIP Breath it will become a habit and so much easier. They will no longer be shaking in their arms and possibly causing an injury to their unstable arm/ shoulder joints and can relax their neck and shoulders by pulling shoulder blades down.

Of course we all know ageing, injury and ailments also plays a factor in our body talking back to us however, we must not get in the habit of blaming the above mentioned for all of our poor movement habits. After all we do not want our fondest memory of childhood to be that our back did not hurt.

Here’s to squashing the struggle by creating new effective and efficient movement habits on the mat and in daily life.

Do the teachings translate?

This is a question I not only 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 to understand what the teacher is asking of you is not only confusing but also frustrating. It takes courage and confidence to let an instructor of any sort know that you do not understand or to 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 is hurting 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 this 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?
  • is this posture causing 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 severe health concerns and needing a one on one session the above mentioned seems to sync beautifully. I also find YogAlign is a yoga practice that is experiential. Meaning I like to keep the verbal cues limited and relatable as we move through the practice. Thus allowing the student the experience as well as building the trust and confidence of the practice. In a short time my words, the posture and feeling that comes with it will all connect like an aha moment.

Starting with breath is a for sure way to change your perspective from the outside world and transition into your yoga practice. I find most folks breathing habits have them breathing through their 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 is simply to let your shoulders relax away from your ears and let your shoulder blades relax down your back as you draw them slightly together. This allows the chest/ frontline to open up and draw the breath deeper from the diaphragm also known as our primary breathing muscle a muscle that also needs to be exercised.

Then some self massage to not only allow 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 on your back, shoulder blades underneath you supporting your bodies natural curves. Start by bending your knees and placing a yoga block under your right foot and drawing your left ankle on top of your right knee. Next begin to press on each toe nail 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 foot as well as below the ankle on the inside of the left foot. Work your way up the left leg between the ankle and knee, around the knee cap and into the large muscles of the upper left leg not forgetting the entire inner thigh. Interesting thoughts about the inner thigh I find many folks to contract and hold their inner thigh muscles much like the above mentioned neck and shoulder muscles (tight and short) which after long periods of time is exhausting to the muscle and to the body. 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) if so point toe more and make circles larger or smaller or stop altogether. Let your hips move as well as your right knee – your not glued to the floor. You will then hook that left leg over the right knee and roll onto your right side. 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 and grab another yoga block to support your head as you are on your side. Important habit changer here do not bring the left bent knee in to close to your stomach and do not 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, inhibits the ability for full diaphragm breathing and does not support the bodies natural curves. From here the body is relaxed and then begin by massaging your behind (gluteal muscles), outside of leg (IT band), hip (iliac crest), up your side into the chest (pecs), arm pit (arm flexors), side of the neck (levator scapulae), the ear lobe and the side of the head. Massage all the way back down the sideline all the while thinking and feeling the body as a continuum not as separate pieces. As a student moves through this massage sequence I can name some of the muscles etc. while the students 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 it’s a win win. Then we repeat 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 however, it is the exact opposite. Everything about YogAlign is to empower the body, allow it to feel whole and put together versus in pieces. We begin lying on our backs, shoulder blades underneath us and down towards the floor now see if you can 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 as 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) now tighten the entire body like you are laughing so hard you cannot breath. Fist your hands and pull down like you are pulling ropes towards you this will engage your core and them 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 body, make tighter what is already tight in the body and then let it all go – resetting the resting length of the muscles. 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 better understanding of our body and the practice.

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 dis-service we have all made to ourselves at one time or another. Your personal yoga practice or self study is that time to ask questions, know why you are doing what you are doing to 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 of class then before you arrived is the whole point of the practice isn’t it? To this I say YES!

See you on the mat.