Joint Stability And Mobility.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

One easy way to keep your joints healthy, pain-free and what YogAlign is all about is good posture. Standing and sitting with proper posture protects our joints from head to toe.

Recently teaching the Whole Body Recalibrator/ Hanumanasana, Monkey Pose, splits. A long-time student voiced she was not comfortable in the posture. Which I could appreciate, given she had been having some hip discomfort. We always use yoga block support during this posture. And also move through the preparatory sequence building up to the Whole Body Recalibrator. I would not consider her hypermobile. And she has practiced this posture with me so many times I could not count. But on this day, it just was not working for her. She usually has two yoga block configurations for support. I recommended we add another yoga block to make three. And for her to engage her inner thighs to fire her gluteal muscles and start her SIP breath to engage her core. That gave her the lift she needed rather than hanging in her hip and lumbar spine joints. She was more comfortable physically and able to reap the benefits of the posture. The tuning, toning, and balancing from the inside out. However, her ego took a hit. She replied with frustration that she felt she was moving backward in her practice.

Joint stability and mobility are topics that come up in almost every YogAlign class I teach. On that day, I had to remind her to practice posture and proper alignment and not just a pose. The definition of a pose is to assume a particular attitude or position to be photographed, painted, or drawn. Stable Joints give you the ability to remain or promptly return to proper alignment through a balance of forces. Joints that provide stability are your elbows, feet, knees, and lumbar spine. Mobile Joints give you the range of unrestricted movement around a joint. These include the ankle, hip, and thoracic spine. And then there is hypermobility. Meaning some or all of a person’s joints move way beyond the normal range of movement. And could put them at risk of injury during stretching and bending. If their bodies don’t have enough strength to stabilize their muscles as they stretch and bend. We must be equally strong as flexible. And be mindful of our end range when practicing postures like Hanumanasana/ Whole Body Recalibrator. Remaining active with muscle engagement allows us to reap the benefits of this posture.

By the way, most anyone can practice Whole Body Recalibrator with proper support. I find for me when I have sat too long (blogging) this, is my go-to pose. Tuning, toning, and balancing me from the inside out!

Aloha

Hang In There – Living Or Not Living With Back Pain?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha

Sitting Too Much? How To Restore Balance Back Into Your Body.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

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

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

My gal pals.

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

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

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

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

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

Creating length in the IT Band

What are some solutions?

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

Creating length in the It band

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

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

Aloha

Living Long and Dying Short Or Living Short and Dying Long?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting started:

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

Aloha

Loneliness And Movement Solutions.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

The solution?

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

The Solution? Sometimes you haft to get creative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing with my pal Max.

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

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

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

Aloha


The Lanai Cat Sanctuary Might Be The Fountain Of Youth.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I 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 wanted to do for some time. 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 I was taken, with the beautiful property and all the 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 guest’s faces lighting up once they were inside. You do not need to be a cat lover to appreciate the endless hours and kindness it takes to care for over 600 cats. Now onto my incredible findings, thinking back and observing the photographs I had taken.

The Lanai Cat Sanctuary might be the fountain of youth. When I walked in the main entrance, a mature couple was bouncing from cat to cat. Gracefully, bending over easily feeding the cats treats. As the gentleman was bending 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 stable, balance, and pliable all at the same time. I thought this experience is bringing out the best in this couple in terms of their physical prowess. I became even more excited when I saw how he engaged his entire leg muscle instead of this low back to continue to bend and feed all the cats. If he had any physical limits he certainly did not show it during his adventure on that day!

I continued exploring the grounds when I happened upon CB. One, of I believe, ten full-time caretakers. He was moving about quite freely amongst the cats and visitors. I had a moment to sit and speak with him. 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. His face looked heavy when he talked about the life he was leaving. When he spoke about being at the sanctuary full time, he lit up like a child on Christmas morning. As he continued his daily work, he had a spring in his step, bending, twisting, and even getting down on the ground with the cats. He was moving with ease and purpose in a child-like body. I could not help 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. I noticed a large-sized van pulling in with a full load of visitors. 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. They entered the gate and, 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 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 fascinated with the way folks were using their bodies down on the grass and while standing, walking, and bending. Again I thought if any of these folks have physical limits, they were not visible to me. Not even a moan or groan on the way down or on the way up only, 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. But if not, I believe they found and experienced some of the fountains of youth that day. Even the gentlemen with the cane rejoined his group and got into the van with a bit more ease. I learn a lot about body mechanics by being aware of my own body and how it moves and observing others. Usually, you can tell when someone has an injury or something is hurting them. Just looking at the way they walk or lack of movement is a sure sign of possible limitations. I see many 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!

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 yoga practice and yoga in general. I consider my yoga practice alive and connected it, can change from day to day regarding what is going on in my life. Every day is a different day full of various challenges, victories, and levels of flow. Yes, in general, I practice YogAlign postures in every practice but, I may add or take away poses depending on what I have going on that day. When I teach a YogAlign class, I teach to the student’s needs. And that may vary from day to today.

Does this mean that you cannot have milestones in yoga? Even if you do not practice the same set of postures every time? I guess this would depend on how you interpret your development with your yoga practice. One way I can see a difference is through sustainability in my everyday life. Noticing I can walk/ hike longer without my feet or back aching and needing a week’s recovery. I can keep up with housework, yard work, and my 16-year-old son without exhaustion. Participate in all the physical activities I enjoy in a comfortable, strong, and stable manner. When I see that I am performing beyond my previous physical abilities during and after a long trek, I consider this a YogAlign milestone. Another way I can result is when I have a YogAlign Aha moment. That could be finally feeling that core connection engagement during a posture that I had practiced many times. Building from that Aha moment allows me to dive a bit deeper into my practice enhancing the benefits.

As for my students, I see them transform, develop and become more sustainable regularly. One student enjoys golfing and wants to be more powerful and in proper form while playing to avoid injury and enjoy her activity. Another student has had full-back surgery, cares about her bone density, and enjoys walking daily with a proper stride and no aches and pains. And lastly, a student before she began her regular YogAlign practice who was in pain. She would schedule a chiropractic adjustment on a weekly/ monthly basis. And, she has recently been suffering from mild headaches. She is now at a place where Chiropractic visits are far and few (YogAlign milestone) and is getting the headache relief she desires through her YogAlign practice.

My students and I share the desire to see these milestones in real-life. Some may want to track their development by practicing to achieve a headstand 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 one’s meditation practice. Sitting quietly for any length of time can be challenging while clearing our minds and experiencing pleasure when doing so. I see it happen all the time in savasana/ resting pose a fidgeter becomes still and peaceful. Building from that milestone, they can dive deeper into the practice and enjoy the effects. Yoga milestones are like a gift you receive without expectation. You keep showing up and participating in the practice and, then some unexpected goodness comes your way. The tangible results of the 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 also 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. Gained another level of insight that can allow for a more meaningful yoga practice. To all of this, I say cheers to this year’s unexpected goodness.

Aloha

There are similarities to look for and learn from in watching a yogi and 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. Before I was 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 and, Tough Mudders. I am not the competitive sports women type how but, I enjoy attending these events and gain an incredible amount of knowledge about the human body, training, and recovery. When I first arrive at an endurance sporting event. I feel as though my head might spin off while trying to observe all of this human anatomy in real life. I study these athletes while racing like I approach my YogAlign classes. There are many similarities to look for and learn from in watching a yogi and an endurance athlete.

  • The first point – I observe at an endurance race at the starting line what does the athlete’s body language tell me? What is the expression on their face? At the start of the race, I see if their body reacts 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, sight, 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 a new student or longtime student begins their YogAlign practice, I notice. Are they moving with ease? or do they appear to be stiff and sticky? Unlike the endurance athlete during a race, I cannot shift anything to create favorable conditions for them. But, in a 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 and needing 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.

  • The second point I observe regarding the endurance athlete and yogi or yogini is the transition between events/ postures. Has this transition been thought out? Is there 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 when the student or athlete is becoming fatigued. Resistant, bored/ given up, or experiencing discomfort when the gaze of their eyes begins to lower. Their Chin starts tucking to the chest (frontline collapsing), shoulders slump, and or roll forward and, feet/ legs look like heavy blocks pounding at the ground. I cannot support the endurance athlete but only cheer them on and shout out, keep going. Keep breathing! You got this! But a YogAlign student, I will immediately attend to realigning the body posture, breath, and hopefully the enthusiasm or bring them out of the posture altogether. If I can see no positive benefits are happening.

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

  • The third point I observe and know the crucial part is the halfway mark. When seeing the athlete/ yogi, I ask myself are they doing more damage than good at this point? Meaning have they sustained an injury or woke up an old one? That is creating a limp or undo pain. Are they pushing beyond the body’s ability to keep their pace or posture? And when is it time to call it? When more negative impacts are wreaking havoc (widespread destruction) on the body and quick recovery will not be enough. For the YogAlign student with observation and possible communication with the student. If I feel the negative is creeping in. I ask the student to stop or come out of a posture. And possibly to not practice said posture at all. For example – if a YogAlign student is practicing full-body recalibration (supported splits,) and I see, hear or feel they are in any pain. They need to come out immediately, but if they are feeling a small discomfort (2 on a scale of 1-10). I can give them a yoga block for more support que engage the core with the SIP breath. And we will both know if the posture has been practice/ supported correctly. Then 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! When regarding an endurance athlete, that’s their judgment, personal trainer, or a beloved’s 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 (regarding this blog) are about 15 minutes before the end of class or the end of the race. That is when the body language and facial expression say it is good or not. This point encapsulates the first, second, and third points. But I do understand an endurance athlete is going to drag themselves over the finish line. When they’re so close to finishing the race? The YogAlign student will be ready for the final resting posture and relaxation in savasana. Or beaming with that feels good face/ body and does not want the class to end by savoring space and time a little longer. I can personally relate to both the endurance athlete and the yogi’s 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).

Are 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 types of events and yoga classes. “once you stop learning, you start dying” -Albert Einstein.

Aloha

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 ironically when one has 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 through life with great ease. There might have been times we felt awkward in our bodies as they were growing and changing but still felt at ease in our movements. As young children turning into young adults, we probably did not give much thought, why our bodies carried us in our day to day lives. Except for 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. Suddenly what did not seem difficult or even insight 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. But, I would think stress, responsibility, finances, and relationships in early adulthood could surely draw your shoulders up to your ears from time to time as the body’s 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, setting up a household are all heavy transitions from single carefree life. Not to say, changes are not wanted and don’t bring much joy. But 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? No, that would be silly. What once was a non-issue regarding our youthful body movements and stamina comes down to rewiring the motherboard creating new movement habits.

What do I mean by this? The wiring of our human brain makes movements happen without much or any thought. For example, when we get out of bed in the morning, we do not think 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 current movement habits. When we were kids, we just jumped out of bed, wiggled, and squiggled our way to the start of the day because those were our movement habits at that moment. Some days maybe we even dread that first step out of bed because we know it may be a challenge 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’s body back. We let go of the regular tendency or practice of drawing our shoulders to our ears by becoming conscious of new positive habits. For example, every time you get into your car (driver or passenger), draw your shoulder blades down underneath you and then rest and gently press the back of your head into the headrest. Yes, it may feel awkward and, every other minute you, may need to remind yourself to relax – shoulders blades underneath me and back of the head gently pressed into the headrest. As this posture becomes more comfortable and the rewiring will begin and, this posture que and comfort will follow through to other opportunities for your shoulders to relax like in your office chair.

YogAlign is a practice that is pain-free from your inner core. And using the SIP Breath, giving us the gift of lift. I see new students and some long-time students struggle with push-ups. Why? Because they lack a connection to their core. By trying to lift the weight of the body with their arms and old, 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 push-up 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 aging, injury and ailments also play a factor in our body talking back to us. But, 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. And creating new effective and efficient movement habits on the mat and in daily life.

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