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.

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!

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.

The quality of your health is a direct reflection of your level of independence.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

in·de·pend·ent
/ˌindəˈpendənt/
adjective – not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.
“I wanted to remain independent in old age”
synonyms – self-sufficientself-supportingself-sustainable.
My experience with this above mentioned topic has happened within this last year and as always got me looking around at folks moving through their daily lives.
I grew up in Southern California and spent every summer (which then was June, July and August) in Baja California at my grandparents house on the beach until I was well out of high school.
In both geographical locations the weather was mostly sunny and warm which I am a huge fan of and I spent most of my days wearing cut off Levi shorts, tank tops and flip flops. In other words closed toes shoes, socks, pants and jackets were far and few in my everyday life.
I do everything in my flip flops (called slippers here on the Hawaiian islands) probably not the best option for most of my outdoor projects. While thinking back to my 16 years living in a mountain community (including snow) I still spent a great deal of time in my flip flops. I had a large yard/ garden in the mountains as well as here on the island consequently digging, raking, weeding etc. yes in my slippers. I have also done many hikes, walks and dancing in my flip flops as a side not ipanema slippers are my favorite.
Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (1)
This last June as my family and myself were preparing for our annual summer mainland mountain road trip my flip flop existence took a turn for the worst. As I was outside in the garden digging with a shovel pushing down on the metal piece with the the arch of my foot I felt a stretch and pull of discomfort and my heart dropped as I knew I had injured my foot.
I hobbled into the house and began icing three to four times a day with a frozen bottle of water, lightly massaged the surrounding areas (directly massaging soft tissue injury may make it worse) and slept with my foot wrapped in an Ace bandage.
Once on the mainland I continued feeling the discomfort and the lack of stability in my foot however road tripping and camping left me little time to continue my therapy routine. As the road trip progressed I wore shoes and socks much of the time as well as my slippers I was frustrated to say the least. I was not as agile, comfortable or confident in my daily ventures and had to opt out of hiking back to camp for a boat ride back to camp – Boo Hiss Growl
Upon arriving back on Kauai and to this very day September 09/2019 I continue to feel some pain in my foot. I have continued my normal daily activities at home (although I wear shoes and socks now while gardening). YogAlign, snorkeling and continuing icing and wrapping has kept me comfortably active. In my humble opinion being sedentary after and injury is the wrong way to go – the body wants to heal and circulation is key. I have purchased a new style of flip flops during healing process OOFOS Recovery Footwear.
Inner Breath Yoga YogALign Kauai Hawaii
As I began looking around me one day while I was out running errands in my OOFOs feeling comfortable, confident a mostly pain-free when I noticed how many folks were not stable on their feet. Young and old, small and large, black or white it did not matter their health or lack of was hindering their independence. Canes, wheel chairs having to be pickup or dropped off from the car and needing a partners arm for assistance was what I was seeing. Again these were not just mature folks (which by the way can also stay very independent).
That is when it hit me The quality of your health is a direct reflection of your level of independence or lack thereof. I think most of us would agree it is hard enough to ask for help much less be reliant on somebody to get you around physically. I could not imagine my life without my physical independence.
What have I learned:
Directly – flip flops / slippers have a time and place. lol
Staying physically active is a key component to independence but not only that being in proper posture and alignment while preforming that action keeps you less likely to get an injury. What I mean by that is when I am teaching a YogAlign class and we are doing the YogAlign SIP ups (properly aligned sit ups) with SIP breath (structurally Informed Posture- informs our body of how to be in good posture by aligning from the inside out)  before students begin movement we prepare are body for optimal results and less negative impacts to the body.
Students begin by lying on their backs, knees bent toward the ceiling/ with a yoga block placed between the meaty part of the inner thighs, shoulder blades under them to create and support the natural curves in the spine (no belly button toward the back body flattening out our natural spinal curves aka springs) hand over hand palm facing up supporting the Occipital Bone on the back of the head, drawing elbows up enough to see from their Peripheral vision thus turning on the arms and with a lion’s exhale let out all their breath. Next we look up at the ceiling take in a full diaphragm SIP breath, squeeze the block between out knees, engaging the core an lifting from the core (maintaining an open front line – no chin to chest) and coming down with the S-hale like a snake. If during that practice I see a student pulling from the neck with their hands or rounding the spine by pulling the chin to the chest I request they come out of the posture immediately as they are doing more harm then good to their body. We do not want to rob Peter to pay Paul. Again it is more important to practice a yoga posture correctly to receive the optimum benefits than doing more harm then good.
I wish us all to be proactive in maintaining our personal independence – you don’t know what you have until it is gone.
See you on the mat.

Is your yoga practice sustainable? If we are moving through a yoga practice that is harming or damaging our human body what would be the point?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

SUSTAINABLE | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary
https://dictionary.cambridge.org › dictionary › english › sustainable
sustainable meaning: 1. able to continue over a period of time: 2. causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.
We could exchange the word environment for human body.  By the above definition the question could be re-worded to – Is your yoga practice causing little to no damage to your human body? Will you be able to continue this yoga practice for along time?
The answer for me is yes at this current time as my yoga practice is The Yoga Align Method – pain-free yoga from your inner core focuses on proper body alignment and real life movement.
I have found whether young or mature of age we all want to feel good and be happy in our mind, body and spirit.
In my teaching and personal experience most of use can connect to the physical body easily we can touch it, see it and feel it. Where as the mind takes time to connect with with in regard to meditation and stillness. The spirit for some is altogether unattainable in the tangible sense and they cannot find the connection. So doing some physical movement seems like a rational place to find some joy and happiness.
For some yoga practice means only physical movement (asana) for others it is only meditation they seek and actually in this day and age yoga can come in many forms. For this blog lets stick with yoga practice in the physical sense.
When you are in your next yoga practice/ class ask your self some important questions:
  • Am I able to take a full deep breath in this posture?
  • Does my spine and sacrum maintain their curves and integrity?
  • Does this posture simulate functional movement, am I comfortable and stable?

We have been exploring in my public YogAlign practice that some folks do not and have not ever felt comfortable and stable in a forward lunge. A lunge is a lower-body exercise that works several muscle groups at once. The targeted muscles include the glutes in your hips and butt along with the hamstrings and quadriceps in your thighs. The calf muscles in your lower legs, your abdominal muscles and your back muscles act as stabilizers during this exercise.

Not feeling stable in the forward lunge restricts deep breath, alignment and there for is not comfortable or stable. The solution is simple we have placed a yoga block under the back foot which has a double duty purpose. One it allows the student to get alignment from the foot to the hip, raises the heel to a comfortable level and creates the stability the student was lacking and once they are in a stable lunge everything else falls into place.

Inner Breath Yoga Yogalign kauai hawaii

I have also had students lunge with the assist of the wall. Placing their right foot forward big toe close to the wall be not touching, left foot back on a block or heel lifted once they feel stable (foot in alignment with hip) I have them check to see if the back of the head the Occipital bone and the sacrum are in alignment creating even more stability and bonus proper alignment. Next when alignment and stability are solid we sink into the front knee and place the pads of our fingers (fingers open to turn on the arm muscles) against the wall upper chest height and start our SIP breath (structurally Informed Posture- informs our body of how to be in good posture by aligning from the inside out). Allowing this core breath to stabilize the body along with drawing the shoulder blades together creating even more stability.

When properly aligned in a posture with effective breathing and feeling stable and comfortable then and only then will we reap all the benefits the posture has to offer. I would say the above described YogAlign Power Lunge is sustainable for the human body as it ticks all our boxes.

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

We can create a happy healthy mind, body and spirit well into a mature age by putting our body in breathable, aligned, functional, comfortable and stable yoga postures.

Now go out and use your sustainable body for good!

See you on the mat.

YogAlign or Swimming?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

To the question above my answer would be yes and yes.

Swimming like YogAlign engages the entire body throughout the entire movement this was the perfect solution to our required body movement regime.

Many of you already know my son Joaquin age 15 has been diagnosed with Pectus Excavatum, Scoliosis and Scheuermann’s Disease.

Refer to blog post https://innerbreathyoga.com/2019/05/21/our-journey-so-far/

Quick recap – I started Joaquin on a regular YogAlign practice schedule of three to four times a week starting in January 2019 shortly after his diagnosis.

This was a one on one program, one to two hours per practice with YogAlign teacher Renee’ Fulkerson AKA mom. Needless to say we had a few challenging moments to say the least until we found our rhythm. Joaquin is dedicated he knows YogAlign will be a part of his life for the rest of his life.

After roughly a few months Joaquin began attending my regularly scheduled public YogAlign Classes with a bit of hesitation of course. Then as teens/ mothers and sons start the debate on comprise we started a new dialog on body movement (exercise).

Swimming  Joaquin requested he be able to have the option of practicing YogAlign half the time and swimming the other. Swimming like YogAlign engages the entire body throughout the entire movement it was the perfect solution to our required body movement regime.

Now we are not only seeing amazing postural shifts from the regular YogAlign practice but also from the regular for us Ocean swimming and hey if your going to swim why not swim with the turtles?

YogAlign Inner Breath Yoga Island Kauai Hawaii (1)

My ConclusionPectus Excavatum, Scoliosis and Scheuermann’s Disease. have many symptoms that can benefit from a regular YogAlign practice and a good swim a few times a week.

See you on the mat.

Definition of swim: propel the body through water by using the limbs.

 Health Benefits of Swimming (web MD)

Intensity Level: Medium
You’ll use your lower and upper body muscles for a steady workout. You can make your swim harder by going faster or longer.

Areas It Targets
Core: Yes. Swimming gives your entire body a great workout, including your core.

Arms: Yes. You’ll need your arms for most swim strokes, so expect them to get a workout.

Legs: Yes. You’ll use your legs to propel yourself through the water.

Glutes: Yes. Swimming uses your glutes.

Back: Yes. Your back muscles will get a workout, whether you’re doing the backstroke or a water-based exercise class.

Type
Flexibility: Yes. Swimming will make you more flexible.

Aerobic: Yes. Your heart will keep pumping as you use your entire body to move through the water.

Strength: Yes. You’ll get stronger from the resistance of the water, which is about 12 times the level of air resistance. Try using hand-held paddles, foam noodles, or a kickboard for extra resistance.

Low-Impact: Yes. Swimming is an excellent low-impact workout. The water gives you buoyancy, so you’ll float through your exercise session without putting pressure on your joints.

A Quick Lesson from Real Life Movement.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I added these pictures for two reasons:

A.  because these animals are beautiful beings we where blessed to have come across on our recent road trip.

B.  because these animals bodies are in perfect balance and alignment.

  • the animals move with grace
  • they remain strong and agile with just the natural movements of their everyday life
  • they move they bodies with efficiency and effectiveness not slouching or slumping

If we where to see any one of these animals slouching, limping or out of alignment we would immediately become concerned for their health however, as humans we see ourselves and others living with all kinds of body miss-alignment that just becomes the norm.

YogAlign Inner Breath Yoga Kauai Hawaii Island

Which brings me to my conclusion I suppose we would not last very long out in the wild being out of balance and alignment. Unable to hunt for our food or take care of our young – food for thought.

See you on the mat.