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

You Are Safe, You Are Loved, And You Are Not Alone.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

You are safe, loved, and you are not alone”, is a mantra I have been practicing more frequently these days. It helps to have a gentle reminder of these positive and powerful words when I need self-soothing.

Fear: is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something, is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.

Loneliness: is a state of mind that can cause people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted.

Above is just one of many definitions of fear and loneliness I have come across and have felt myself. Not to mention there are so many different circumstances and situations where fear can arise in our day to day lives. What intrigues me the most are the feelings or ideas of fear. It is not only the mental effects but also the physical effects on the human body.

Some of the physical characteristics I have observed and experienced myself have been:

  • Tension in my muscles in the form of drawing my shoulders to my ears
  • Shortness of breath inhales and exhales become very rapid along with increased heart rate
  • Stomach ache and or poor digestion due to pulling the belly in creating a collapse in the frontline
  • Withdrawal and uninterest in activities or life, in general, leading to possible depression and anxiety
  • Sleepless nights leading to exhaustion that exacerbates the fear into a fight or flight bodily response

The list could go on and on as there are so many short term and long term possible effects on the physical body during trying times of fear and uncertainty.

I have found great relief when keeping with my routine regarding my YogAlign practice. I use the term regular loosely as we all know some days are easier than others. And some days I complete two hours and other days maybe an hour. The benefits outway the negative effects on my body being in the fight or flight mode for extended periods.

Loneliness is more of a state of mind rather than an emotion. Meaning your state of mind is your mood or mental state at a particular time. Example: when waking up you already feel off and then the rest of the day does not seem to go so well. Mostly due to the fact you woke up on what some call the wrong side of the bed. And then there is the snowball effect. Your state of mind or mood starts a bit unsettled. After creating several more stories in your head, you are feeling empty, alone, and unwanted.

The good news is we can change our mood and our thoughts – what a relief!

How can YogAlign support us physically and mentally through fearful and uncertain times?

Resetting the tension in our bodies while practicing YogAlign postures, breathwork, and self-massage brings our bodies and breath back into alignment. When we are aligned with the spine in the body’s natural curves, the body connects naturally as a continuum and, we begin to feel relaxed, balanced, secure, and peaceful. Creating the space to obtain and maintain a comfortable, and natural state of being (safe, loved and not alone).

I would love to offer some of my self soothing yoga techniques:

1. The YogAlign Full Body Stretch – ly on your back, arms stretched out overhead (keeping shoulders down), fingers spread and palms facing in towards one another. Allow your spine to arch creating space in the small of your back, lengthen legs and point those toes away from you. Now make the letter O with your lips and inhale like you are sipping through a straw (feel the ribcage expand). At the top of the SIP, breath tighten your entire body, fist your hands, and tighten your glutes. It is not so much your pulling yourself apart as pulling yourself inward tight, tight, tight. Now exhale (feel the ribcage contract) sighing with your tongue out (a.k.a lion’s breath) completely let your body go limp. Resetting the tension in the body, creating length in the front and back lines of the body. (repeat two more times)

2. Spine rolling on a small ball (75% inflated) – lying begin by placing the ball in the curve of your neck and slowly turning your head side to side sink into the ball. Work the ball down and around the shoulder blades and continue down the spine. Keep your knees bent (keeping pressure off the low back) as you move through the natural curves of the body. Lastly moving the ball into the arch of your back and sacrum. Be slow and gentle if you are a first-timer or have suffered an injury. Continue wiggling and squiggly up and down the spine with full inhales and exhales. You can also raise the arms gently overhead if that feels good. Either way, let yourself fall heavy on the ball and completely let go. Please do not overdo it 5 to 10 minutes total is perfect.

3. The two-block chest opener and neck elongator – start by sitting up and then set one yoga block on its lowest side (sideways) ultimately to be placed between the bottom of the shoulder blades. For women right around where your bra hooks sit but, everyone is a bit different and you will need to play around a bit till you find the most comfortable spot. Next, place the second yoga block upright at the highest point supporting the back of your head. Once the yoga blocks are in place lay back and adjust accordingly to find that sweet spot. Again, knees are bent to take any pressure off your lower back and support your body’s natural curves. Breathe, and you can also slowly rock your head side to side. Do not tuck your chin to your chest, as you will not be able to get full inhales and exhales. You should be feeling an openness, release, and a feeling of relaxation in the entire body. Let’s create even more space in the neck and shoulders by dropping the yoga block supporting your head on its side. It may feel awkward at first if your neck and shoulders are locked up (take your time). To come out easiest way is to roll onto one side or the other and remove blocks. Allow yourself a moment to lie flat on your back and feel the effects.

While moving through any or all of these offerings above make sure you can inhale and exhale effectively. If you are not breathing effectively come out or adjust your posture. Silently or out loud, repeat “I am safe, loved, and I am not alone”. Combining powerful words full inhales/exhales, and postures that create spaciousness in the body is a beautiful blend. Allowing us to come back into balance, peace, and love.

I hope you find something useful in my offerings and you and your beloveds stay happy and healthy.

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

Same Yoga Story Different Year.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I 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 resolutions. I find the patterns always seem to remain the same regarding 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 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 believe it all comes down to we all want to feel good and be happy. That is why my yoga story will remain the same as we enter into this new year. And you might be thinking that sounds uneventful regarding the possibilities of a New Year’s resolution or maybe even boring? I agree but, YogAlign is a yoga practice based on health sustainability and supporting me in the possibility of new physical endeavors. And I will continue to practice a method of Yoga that supports real-life movements. It keeps me unconsciously setting new goals and smashing them. And with aging, I find 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 at the neck-breaking speed, the world is currently moving in. Change is good and inevitable. And yet, I find it ironic by keeping my yoga story the same allows me to keep up and sometimes ahead of the game. I like you also 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 too.

Happy New Year 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 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

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

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

By Renee’ Fulkerson

What is the importance of breathing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dad at home with his girlfriend.

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

Aloha

Advice from a Doctor/ Advice from a Yoga Teacher?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

In my opinion, I feel there is value in having both, and I find in many ways their advice can and does go hand and hand. I thankfully have not had many reasons to visit the doctor except for mainly routine visits but, I know that is not always the case for everybody. There are also those times when we should go to the doctor but never do. That goes for yoga practice as well.

I have found all of my physical conditions so far that my YogAlign practice has cured all that ails me. My YogAlign practice has had a domino effect on me. When I feel good physically, I feel good mentally and, I have a positive outlook on life. When I feel happy, I then naturally look at my food choices and daily habits. And lean towards what is best for me. Isn’t that usually what the doctor/yoga teacher would suggest and hope for

As many of you know or may not know my, soon to be sixteen-year-old son has some postural challenges. His postural challenges have led us on a journey we are still currently on. That has us as a family speaking with many doctors. I have noticed I have created this automatic habit of checking in with my Yoga Teacher, Michaelle Edwards after, every doctor appointment. I realize I value Michaelle’s verbal input as equally as the doctors regarding my son’s postural challenges.
We tend to believe every word, thought, or idea that comes out of our doctor’s mouth. And of course, there is good reason to, and many yoga students feel that way about their yoga teachers. Most of the time I’m, sure all goes well but, there are those many stories of circumstances that did not go well. I find comfort when talking with my son’s doctor and, having him spend time with Michaelle Edwards the creator of The YogAlign is priceless on so many levels.
It is not so much east meets west connection as both are judging, their recommendations on facts and outcomes and not on faith or opinion. Surgery or body braces is the doctor’s defense as long as the procedure would benefit the postural challenges. And the re-wiring of the brain from negative posture habits to positive posture habits with a committed YogAlign practice is my yoga teacher’s first defense. Both equally have the best of intentions and are there for my son’s best interest. But, we always feel empowered when we finish a YogAlign practice and not so much after a doctor’s appointment. My yoga teacher gives my son back the power to move and breathe in his body in a way that allows him to heal his own body. The idea of placing a body brace on and waiting for the body to benefit does not compute. My son opted for the YogAlign practice and, we have seen some shifts. We also continue to see his doctor and, his postural challenges have not progressed.
   Inner Breath Yoga YogAlign Kauai Hawaii (1)
Just as I believe in finding a doctor you can trust. A doctor who is qualified, and you feel a connection too. I also think it is important to seek these qualifications and qualities in a yoga teacher. In the past, I have changed my doctor and yoga teacher. Because I felt I was not benefiting from their practice or my needs had changed. On the flip side of that, I know folks who have stayed with a doctor or yoga teacher that they were not happy with and were getting negative results (or even an injury from the later mentioned). I believe in the medical community and the yoga community and feel we are uniting in ways we have not seen in the past. I find some doctors are getting away from only external fixes. Embracing the internal systems of the body. Such as diet, meditation, and our connection with nature. Some yoga teachers are getting away from selfies and glamour poses and guiding their students into functional movement and proper posture habits. These are all positive signs of change and benefit us all for the greater good. Maybe next time you see your doctor or your yoga teacher, let them know how much you appreciate their contribution to your and others’ lives.
Aloha

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

By Renee’ Fulkerson

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

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

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

What have I learned:

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha