Street-Smart Yogi Or Book-Smart Yogi.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Street-smart -intelligence gained outside of school

  • Getting Along With Others
  • Common Sense
  • Self-defense
  • BS-detection

Book-smart -having a lot of academic knowledge learned from books and studying, but not necessarily knowing much about people and living in the real world.

  • He’s book-smart but, he’s got no common sense.
  • book-smart people with no social skills

Street-smart -having the knowledge and experience that is needed to deal with the difficulties and dangers of life in a big city.

I know street-smart people, and they seem to adapt to their environment. And I also think this is necessary when teaching yoga. Situations and circumstances are not always going to be ideal. My first Hatha yoga teacher training was with Scott Miller, founder of Western Yoga College. I could feel the love radiating off of him when we met. Scott is well-read and knows the name of great thinkers, scientists, and other famous people in history. He is a book-smart yogi for sure. But Scott is also a street-smart yogi. And he can hold space when a thought, emotion, or reality plays out in yoga practice. And they do and, they will. During his teacher’s training, I learned to trust myself and adapt. Trust my intuition when adjusting a student in a posture. Teach to who shows up and their abilities. Be vulnerable and let my actions come from the heart. To believe in the power of community and chanting in community. I find I align easily with the street-smart yogi. But I cannot always live in my comfort zone. And I am a better person and teacher when pushed out of my comfort zone.

My mind thinks book-smart equals scientist while street-smart equals someone who adapts. Neither one is better than the other just, different opposite. Much like inhales and exhales, one is not better than the other we need them both; they are just opposites. I would say I am a more street-smart yogi than book-smart. That is not to say I have not read my fair share of yogic materials. And continue to seek out written information to learn from and get inspiration. Ideally, a balance of the two would be the best outcome.

I am currently teaching the YogAlign Method filled with facts and information. Before and after pictures are taken to see the shifts in the body. I know anatomy in a way that most of my students do not care to know. And statistics about yoga injuries and beyond. This information was not my cup of tea until I met my teacher and founder of the YogAlign Method, Michaelle Edwards. Her interpretation of the information made sense to me. I consider her in many ways a yoga scientist. She is testing her theories and comparing and contrasting. Her work has made it easier for me to get the results I am after with my students.

Stepping into being a book-smart yogi, I can appreciate the body in a whole new way. Understanding the diaphragm with the SIP breath and how it aligns the body from the inside out is genius. And how the gluteal muscles get amnesia from sitting too much. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation can help with resetting the tension in the body. And knowing which postures benefit scoliosis or osteoporosis. I have gained confidence in tapping into my book-smart yogi, although that is not where I would want to live all of the time.

In yoga, you will find two schools of thought dualism and nondualism. We are all one -we are all connected. And then teacher-student superiority. In the first part of my yogic student/ teacher career, I leaned very heavily towards we are all connected. I was in the honeymoon phase. Then I felt a pull towards being challenged in my thoughts and ideas. Would what I thought and believed in about yoga hold up? I did feel tested when going to the other side. I read different books and materials that approached my practice/ teaching differently. I began to appreciate and understand more about being a teacher figure in class than just everyone’s friend. Today I feel like I have found more balance between the two schools of thought. But since the pandemic, I long for those yoga gatherings and festivals where we are all connected. lol

My thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and perspectives have changed with age. I have gained more experience and insight. Yoga is not black and white. I needed to get out of my thinking head and into my feeling body. That is the way I can determine if the practice is benefitting me. I could read yoga books to my students all day and, they would not know how to practice yoga. Yoga requires thought and feeling. Some of my students are more comfortable and aware of their bodies than others. And when asked how a posture, feels one can answer. Others only want the logic of why we are doing the posture. They do not feel the difference from one side to the other. I appreciate the diversity its’ a learning experience in its self. I will never learn only through reading or only through experience but both. Street-smart yogi or book-smart yogi, some may say we are the same we, are all connected.


Aloha

Yoga And Self-Care.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Self-care is very much a part of the YogAlign method. And taking care of yourself during your in-class or home practice is necessary on so many levels. 

  • Drink water during your in-class or home practice

I recently just had a conversation with a longtime student/ friend about this very topic. We were discussing the importance of drinking water during our YogAlign class/ practice. And that we both agreed that in many yoga classes we had attended there, was simply no time to take a water break. The yoga instructor and students were moving along so quickly through posture after posture it was already a challenge to keep up. I began to think about most yoga classes I had attended in the past. And having anything beyond your yoga mat was discouraged regarding space constraints. The instructors always made it clear they needed space to move about the room without obstacles in their way. I subbed a class for my teacher Michaelle Edwards at her yoga studio here on Kauai and saw firsthand how lack of water affected a student. 

This student had traveled to Kauai from another country and attended her first YogAlign class with her mother. Upon reading her and her mother’s release form, they both were in good health. They were both interested in learning the YogAlign Method to combat the effects of sitting too much. We began with the instruction of the SIP Breath. Which in itself can be very intense when you are not used to breathing so efficiently. I had noticed mom had brought a small plastic bottle of water for the both of them to share. And I always inform students there is water available and cue during class when to stop and have a water break. 

As we continued, I noticed the mom finding her rhythm while the daughter was struggling. I locked eyes with her and, I could see she was going to fall to faint. And sure enough, she collapsed to the floor. Gently she floated to the floor and lay there with her eyes open. Not sure what just happened? Of course, the entire class paused and came to her side. 

Water was the first thing offered and, she quickly became more comfortable. I placed a bolster under her knees and had her lay there while continuing to drink water. As I spoke with her and her mother, I learned the time difference had thrown them off their eating (drinking) and sleeping schedule. Not drinking enough water mixed with sweating from the high humidity air was not a good combination. The more water she drank, the more vibrant she became and ended up rejoining the class for the floor postures. I encourage you to practice self-care in your yoga class by drinking water during your practice (you matter).

  • Take the time to use yoga props when you need them

I am a big fan of yoga props. Yoga props can come in many different forms. The yoga props I use in my home practice and while teaching

  •  yoga blocks (various sizes), yardstick, yoga strap the yoga mat itself, chairs, balls (all sizes) and, bolsters/blankets

I make it a point to keep my YogAlign classes small. So I can be aware of every student in the room and their needs during yoga class.

If you need more support in a lunge, getting your heel higher using a yoga block and be a great solution.
Getting yourself comfortable and in proper alignment is key to a successful practice and, a yardstick can accomplish that goal.
Rolling on an 80% inflated ball moving up and down the spine, neck, and shoulders can be very relaxing, releasing tension during practice or before savasana.
Yoga Props
  • Take a moment to rest and feel the effects of your practice

I also think this statement and suggestion rings true in our everyday lives as well. Life is moving fast and, we are moving quickly right along with it. I find some yoga classes are also keeping with this pace. I find myself constantly apologizing for not always getting the phone, responding right away to the text, or making things happen right that minute. Our in-person or personal home yoga practice is supposed to be the one place we can slow down. Take advantage of this time to stop in the moment and take a full-body stretch or pandiculate (stretching and yawning). It is necessary to stop and feel the effects of your practice to know what is working and what is not create a reset from the day from your mind and thoughts. As you lay on your back, feel the natural curves in your spine, notice the space between the chin and your chest and let your belly be full and soft. When lying on your stomach, bend your knees and let your legs make small circles massaging the low belly and feeling your diaphragm expand and contract against the floor. Place your fingertip onto your scalp and into your hair, massaging your head and earlobes. These are all simple ways to stop, feel good, and be in the moment.

Scalp Massage
Full Body Stretch

Creating new habits such as stopping to feel the effects of your practice or the effects of your day is a great way to come back into the moment. And to check in with what is working and what is not working. Self-care is not just a buzzword its a priority and, you matter!

Aloha

When You Think Of Your Body, Do You Think Of It In Pieces Or As A Whole?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

When you think of your body, do you think of it in pieces or as a whole? Imagine a puzzle that always needs putting back together, especially after an injury. Or a pulley system that engages entirely when the body moves or stands upright. 

I used to think of or refer to my own body in pieces. I can think back to exercise, yoga, and fitness classes that almost always separated my body parts during practice. What does that mean exactly? Phrases like today is a leg day or, we are only going to work on these muscle groups today. Does this sound familiar to you? I never realized how disempowering these phrases and movement programs were. 

And, then I was taught to view my body as a whole and not in pieces. I cannot tell you what a game-changer moment that was for me. I went from pulling my body apart to its end range like Stretch Armstrong, a toy of my youth. Who, by the way, does not always go back together so quickly after so many pulls. To putting myself back together in what we refer to in YogAlign as a full-body stretch. The end range can be very misleading for most people, especially those who tend to be hypermobile. Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

I have a student who is hyper-mobile in her hip joints but not necessarily strong in this area. Does hyper-mobility affect strength? From what I have read and seen while teaching there, is sufficient evidence that hypermobility may be associated with strength deficiencies. An injury waiting to happen would be for her to continue to pull herself apart just because she can. We need to think about how this affects the body as a whole. Hip strength is necessary for the stability and prevention of injuries. 

My goal is to guide students through full-body movements creating balance, health, mobility and, strength. By reprogramming your movement patterns from piece to, whole we get the benefits of all body support, balance, strength, and mobility. Hanging in joints and ligaments to go a little deeper may feed the ego for a moment but does nothing for the rest of the entire body. Cons outweigh the pros in that movement programming or regular practice. 

A lunge, Ashta Chandrasana, or Crescent High Lunge Pose is a posture when hanging in your joints or ligaments can happen. I cue students to identify this possible hanging by checking in with the pelvic floor during a lunge. Is it hanging down like a hammock? With no support? To go deeper or closer to the floor. Are your shoulders lifted to your ears, making it hard to breathe? Is your ribcage flaring up, creating a backbend? In practicing this, way you are compromising pieces of the body and not benefiting the whole. Now let’s take that same posture and tweak it a bit.

  • Step your right foot forward and wiggle your back foot to get balanced between front and back bodyweight.
  • You will know if you are balanced by checking in with your hip alignment. Is one hip twisting to accommodate the unbalanced spread?
  • Make sure you are high up on the toes of your back foot.
  • Check-in with the pelvic floor. Does it feel unstable (hanging)?
  • If, so engage your inner thighs slightly and get the glutes firing. In doing, so you will feel to the touch your IT band fully engaged.
  • Again check hip alignment and think of your hip bones as two flashlights shining forward.
  • Draw your arms down and out into a V shape on either side of your body. With your palms facing forward and fingers spread.
  • And slightly press your hands forward like you are pushing against a wall firing the back muscles. 
  • Draw the sternum slightly down if the rib cage is starting to flare up.
  • Eye gaze is eye level and straightforward. Look side to side and stick your tongue out, relieving your neck of any extreme tension.
  • Once you are in the high lunge, bring your attention to the space on your sideline. Between the floating ribs and the top of your hip or Iliac Crest. 
  • There is a good amount of body real estate between these two bones. Easier to see on an anatomy skeleton but, you can feel it with your hands. We do not want to lose this space (collapse) on our exhale.
  • Recap – the back foot lifted, inner thighs slightly engaged, firing the glutes, arms in a V, palms facing forward, fingers spread, pushing against a wall, hips aligned, released neck a shoulder tension. 
  • Now SIP in like you are drinking through a straw fill the diaphragm muscle with air (engaging the core muscles). Make fists with your hands and tense your entire body. Pause at the top for a moment (neck and shoulders relaxed). Start your S-hale like a snake with your teeth together, then open your hands and don’t collapse by controlling the exhale. In other, words to the naked eye, from SIP inhale to S-hale there would be no change in your whole body posture. You would maintain your gift of lift, spacious sideline and, not collapse in your S-hale. 
  • Repeat 3, more times, and then change sides and repeat.

In practicing the YogAlign Method Lunge, you begin to move and relate to your body as a whole. Receiving and retrieving all the benefits moving and thinking in this way has to offer. You get to reclaim some of that precious real estate and space back into the whole body without having to pull it apart into pieces. 

I will leave you with this thought you use 200 muscles to take one step (Human Bones, Joints and Muscles Facts).

Aloha

Imagine The Possibilities In A Body You Can Trust.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

When I think of trusting my, body one of the first things that come to my mind is balance. 

Balance – an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. “she lost her balance before falling”

Similar: stability, equilibrium, steadiness and, footing.

First, of all how and where does balance come from in the body?

The vestibular system (inner ear balance mechanism)

The balance system works through constant position detection, feedback, and adjustment using communication between the inner ear, eyes, muscles, joints, and the brain. The brain sends messages to the muscles to make any postural adjustments required to maintain balance. 

Balance is crucial in our everyday activities like walking, standing, and going up and downstairs. And more important to reduce the chances of falling or even injury. Often we are not fully aware that we may have weak balance until we try balance exercises. Anytime at any age is the best time to improve and maintain strong balancing skills. 

Yoga and everyday life provide many opportunities to practice and improve our balancing skills. Walking, biking, standing, and climbing up and downstairs, to name a few. Funny, the things we need balance for in everyday life are the same things we do every day (well, sort of). 

  • Have the tires on your bike gone flat from not riding it?
  • Are your new walking sneakers still in the box?
  • Do you take the elevator to avoid the stairs?
  • Are you standing up often once you have sat down?

And then there is yoga and Tai Chi. I have not done a lot of Tai Chi, so I will stick to what I know. And that is yoga postures to improve and maintain optimum balancing skills. There are many yoga postures to choose from, simple to extreme. I prefer to keep it simple. Work smarter, not harder. Here are a couple of balance postures I would like to share with you. I practice these postures with my students (one of the many yoga posture balance options).

Heron or Kickstand Posture:

  • Come into a heron posture or kickstand position by placing your right heel up and against your left foot. Make sure not to dump into your hip like you are holding a baby on your hip. If you start to feel wobbly, ever so gently engage your inner thighs to fire the glutes muscles and check that your knees are not turning too much inward or too much outward.
  • Draw some weight into the heel of the standing leg, in this case, the left heel. And then lift your left arm straight alongside your ear while keeping your shoulder down. The palm of the left-hand faces inwards with your fingers spread. 
  • Lift your right arm bending at the elbow and hook your fingers into the little valley right below the bulbous part of the back of the head. You can massage the area, which can hold a lot of tension, making sure you can see the tip of your right elbow at all times.
  • Now take your SIP to inhale like you are sipping through a straw and keep your shoulders relaxed. Pause and make a fist with your left hand and pull down like on a rope. Start your S hale sounding like a snake with your teeth together, release your fist back to spread fingers, and create a bit of traction with your right hand in the valley. Remember not to collapse in your S hale keep, the space between the floating rib and the top of the hip bone (Iliac Crest).
  • Practice this posture two more times on this side of your body. And when finished coming back to heron or kickstand posture starting position moving right into Tree Pose or Vrksasana (on the same side).

Tree Pose or Vrksasana:

  • From heron or kickstand posture left foot is still anchored with weight in your heel. And your right heel is up and against your left foot. 
  • Arms come out on both sides of your body in a V. Palms facing forward with your fingers spread. Like you are pressing against a wall turning the back on.
  • SIP inhale like you are sucking through a straw and slowly slide your right foot above or below the knee. I suggest staying below your knee when starting this practice. Pause at the top of the Sip inhale and feel your ribcage expand (shoulders down and relax).
  • Fist your hands and then S hale like a snake with your teeth together (don’t collapse). Open your fingers and continue standing tall.
  • Repeat two more times on this side and come back into heron or kickstand starting posture 

Try not to judge yourself when it comes to practicing balance postures, remember every day is different. Stresses, distractions, and even a poor night’s rest can cause you to feel a bit more unstable than usual. 

Aloha

Asking For Help In Yoga And Everyday Life.

By Renee’ Fulkerson


Help – to give assistance or support. To make more pleasant or bearable improve, relieve and rescue, save. To be of use to

I find it difficult to ask for help unless I am at my wit’s end. And from my experience, I believe others also struggle with asking for help. On the other hand, I have no problem with offering and giving support to others. Which I also find to be true of others around me. Why is it so difficult to ask for help but so easy to give support? I guess no one wants to feel like a burden to another.

Burden – defined as making heavy with a load or with emotion. Something carried a worry or sadness, or a responsibility.

I think this rings true in yoga practice. In a yoga practice, students have experience with the postures. In a yoga class, there is more time and instruction per posture. I enjoy teaching both and encourage students to stop me and ask for help or support in both cases. And sometimes help is needed in everyday life situations too.

Recently a long-time YogAlign student began having some challenges with her knee. She did not want to miss her regular YogAlign classes and continued to show up for classes. Of course, I was thrilled to have her and knew she would need to adjust some of our regularly practiced postures. When getting up and down off the floor, she would need some assistance. These were all easy adjustments I could support her with and, I felt good about doing them. She would always comment not to give her special attention. Or hold up the practice but, it never seemed to be a problem. After all, even though she had temporary challenges with her knee. It did not mean that she would not benefit from the yoga practice. Not showing up for her regular YogAlign practice and connecting with her body, breath and friends would have been a disservice to her healing process. We also added bi-weekly full-body massages to keep her spirits up and relieve her from aching knee pain. I hope you have found a yoga practice/ class where you can ask for help when needed. We all need a little help sometimes.

On my last trip to the mainland, my mom was suffering from debilitating back pain. She had twisted and jarred her back weeks before my visit. Upon arrival, I could see and sense her frustration with limited mobility. I knew she needed help but, would she ask for it? My mom lives alone and, so everything falls on her to do. She had not been able to take care of everyday tasks. And all of the things she likes to accomplish before I arrived. She had been spending most of her time lying down and feeling bad about not feeling good. Even though I am an advocate for moving, she needed to rest. Back pain is no joke! And usually, sleep is unattainable during a back pain flare-up. Without good sleep, coping skills and positive attitudes begin to decline.

When helping someone who suffers from back pain a, pillow under the knees is crucial because a good portion of their time is lying down. And without the pillow or wedge, there is more pressure on the low back. The support is also helpful for knee pain. Pain that occurs in the knee when the knee is kept straight.

Another way I could help my mom was by moving everything up. All of the things she regularly used got moved higher up. So she would not need to keep bending down to retrieve them. The constant pulling on the back from bending over was only going to prolong the healing process. When bending over you, want your knees soft and not locked out utilizing all the gluteal muscles and when coming up pushing: through from the bottom of the feet. With a bit of help, my mom was up and moving more comfortably. She began with short walks in the neighborhood. She began to enjoy lying down with a pillow under her knees and was getting some much-needed rest. When I left, I was confident she was on the road to recovery and, her spirits were up. A little help goes a long way.

I learned the benefits of asking for help recently. I had a pressing task I was not ready to face. I leaned on my husband for support. After a few weeks of my regular meditation, YogAlign practice, and space. I was able to complete the task.

Nobody wants to feel like a burden to themselves or others. Let’s keep showing up for our yoga class/ practice. And ask for help when we need it. We are worth it!

Aloha

Grieving, YogAlign, And Hope.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Some say the only for sure things you can count on in life are taxes and death. I have found another for sure in my life. And that is my beloved YogAlign practice. It has provided me with the tools I needed to cope with my father’s passing. Death is never easy and, a sudden death makes it that much more challenging. And then enter grieving. Grieving is a process that affects everyone differently. And there are no right or wrong ways to grieve. I want to share my experience in hopes it may benefit another in a position of loss. Loss can come in many forms.

Some of the emotional symptoms I felt:

  • sadness
  • hopelessness
  • fear
  • anger
  • overwhelmed
  • regretful
  • shut down

Some of the physical symptoms I felt:

  • body tension
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • shortness of breath
  • no appetite
  • nausea
  • shut down

For me, all of the above mentioned emotional and physical symptoms were all intertwined. And I dealt with them as a whole. I view the body as a whole and not in pieces. And because the YogAlign Method works with the body as a whole. I had everything I needed to get through this difficult time. 

Emotion is a conscious mental reaction or state of feeling. I knew I had to approach my emotions from the inside. To be able to function in my everyday life. Feeling shut down emotionally and physically makes it hard to live. Enter YogAlign.

I can’t be for sure, which pushed me to the mat more? My emotional or physical pain. I will say one could not help but ease the other. The outcome was always a sense of relief. My approach to the practice was different than my usual beginnings. 

I begin by: 

  • laying on the floor with my knees bent at a distance from my belly
  • arms out to a wide V, palms facing up and, fingers spread
  • shoulder blades draw together and away from my ears

In this posture, I feel safe and, my body feels supported. I have created space for my belly to relax. There is space between my chin and my chest. I can surrender a bit and breathe. Once my breath begins to flow freely. Everything else starts to follow. The tension in my body starts to unravel. At times I will cry. And I honor that. My body becomes more receptive to feel better. I then move into self-massage.

  • start by crossing an ankle over a knee
  • press each nail bed and gently roll up the toe joints
  • massage top and bottom of the foot
  • back of the leg, inner and outer thighs 
  • taking a few inhales through the nose and, lion roar exhales

From here, I begin to massage my belly, starting at the costal arch below my sternum. I move with gentle to medium pressure in clockwise circles. Then I place my hands on either side of my ribcage. And breathe in like sipping from a straw. Feeling my ribcage expand into my hands (holding for a few seconds). Then I stick my tongue out and begin the lion exhale. And feel my ribcage move away from my hands. As my body begins to trust this good feeling, I start to feel the negative emotions subside. And that emotional break can last an hour the length of my practice or day(s). Either way, I am grateful for the reprieve.

 Onto hands:

  • press each nail bed and gently roll up the finger joint
  • massage wrist, arm, and elbow up to the shoulder
  • across the pecs and above/below the collar bone

From here, I knead my chin and place my hands on my cheeks. Push my cheeks up as I breathe in and lion breath out. Knead around my eyebrows and move out to my ears. I end the self-massage with a nice scalp rub. By this point, I am breathing freely and feeling cracked open.

Sometimes this is all of my practice I need. I can then go about my day and responsibilities. Maybe have a lite meal and go to bed and get some sleep. Other times I move on with the practice. Usually in more challenging moments. I continue on the floor with the leg tuner series, YogAlign SIP ups, and pandiculation. Pandiculation is the act of yawning and stretching simultaneously. Like that first good morning stretch before getting out of bed. By this point, I have moved out of my emotional thinking body and moved into my physical feeling body. YogAlign postures have allowed me to breathe, gain space, and feel good. 

I want to keep this good feeling going. I come to standing slowly (no head rush). I give myself a moment to adjust to being upright. Have a couple of drinks of water and feel the effects of my practice so far. I can move through the YogAlign arm tune-up series, tree posture, and high lunges. And into a soft knee forward fold grabbing elbow to elbow. Checking in with the backline of my body and release tension in the neck and shoulders with the gravity. All of this breathing and movement have, on more than one occasion, brought me to tears. I embrace the release and know grieving is a process. That could signal the ending of my practice. Again no right or wrong or, I may finish up with some low lunges and YogAlign full-body recalibrator (supported splits). More water and standing pandiculation with some lion exhales. For a moment being in the moment has brought hope. And then the dread returns when I realize my dad is no longer in his physical body. I honor this human experience of pain and sadness. Continue to breathe and work my way back down to the floor on my tummy. 

I finish my practice:

  • laying on my tummy and resting on a cheek
  • knees bent 
  • gently moving my legs in a clockwise circle 
  • massaging my lower belly
  • switch cheeks

In this posture, I can relieve any last tension in my belly. And then prepare myself for Savasana or the final resting pose. 

Rolling onto my back with my knees supported with a bolster, rolled blanket or, blocks. I can return to my starting posture and get a sense of how my body and heart feel from start to finish. No judgment, just observing. I have moved through my practice with breath and space. I have practiced YogAlign postures that bring me into proper alignment while supporting my natural curves. This practice allows me to engage my body as a continuum from head to toe (including my tongue). 

My grieving has and does include a fetal posture, lots of sitting and sheet therapy. But that is only some of the time and, it is getting less frequent. I don’t apologize for my feeling of grief. I turn to my beloved YogAlign practice to release and move through those moments. And to balance the aches and pains that come from being more sedentary than usual. Grieving has not been an easy process for me and, it has only been over a year since I lost my father. But I am beginning to see and feel him in a whole new way. A way that brings a smile to my lips and fills my heart with love.

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

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 Yoga Mat Of Shame.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Let’s start this blog by becoming familiar with the definition of shame by Merriam-Webster: Shame – a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

Yikes! The thought of wrong or foolish behavior in some yoga classes could send chills down your spine. (lol) Especially in the minds of folks new to yoga or someone who tends to be a perfectionist. I agree to go to a yoga class for the first time can be intimidating and, yet, on the other hand, it could feel like the perfect fit.

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman regarding expectations. Expectations when attending a yoga class versus expectations of going to get a massage. This guy did not consider himself a spiritual person, had never been to a yoga class and had received a gift certificate for a massage. He had concerns about feeling humiliated or distressed with the idea of attending a yoga class or using his massage gift certificate. Which then turned the conversation topic from expectation to participation. I got the impression he felt he needed to be a spiritual person to participate in a yoga class. He started to then speak with an example (the what-if): What if a guy has no idea what he is getting himself into when he thinks of attending a yoga class? I replied: This guy you speak of would have to have lived under a rock to not have any thoughts or ideas of what would be entailed in a yoga class or massage (he laughed).

At that point, as a yoga teacher, mother, and human being, I knew he needed to have the yoga talk. I could only speak for myself and the way I teach the YogAlign method. I do my very best to put new and existing students at ease. I let them know, please stop me if you do not understand what I am saying or asking of them. I let them know this is their time and not mine to stand on my soapbox. He seemed intrigued and, even his body shifted to a more receptive posture. I continued by explaining that I did not take a spiritual approach to teach YogAlign (I feel spirituality is very personal). That is not to say the student may or may not connect with something/ someone outside themselves during their practice. My approach for a new student is purely physical. I know everyone can take one hand and touch their arm. That makes perfect sense but, not everyone can go into or believes in a meditative state. I explained when we move through the physical YogAlign practice we begin feeling more comfortable and relaxed in our breath and body. Feeling more joy physically lets us feel more joy mentally. Which in some cases can lead to a meditative place of peace without even realizing it is happening. At this point, I could see the gentleman becoming even more at ease with the thought of participating in a yoga class. He was starting to loosen his grip on the idea he would do something foolish or wrong (shameful) on the mat.I never want a student of any level to feel they are standing on the yoga mat of shame in my classes and, yet it happens. I have seen the frustration in a long time YogAlign student when she could not do a properly aligned push – up. I reminded her other postures will give the same result we are looking for in the push up. My job is to support students in feeling empowered not, shameful.I also see new students struggle when watching other students who can move their arms more from their back and not from their shoulders (like they keep doing).

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations when they feel they may not measure up. When the shame starts to creep in I see students shut down, start giggling and get hot/ sweaty. These and other cues let me know a student may feel they are standing on the yoga mat of shame. I want to shift that perception immediately or, that could be the first and last time they ever try yoga again. We all create a story about something we have never tried. Sometimes that narrative may even come from what we have heard or seen on television. Whatever the expectations we have created for ourselves or the experience. Once we decide to make that appointment and show up for that class, proves we are willing to participate. A willingness to fall on your face, but you need not fall into the shame game.

Take some time and research what yoga class/ style would create favorable conditions for your success. I teach many mixed-level classes meaning beginners would need the class taught to them. And to long-time students who need more of the practice (moving through the postures), not all teachers/ styles of yoga can accommodate that type of experience. Remember falling on your face is not always a bad thing that is one way we can build self confidence. Resist the temptation to compare and compete in a yoga class. After all we as teachers should be holding space for your yoga experience to unfold in a safe and supportive environment.

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