Does Your Yoga Practice Align You And Build Core Strength?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I have found that it isn’t so important how you perform on your yoga mat regarding glamour poses. But, how those real-life postures you practice propel you into a healthy and active lifestyle. In YogAlign, we practice real-life yoga postures engaging muscle groups that you will need for all of your favorite activities and everyday life movements.

My friend Corrine has been showing up for YogAlign practice faithfully for many years now. She is an avid golfer and plays golf with a group of ladies of all ages and backgrounds at least once a week. Golfing is an activity she enjoys on so many levels. The social aspects, being outdoors, and the challenge of the game. I would not teach or advise her to practice Sirsasana or headstand to improve and enjoy her golf game more. What I do teach her is how to engage and build her core strength. Building strong core muscles will provide ease of rotation, balance, and power. Hitting her golf ball farther and follow through with a powerful golf swing.

It all starts with the SIP Breath (structurally informed posture). Breathing is an exercise that is at the center of all actions in which we engage. In YogAlign, learning to breathe from your core – using our primary breathing muscles, and balancing the muscles of respiration to free the ribcage – is one of the most important skills we can learn. (quoting Michaelle Edward’s creator of the YogAlign Method). When practicing the Core SIP breath, you begin to feel the length from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Not to mention Aligning you into good posture from the inside out.

Natural curves, spine alignment and soft knees.

The above image shows the spine’s alignment with the body’s natural curves. A cue you often hear in some yoga classes is to pull your navel to your spine. You are inevitably taking all of your spine’s natural curves away and restricting your breathing. We also take care not to practice yoga postures that require you to draw your toes towards you. Why? Because you lock out your knees and, we do not walk with straight knees. Keeping your spine’s natural curves with soft knees allows your body’s natural shock absorbers to give you the gift of lift.

Rotation without collapsing.

rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center (or point) of rotation. In yoga practice, we would refer to this action more as a twist. You have heard the claim that yoga poses, especially yoga twists, detox your body. The liver is responsible for your body’s detox and happens mostly on a cellular level. In YogAlign, we think of our body as globally, not in pieces, and maintaining the ability to breathe when moving through the spiral line. What is so great about the picture above is the rotation/ twist is not wrenched. Meaning there is space between her chin and chest. The openness and ability to breathe have allowed her to engage her core. The Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal/ external obliques, quadratus lumborum. That core engagement will support her with the power she needs to hit her golf ball farther.

Powerful connection with the ball.

There is a level of confidence in knowing you can trust your body. Knowing that with every YogAlign practice, you are re-programming your internal software. Software/ habits that are going to bring you back to good posture. It takes more effort to be in poor posture than it does to be in good posture. Other muscles that are equally important are the hamstrings and glutes providing proper posture throughout your golf swing. With postures cues – draw your toes back towards you makes it impossible to engage your glute muscles. You will also have a hard time taking a full inhale. Pointing your toes enlists your hamstrings and glutes with ease. Come to standing and place one foot slightly in front of the other. Come up onto the center of your tiptoes engage your inner thighs to feel your glute muscles follow. Then switch feet and come up on to the center of your tiptoes. To add more challenge pulse, up and down by slightly bending the knees. Make sure to have some fun with it!

Balance and follow through.

In the above picture, Corrine’s balance is spot on! Our balance declines with age due to loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility. We spend our early years trying to achieve balance milestones first steps, riding a bike, hopscotch, cartwheels, and riding a skateboard. As an adult we are still achieving balance milestones in tennis, golf, running, and dancing. Maybe you are not the athletic type? Walking across the room or down the block requires balance. Standing from a chair, going up and downstairs, carrying packages. A balance posture in yoga is Vrikshasana or tree pose. However, there are so many other real-life ways to practice balance. Practice squatting instead of bending over (also protects your low back). Practice sitting down and standing up from a chair without using your hands. In YogAlign, we add limbs/ arms to our tree. Our arms move about at different heights and levels. For more of a challenge, we will also come up onto our tiptoes in tree pose. Try it! It can be more challenging than it sounds.

A birdie was achieved.

From the height of her peak balance back into proper posture with ease. The transition has become instinctual due to the kind of real-life postures practiced on the mat. By thinking of our body globally and not in pieces, movements begin to benefit us as a whole. Recap a squat engages muscles, builds balance, and protects the low back when picking things up. Tree pose a balance builder, move arms about explore proprioception. Then come up onto tiptoes and engage inner thighs and glutes. Don’t be afraid to question some of the postures you practice that do not feel good to you. Avoid practicing postures that pull you apart because you feel tight and possibly destabilizing joints and tendons. Practice postures that put you together create confidence, strength, and power. Point your toes like a dancer during leg circles stabilizing the hip joint. If you feel or hear a grinding stop, and re-adjust posture. Make a bigger or smaller circle, point-toe more or avoid that posture altogether. Evaluate your yoga practice. Can you breathe while in postures, see and feel the positive effects?

Does your yoga practice align you and build core strength?

YogAlign is simply the art of being in your structure and breath. It is pain-free yoga from your inner core. We actively seek out positioning, alignment, and movement that reflects how we move in daily life. To me, YogAlign is movement, health, fitness, and fun.

Cheers to you Corrine!

Are You Equally Flexible as Strong?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I was sitting on one of my favorite beaches this past weekend. And after a heavy rainfall that had affected all of the Hawaiian Islands. And I could still feel the weight of the moisture in the air. I sat there looking at all of the picturesque surroundings that make this particular spot so beautiful. One, in particular, is a grand palm tree. But today it, looked very different to me. Most days the, palm tree stands tall and proud and depending on the season with our without coconuts. Today the long trunk was almost parallel to the ground and engorged with coconuts. My first thought was the picture of flexibility and strength right in front of my eyes. It got me thinking about teaching my next YogAlign class.

The next day when long-time YogAligners walked into class. I asked them the question would they consider themselves equally strong as flexible? They all kind of took a few moments to digest the question. One response was, “yes, I do feel equally strong as flexible since I have been practicing YogAlign.” Another student chooses one over the other and, some did not have any response. One student asked, do you mean by flexibility? I quickly responded, what I don’t mean is the image you get in your head of Stretch Armstrong being pulled completely apart (we all laughed). Flexibility is no laughing matter when it comes to yogis pulling themselves apart like Stretch Armstrong. I then began to elaborate on what my idea of flexibility is and in what context I was asking them in the above question. Flexibility to me is the ability to move through your everyday life in a pain – free flow. While you are walking your, arms, hips, and legs are propelling you forward with ease, being able to reach up and grab a glass out of the upper cupboards, maneuvering in and out of the car with ease, and bending down to pick something up from the floor gracefully. These are just a few examples of flexibility in everyday life. 

Flexibility – sports definition: the capacity of a joint or muscle to move through its full range of motion. Flexibility is specific to a particular movement or joints, and the degree of flexibility can vary around the body.

That same student ask what do you mean by strength? I responded with not Mrs. Olympia.  What strength means to me is? The ability to move from the center or (core) of your body in proper alignment. Allowing you the ability to pick up that bag of recyclables and get them to the redemption center, put the box of books in the car to take to the library, purchase the value size of detergent and pick up your toddler or grandbaby. Again just a few examples of strength in everyday life. 

Strength – sports definition : the ability to carry out work against a resistance. strength is the maximal force you can apply against a load.

It can be easy to take flexibility and strength for granted in our everyday lives when these physical attributes are in a good standing order. But when they are not our, daily lives can become limited in ways. As we become more mature in our, lives we have this image of frailty regarding flexibility and strength. If we maintain a consistent full range of physical activities well into our, years that alone will keep us independent, flexible, and full of power. For example, I have always considered myself flexible, maybe even too bendy in some regards. Before I was aware of flexibility becoming a liability (as Michaelle Edwards, creator of YogAlign puts it). I would pull my body apart in yoga postures. Well beyond its full range and overtime began feeling pain and discomfort in my regular yoga practice. Although, my life has never suffered due to a lack of strength. But, traditional yoga practice was not building my strength. Then I shifted to a committed YogAlign practice, and I have seen an improvement in my level of strength and flexibility. That happened because of the Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching technique practiced in YogAlign. PNF is a more advanced form of flexibility training. Involving both the stretching and contracting of the muscle group targeted. It is also excellent for targeting specific muscle groups, and as well as increasing flexibility, it also improves muscular strength. 

When wanting to improve physical appearances, I suggest taking the time to think about if those desires are realistic and beneficial for your entire well-being. Meaning, if you are looking to build your strength and or flexibility, not all yoga classes are created equally. I find that yoga classes that move a bit slower and with natural body alignment awareness, full diaphragm breathing, and attention to moving from the core are your best bet. Finding a teacher who knows how to move through the posture with stable ligaments and joints is high on the must-have list. And a knowledgeable teacher who instructs your body as a whole and not in pieces. (the pose needs to benefit the entire body). Attending a yoga class that is more than 10, students are going to lessen your chances of getting one on one attention for your specific needs. Sometimes very large regularly attended yoga classes appear to me as a choreographed production. Verses a yoga class where the instructor gets to know your body personally, knows what is comfortable and beneficial for your build, and can que you specifically for your needs. Remember, you matter in the yoga class of your choice. And this is your paid opportunity for self-study and teacher guidance that is proper and professional. Now go out and use your strength and flexibility for good!

Aloha