Friday, January 3, 2014

8:17 PM
Me and the YogAlign Guru
Michaelle Edwards calls the method of yoga that she has developed,YogAlign, no less than a complete paradigm shift from the standard extreme-bending and flexibility-orientated focus of the yoga we are used to.  Her non-traditional teachings and approach, and her warnings regarding the serious potential consequences of a non-discerning yoga practice, have put her "on the yoga hit list" as it were.  As she gains a following, she is apparently being widely vilified as someone who is trying to destroy the multi-billion dollar yoga industry, especially since she was recently written up in the New York Times for articulating the potential harm that over-flexibility and yoga can cause, particularly in women.

A long-time yoga practitioner and teacher, Michaelle developed YogAlign in response to her own ashtanga-related injuries, specifically tearing her ligaments doing standing forward bend in half lotus while reaching around her back to hold her big toe, a pose which I must admit I always felt weird about doing - it just never seemed like the correct thing for my knees. She teaches and trains globally, and runs a 3-day per week drop-in class at her beautiful Kauai home, where I have been fortunate enough to stay for the last two weeks. Michaelle's style and demeanor is very straightforward and her message is simple - when you have great alignment, everything in your body is in balance and you are pain-free. She argues that we don't need to spend time stretching and forcing our bodies into non-intuitive positions (i.e., sitting in chairs, or doing extreme forward bends), we need to rather spend time allowing our bodies to recall and adopt our naturally-given, proper alignment - our "kid bodies".

Sixty years young, she moves and surfs with the ease of someone half her age. I took her class twice while I stayed with her, no small feat given that each one was well over two hours in length.  We practiced in her organic, on-site yoga studio, listening to birds, rain, and wind, and watching lizards climb the half-screened walls. Her classes have a strong lecture component - they are as much a physiology lesson as an experience in movement. The walls are covered with pictures of the human body, the muscular and skeletal system from every angle and she explains the anatomy of each whole-body pose before we attempt it - so we understand why and how before we do. The class also has a strong focus on breath - as the ultimate core-strengthener and body-opening pose. We alternate nostril breathing with an o-shape "sip" breath - like you are silently drinking from a straw or taking a toke (whatever analogy works best for you).  Exhales are alternatively hisses, "S-hale", or the tongue-out lion's breath. Self-massage, short-duration isometric tensing and lengthening in a variety of poses, and work deep into the core round out the class.

Since a primary focus of YogAlign (obviously) is posture - Michaelle gave me a quick assessment of mine - hunched shoulders (computer work and climbing) and backward bowed legs (genetics, loose ligaments, and a tendency to lock my knees). I was basically too strong and too flexible to have proper posture without conscious effort - pulling my scapula together and down, softening my knees. Small changes, big impact.

On the whole, doing YogAlign was entirely different than any yoga class I have ever been to, and challenging in both its subtlety and its transformative promise.  While we probably did no more than 20 poses in those two-plus hours of class, I spent the rest of the entire day feeling, open, relaxed, and softly energized. More open breath channels perhaps? More self-awareness and more self-love?

So am I complete convert? Yes and no. I don't think I will be giving up my power yoga anytime soon, but I will stay away from those poses that always made me feel uncomfortable (i.e., things that twisted my knees and compressed my spine) and modify or skip them as Michaelle has now empowered me to do. I have also noticed that since meeting and talking to Michaelle I spend a lot more time doing posture checks and lengthening breathing (i.e., "sips" in and "S-hales" out). Michaelle's goal is give people the tools they need to live a healthy, pain-free and breath-filled life. That is a pretty great mission, I think. Mahalo.

You can learn much more about the YogAlign Method at Michaelle's Website, from articles she has written, or from her book. Better yet, you can visit her on Kauai and take her class! This is what her studio looks like:

If you want to learn more about my Fitness Project, please see the following posts:
Fitness Project Ground Rules
Fitness Project Design
Fitness Project - Month One

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