YOGA + SCIENCE, DISCOVERING THE ANATOMY OF WELLNESS WITH MICHAELLE EDWARDS

HOW I LEARNED TO RETHINK MY BODY BACK INTO ITS RIGHTFUL POSITION

When I visited Hawaii this past spring, I was told stories about a very special woman living up in the hills of Kauai named Michaelle Edwards who had dedicated her life to helping people get repositioned in their bodies so that they could enjoy them as they were meant to be used. This intrigued me on a personal level as I had often felt as though I wasn’t sitting quite right in my body and had great difficulty doing anything that required me to remain still for any length of time. More than just your average restlessness, my body actually brought me tremendous pain if I was forced to be still and, while this predisposition served me well in sports and running very long distances, it also prevented me from pursuing other activities I was curious about such as yoga or meditation.

Regardless, I had tried Yoga only to be chastised by teachers who insisted it was the restlessness of my mind that was causing my physical pain (viable, I thought) or forcefully tried to ‘straighten me out’ and pressure me in to positions my body wasn’t ready to accept. Strangely, not one teacher had ever suggested the reverse – could it be that the positioning of my body might actually be agitating my mind? What’s more, as a trained massage therapist versed in anatomy and physiology, I found it very disturbing that some of my teachers didn’t even know the various parts of the body or the mechanics of how they were connected yet they were bold enough to sit on me to try and get my body where they thought it should be. There had to be a better way to work with my body, I thought.

The view from Michaelle's property in the hills of Kauai just outside Hanalei.
The view from Michaelle’s property in the hills of Kauai just outside Hanalei.

While reading Michaelle Edward’s book YogAlign, which was gifted to me by one of her former students, Pro Surfer Rochelle Ballard, I read something that quite possibly changed my life. Using detailed attention to anatomy and physiology, Michaelle explained that the Psoas muscles, which connect your spine to your legs, have a direct connection to your emotional state and that connection goes both ways. You see, the Psoas are somewhat of the ‘fight of flight’ muscles that respond directly to stress and are linked to the proactive tightening of the tissues around our torso/major organs that occurs to protect our most vital parts when danger or a threat are imminent (an approaching predator, for instance). The thing is, improper positioning or stress on these muscles and associated nerves can actually cause the agitation in the centers the brain responsible for the ‘fight of flight’ response to stay on well after the perceived threat is present and when there is no threat at all. Hence, a physically rooted cause for a restless mind. Aha! This was a light bulb moment for me and I at once contacted Michaelle and arranged come and study/work with her for a week at her home and studio on Kauai.

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As I got to know her, I learned that Michaelle Edwards has spent the better part of her 60 years studying the human anatomy, the dynamics of movement, the brain/body connection and various disciplines of yoga and bodywork and applying that knowledge to her own unique method. Over time, that method evolved into a specific set of exercises or adapted Yoga poses aimed at freeing that stress on the Psoas and thereby relaxing the mind and just generally shifting us into a more peaceful place at home within our bodies. Her technique, called YogAlign is the embodiment of much of her life’s work coupled with her own personal practice and that of the hundreds of students she has worked with over the years. Understanding the intricacies of human anatomy, its connection to our brain and our spiritual and emotional well being is Michaelle’s passion and, after spending a week with her, I could clearly see was also her calling.

Out front of Michaelle's property, an ample supply of surfboards, snorkels and fresh bananas.

Out front of Michaelle’s property, an ample supply of surfboards, snorkels and fresh bananas.

I arrived at Michaelle’s amazing green property just outside of Hanalei in early July where I was housed with Katrina, one of her advanced students who teaches YogAlign in LA and was there helping her to shoot some informational videos to post on YouTube. The property is nearly completely sustainable and she and her students can subsist on the fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs and coconut water naturally provided from her land with little need for anything from the outside. As I came to learn, this is not unique on Kauai and is part of a growing movement to help keep out GMO yet, for Michaelle, it was just a way of living she had acquired nearly 40 years earlier to stay in sync with the natural environment around her. This pure diet is likely one of the reasons she looks substantially younger than she actually is and is literally exploding with energy.

Michaelle at work with a student in her studio.

Michaelle at work with a student in her studio.

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Our days together mainly consisted of an hour of YogAlign group class in the morning, an hour or two of swimming in Hanalei Bay early afternoon (in which she always swam twice as fast as me), running on the beach or on the trails above her home followed by a natural lunch and then 2-3 hours of focused practice working on my own unique ‘posture challenges’ and learning a specific combination of exercises, breathing, bodywork and mental techniques I could use to reset and realign myself to a more natural and dynamic positioning. As Michaelle explained it, our bones are really just ‘strung’ together by our fascia, muscles and ligaments – all of which are soft tissue and can be coaxed back to their optimal positions. When we are aligned, motions and proper posture take far less effort as the natural human form is quite efficient by design- just watch a toddler move sometime and you will see how effortless their motions are before their posture begins to get compromised.

Daily swimming is part of Michaelle's healthful regimen. The waters of Kauai are said to be curative.

Daily swimming is part of Michaelle’s healthful regimen. The waters of Kauai are said to be curative.

Michaelle absolutely blew my mind with her knowledge and I genuinely felt as though I was sharing time with someone who had indeed ‘figured it out’ and was on to something remarkable. After one week, I could see a marked difference in my posture and actually measured a full inch taller in height as a result of the release of the pressure on my spine that was being imposed by a wound up Psoas from years of suboptimal posture and overconditioning. What’s more, I felt so different. I was sleeping better than I had in months, my eyes and sinuses were clear and my energy levels were steady and strong. At 60, Michaelle still ran circles around me in terms of her energy level but I got the sense that she had tapped into some inner knowledge of health and longevity that others had not.

The studio where we practiced daily. Michaelle hosts regular retreats and training on her property: Manayoga.com

The studio where we practiced daily. Michaelle hosts regular retreats and training on her property: Manayoga.com

We took before and after photos, measurements and careful notations on things I would not otherwise have looked at such as the distance and positioning between my toes. Realizing that my little toes being crunched up had a direct connection to pain in my neck was eye opening, literally. There were techniques she showed me which actually changed the way my face looked by altering and releasing the stresses that pulled on my eyes and jaw and positioning of my head to my body. We sat together and went through photos of her previous students who had even more dramatic results after spending weeks with her and even my skeptic’s mind started to change. Perhaps the secret to ‘straightening out’ my body had nothing to do with forcing through painful positions and stretching muscles to the point where I was hot and throbbing in pain. Perhaps the key to evoking lasting change in my posture was actually in these very subtle movements coupled with focused breath and mental techniques. (You can see some before and after photos here on Michaelle’s site Manayoga.com. )

Since leaving, I have kept up with the practice and continue to see added benefits and results. I look and feel taller, lighter. My core is toned and elongated all the way around. My running is better than ever as I now feel as though my legs and hips are moving efficiently in an anatomically correct gait. I would not go so far as to say that I am a Yoga devotee but, when it comes to YogAlign and the techniques and theory I learned from Michaelle, I can say that I have unquestionably received tremendous benefit and that the quality of my life has improved as a result.

Michaelle even taught me how to sit correctly (though she is the first to explain how most of our human health woes seem to have evolved out of our sitting culture). As I sit and write this, I am pain free and thinking of my next run – a 22 miler and considering I might actually bump it up a day as the need to recover from yesterday’s 18 miler just doesn’t seem to be there the way it used to be.

Thank you Michaelle for helping me to find a pain-free way to be within my own body – in stillness and in motion. I can’t promise I will sit still any time soon but, at least it is good to know that I now can 🙂

Mahalo!

Nicole

MICHAELLE IS COMING TO NY! – SEP 21, 2013This Fall, Michaelle is making her way to New York to teach her first ever clinic here: Change Your Posture, Change Your Life. The class will take place on September 21 and I will be sure to be there and will post more information on how to sign up as it becomes available. If you are interested, feel free to email me at nicole@fondgroup.com and I will alert you when I have those details.

The view of the studio from above, nestled in the green hills.

The view of the studio from above, nestled in the green hills.

The GMO controversy came up a lot during my time on Kauai - a heated local and global debate.

The GMO controversy came up a lot during my time on Kauai – a heated local and global debate.

Michaelle cracking open a fresh coconut for me post-class.

Michaelle cracking open a fresh coconut for me post-class.

Her beautiful chickens that provide much of the protein for the property.

Her beautiful chickens that provide much of the protein for the property.

The chicken coup.

The chicken coup.

Daily greens with equally vibrant views were a part of the wellness routine at Manayoga.

Daily greens with equally vibrant views were a part of the wellness routine at Manayoga.

View from a hike above the house.

View from a hike above the house.

The stunning hidden bamboo gardens Michaelle took me to.

The stunning hidden bamboo gardens Michaelle took me to.

Mangoes and papayas fresh from the trees were in constant supply at the house.

Mangoes and papayas fresh from the trees were in constant supply at the house.

An accomplished musician, Michaelle treated us to an impromptu jazz performance after dinner one night.

An accomplished musician, Michaelle treated us to an impromptu jazz performance after dinner one night.

Hanalei Farmer's Market was easily one of the best I've ever experienced. Fruits and veggies you've never seen before and GMO free!

Hanalei Farmer’s Market was easily one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Fruits and veggies you’ve never seen before and GMO free!

The view from the backyard never got old.

The view from the backyard never got old.

Hanalei sunsets were spectacular every night.

Hanalei sunsets were spectacular every night.

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