Surfing in India?

Beyond the Surface is an explosion of color and calm, a documentary film, travelogue, and contemplative call to action on issues involving women’s empowerment, helping disadvantaged kids, spirituality and the fragility of the environment.

ManapadWomen copy copy

The women of Beyond the Surface.

It’s a journey powered by the waves of India’s massive coastline, and riding – in part – on the surfboard of 25-year-old Ishita Malaviya, who describes herself as the first woman to pursue surfing professionally in India, one in a small community of total surfers there. “What I love about surfing is that in a country like India where people are divided in terms of caste, creed or economic status,” says Malaviya, “the ocean has been a great equalizer and united us all together.”

The Film's Star: Ishita Malayiva

The Film’s Star: Ishita Malayiva

The film, shot in the spring of 2013 by cinematographer Dave Homcy, was launched the year before when his wife, Hawaii-based surfer and environmentalist Crystal Thornburg-Homcy, contacted Malaviya about meeting during a trip to India. At a local chai shop, Thornburg-Homcy introduced herself and another fellow surfer, Emi Koch, founder of Beyond the Surface International (BTSI). Koch’s non-profit – founded when the now 25-year-old was still at Georgetown University – uses surfing – and a network of surfing groups in different countries – as a means of self-expression and support for underprivileged children in marginalized communities. Koch, who sums up the BTSI mission as “using the power of play for social change,” had hoped to to film and feature young wave riders from the Kovalam Surf Club in southern India.

Dave and Crystal-Thornburg Homcy at work.

Dave and Crystal-Thornburg Homcy at work (left).

With a film as shared goal, Koch and Thornburg-Homcy partnered on the project that would ultimately bear the BTSI name – and asked Malaviya if she’d join them for the ride. “It had always been a dream of mine to meet with other female surfers and surf with them in my own country,” recalls Malaviya, who (with boyfriend Tushar Pathiyan) co-founded and runs a surf school, The Shaka Surf Club, on India’s western coast. Malaviya says she felt “truly honored to be asked to be a part of this project and excited about the possibility of going on a month-long surf adventure!”

Malaviya catches a wave.

Malaviya catches a wave.

That adventure, captured in Beyond The Surface, follows Malaviya, Thornburg-Homcy, Koch and three others (Liz Clark, Lauren Hill and Kate Baldwin) as they travel along India’s southern coast and take to the waves, engaging with the surf club youth and the women they meet en route. The film’s band of surfers, activists and adventurers encourage the women they encounter to join them in the surf, to rediscover their uninhibited selves and feel more connected to the water. “In spite of coming from completely different worlds, we were able to connect with each other over something as simple and profound as the joy of riding a wave, says Malaviya, who’s also “seen how surfing is having a tremendously positive impact in local communities where people are discovering the joys of being in the ocean.” That discovery, in turn, is part of the film’s message of protecting the environment.

Beyond the Surface also documents the travelers’ self-discovery along the way – in yoga practice, surfing and conversation – and the travelers share their experiences, to the accompaniment of a memorable soundtrack and scenery.

CNV00034 copy ≈

As a female surfer, Malaviya is aware of her outlier image and the message it sends to women in India.

“As a woman, I feel that growing up in India toughens you and in many way forces you to grow up a little too soon. I love that surfing not only made me a stronger woman but also reintroduced an element of play back into my life,” she says. “More than anything it has been a great spiritual influence in my life and made me realize the importance of living my life now.” In facing big waves, “I learned to embrace challenges and face my fears head on.”

Malaviya – and her fellow Beyond the Surface surfers – have many goals for the film. One is forging a sense of connectivity. “This is a very pure project,” she says. “I hope that people will be inspired to travel, experience new cultures, connect with others through a common love for the ocean, and develop compassion for our fellow human beings and Mother Nature.”

image_800

Koch sees the finished film, which blends many perspectives, as “a work of art … like a living museum” and evidence of her conviction that “everyone has a story.” To that end, her non-profit’s newest project, Coast 2 Coast  links young people in disparate communities to use their voices to tell and share their stories.

For women, Malaviya says the film’s message transcends borders and cultures.” I hope that these magical moments captured on film will make all women feel like a part of a sisterhood and inspire them to pursue their passion and experience that same sense of liberation in whatever they do.”

 

For more information:

Beyondthesurfacefilm.com

Beyondthesurfaceinternational.org

 

********

By Moira Bailey

When Flexibility Becomes a Liability by Michaelle Edwards

Preventing hip replacements and sacral injuries starts for many people with their yoga or fitness practice.

Last year, approximately 400,000 people had their hips replaced in the United States—and most of them were women.

Why do women’s hips wear out more than men?

Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles are often the key factors leading to hip joint deterioration.

Women have looser ligaments to allow the pelvis to open for the act of childbirth. Beyond birthing, flexibility can be a liability because the lumbar and hip joints must have strong and tight ligaments to keep the parts stable for proper joint function, and shock absorption during movement.

All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip, and be cautious when doing hip ‘opener’ poses practiced in yoga and stretching classes that may be giving you more flexibility than you need, compromising the longevity of your joints.

Michaelle practicing on beautiful Kauai where her school is based.

Michaelle practicing on beautiful Kauai where her school is based.

Longer is not better for your ligaments.

Many people stretch their ligaments too much, unaware that it can take years for pathology in the hip joints to show up.

Every time you sit poorly in a chair, do a five minute child’s pose, or engage in an intense straight-knee forward bend, consider how these positions globally affect the entire body and in particular your spinal column. You are flattening the sacral platform, and over-stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur (thigh bone). It is similar to taking a garment like your favorite pair of pants and tugging on a seam and stretching out the threads (your ligaments) that hold everything together.

Long ligaments can destabilize the dynamics of our pelvis to spine and pelvis to leg attachments leading to SI (sacral/hip) joint or groin pain.

Many people who do yoga and stretching exercises have chronic SI joint pain but keep bending forward to stop the pain unaware that the forward bending pose itself is causing a shortening of the front and excessive strain and over stretching to the back extensors. Most of us are pulled forward and shortened in our front body from excessive time spent in right-angled chairs; hence our back body is strained and over-stretched. It needs to be tightened and strengthened, not stretched.

Forward-bends-can-be-harmful-to-your-body-250x225

There are no straight lines in nature. Forward bends can be harmful to your body.

If you think about it, does leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve in your back in a quest to touch the toes, while keeping the knees straight, honor the integrity of our human spinal design? We used to think the world was flat. Why do we say straighten the spine or tighten your abs to make a flat back? Our world is made of curves and so is our spinal column. There are no straight lines in organic nature.

These positions put a lot of torque on the natural sacral angle, and also undermine the curving forces in the spine and hip joint needed for shock absorption and hip stabilization. Without the lower back curve, you end up with a flat looking posterior or butt and oftentimes-chronic low back, knee and neck pain too.

Your spine does not need to be stretched.

Our vertebral column is strung together with posterior and anterior longitudinal ligaments that get over-stretched when we slouch, or do yoga or fitness positions that engage the forces of spinal flexion over extension and stabilization.

Years of tugging on your ligaments can weaken the forces in your body that hold you together. As ligaments become lax, it can lead to serious postural issues such as forward head carriage, chronic hip, back and knee pain, slowed digestion and elimination, and even a weakened immune system.

If you find yourself feeling tenderness when you walk, sharp pain when doing a pose like revolved triangle or a deep warrior lunge, you may want to back off. This is the beginning of the tragic hip destabilizations and replacements that are rocking the yoga world.

Lady Gaga, a yoga enthusiast, just cancelled her tour with serious hip pain that required surgical repair and sidelined her for months. Was it her intense daily Bikram practice? There are many factors, but yoga certainly did not prevent it from happening.

There are many other famous and not famous yoga teachers and practitioners who have had one or both hips replaced and sadly the numbers are adding up. It just makes sense to ask if yoga pose biomechanics might have contributed to these joint destabilizations. Are we paying attention and learning from this?

YogAlign-standing-forward-bend-250x373

YogAlign standing forward bend.

Touch your toes like a toddler.

Watch how any toddler bends over and you will see hips back, knees bent deeply, butt muscles engaged, and a curving spine when they reach for a ball on the ground. When we keep the knees straight in yoga, and instead ask the spine to flex and bend as in forward bends, we are overriding our natural design forces.

06-Touch Your Toes2

To experience this in motion, keep both knees from bending and walk across the room. Does it feel like driving with a parking brake on? What would your life be like if you could not bend your knees? How could you run, ski, dance, or even move? What is the anatomical advantage of stretching with both knees straight? Does it contribute to the longevity of your joints? Does it have a correlation to how you engage your body in real life function?

Next bend your knees deeply while standing and being to take your hips back while leaning forward until your head is pointing towards the floor. Slowly begin to straighten your knees and notice where you feel the pull or stretch in your body. It is the sacral/hip joint! Does it make anatomical sense to stretch out the ligament stabilizing forces in your spine and hip?

It’s not too late—strengthen your hip and butt muscles.

Active and dynamic movements require effort from the deep hip flexor and gluteus muscles that attach the femur (thigh bone) to your pelvis. So working any yoga pose with strength and motion—instead of relaxing into a static pose—will benefit your hip/femur joint.

For people who are already experiencing hip joint problems or sciatic pain, strengthening your postural muscles using deep breathing while in natural spine positions can activate dormant extension and expansion forces that allow your bones to ‘float.’ Keeping your knees bent when bending over enlists your gluteus or butt muscles to create strong muscular actions to help to stabilize your pelvis and contribute to functional biomechanics and strong stabilization forces.

Once your body experiences working in a healthy, connected fashion, your ligaments can regain their natural length, protecting your hip joint and sciatic nerve from wear and tear.

Focusing on an overall balance of strength and flexibility needed for daily movements ensures the integrity of our natural infrastructure is preserved, and also allows for the deep diaphragm movements that are the cornerstone of a yoga practice.

The key to healthy alignment is accommodating your breathing process.

Breathing dynamics provide the best tool for checking if a pose contributes towards natural alignment.

When doing any yoga poses, see if you can take a full breath that allows your diaphragm to contract downwards and your rib cage to expand. If you cannot take a deep breath, then the pose is activating externalized forces in your body that override the body’s natural and essential core movements and infrastructures.

The core of your core is your psoas muscle group.

Breathing deeply engages the psoas muscle that connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine to the upper inner thighbone or femur. Sitting in chairs or doing forward bends with straight knees shortens the psoas, which can lead to bulging or herniated discs. The psoas is the only muscle group in the human body that is attached to the discs of the spine. In many people the inner groin and psoas is short and tight although the ligaments in the pelvis may be too loose. A shortened psoas can affect the delicate balance of the hip joint possibly leading to compression in the hip socket and deterioration of the joint.

Learning to activate the psoas as a stabilizer and not just a flexor can be done through breathing techniques and specialized exercises. In a new style of yoga called YogAlign, a pose called the core connector activates the psoas/diaphragm connection quickly restoring equilibrium to the psoas. Balancing the actions of the psoas can stop chronic back pain, stabilize the spine and create a fluid balance of the whole body.

Natural flexibility honors spinal integrity.

The truth is, that over a period of time, yoga practitioners—like any discipline that has habitual positions or compartmentalized static poses—will often suffer from injuries in the long and short term.

When posture is naturally aligned, the human body stays flexible without the need to do dozens of intense stretches to relieve tension of the parts.

The ligaments that string our vertebral column are getting stretched beyond their anatomical functions when we do poses that take our spine into the C shape; which is the bane of aging.

Remember, like all of nature, the human body is made of curves and spirals. What has the most value is to remember our innate postural patterns, and preserve the natural integrity of our spine and joints.

Michaelle Edwards is the director of the Kauai Yoga School in Hawaii, inventor of YogAlign and author of the book/DVD combo; YogAlign, Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core. She is an ERYT, Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), professional musician, and posture educator. She is devoted to giving people painless, inexpensive self-care tools to heal chronic pain and injuries using common sense techniques that work quickly and painlessly.

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.

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.

yogalign_book_cover_sm

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.

IMG_4776

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.

%d bloggers like this: