Aloha in Waikiki

FOND Group had the honor of helping to produce the first annual Aha Kai Aloha Festival celebrating Hawaiian Surf and Cultural Heritage which took place in Waikiki this past fall. Alison Berman caught up with visionary pro surfer Rochelle Ballard to learn more about the memorable day and the inspiration behind the event.

All Photos by Kai Markell
In Hawaii, surfing is more than an activity or a pass time. It is more than a sport. Surfing goes deep into the heritage of Hawaii; it is embedded in the roots of Hawaiian culture. And, nodding to that deep significance was the first annual Aha Kai Aloha Festival, a one-day Hawaiian cultural surfing event that debuted in Kūhio Beach Park in Waikīkī on September 6th, 2014. The dawn-to-dusk festival was a celebration of traditional Hawaiian surfing and also so much more. It was an effort to bring together and nurture the many at-risk and homeless youth of Waikīkī and reconnect them with their Hawaiian heritage through surf sessions, workshops on Hawaiian traditional practices, and also educating youth on resources available within the community. “It was a really amazing shared day of Aloha, and that’s what Aha Kai Aloha is, it’s bringing earth into the ocean or valley into the sea using all of the elements for sustainability, bringing together the wisdom of perpetuating the land and sea through the love of surfing-Aha Kai Aloha. In Hawaiian culture it is called Ahupua’a -from the valley into the sea of Hawaiian cultural sustainability,” said Rochelle Ballard, professional world-class surfer, who first had the vision for the festival.

Pro surfer Rochelle Ballard (center) leads the opening ceremonies with 'Uncle' Bruce Keaulani of the Living Life Source Foundation.

Pro surfer Rochelle Ballard (center) leads the opening ceremonies with ‘Uncle’ Bruce Keaulani of the Living Life Source Foundation.

Rochelle moved to Kauai, Hawaii as a child, which is where she later took her first leap onto a surfboard. She is an accomplished professional female surfer and veteran of the Association of Surfing Professional’s (ASP) World Championship Tour, and also starred in the original Blue Crush film. After an inspiring professional career, Rochelle continues to cultivate her love for surfing, one way being through her deep involvement with Living Life Source Foundation (LLSF), the organization behind Aha Kai Aloha Festival. LLSF is a charitable non-profit located in Hawaii’s Manoa Valley and has a beautiful mission, “To restore a system of living by embracing all faiths and modern science; teach concepts vital to creating a life of greater meaning, purpose, and freedom; and, educate the people of Hawaii to become self-sustainable and to perpetuate the life-force spirit of Aloha.” Professor Bruce Keaulani, locally known as Uncle Bruce, is the founder of Living Life Source Foundation and asked Rochelle to create an event that would bring together the organization’s efforts with local youth and the healing aspect of what LLSF stands for. And from this sparked the inspiration for Aha Kai Aloha Festival.

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FOND Founder, Nicole Delma, honored to share a moment with legendary shaper Pohauku Stone.

The festival opened with a prayer chant, Oli. Rochelle recounts the moment, “A shower came through, and everyone was facing the ocean, listening to the water and the waves, as to bless the day with safety and the Aloha spirit.” The festival offered a mix of workshops that taught youth about Hawaiian traditions such as pounding Poi, which is the process of pounding taro root into a dough like consistency. A large focus of the day was also to show youth the connection between surfing and Hawaii’s ecology. Local Tom “Pohaku” Stone brought this to life through a hands-on workshop on papa he’e nalu, showing the kids how traditional Hawaiian wooden surfboards are carved. Through teaching these traditional methods it also continues that important aspect of Hawaiian culture, Rochelle explains, “When you stop doing these practices then the culture dies, and people are no longer fulfilling the Aloha, the spirit of where they came from.”

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Aiding at-risk and homeless youth can be a delicate undertaking. On the streets of Waikīkī, it isn’t always easy to identify which kids are homeless, even more so, each child has their own unique story and circumstances. Knowing this, the festival was designed to be as inviting as possible, acknowledging that whether teaching a surf lesson or introducing to a local charitable resource, a critical first step is to earn trust.

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Local groms prepare for the female longboard competition.

Youth Outreach (YO!), which provides medical and social services to homeless youth through YO! drop-in centers in partnership with Waikiki Health and Hale Kipa, Inc., was one of the resources available to the children, as well as Surfrider Spirit Sessions (SSS), a Hawaiian non-profit that serves at risk youth through ocean-based experiential education and mentoring programs.

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Commentator Kaipo Guerrero (left) lent his voice and surf expertise to the day’s events. Guerrero is a well-known announcer in the sport of surfing and a fan favorite.

Surf lessons and an eight-division surf competition open to the public also took place during the day. Competition entry fee was waved for canned food donations and divisions were bracketed by age, not gender, encouraging participating for the love of the sport, rather than for fierce competition.

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Local youth take turns experiencing outrigger canoe rides through the Waikiki surf.

With over 600 arriving for the festival, 100 participating in the surf competition, and 400 healthy breakfast and lunch meals shared, the impact of the first annual Aha Kai Aloha Festival was inspiring. The festival is committed to continuing to partner with existing organizations to enhance and support their efforts to aid local at-risk youth, both for next year’s event, and also with the possibility of building workshops throughout the year.

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Volunteers teach local youth how to make traditional Poi from locally grown Taro root.

Surfing holds a unique significance within Hawaiian culture, which Aha Kai Aloha Festival gracefully demonstrated by connecting at-risk youth with their heritage, its traditions, and community recourses, all through the shared love of surfing and Aloha.

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Special Thanks to Alison E. Berman for this recap of an amazing event and to the Elkes Foundation for helping to make it possible.

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Alison is a storyteller, marketer, and the founder of digital storytelling platform Anchor & Leap. She has a complex understanding of multi-channel storytelling and gained her roots working at prominent media companies Meredith Corporation as a Marketing Manager and previously at Rodale, Inc.’s in-house content marketing agency. While at Rodale, Alison also facilitated a company-wide social media think tank that was formed by CEO Maria Rodale.

As a consultant, Alison helps companies define and share their own stories through rich content marketing and strategy—all with a focus on aligning messaging with the core values of the organization. Some past clients include Nissan, Applegate, Norton by Symantec, Kraft Foods, and Energizer Holdings.

Alison is passionate about creative cultures, design thinking, and social enterprise. You can follow her on Twitter @DigitAlison

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

 

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By Moira Bailey

Hungry for the Outdoors

New York City is an incredible place. Some even call it magical. Dwellers of the city bask in its wonders and gloat that it is “the best city on earth.” Yet with everything New York is credited for having, it is equally known as one of the most challenging cities in which to lead a balanced life. This is especially true if you find solace through time spent in nature. And for this reason, the city both loses outdoor enthusiasts each year, and has gained the reputation of being an outdoor “unfriendly” city. When faced with how to blend urban life and nature, many New Yorkers who desire both are left feeling that they must choose one to leave behind.

But what if New Yorkers could both live in the city and love the outdoors? This, in fact, was Sarah Knapp’s inspiration when she created OutdoorFest.

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Making s’mores with Biolite stoves during OutdoorFest’s VIP Launch Party

OutdoorFest is a 10-day festival that brings the outdoors to New York City through a series of events in Manhattan and surrounding boroughs. The first one took place this summer, and featured an impressive collection of events: stand up paddle boarding and sailing on the Hudson River, rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, surfing at the Far Rockaways, a nature walk with Ken Chaya through Central Park, and more. Fascinated by OutdoorFest, I attended a female surfer meetup that screened AWAY, a documentary by Elisa Bates about the subculture of NYC surfing. That evening at the meetup, I sipped a local hard cider at an artsy surf shop on the Lower East Side, and watched in amazement as the seemingly displaced (and feisty) surfer gals of the city came out from their apartments and gathered together under one roof. And this undertaking, of constructing community, lies at the core of OutdoorFest.

Though the mission of OutdoorFest is to make the outdoor lifestyle accessible to urban dwellers, Sarah explains that, “it’s not just about accessibility to the outdoors, it’s about connecting people with the outdoors and creating a community while doing so.” When Sarah first moved to New York City, it took her a while to locate the outdoor community. Experiencing this, she set out to create a space for people to feel like they are a part of an outdoor enthusiast community while also living in the city. Sarah’s vision is ultimately to bring OutdoorFest to other dense urban environments like Chicago and D.C., where people experience challenges to urban living, stating “If it were just a dedication to the outdoors, I would move, but it’s a dedication to the reality that people live in cities, and then caring about the livability of cities. I love going outside and want that for others; the answer for how to do that is by creating the space and community.”

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Founder Sarah Knapp (left) during OutdoorFest June 2014

Sarah, through OutdoorFest, brought the hungry outdoor enthusiasts of the city exactly what they needed—community.

Curious to join this community and learn about upcoming events? Check out Mappy Hour, OutdoorFest’s monthly gathering of outdoor enthusiasts around maps, guidebooks, beer, and adventure stories.

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By Alison E. Berman

Montauk celebrates Rell Sunn

By Moira Bailey
When legendary surfer Rell Sunn died of cancer in 1998, Montauk surfer and businessman Roger Feit was inspired to organize a surf competition to both celebrate her life and raise money for cancer awareness. On Aug. 2, the 16th Annual Rell Sunn Surf Contest will draw surfers of all ages to Ditch Plains beach in Montauk to continue the tradition, one that’s evolved to help local families navigate the financial rip tides of cancer and serious illness. The funds are disbursed through the East End Foundation, co-founded by Feit, often in modest amounts that can still make a “huge difference,” whether to bridge a mortgage payment or cushion the loss of a job.

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And because it’s a local effort, Feit can describe exactly who the money raised this year will help: a widow whose husband recently died of brain cancer;  a man out of work for a stretch while his wife’s been fighting cancer; two children who’ve just lost their father; a single mom whose son’s battling cancer.  Feit works with Alice Houseknecht, an East End Foundation director,  on “due diligence” to assess each situation, often brought to their attention by friends or neighbors. Through the years, Feit guesses they’ve raised some $300,000.

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“Montauk is a special place for a lot of reasons,” says Feit, 68, who credits a connected community for the event’s success. “There’s a lot of goodness in the people,”  he says. “The community has been coming together for years and years.” For kids in the annual surf competition, especially, Feit says there’s fun but also a reminder “it’s really benefiting somebody.” That, plus they see family and friends working on the event, from selling T-shirts and raffle tickets to cleaning up the beach after. And Feit’s seen some happy outcomes: one boy, a cancer patient whose family home was saved by donations years ago, is now “completely healthy.”

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This year’s surf contest starts at 8 a.m.  and features events in various categories  (long boards to paddle boards to “whatever you want to ride or wear”) for both children and adults. “The little kids get into it,” says Feit , who guesses some 60 to 70 surfers will take to the waves this year. Activities on dry land include a raffle (with prizes donated by local merchants including The Atlantic Terrace, Gosman’s Dock and Yoga Lila), T-shirt sales,  and an auction featuring works by local artists.  “It’s a celebration of surfing,” says Feit. “It’s a celebration of life.”

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For more information: http://www.gofundme.com/Rell-Sun-Surf-Benefit or https://www.facebook.com/rellsunsurfcontestbenefit.

TO ENTER, DOWNLOAD THE ENTRY FORM HERE

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Special thanks to Jesse Anthony Spooner and Tyler Brueur for announcing this year’s event!

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Jesse Anthony Spooner with surf student Logan Tarlow, @spoonsurf

 

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Tyler Breuer of Smashsurf @smashsurf

 

 

 

 

Immunity is Yours this Fall – FOND’s Fire Cider Giveaway

Last spring, I discovered what I now refer to as ‘My Secret Weapon’.
This fall, I’m giving it to you.

“Here’s to feeling good, All the time.” — Fire Cider

While in Africa this past March, I exposed my body to a slew of immunity threats by visiting the slums of Johannesburg, working with kids at orphanages in Alex, going on a down-and-dirty safari in Zimbabwe and running a 35 mile Ultramarathon through harsh wind and rain in Capetown. Though I managed to stay healthy the entire trip, all of that adventure combined with the 19 hour flight home left me feeling pretty ragged and beginning to succumb to the grips of a nasty head cold.

Within 24 hours of my return home, that cold was full-on but I had a ton of work to do and could not afford to be laid up. Out on Long Island for a client meeting, I decided to stop by Naturally Good, a favorite health foods and juice shop in Montauk to see what kind of magic I could find to get my body back on track.

Determined to get back in the swing of things without taking any gross over the counter cold meds, I commiserated with Emma, the adorable girl who works the counter and asked her what juice was best for immunity. She offered a green juice but also insisted that I had to try Fire Cider , THE cure-all that all of the local surfers and fisherman used fight off colds and flues throughout the exceptionally harsh winter season. (Hurricane Sandy, remember?) I took her word for it and downed the $4 a shot concoction.

BAM! One potent mouthful of tangy, vinegary goodness later and I knew I’d just done something very good for my body. Immunity was mine!

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As shocking as the taste was, it went down smooth with a sweet honey aftertaste that made my entire body just say, ‘ahhhh’. Our bodies know what is good for us and a shot of this rare brew seemed to alert all those feel-good senses — waking up my immune system and instantly jolting me from suffering mode to battle mode. I could feel a difference in my head right away – eyes opened up, my throat was clear and smooth and my sinuses dilated allowing me to breathe normally again. It’s hard to explain but the best analogy I can think of is that it’s literally like punching a cold in the face. TKO.

The flavor filled Fire Cider elixir is based in apple cider vinegar and jam packed with powerful natural immunity boosting agents including  garlic, honey, citrus fruits, ginger, hot peppers, turmeric and onions. Many of these ingredients are not-so-surprisingly also found in the age old remedy of homemade chicken soup though Fire Cider is a whole lot faster, more potent and doesn’t involve the use of animal products for those who are averse. What’s more, you don’t have to shoot it straight, it works just as well if used in other foods such as salad dressings, sauces, even cocktails. (We snuck in a couple snapshots of recipes from the prize pack below).

It isn’t like other immunity boosters I have tried such as Vitamin C or Echinacea in that you don’t take it and then sit back and wait to see if it makes a difference.  You feel the difference right away.  It’s a mix that fires like a bolt of lightening – immediately helping to clear the head, soothe the throat and bring dulled senses back to normal again. I’m sure I sound a bit like an infomercial here but this stuff really is the goods.  I was so impressed by my experience with Fire Cider that I immediately bought a couple bottles – one for the remainder of that cold and one to keep on hand should any other germs decide to wreak havoc.

In addition to actually really working to keep sickness as bay, the Massachusetts based makers of Fire Cider employ a very conscientious approach to its production to ensure there are plenty of other reasons to love the stuff. It comes in a beautiful and reusable bottle with hand drawn art and cartoons as well as the charming handwritten history behind the brew. Fire cider is also crafted with organic and local ingredients so It’s pure and you know exactly what you are putting in to your body and why the ingredients are good for you. Best of all, there are no side effects except feeling better. How many other effective cold treatments can say that?

Since then, I have gifted a number of bottles to friends and struck up a conversation with Amy Huebner, one of the company’s founders to see how I can help spread the word. Cue Giveaway! Fire Cider generously offered to give away a prize pack for a lucky FOND reader and I am thrilled to be able to share out ‘My Secret Weapon’ with everyone. After all, the healthier you all are – the healthier I am!

Whether you win it or buy it, it is certainly worth the investment ($12 for 8oz.) to keep a bottle of this magical stuff on hand as we get into cold and flu season. Oh, and rumor has it, it’s a miracle hangover cure as well so maybe hang on to a bottle as holidays (and inlaws) roll around.

With Fire Cider, be well.

ENTER TO WIN BELOW!

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ENTER HERE to win a Fire Cider Prize Pack Including:

  • 8 oz bottle of Fire Cider
  • Fire Cider Signature Shot Glass
  • Fire Cider Original Recipe Book
  • Fire Cider T-Shirt (we will ask your size when you win)

WE’RE SORRY, THIS CONTEST HAS ENDED AND THE WINNER IS BEING NOTIFIED. PLEASE CHECK BACK FOR OTHER GIVEAWAYS OR SIGN UP HERE to JOIN OUR EMAIL LIST AND GET NOTIFIED OF FUTURE AWESOME POSTS!

RECIPES!

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THE GOODS

"Here's to feeling good, All the time."

“Here’s to feeling good, All the time.”

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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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