Freedom to Choose
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor Frankl n.d.
Five years ago, I walked into a yoga studio, sat down on a mat, and took my first Kaiut Yoga class. My body was a bit unknown to me at that point. Sure, I thought about it plenty in the sense of “How do I look? Have I gained weight? How’s my fitness level? I have to pee.” I was aware of what my body could do athletically, how it compared to other bodies and what it could accomplish. But I didn’t really connect that much with the inside of my body. And frankly, this lack of connection made me kind of scared of my body because I was only really paying attention when problems were speaking up with discomfort or pain. Beginning with my initial experience on that mat, however, this relationship started – slowly but irrevocably — to change. I closed my eyes, explored my ankles, my hips and my shoulders. I discovered that not only was my body not like anyone else’s, but my right hip wasn’t even like my left.
The Kaiut Yoga method is unique in that instead of trying to put the body into a specific shape or conform precisely to a defined pose, we are exploring the directional movement of our body within that pose. We pay attention to what we are feeling — gathering feedback from sensation and letting this feedback guide our positioning. When we find and feel rigidity, we start exploring around its edges. For example, in curving the torso forward while in a seated cross-legged pose, the goal is not to curve all the way forward with the forehead on the mat, but rather to explore the hips — seeking out sensation and thereby identifying restrictions in the joints. In such moments, the Kaiut student prioritizes the body’s experience over its shape. If my hips are feeling a lot of sensation or maybe even some pain from allowing my torso to hang forward pressed by gravity then I position my torso in just the right spot to be on the edge of that sensation.
It’s in this space that our body can adroitly recognize and address any restrictions which might exist — supporting biomechanical health, releasing restrictions, and softening rigidity. If we add too much pressure, if we push our body to achieve a complex or even simple pose without paying attention to the feedback being received, then we risk a negative reaction from the system. Such a reaction may result in complication such as driving the restrictions deeper, or even injury. Paying attention to the feedback might sound like a simple task, but it’s not when we live in a modern world where we largely disconnect from the body. Consistent and attentive practice is required in order to rebuild one’s lost neurological connections. Working in such a space our body can feel safe. And in a safe space, the body responds with health instead of a defensive reaction.
As I continued to take classes and start my own personal practice at home, I researched and connected to bones, soft tissue, joints, skin and fluids inside my body. I was exploring where I could move, what was uneven. I sat in the space of discomfort and touched pain. I started mapping out an understanding of my restrictions. And I realized that somehow going into my body, this thing that I had been afraid of, actually made me feel safer. And I felt safer not just in my body, but in my life.
But then an even more curious thing happened as I continued my practice. At some point, yoga started to become a framework not only for understanding my body, but for my wider life itself. I don’t mean that I became more yogic; I didn’t immerse myself completely in yoga culture and only hang out with “yoga people”. Instead, I instinctively started to approach life situations in the same way that I approach body poses in Kaiut. I started to find that space where I could notice what was actually occurring within a given interaction or conflict rather than react defensively. I could “sit” in life’s inevitable moments of occasional discomfort, look around, and feel the edges. I would research, I would question, and I started responding more and reacting less. I started to sometimes consciously choose a response. As someone who had always reacted immediately, now sometimes my response was to give no response at all. Not only was I transforming the patterns in my body, but I was literally starting to change the patterns in my personality and my interaction with the outside world.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the first Kaiut Yoga School in Curitiba, Brazil. I was speaking with one of the teachers who has been teaching for many years. She said
For every restriction we have in the body, there is a corresponding restriction in the mind.
As we start to unlock the rigidity of the body, we also release restrictions residing in the mind — creating a practice that makes space between stimulus and response. This is not a one-time fix, but a practice of finding and holding a space which ultimately gives us the freedom to choose.
St. Louis, MO