How Kaiut Yoga Can Benefit the Body and the Brain
By Kathleen O’Brien, Freelance Health Writer
Are you intrigued by the health benefits of yoga but put off by images of athletic 25-year-olds twisting their limbs in impossible-looking poses?
True, some yoga practices do cater to the young and fit, but the good news is that there is one method, Kaiut Yoga, that’s geared to people of all ages and abilities. Not only that, this practice, which consists of subtle movements and prolonged positions, can help relieve chronic pain and increase mobility.
“I know my work has a tremendous impact on people’s pain levels,” not because I try to relieve pain but because I focus on restoring function, says Francisco Kaiut, who developed this method in Brazil nearly 30 years ago. “I have had students tell me, ’I know I am aging – I can see it in the mirror — but I cannot feel it anywhere in my body.”
From Kaiut’s perspective, attempts to avoid pain (say, by moving cautiously to avoid falling) ultimately backfire, diminishing range of motion and worsening discomfort. “We’ve been designed to have a certain potential for movement and when we are overusing or underusing, we diminish that potential,” he says.
In Kaiut Yoga, poses are often based on basic natural actions like squatting, a movement that many middle-aged and older people can no longer do. Although increasing your range of motion may initially trigger a painful sensation, eventually “the process might result in you becoming pain-free,” says Kaiut, who is at odds with the popular view that we should not experience pain. “That’s a problem, because a certain level of discomfort is natural,” says Kaiut.
Inspired by the need to manage his own intense pain related to a gunshot injury as a child, Kaiut trained as a chiropractor and studied massage therapy, polarity therapy and cranial sacral therapy. Kaiut’s in-depth understanding of the body as well as research and experience within traditional schools of yoga helped him to develop his approach. He also applied his understanding of modern movement patterns, including the overuse of sitting, to Kaiut Yoga which can break habitual patterns of movement and halt the rigidity that sets in overtime.
Firing up neuromuscular pathways
Although Kaiut Yoga works on a physical level it also has strong mental and mindfulness elements. Kaiut points out that yoga was originally developed to keep the body functional so it could support the mind for long periods of meditation. In the West, “yoga has become more and more physical and less about meditation,” he says. When Westerners went into the East and saw “people moving in their body, [it] was immediately translated as a physical activity,” he adds. In many cases, yoga “has been so physically challenging and so physically intense that the mind has been absolutely neglected.”
In contrast, Kaiut Yoga, which has been likened to Vipassana Meditation, benefits the brain as well as the body, says Kaiut. He calls to attention new information about neuroplasticity that shows how using the body properly creates an “elaborate new level of connection and interaction between the body and the mind.” By improving mobility in your hips, “the brain reads the extra space for movement and … it starts to incorporate more mobility (outside the yoga room) as you walk, as you hike, as you bike…” he says.
Retraining the stress response
Kaiut also points out that his yoga method, which goes at a pace that the nervous system can tolerate, allows people to retrain their stress response. “Most of this practice is designed to nurture the state of growth and repair in the nervous system, and that would immediately impact the way you perceive stress,” he says. “We spend most of their life lost in a reactive mode,” he adds. “Instead of creating a certain set up where you keep avoiding certain stressors, you just change the lens you are using to see life.”
Kaiut is not the only one who extolls the stress releasing benefits of yoga. As Dr. Alex Korb points out in this Psychology Today article, practising (sometimes uncomfortable) poses can train participants to relax their muscles and slow down their breathing rate instead of automatically activating their stress response. As well, in this 2015 review, a research team determined that yoga reduces anxiety, improves mood and boosts the anti-anxiety neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.
Some research even suggests that yoga can affect our genes. For instance, this scientific review, published in 2017, maintains that mindfulness exercises appear to suppress the expression of genes and genetic pathways that promote inflammation, which can potentially impair physical and mental health. As well, a preliminary study published in 2016 showed that women in psychological distress who practised yoga showed epigenetic changes to their DNA. They also had higher levels of interleukin-6 levels, which, according to the researchers, is increasingly recognized in healing and regeneration activities.
No doubt more will be revealed about yoga’s benefits as research continues. “Yoga has worked beautifully well for thousands of years,” now, with Kaiut Yoga, it can evolve to help us cope with an ever-changing society, says the method’s founder. “We now know so much more about the human brain and thought process as well as the physical body that we can expand all the basic concepts of yoga to a whole different level.”