Roughly a third of Americans live with chronic pain. Even more people are dealing with a chronic health condition. As the opioid crisis continues, new treatments that focus on lifestyle changes like exercise, rehabilitation therapies, yoga, and cognitive behavioral therapies are rising in popularity. A new form of yoga called Kaiut Yoga is one such therapy.
Julia O’Shea, a respiratory therapist at the UVM Medical Center, and practitioner of Kaiut Yoga, discusses how this form of yoga is offered to patients at the Medical Center, as part of integrative therapies. Kaiut yoga is offered at the UVM Medical Center on Mondays, 4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. To learn more, please contact Julie O’Shea at Julia.O’Shea@uvmhealth.org.
What is Kaiut Yoga?
Julia O’Shea: Kaiut Yoga is all about biomechanical health (or said another way, your freedom of movement).
It has been designed to work through chronic pain & injuries, general aches & stiffness, and work for the inflexible, hyper flexible and the aging body.
It’s truly Yoga for every BODY. The practice is done mostly on the floor at a slower pace while focusing on the joints.
This style of yoga was developed by Francisco Kaiut, who is a Brazilian chiropractor. His story is that when he was younger, around six years old, he was accidentally shot in the hip. The injury obviously changed the course of his life.
Growing up, he was dealing with chronic pain from this injury. This led him to the path of becoming a chiropractor, where he studied many different types of healing modalities, eventually coming across yoga. His study of yoga lead him to teach to his chiropractic patients and from what I understand this evolved into Kaiut yoga.
Kaiut Yoga is typically done at a much slower pace. Most of the class is done on the floor. We use the body as a leverage system to get into the joints. Physiologically there so much that moves through the joints: the blood vessels, ligaments, lymphatic fluid, and the muscles.
By getting into the joints, we access the way to communicate to the nervous system. By doing this, we can allow the body to go into a restorative or a repair mode. It sounds very relaxing, which it is, but it’s also quite challenging because we’re holding poses for a longer amount of time.
How is it different from other types of yoga?
Julia O’Shea: It’s different than other types of yoga because I feel it better designed to match our modern lifestyle. Which ties into the biomechanical health. Kaiut yoga helps to support the body to work through the restrictions thus increasing mobility.
This type of yoga is for every body type. I have people coming to my class with various backgrounds and histories or conditions. Some are very stiff or rigid, and some are hyper-mobile or hyper-flexible. I work with all sorts of different body types and ages.
- I feel that what makes Kaiut stand out is that is taps into our own nervous systems potential to heal from within.
What do you see in patients who do this kind of yoga?
Julia O’Shea: People that I work with are usually attracted to Kaiut yoga because of a condition or maybe pain they are experiencing in their bodies. They are curious to see if they can do something to help themselves. I am seeing more and more referrals from PTs and other healthcare providers telling their patients about the benefits of yoga, which is so exciting.
In my classes at the UVM Medical center,most people come to class who have never done any type of yoga before, which is actually really good because they don’t have expectations. As they start to do the practice, it’s almost like something clicks in their body and they know that this is changing things from within.
One of the things that we teach is that it’s not about what the pose looks like, because everyone is going to look different. The main thing that I see is that people connect to what’s going on inside of them in a really sweet way. This ties into the whole mindfulness practice. This is a practice of staying present in your body despite any pain or other conditions that come up, and it really tunes you in to your body’s ability to heal itself.
What evidence shows that yoga is a beneficial treatment for patients?
Julia O’Shea: Something I’ve learned is that yoga is one of the most studied mind/body treatments out there. The range of benefits is anything from helping lower blood sugars, to losing weight, to increasing bone density. There’s so much information out there it can be overwhelming.
The common theme that I’m seeing, and the one that I find the most valuable, is that sense of connection to yourself and being present. It’s through this practice of connecting to ourselves that we can tap into so much potential. This is what helps us heal, relax, and basically get through the ups and downs of life.
How do you integrate mindfulness into your practice?
Julia O’Shea:Through the practice, we use the body as a tool to experience what is going on inside. We get to practice staying present inside the body and actual sit with the sensations that come up. This is what I would consider to be being mindful in the body. I have heard my teacher say, “Every pose is a meditation,” meaning that the pose is the end of all oppositions. If you’re sitting in harmony in these poses, essentially you’re meditating at the same time.
What are some of the major movement issues that Kaiut Yoga alleviates?
Julia O’Shea: The practice itself focuses on what we call the three primary “girdles” in the body, the ankles, the hips and the shoulders. The hips, being the main one because everything comes back to the hips, from the upper body to the lower body. This relates to sitting. As we sit for extended periods of time, most of the time we’re not moving very much. We are training the brain to focus as we hold rigidity in our hips and other areas of the body, thus leading to restrictions around the hips. Slowly the rigidity develops around the hip joint, which can be quite painful for some people. We do these poses with the hips to try to soften and eventually release the restriction. We don’t work against it, but work with it. It’s like trying to become friends with the restriction so that it starts to loosen up over time. The ankles and the shoulders tie into the body’s natural movements, some people find great relief from softening and allowing for more movement in these areas.
What is your advice for people who are new to yoga?
Julia O’Shea:I think a good place to start is to ask yourself why are you coming to yoga, or why are you looking to yoga as a solution? Western society often sees yoga as a type of exercise, which is not what it was originally designed to be. I would ask yourself if you want to explore yoga for fitness or to connect to what is happening inside your mind and body. I would advise if you are dealing with a chronic condition, or you are not sure where to start, look more towards gentle practices, or therapeutic styles of yoga. Also good to check with your healthcare provider first before starting anything new.
There are a lot of different styles of yoga out there, and it can be quite overwhelming to someone who’s never practiced before. Having a good teacher is probably one of the most important parts, because they can really watch what you’re doing and have a close eye on how it’s affecting your body. That might be one of the most important things, finding a teacher that fits with you. It’s very different even in my own home practice versus when I’m practicing with my teacher. A teacher holds the space for you to do things that you normally would not be doing when you are by yourself.
Sometimes people hurt themselves with yoga and then never go back again. I think this practice has really resonated with me because it’s much safer than some of the other more active types of yoga. I feel very lucky to be offering this to the Medical Center because many people are attracted to this space because they feel like it’s a safe environment to be learning something new.
Is this something that we should do every day to keep in tune with our bodies?
Julia O’Shea: It’s more about finding something you love and incorporating it into your life because you want to. If you find a practice that works for you, you will know when it’s time to start practicing at home. My students’ practice at home doing simple poses that they pick up from the classes, but I don’t tell them to do that, they do it on their own because it feels right in their bodies. It’s not like physical therapy where you have to be disciplined to do the exercises. It’s more about falling in love with a practice because you know it’s supporting you in a deeper way that supports self-care and ultimately self-love.