Something miraculous happens when I do Kaiut yoga. Not only do I walk out of the room lighter in body and spirit, but I feel a sense of calm that eludes me many of my waking hours. While I creaked in with stiff hips, I saunter out with energy; while I began class thinking about all I have not done on my to-do list, I lift myself from the yoga mat congratulating myself for all I actually have done on that same list.
Simply put, I emerge with a sense of wholeness.
In this practice that enables me to live in a pose for minutes at a time, I am given the time, too, to unite my heart and mind for the benefit of my body. For instance, when I start to criticize my neck for being too stiff, I still have a chunk of time to readjust my mindset and accept the stiffness objectively as “where I am now” — opening my heart and offering compassion to myself if even for a few moments.
Challenging myself in the stillness of a long pose, however, also unites my heart and body for the benefit of my mind; the discomfort of a lingering stretch — and acceptance of that discomfort — actually leads to an ease of body and mind by the end of a class. Maybe it’s when we don’t ignore or push things away that they finally stop trying to get our attention and resolve themselves.
In both cases, my heart has led my practice. Through the body’s resistance and the mind’s doubts, it is the heart that accepts my limitations. It accepts the awkwardness and discomfort of my body, and my brain’s meanderings to thoughts of post-class obligations. But the heart brings me back, gently encouraging me to keep trying and to remain compassionate with myself and my limitations — not just on the mat, but once I’m back in the real world, too.
All this magic happens in the long, slow, powerful space we are given to hold each Kaiut pose. I see this as a confrontation between the brain and the heart — the brain that wants to fix and the heart that wants to accept. But it’s not confrontation in the sense that many may think, with images of fighting and anger. From the latin roots con (“with, together”) and frontem (“forehead”), the word confrontation speaks more to a union, to a face-to-face interaction that could solve a problem if you allow it. When we practice Kaiut yoga, the expanse of time for each pose enables us to come face-to-face with our discomforts both physically and mentally. Francisco Kaiut addressed the neuroplasticity of the brain, the very real and measurable ability of the brain to rewire itself into new ways of thinking. The Kaiut method thus enables us to use our heart to further this rewiring, essentially rewriting the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and ourselves.
The power of the heart to impact the body and mind has been a hot topic for millenia. Aristotle, the Father of Philosophy, was nearly dubbed the Father of Biology — until he lost this latter title because he insisted that the heart was the organ that powered intelligence, motion, and sense. And the heart took a back seat to the brain as the most significant organ in the body. There is a growing body of evidence, however, that the heart plays a bigger role in our thinking than we may know. Yes, the brain communicates with the heart, and prompts the heart rate to rise with stress, anger, and fear, for example, but research has shown communication from the heart to brain as well. Findings by the Heartmath Institute, for example, show that the heart (in its own “heart brain”) initiates communication to the brain a large amount of the time, and in 4 ways: nerve impulses, hormones and neurotransmitters, pressure waves, and electromagnetic field interactions. This impacts the brain’s activity and, therefore, perception and performance.
In addition, there has been increasing attention on the vagus nerve, a long nerve that unites and enables communication between the gut, heart, and brain. Activation of the vagus nerve calms the fight, flight, and freeze instinct of the sympathetic nervous system, thus lowering stress and enabling us to think more clearly. Amazingly, doing an act of kindness (or act of love, as I like to think of it) is one way to activate the vagus nerve! The role of the heart at the center of it all is significant.
When we consider what we know we FEEL in our hearts when something good or bad happens, the heart’s powerful role may not seem very surprising. The warm, soaring feeling brought on by love and joy, and the heaviness and malaise felt by sorrow or stress are real. There is also a strong correlation between heart attacks and high stress and negative emotions such as anger. We are in an exciting era with more and more research emerging about the heart’s role in our thinking and emotional well-being.
Kaiut yoga class is a time when I deliberately engage with my heart — and I see it carry over into all aspects of my life. My Kaiut yoga practice reminds me to accept more gracefully the dualities in life — that there can be harmony in confrontation, creation of ease through discomfort… and that a sink full of dishes means there was a home-cooked meal with family. The more I practice with Christina, the more I am able to see and feel this balanced union of opposites and feel it impact the ease with which I go about my day.
Maybe Aristotle wasn’t completely wrong after all.
By Antonia Moran
After completing her undergraduate degree in English and French and Masters in English, Antonia embarked on a new adventure in Paris, where she taught English to business executives for three years. She returned to the traditional classroom in California, where she taught English and French to middle and high schools until she moved to Dallas with her husband — where she currently teaches high school English. She’s recently embarked on a new adventure while teaching: the pursuit of a degree in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience. She is seeking a deeper understanding of the inner workings of the brain (as well as the heart-brain connection), especially in the context of Compassion Science — and how it might benefit students’ well-being and brain function.