Yoga & stress: Does positive stress exist?


In our first newsletter from 2021, I want to share with you the story of my student Hellen, as a way for us to start the year with a good analysis of our daily activities, especially those that end up overloading us and bringing stress and anxiety crises. Hellen’s healing journey is very interesting, I’m sure it will inspire you to seek better solutions for your life.

Well, when it comes to stress, things are not very clear.
Nothing is 100% transparent. The only way to know how we really react to stress is through a blood test. To check on our chemical markers. This way, we become aware of the real dimension and depth of the chemical damage that we are causing in our body for not being able to move away from the stressful situation or condition.

The fact is that we usually don’t bother to analyze the exams in detail, with interest and proactivity, lacking a real interaction with our health. That’s a shame!

Questionnaires can be more superficial or more subjective analyzes that may help, but in my experience, they are not very clear references. So they do not lead us to immediate action. Although they sometimes are good, these resources are not very successful in giving my students that push towards the urgent action to get out of the stress-generating situation, which already damages their body and mind.

Well, there is positive stress.To some extent, using wisely your joints, muscles, or body to perform exhausting physical activities, can be considered positive stress. You demand intensity of your body for a short period and get a positive result. You align your body with what it was made to do and it gets better.

When you wisely stress your mind for a certain period, like dedicating hours to learn a new language, you generate positive stress that leads to more health, since the human brain loves to be provoked. This way, it learns more. Another example of positive stress is fasting, which today is often referred to as a health resource.

Here we have three possible examples of positive stressors or health generators. The use of body, mind and hunger. All of them can be used with solid scientific bases to generate health since they align us with our ancestral nature. Our ancestors lived in the woods, walking for hours, eating little, and sleeping on the ground. Today we know that these ancestors, contrary to popular belief, did not have short lives. Those who managed to survive until fifteen years old lived a lot and were healthy. Today, when we use our body and mind intelligently and spare ourselves from excesses in both comfort and food, we align ourselves with our ancestry. These can be considered positive and healthy stressors.

On the other hand, it is important to understand that the opposite is equally powerful or even more. Excessive use of the body beyond what it was made by nature to do, the use of the mind uninterruptedly for a long period or the excess or lack of food are negative stressors.

The magic of health is always in the details, in the balance and alignment with our ancestral nature. I believe that exploring the limits of the body through sports is very healthy, but when we do that we always have to remember that we seek alignment with nature. Excessive specialization never works well. The body loves diversity much more than specialization. With the mind and food, it is the same.

My suggestion is very simple. To avoid that you fall into the trap my student Hellen got into, take some preventive measures:

First of all, whenever you put on your running shoes remember that your body loves to run, but it was made to run differently every time. So think about different speeds and different places. Remember that the body also loves to walk, ride a bike and do yoga. Try to nourish your system with a lot of diversity. Running does not hurt the body, but the lack of diversity using it does.

As for your mind, always remember that everything you read, study or learn must generate pleasure. Pleasure in learning, pleasure in performing that area of knowledge or profession, pleasure for development. If you are having a hard time identifying the pleasure in the process, know that this is the time when negative stress begins. In other words, this is the time to stop. Always remember your motivation when engaging in challenging activities. Remember your choices and your purpose. Look beyond the present moment and make it clear to your nervous system that the present challenge has a greater meaning. Let the pleasure of the future achievement take charge of undoing negative stress, but also always apply the logic of diversity in your body, mind, and food.

Shall we read Hellen’s story?! After we do, I separated some very personal tips, which I use in my routine to show you. They can serve as a guide to begin the transformation of your life.

Good reading!

The year was 2009, and it was a cold autumn night. I fell asleep after reading for a while. Almost one hour later, I was awakened by a bomb inside my body. A racing heart and a deafening noise in my ears, that stayed with me ever since (not as intense as before, but always constant). I couldn’t breathe. My body was shaking uncontrollably. Terrified, not knowing what was happening, I asked for help, because the feeling was that I was dying. An overwhelming fear came over me and I panicked.

I slept like any other normal night in my life and woke up to a horror movie. My husband hugged me, trying to contain the intense tremor in my body. A stiff jaw, teeth grinding, cold sweat. At that moment, it felt like I had left a coherent world, which was collapsing, and started to live in the chaos inside of me. A key had turned unexpectedly, with no warning, from one minute to the next. At least, that was how I thought at the time. My body presented itself as a stranger and I had no control over it.

Over time, I realized that it was the loudest cry that my body and mind could give me. It was a cry for help,  saying “stop everything, you can’t continue this way”.

Today I appreciate every moment, no matter how difficult it was. I know it was an experience that started a transformation in me. An experience that started on that cold and dark autumn night and led me to live the most important process of my life. The process of deconstructing the identity that I’ve lived up to that point: of social and professional roles and of a way of living and seeing the world, which 12 years later, is still happening in me.

Until that night, my life was completely focused on building a family with my husband and two children, and on building a professional career as a psychologist and psychotherapist. I thought that years of analysis and study had given me control over my life and mind, but today, looking back, I have no doubt that this traumatic moment was built brick by brick throughout my previous life. I felt that only when I was pregnant and when I was taking care of my kids, I was able to stop the mental pattern and life-threatening lifestyle that I was in, and allow myself to live better, manifesting my most healthier nature.

Besides that, I was focused on my profession, working late every night in the office or doing specialization courses that happened in another city, traveling over 130 kilometers, from 2 to 3 times a week, for almost 20 years. I have always loved to study and to improve my knowledge. I often spent 6 to 8 hours studying non-stop, focused on achieving the maximum of professional success I could have within the professional path I had chosen.

Even if it took me time, money, energy and health. I spent my days sitting around taking care of patients, reading, studying or in a car driving between cities.

When my mind and body collapsed that night, I was going to Porto Alegre 3 times a week, preparing myself for another graduation course, which would last for the next four years. Today I remember that I used to spent 2 nights a week there for a whole year. There were nights when I had a hard time sleeping or that I just didn’t sleep at all and I wasn’t able to tell myself: “Hey, listen! Wouldn’t that be insomnia? Don’t you think there’s something wrong happening here? ” No, I didn’t think so.

I lived as if I was nothing but a head, intellectualized, in an extremely rational world, full of knowledge, but completely disconnected from a body. I exercised sporadically and did not take care at all of what I was eating. I used to take care of my body only when the extra pounds got in conflict with my looks. But that was all, an aesthetic concern. And it would be through the collapse of that overlooked body, that  I would wake up and start a fundamental journey.

I had to seek psychiatric help in order to relieve panic attacks, which I experienced as an overwhelming defeat of my ego. With more than 20 years of analysis, with so many studies on psychology, so many rational understandings of my childhood, my relationship with my parents, my mind, my traumas… All of this gave me no instrument to deal with those panic attacks that invade me anytime and anywhere. This perception of a total lack of internal instruments to deal with the situation led me to a dramatic confrontation within myself and in my life.

I needed to find those instruments, but it would no longer be on the path I had taken so far. I was convinced that something broke and I knew absolutely nothing about where or how I could fix it, but I did know one thing: the answer was not inside what I had built until then.

It was a lucid awareness that what I had lived and built no longer made sense. At that moment, I was thrown into the unknown, a place without a floor, empty and absolutely scary. I no longer knew what my meaning was and which were the instruments to deal with all that, but I knew where not to look for them.

I started my search. Said goodbye to old choices, old ways, everything that was known and safe, to the feeling of belonging to social and professional groups and launched myself into the unknown. I confess that the vertigo and panic were overwhelming and I was grateful for the medication that supported me, while I could not have other internal resources to deal with all of this.

I became a seeker of my own nature, because at that time, even with “so much knowledge”, I no longer knew who I was, what nourished me, what made sense to me, which body I inhabited and what should I do with it. I felt as if I had entered a dense, dark, wild forest, without a compass, only with an internal voice that said: “Go, you have to go. You need to save the one person who needs to be saved right now.”

At that time, a dear friend invited me to see a textile art exhibition and attend a lecture with an artist and a patchwork teacher. The moment I laid my eyes on those works, I knew that I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. It was love at first sight. I left the exhibition enrolled in my first class in this art. Through that, I made contact with one of the most important instruments in my healing process: manual and textile art. I gradually learned and got involved in the universe of hands, threads, weaving, and the suspension of time that put me in a meditative state, taking me to another dimension of myself that I didn’t even know existed.

I started studying oriental philosophy and psychology, meditation, and taking hatha yoga classes. I learned to silence my mind a little, but soon I found myself trying to overcome my body and placing it in increasingly crazy positions that challenged its ability.

I don’t know if that practice was the cause, but it certainly helped to erupt a herniated disc in the L5. I can’t say it was overnight, as I was feeling the signs of back pain and a lot of pressure. I stayed in bed feeling a lot of pain, until the day I couldn’t move anymore. Now the emotional pain I was feeling was materialized in my body. My support shaft had been overloaded and was now damaged. Once again, my body was denouncing me and calling me to seek changes.

I started to visit every single doctor, physiotherapists and chiropractors I could find. I’ve started pilates classes, but it only made it worse, to the point of having to take morphine-based medication. The doctors indicated surgery. I saw myself lost, going through the biggest crisis of my life. I was almost blocked, without movements. I was losing my spine, my support. When I had no violent pain, my hip movements were locked, and I could only take small steps. Most of the things I did with ease were now difficult or impossible. The simple act of putting socks on was very difficult, as I couldn’t bend my torso. Washing the dishes was painful because the slightest inclination hurt me. Playing with my kids on the beach or taking walks was difficult.

I remember sitting on the shore while the others ran, played, bathed in the sea. I looked like an old woman. I saw my 80-year-old mother walk more and better than me. At 46, I was way worse than a lot of people much older than me. The doctors instructed me to avoid carrying weight, to make not too many movements, and to seek weight training. I hated going to the gym, but if it was orientation, I would do it. I just felt more stuck, even with more muscles.

After a few years and some crises, I found a physical therapist who helped me. I was able to get out of those intense pain attacks more quickly. I started doing physical therapy 1 to 2 times a week when necessary. But the pain and the lack of some movements continued, sometimes less intense, but they continued. I remember him telling me that we were just buying time, but that one day in the future, in old age, I would have to face the surgery or I would stay blocked. It scared me a lot and made me see a dark future. It panicked and depressed me. I was held hostage by physiotherapy. I could not take long trips, nor spend much time on vacation at the beach because if I had a crisis, I would need it to get out of them. This meant that I could not get away from my city, much less from my physical therapist. As much as I was grateful for his help, I felt like a hostage and it bothered me a lot.

So I went on for a few years like that until a friend told me about a yoga method she was doing and that she was sure would help me a lot. She introduced me to Kaiut Yoga. I accepted the call and looked for a Kaiut Yoga school in my city. In my first class, my body was rigid, moving as a block and I was afraid to do the positions. But the teacher’s confidence made me safe enough to really try. In that very first class, I felt something different. I didn’t know how to define what it was, but my body liked it.

I started taking classes twice a week and when I didn’t have classes, I felt my body asking me for it. But it was not like: “I have to do it”, it was a natural need that emerged in me. So I started to reproduce each pose after class so I could repeat them at home. Every practice I did, made me better. I decided to go deeper into that magic in my body. I was intrigued by how something so simple, that seemed to be doing nothing, made me feel as if a world of things was happening inside me. The state that I felt after each practice was magical.

I learned that Francisco Kaiut, the creator of the method, would teach a module of the Teacher Training Course soon. I signed up because I couldn’t miss the chance to meet him and take a class.

I walked into a huge group of people who already knew each other while I knew almost nobody. I found a mat for myself and started the 3-day experience with Francisco. I remember very well that at the end of those 3 days I knew that I had experienced something very different from everything I had ever done in my life. I knew that I had found an instrument that would take me back home, to my true body. It was the first time in my life that I felt connected, inhabiting a body, my body. And I knew I was going to do that for the rest of my life. And most amazingly, it was not my head saying that, it was not my rational understanding of what I had experienced, but it was my body that was speaking. I felt that every cell in my body spoke and knew that we had found our place.

Since then, I practice Kaiut Yoga almost every day. I went deeper and deeper into the practice and study of the method. In the first month of practice, the pains I felt were relieved incredibly. In 3 months of practice, I no longer needed physical therapy. I never had a lumbar hernia attack again. Much less pain. During the first year, all my natural movements were recovered, the stiffness was being unlocked and I was acquiring a fluid body. My autonomy returned to me. And the most incredible thing was that while all of this was happening in my body, something was happening naturally in my mind. The body became the master of the mind. Teaching her to be quiet, to silence, to detach from old patterns and to identify very quickly everything that intoxicates it.

While learning this hygiene habit and how to detoxify the body through positions, I learned to do the same with the mind. And it was not something that went through rational control. It was just nature working on me. It was the natural body intelligence being released to work on me and for me.

With a year and a half of practice, I was able to quit psychiatric medication and today I do not doubt that I am much, much better than 10 years ago.

The Kaiut Method sewed me up, integrated my mind into my body, my thinking to my feelings. It brought me the instruments I was looking for. It gave me the restorative health of my body and mind. Today, when I get lost (and I know that I will lose myself many times), it is my body, through practice, that brings me back.

In these pandemic and reclusion times, that cold dark night from 10 years ago wanted to return. Anxiety, fears and insomnia appeared. But unlike that night, I knew now that I was no longer helpless and without a clue in how to deal with it.

I put myself in sukhasana, in baddha konasana, and turned my attention to the feeling, to my body presence, to breathing, to the silence within me, and to relaxation. Each time this happened, the more my system understood that I could let go and trust. I was able to build a system that could take another path to what was so terrifying on that cold, dark night 10 years ago.

Today, I still remember the closing of the Teacher Training with Francisco Kaiut from last year, when I experienced the thrilling sensation of finding within my own body a place of refuge, peace and silence. This place was always available, but not accessible because a crazy lifestyle stole access from me.

I remember looking at my 20-year-old son finishing the course with me. The emotion took over me and with the greatest love in the world, I hugged him and said: “today you are receiving the greatest gift I could give you: At the age of 20 you receive what your mother took 50 years to find.” 

Writing this whole story, remembering the whole journey… I find myself honoring all my pain and the possibility of rescue that it gave me, exactly as it was. I’m very grateful.

Hellen’s story is aligned with everything I said in this newsletter and that I always talk about in class: we need to find balance and gain control of our bodies. Only then will we live without pain, knowing how to calm the mind when stress inevitably arrives.

In recent years I have established some personal goals that, to an external observer, may seem a little aggressive, but when applied with this intention of motivation and pleasure without any sense of obligation, are very healthy for me physically and mentally and help me to maintain my energy levels and disposition always high.

My diet: absolutely diverse and my daily fasting time is always between 15 and 16 hours.

My readings: on average two books a week, always about health, yoga, food and communication. I suggest Kelly McGonigal’s “The upside of stress” so you can learn more about stress and learn that what we believe about it also matters a lot. Another good reading tip for those who want to venture into the field of living more and better is “Lifespan” by David Andrew Sinclair.

Yoga practice: on average 3/4 hours a day, approximately 25 days a month.

And of course, at the end of each bath, there is always a delicious cold shower to give you another “up” disposition! Try it!

Have a great year, full of yoga, health, vitality and disposition!

– Francisco Kaiut.

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