Updated July 12.
We started in a seated position on the floor with our legs crossed — a group of 10 women ranging in age from 25 to about 80. Instructor Giulia Casalino told us to place our right leg on top of the left — a specific instruction. Instead of drawing the ankles all the way in toward the hips, Giulia told us to relax our knees and let them splay out on either side, while letting the ankles rest about six inches from the torso. We held this relaxed, seated, almost lazy cross-legged pose for about two minutes, until Giulia told us to switch sides — left leg on top of right. We held it for another two minutes.
Interesting, I thought, as I noticed the muscles in my hips and legs wake up. They were challenged by the two minutes we held each pose. Two minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but it certainly feels it. For such a simple, subtle, stagnant shape that exerts approximately zero percent of my physical energy, I noticed all these areas of tightness arising from places deeper than my muscles — as if it were coming from the ligaments or connective tissue.
I later learned it was coming from my joints — an evidently highly neglected part of my body, and maybe yours, too. Kaiut yoga is a brand-new style of yoga on Martha’s Vineyard, and it will give your joints the love you didn’t even know they needed.
Kauit yoga was brought to the Island by Valerie Sonnenthal, a Chilmark resident (and The MVTimes’ Chilmark columnist), who has a hand on the health pulse like no one you’ve ever met.
“I opened a studio for Kaiut because it is a healing practice for the body, which also gives one a greater range of motion and mobility,” Valerie said. When she discovered it, she knew it was something she wanted to bring to the Island. But how would Valerie ever get to reap the benefits of the practice if she were the only one teaching it? She sponsored Chilmark resident and Gyrokinesis instructor Giulia to join her for the 10-day training in Toronto.
They trained with founder Francisco Kaiut, the man behind a practice that goes back to the basics of yoga.
Kaiut yoga resets the body by building up from basic postures that create, and then release, a profound amount of tension. Kaiut yoga sequences favor the hips and shoulders, which is where most of the cranks in our bodies are kept, according to Giulia. The practice challenges individuals to stay in positions longer, while allowing them to recognize there’s a difference between pain and discomfort.
Pain and pinching means the pose is no good. Tension and muscle discomfort means you’re being challenged by the pose, and could benefit from staying in it a bit longer.
“You’re resetting the body, and calming the nervous system,” Giulia said. “You’re not only opening your joints, but you’re doing it while the nervous system is at rest. You’re engaging your systems in a totally different way.”
Over the course of the 60-minute class, only five to six postures were called out — which gives you an idea of how long poses are held, and how both your body and headspace are challenged by stillness.
“Holding these position calls in room for seated meditation,” Giulia said. “It works the biomechanics by focusing on the muscular, but also the structural and mental.”
Kaiut yoga is a personal and patient practice, personal in the sense that each body feels each posture differently.
“You’re not teaching one class to a group of 10 people,” Giulia said. “You’re teaching 10 different classes to 10 different people. It’s about coming into your own shape, and feeling into your own body. People know their bodies better than anyone else.”
The practice is patient in the sense that a lot can arise over the course of 60 minutes. As humans, we’re adversely conditioned to let the body and mind just be still. Kaiut yoga may be frustrating, and test your patience, but it’ll open you up to something beneficial that gets easier over time.
Karon Hill, a chiropractor who lives in Oak Bluffs, attended her fourth Kaiut yoga class early last week.
“It’s getting easier each time I go,” she said. “There’s something really beneficial about stretching and opening joints. There are areas at the start of class that feel very tight and tense, but by the end, they’re open and warmed up.”
Peaked Hill Studios is offering four free classes to individuals who want to try out Kaiut yoga. This allows the teachers to find their rhythm and pace as new practitioners, and the community to get a feel for what the practice is all about.
“It takes three classes to understand the effects in your own body,” Valerie said. “You cannot just try one Kaiut class.”
Valerie hopes others will be inspired by the practice, attend trainings, and add to their team of two at Peaked Hill Studios. Peaked Hill recently relocated to a studio in Vineyard Haven at 7 Woodland Center.
Classes are on Monday at 5:30 pm, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:30 am, and Saturday and Sunday at 8:30 am. For more information, visit peakedhillstudio.com.
Updated to correct the spelling of Giulia Casalino, and the number of free classes individuals can take.