Yoga is not just for fitness. It can be a way to heal both the body and the mind. Kelley Edwards is joining us today to share more about the healing aspect of yoga. Kelley is a 500-hour Yoga Alliance certified instructor with over a decade of practice and continuing education in many styles. In this episode, she joins Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D, to discuss how connecting with your body and engaging in movement can heal physical ails and improve one’s mental well-being. Yoga requires awareness and mindfulness that has a profound and holistic impact. If you want to learn more and see how yoga can benefit you and your well-being, tune in to this episode.
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Yoga For Total Health: Holistic Healing Through Body Movement With Kelley Edwards
Kelley Edwards is a 500-hour Yoga Alliance certified instructor with over a decade of practice and continuing education in many styles including Gentle and Chair, Power, Yin & Restorative, Myofascial Release, Therapeutics, and meditation styles like Mindfulness and Yoga Nidra. She is passionate about leading classes and sessions that are safe and accessible for everyone while challenging the way you think of yourself and what you are capable of.
She has found her calling guiding others into an empowering relationship with themselves. Her sessions are educational and fun, strong and graceful. Kelley is working towards becoming a Yoga Therapeutic Specialist, a 1,000-hour certification. This will allow Kelley to work alongside healthcare professionals bridging the medical world with yoga. She spends her time teaching public classes in person and on Zoom working with private clients and corporations and training others to become yoga instructors. She has an on-demand studio, Om Sweet Home, and is the owner and author of Be Moved Yoga Teacher Training School and 200-Hour Manual.
Kelley, welcome. Thanks for joining us here. It’s good to see you.
Thanks. Good to see you too.
I was hoping you could start us off by letting us know a little bit about how you got into the work you do and what drives your passion for it.
I feel all of my life experiences have played into what I’m doing. It started when I was very young. My parents got me into dance classes, tumbling, and gymnastics. Movement was very important to me when I was younger. My parents cultivated a love and respect for my body, for movement, and for what I’m capable of doing.
At a young age, I learned to turn off the mind and get into the body a bit more. The body was always guiding me, leading me in the right direction. Fast forward to college, I got my degree, my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Illinois State. I started to work in a residential unit for adolescent teen males who had drug abuse issues, mental health issues, and family troubles. We had three different units, depending on which unit they went into was like the duration of their program, and how serious what they were going through was. They would have a 1-month program, 3 months, or 6 months.
I started working during the day. I was helping to lead the group with open discussions and lecturing. We were teaching the kids how to take care of themselves, good nutrition, hydration, proper sleep, all of that stuff was important. I felt like we were regurgitating the same information again and again to all of these individuals. It felt too much of a blanket statement to help these themes.
I, at that time, on my own, started to practice yoga. I have a heart problem that stopped me from working out harder than what I was doing. I was running. I was doing weight training and strength training and my heart was telling me to stop. It didn’t handle it as much as I used to, so I got into yoga. I needed that movement still. I needed some cardio. I needed some strength but on a less intense level. I fell in love with yoga.
I had a Rodney Yee VHS tape that I would play again and again in my apartment. It became my favorite part of the day. When I went to work, I would try to implement some of the breathing exercises I was learning some of the movements, and stretches. I ended up starting a little mini-morning class for whoever wanted to attend. The boys were responsible for getting themselves up. If they wanted to, they can wake up twenty minutes earlier and do some breathing, do some yoga with me.
It was the boys that were waking up and doing yoga, doing the breathwork that we started to see more changes in them, in the group work, in the discussions, and them wanting to take care of themselves beyond what we were teaching them. They started to connect back again with themselves and Self with the capital S instead of the ego itself. That was eye-opening to me because I had felt that change within me as well.
Again, I come from a background of movement of connecting with my body. I was like, “I’m reconnecting again with me.” To see it now in other people was like, “There’s something to this. Yoga works. Yoga works somehow.” I called up my dad. I told him, “I’m teaching yoga. I’m seeing change. This is my favorite part of my job and my favorite part of my day.” He said, “Find a way to make this your full-time gig. If this is what you should be doing, find a way to make it work. Make it your career, your passion.”Yoga works. Click To Tweet
I did. I went to my 200-Hour training up in Libertyville, Illinois with Lupine Yoga. Wendy Dahl was my teacher. In that training, the stuff that I was feeling internally like words were put to it. There was research. Science was backing the stuff that I was feeling in my own body. Again, it was reiterated that, “There is something to this. This is working. It’s not just me. This can have an effect everywhere.”
I started to work privately with people. I, very quickly grew public classes. I’ve since continued my education with yoga where I got my 500-hour certification. Now I’m working towards my 1000-hour certification as well. If you’re a 200-hour trained yoga teacher, you can go and teach public classes or private clients. It’s like your foundational education in yoga. The 500-hour means that now you can train other people how to be yoga teachers.
There’s an understanding that you’ve deepened your education. You’ve gone into the many layers of anatomy, our philosophy, our work, of mental health and trauma. Now you’re able to train other people to be yoga teachers. The 1,000 hours that I’m working towards will allow me to become a yoga therapeutic specialist. I can start working more in healthcare settings and bridge the gap between yoga public classes, and that breathwork that we’re familiar with as a general population, and bridge it into more of the medical healthcare setting as well.
I can be working with people who are rehabbing from injury. I’m going deeper into meditation, yin work, and trauma for the mental health aspect. There are so many modules that I can take with the school that I’m going through. There are like women’s health, traditional Chinese medicine, sports medicine, and cancer modules. It is wherever you want to go into whatever you want your like niche to be. You have many pathways with yoga medicine. That’s the school I’m going through now to become 1,000 hours certified.
When I do my private sessions, my public classes, and my teacher training, the main theme is coming back to the power you have within. In my life, in my experience, I’ve seen a lot of giving power away, going to doctors, therapists, yoga teachers, going to whoever, and saying, “I have this problem. Please tell me what to do.” We take that person’s solution and think, “This has to be it for me.” Again, we’re all individuals. We’re all different. There are many different pathways that we can come back home to ourselves.
Yoga, asana, and breathwork is my vehicle to get people feeling comfortable with themselves, safe again in their own bodies, and remembering that we’re all in this together. We’re not alone. We’re all walking through struggles together. Maybe it’s not the same but through my teaching, when you get more comfortable with yourself when you build up that confidence and that self-esteem again. When you get out of the brain and back into the heart and the body, you’re led on a more clear path.
I always say, “Get out of the brain and into the heart. Get out of the brain. Get into the body.” To me, the body is more intelligent than the brain. When I’m teaching, that’s what I’m trying to get across to my students. This brain up here is going to tell you a lot of things that you’re doing right, that you’re doing wrong, that you could be doing better but the body tells you the truth. How do I start to quiet this chatter up here and get more in tune with the truth down here, in the heart and in the body?
You’ve said the word asana a couple of times. Would you define that for our readers, please?
Asana means posture or poses. When we think of yoga as a general population, that’s probably what we’re thinking of. It’s like downward facing dog, tree pose, or mountains, those are all asanas or postures that we take within the body.
What have you found in terms of people, especially those who’ve had trauma responding to different postures?
It depends on the type of trauma that they’re coming with. With anxiety, if their trauma has led to anxious thoughts, anxiety, and overwhelm, when we do poses, we don’t want to do anything quick and fast and onto this because then we’re increasing those feelings of anxiety within the student. If it’s anxiousness that they’re coming with, we want to be slowing it down.
Spending 5 to 10 breaths and poses, deep diaphragmatic breath because that can stimulate the vagus nerve which helps to calm the nervous system. It’s the light that increases life. If I’m anxious, the last thing I want to do is go and do more. I want to settle down. If it’s depressing, which comes from a lack of feeling regret or shame, that can make us feel heavy energetically in the body, with less motivation and not wanting to do anything.
If you’re depressed, I want to lay in bed. I want to cover up. I don’t want to be seen. With depression, if that’s where our trauma is coming from, it’s the opposite of anxiety. We want to start doing a bit more, moving, not very fast because that can feel overwhelming if we’re coming from a state of depression. To get the body fluids, the energy unstuck, and anything that’s stagnant, we want to try moving gently again through the body.
Doing stuff like yin and restorative yoga is great for depression and anxiety if that’s coming from trauma. One of the most pivotal things that I learned in my studies was that we’re more animal than we realize we are. This is where my whole ideology of “The body is smarter than the brain” comes from. The brain can tell us anything. It can dramatize. It can go into the future. It can go into the past. It can create a moment of time that doesn’t even exist but the body lives from moment to moment. I read the book Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine. Have you read that one before?
Yes. For years, I would recommend that to patients who’ve had trauma because one of the series of exercises in there that a lot of people have found helps them get back into an awareness of the connection to their body.
The example that he has in the book of the deer shaking after an attack, after a traumatic moment. You see a deer shaking then all of a sudden, the shaking stops and the deer goes on with her day. We too have that same trauma response where we go through a cycle of something traumatic happens. We need to shake, cry, and express whatever that energy is that’s going on within us and the trauma cycle completes and we can go on about our day like the deer.
The deer doesn’t reflect back days later like, “What did I do with that trauma response? Did I do the right thing? What did I do to deserve that?” The deer don’t think about that because it has completed its trauma response by honoring the intelligence of the body, by needing to shake and express that energy. We are the same. We have a traumatic experience. We need to release that energy but that’s where we have the dysfunction now as humans. We stop. We stop that trauma.
As he points out in that book and several others, the western medical model wants to medicate that, bind the person in straps on a gurney, give them a tranquilizer, and stop all of that. The model that he’s seen in a lot of good results says, “That’s locking the trauma in.” He’s had his own trauma experience where he had the awareness because he’d been studying trauma and knew how to let himself relax through the shaking and the crying.
He has a series of books, and Waking the Tiger is just one of them. In an Unspoken Voice is another book by Peter Levine. He’s been doing excellent trauma work with a lot of other good people for a long time now. I’m encouraged when I find people like you and quite young people moving into this with the awareness that this process of stretching, breathing, yoga poses, and combining physical movement and body awareness with a therapeutic approach is key. It’s very powerful on its own but the key for some people who can’t make progress by sitting and talking about their thoughts and emotions and past traumas. They get stuck in a loop. That’s why there’s so much that’s happening with somatic forms of therapy and therapeutic yoga.
You were starting to tell some stories about when you were working in an inpatient unit and you said that those young people, those teens had drug and alcohol issues. When you found the people who chose to get up, do the breathing, and do the stretching or the yoga poses, they started making more progress in their work.
Now, as somebody who’s had to get a doctorate and study a little bit about science, what we understand there is that’s something where you don’t know. Did they get better because they did that work or did they get better because they were the ones that had it in them to get up on their own and try something new? Are you aware of studies? You were talking about different studies in science about this where it works more even if people haven’t self-selected for yoga.
That’s something that I think about too. I see it showing up even now where it is up to the person wanting to make the change. I can talk until I’m blue in the face in front of a crowd of people but it’s up to the individual to want to get better. I can’t force anyone into any of this. I can say all the benefits to all the things that they’ll experience but again, the power is in their hands on what they want to change and how they want to heal and get better.It's up to the individual to want to get better. Click To Tweet
As far as specific studies go, I’ll have to go back into the manuals that I have and see what I’ve got as far as specific authors, studies, and whatnot. With Yoga Medicine, the school that I’m doing my 1,000 hours with, they have a yoga research lab where they are conducting experiments and research studies to see what it is that is creating change in people that are practicing yoga, breathwork, and meditation.
There are people out there doing the work to take out those other factors. With what I saw on the unit, it wasn’t as reactionary of space anymore. We were taught how to protect ourselves and how to subdue someone. We were taught proper ways to grab and take hands behind their back if one of the kids got crazy. I saw other coworkers of mine get attacked or tables flipped. That was happening less. The boys fighting with each other was happening less with the students that were waking up and doing yoga with me.
It added a moment of pause. Again, to me, they’re getting out of their brain into their body because their brain might hear something and say, “I want to say this back to you or I want to attack you now.” They were sitting with me doing poses, getting into their bodies, listening to the messages, the sensations, and they hear something.
They have a moment where it’s like, “Brain wants to do this,” but the body is like, “It’s not that big of a deal. We don’t need to respond to that. We don’t need to react to that.” They could go about their day without having a big blowup anymore. That, for me, is what I saw there was that moment of, “Do I need to engage? My body says I don’t need to engage. I’m not going engage.”
That’s powerful, especially if you can start doing that with people in their teens and train them to, as you were talking about with the deep breathwork and the vagus nerve, this whole calming down the system to the parasympathetic response that rest and digest as opposed to the fight or flight. When we haven’t learned the connection between the power of our thoughts to make our body believe we’re in danger when we’re not.
The way to break that cycle and one of the best ones as you know is the movement, whether it’s stretching or yoga if you combine breathing and postures. As we know, when we’re younger, we learn faster. The earlier we can get this into someone’s routine, the more readily they learn and start to feel that connection that’s already there. They’ll bring the attention of the mind to it and then they can hold onto it longer.
That question of, “Is this real? Is this the truth?” Anytime I hear something from the ego from the brain, “Is that my reality? Is that the perspective that I want to have?” We get too caught up in this, where we think every thought that we have is permanent, is the truth, and is exactly how I am. One of my favorite yoga teachers is Baba Ram Dass.
He has a saying where it’s not, “I am depressed.” He says, “Look at that depression as if it’s something like walking by, passing through.” It’s just because I’m having a moment where I’m feeling sad, I’m feeling upset, it doesn’t mean that this is forever. It doesn’t mean that this is now who I am and the qualities that I’m going to hold for the rest of my life. It’s all temporary.
Again, when I read that, that was something that was like, “I might not have to listen to what’s going on in my head. That might not be the truth or how I’m feeling.” Even picking up on other people’s energies, moods, or opinions, that stuff can all be learned and unlearned. Again, in my experience, the more that I’ve gotten into the body, which is the quieter voice, we have to pay attention to find it and listen to it.
That has always led me down the right path, a clear path with less fear and less anxiety. There’s a trust that things will work out when I move from my body instead of my brain. My brain is always like, “This could happen, and what about this fear that you have? Don’t forget about that.” I don’t need to pay attention to all that all of the time. It’s not who I truly am.
Do you have any other stories, any specific examples of people who’ve had tremendous shifts from a place of trauma, anxiety, or depression that you want to share?
Growing up, my older sister, my younger brother, and even me, we’ve all suffered from anxiety and from depression. I have always loved more holistic approaches. While my brother and sister decided to go on medication. I wanted to try to figure it out and heal myself more on my own with the movement. Again, it was because I was younger, my parents were led me to dance, gymnastics, and tumbling.
I was always, “Body knows best.” I’m not saying anything against medication. For some people, it helps them. There are so many benefits to Western medicine and very helpful but personally, I didn’t want to take that route. I use yoga, breathwork, meditation, and journaling to heal myself from the anxiety, depression, and even body dysmorphia, I suffer from as well. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see what everyone else sees. I see a fun house mirror where I think I’m bigger or different looking than I am.
It’s been my practice on the mat. It’s making me realize that it doesn’t matter what I look like. Look at what I’m capable of. Look at how strong my body is, how limber I am, these crazy things that I can do. That’s the stuff. Who cares what it looks like? It feels good. That’s the lesson I’ve learned. I, myself, have helped to heal from trauma. I also have women’s health issues.
I have endometriosis and PCOS, very painful, chronic inflammation that I deal with, chronic fatigue. Again, using stuff like yoga, breathwork, meditation, and especially doing stuff through the traditional Chinese medicine lens has helped me immensely with the health issues that I struggle with. I have used it to heal myself to help my own trauma. With private clients that I deal with, it’s quite amazing. They hire me because they’ve got something that has been going on in their bodies. They have an injury or their posture has been poor for many years now.
They’re getting bone spur for things that are uncomfortable. I go in working with them to help them feel more comfortable in their bodies. One woman that I’m working with now has very poor posture. She’s got a bone spur on one of her shoulders. She can’t lift her arm as much. It’s uncomfortable. Simply by getting her up back and down, simply by feeling her core engaged to get taller through the spine, the stuff that she talks about with me through our sessions, it’s like a little therapy session.
Over time, as her posture has gotten taller and she seems to be more proud of who she is, it’s coming out energetically. She’s talking to me and releasing things that have been weighing her down then she gets into this posture. It’s incredible to see the connection between body, mind, and energy. She looks better physically because her posture is taller. She’s exuding this more confident energy and her mind is clearer because of the work that we’ve done.It's incredible to see the connection of body, mind, and energy. Click To Tweet
There are a lot of stories about people who have had whatever form of stress intention that they carry in their body. They carry it there so long that it starts to either disrupt the functioning of the body or disrupt the posture. People talk about it somehow getting crystallized since the body’s energy anyway.
There were some wonderful stuff when you were mentioning the issues that you struggle with, the chronic fatigue and the endometriosis, etc. It made me think of the newest book by Dr. Joe Dispenza, You Are the Placebo and Suggestible You by Erik Vance is another book about the placebo effect and the power of the mind. Through the lens of Western medicine, placebo has been looked at as a quirk, as some random thing.
People like Bruce Lipton started looking at it and saying, “Why don’t we give it a name with more reverence like the belief effect? Why don’t we study it as one of the more powerful influences on our physiology?” These three books of Bruce Lipton book, Biology of Belief and Eric Vance’s book Suggestible You and now Dr. Joe Dizpenza’s book, You Are the Placebo, are wonderful resources for people.
In the most recent one with Dr. Dizpenza, the whole thing is that he’s talking so thoroughly about the science and people can follow along in that book and start to think about what they’re already doing and get relief like with Dr. John Sarno’s books. People can read his books on the effective mental, emotional stress on back pain and start to feel relief from back pain by reading the book and understanding what they’re doing in connection with their thoughts getting lodged into the muscular tension in the body.
With all of the health struggles that I have gone through, I’m not perfect. I’m not saying that by any means. I do feel like I have a good path in front of me but I stray off of it from time to time. When I’m strayed off and I forget that my body is trying to help me, my body’s always on my side. I start to get angry. “Why do you feel this way, Body? Why do you have to hurt? Why is this happening? Why is this continuing? I’m trying. Why?”
Through my education, I did a module on the aging process. We were learning about how all of these things, as we start to age and get older, again, we look at it as like, “Why is my body breaking down? Why is this happening?” It’s stuff that’s happening in the body to protect you. Again, bone spurs, I brought that up. We get angry. Why is this happening? You’ve been working improperly in this joint in the body for so long. Now the body thinks that that’s your norm, so it’s going to build up more bones to support what you’re overworking and overstressing.
We can get mad at that bone spur for being there but the body is trying to help us out because of the way that we’ve been living and moving. In my health issues, when I can remember that, “This sucks that this is going on. I hate that I’m in pain but my body is telling me something. My body is trying to heal me. My body is trying to bring me back into balance. How can I get out of my own way and support its natural healing function?” That has been pivotal to me. That perspective changed of, “Why is this happening to me? What can I learn from this?”“My body is trying to heal me. My body is trying to bring me back into balance. How can I get out of my own way and support its natural healing function that has been pivotal to me?” Click To Tweet
The difference in the questioning of from an angry perspective. I’m asking my body, “Why are you doing this to me and what’s wrong?” I’m demanding an answer and I want it to stop what it’s doing. As opposed to questioning that’s open, soft, and curious. “What is it you’re trying to tell me?” As you were saying, there’s a wisdom in you that I’ve learned over the years. If you are in pain, maybe you’re trying to make my ears grow so I listen and correct something.
If I approach it with the questioning that isn’t demanding an answer now but is leaving myself open, then magic can happen, seemingly magical responses, insights, intuitions, answers, solutions, shifts in the energy flow and the pain. We see it over and over again in sessions where people are willing to put the conscious logical mind in its demand for an instant solid answer aside and stay open to questioning then getting feedback from the system.
Anytime I’m teaching a class, a few times during the class, I’ll say, “Be curious about the sensations that you’re feeling. If this pose is tough for you, why do you think that is?” Not just like, “This is tough and I shouldn’t do it anymore,” but what is going on now? We’re different moment to moment, day to day but what is going on now that you can explore, that you can be compassionate towards. No judgment about what you’re feeling but curiosity about what you’re feeling. The feedback I get from my classes is, “You said what I needed to hear. I was about to judge my shoulder feeling this way then you said, ‘Be curious about your sensations.’” I was like, “Body, let me talk to you. What is going on?” It’s creating again that stronger relationship to your true self.
The way your life is set up now and your work is set up now, are you doing just private practice? Are you doing something in an institution? What’s your work now?
I travel to four different places, four different studios in the area here where I have public classes. I teach now fifteen public classes a week. Most of them are live now, in-person but I do also do Zoom classes as well. If someone is in a different state, a different area, they can get onto Zoom and we can practice together. I have my public classes. I have private sessions and then I have an online studio as well, an on-demand studio where I film classes then I put it onto the website so then people can pay for a subscription, sign up, log in, and it’s a full library.
I have over 100 classes on the website now and anything from pranayama, which is our breathwork, yin classes, power classes, meditations, nidras, restorative, mild fatal release, and therapeutics. I have a ton of different categories and over 100 classes on my website now. If you are starting out, if you’re nervous about going to a yoga class or you don’t have a lot around you, you can get onto the website and practice at home. You just need WiFi and you can practice.
What’s that website?
If there’s a closing comment or you want to say something we haven’t even touched on yet or go back and highlight something from our conversation so far, what would that be?
Again, I just think that get out of your brain, get into your heart, into your body. Find moments to pause, to listen, to get quiet. It doesn’t have to be 20 minutes, 60 minutes. It doesn’t have to be a big chunk of your day. One minute of quiet of breathwork can change your whole day. It can be more simple than we believe it to be to come back into healing, to come back into ourselves, but the body is intelligent. Be in the body.
Thank you so much for sharing with us. It’s delightful to meet you. I look forward to following your work. I hope that you continue to keep us updated if you start a new project or when you finish your 1,000-hour training. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Thanks so much.
- Om Sweet Home
- Lupine Yoga
- Waking the Tiger
- In an Unspoken Voice
- You Are the Placebo
- Suggestible You
- Biology of Belief
About Kelley Edwards
Kelley Edwards is a 500 hour Yoga Alliance certified instructor with over a decade of practice and continuing education in many styles including: Gentle & Chair, Power, Yin & Restorative, Myofascial Release, Therapeutics and meditation styles like mindfulness and Yoga Nidra. She is passionate about leading classes and sessions that are safe and accessible for everyone, while challenging the way you think of yourself and what you are capable of. She has found her calling, guiding others into an empowering relationship with themselves. Her sessions are educational and fun, strong and graceful.
Currently, Kelley is working towards becoming a Yoga Therapeutic Specialist, a 1000 hour certification. This will allow Kelley to work alongside healthcare professionals, bridging the medical world with yoga. She spends her time teaching public classes in person and on zoom, working with private clients and corporations, and training others to become yoga instructors. She has an on-demand studio ‘Om Sweet Home’ and is the owner and author of Be Moved Yoga Teacher Training School and 200 hour manual.
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