Q&A: Kelly Kuder
● By J. Chambless
Just like life, the
practice of yoga is a journey that begins with the first step, and
for Kelly Kuder of Transcend Yoga and Yoga Underground in Chadds
Ford, her own journey has been paved with heartache and loss, held
together by a spiritual connection that leans toward hope and
discovery. Recently, Kelly took a few moments to talk to West
Chester & Chadds Ford Life about her work
on the mat – and in the air and on the sea.
Where were you in your
life that inspired you to go the mat for the first time?
I had just moved from Washington, D.C. to Vero Beach, Florida. I was three months pregnant with my first child, who later died soon after he was born. It was crushing, life changing, and happened at a time when we were expecting our first child. Our son Zachary had a 98 percent chance of survival, but he died two weeks later. A loss of this kind can tear a marriage apart, but if anything, it brought my husband and me closer together. I used to say to him, “Why would we have an issue with each other when you're the only person who knows what exactly what I'm feeling?”
So in many ways, it was the emotion of grief that introduced you to yoga, which then influenced the course of your life.
Yes, I went to yoga, in order to establish a sense of community, around people who supported me, hugged me, listened to me shared words if wisdom. It was a natural transition for me as it became a spiritual shift as well. My husband would practice yoga with me and it ended up being very healing for both of us. We would practice next to each other and found much comfort in sharing our time together on the mat while working through our sorrow. We would always hold hands in Savasana.
When my father died when I was 16, I saw them wheel him away, and in that moment, I knew life was precious and short. In that moment, I vowed to live life large and full, and I recall saying to myself, “Live large, because life is precious, and there is so much greatness to experience. No excuses, Kelly.”
I had stepped away from the Catholic Church when I was 18, so for a long time I was looking to fill that spiritual practice. The transition eventually began to make sense when I found yoga. It pushed me through that healing and then came to honor the parts of me that I most like.
Most people don't ever recover from such intense, powerful losses, but yet you have turned your inner pain into something extraordinary, in terms of what you give to other people, as a teacher. Was it a conscious decision to go into teaching, or did you fall into it?
I was definitely drawn to become a healing artist. There are many situations I can relate to – the pain and the suffering and how we don't have to sit with that pain. I never liked feeling sad and down. It's heavy and thoughts become negative, so for me, it makes sense to experience joy and live a life of play. If people are to believe in a higher power, are we truly expected to be here to suffer, or are we supposed to be here in order to experience play and joy, and inspire others to be on that same path?
You are a yoga teacher at Underground Yoga in Chadds Ford, and you also own Transcend Yoga, as well. Part of your teaching curriculum includes aerial yoga. Describe it.
Aerial yoga has been around for over ten years. I discovered it about seven years ago, and fell in love with it. I knew it would become something big! The hammock is made out of a synthetic polyester and supports up to a thousand pounds. In our studio, it's attached to two points in the ceiling, and it allows for nearly every kind of yoga posture to be done in that fabric. For myself and many of our students, it's been incredibly physically healing, as it decompresses all of one's joints, especially the spine. Often, more advanced yoga poses are easier to do in a hammock than on a yoga mat.
Practicing yoga in a hammock must feel almost cocoon-like.
People have told me that being in the aerial yoga hammocks makes them feel like a child again. Especially when lying in the hammock in Savasana. They feel supported, nurtured as well as playful, youthful and relaxed.
You are a regular instructor at yoga retreats, both in our region and in other parts of the world, at which you teach “Air, Land and Sea.”
“Air” is aerial yoga. “Land” is traditional practice on a mat, and “Sea” is done on a paddle board in the water, which allows people to experience yoga, meditation, mindfulness and being in the moment, on a paddle board. It's an embodiment of “Lila,” or Divine Play, which allows people to get to a point where they think of something grander than themselves.
While retreats often allow an individual the opportunity for focused attention, they're not always affordable for everyone, and even the cost of attending regular classes can add up. For those who wish to explore yoga on a more cost-conscious budget, what suggestions do you have for them?
I would recommend that they not be afraid to explore a home practice by using podcast and on line Yoga classes. By taking a few classes at studios, they can also bring what they learn at the studio into their home practice. It doesn't have to be perfect. It should be about listening to your body, about what feels natural to you at the time. Your body will tell you where it needs to go. There are so many podcasts now, and online classes, for practitioners to choose from.
For many years, you were a ballerina and a dancer, specializing in modern and jazz dance. Compare the artistry of ballet and dance to the artistry of yoga.
I tell my students that yoga is like a graceful dance on the mat – to make their intentions to be fluid and seamless; just like we try to do with our minds…fluid and seamless. I love the breath and grace that comes from ballet, dance and yoga.
Every yoga teacher gets to experience transformation – both in themselves through their own practice, and in the stories they see developing in the students they teach. Of the hundreds of students you have taught, are there any particular stories of transformation that stand out to you?
I have been teaching for 14 years and have witnessed so many stories of transformation, but I would have to say that a few have risen above others. I have had a woman who is deaf attend one of my 20-hour aerial yoga teacher trainings. It was quite a powerful experience for those of us to see her bravery to stand up and lead an hour class. I’ve also had a woman take an aerial yoga class who had only had one leg. She pulled her prosthetic limb off to help make her aerial experience easier.
There was also another student who had been in a very bad car accident and suffered some damage to her brain. She was in recuperation for the next six months, but when she first came back to aerial yoga with us, she would tell her brain to grab her right foo or lest say her hand, only to have her right foot not respond. Essentially, she had to rewire her brain again, and I knew in that moment that attending yoga as often as she could was going to assist her healing much much faster. It was wonderful to witness her growth and healing.
That student now teaches Aerial Yoga at Yoga Underground. She is a wonderful teacher, has a strong following and is healed. She is forever grateful that she found yoga because she knows it’s what saved her from her brain injury, and the yoga community gave her so much support.
What are your favorite spots in West Chester and Chadds Ford?
I do love going to the Chaddsford Winery. I love the events there, and I have taught yoga there. I enjoy going to Brandywine Prime. I also enjoy Teca in West Chester, and I also like to hike in the ChesLen Preserve.
What guests would you invite to your dinner party?
The guest of honor would be my mother. I would also invite Albert Einstein, Dalai Lama, Mikhail Baryshnikov, my husband, and the amazing tribe of friends I have which are a group of women that live in Seattle, San Diego, Washington, D.C, as well as in Kennett Square and Chadds Ford.
What food or beverages are always in your refrigerator?
Kinda boring! Lots of fruits and vegetables, mostly organic. I always have cream in the refrigerator for my coffee. Hot sauces galore, mayo, awesome pickles from Whole Foods and fancy cheese.
To learn more about Kelly Kuder, visit her website at www.kellykuder.com. To learn more about Yoga Underground, visit www.yogaundergroundlove.com. Yoga Underground and Transcend Yoga are located at 1609 Baltimore Pike, Building 500, Chadds Ford.
-- Richard L. Gaw