This week I spoke with yoga Instructor and educator, Kelly Stackhouse.
So I would love it if you could tell us who you are and where you are coming from.
I am originally from Ontario, Canada. I grew up watching Fashion Television, a show that would highlight all the great fashion cities. I began daydreaming of New York at a young age and somehow managed to make that dream come true when I first moved here in 2007. I had been teaching yoga for a few years when I moved here and it, by chance, became a full-time gig for me a decade ago. My clientele began at a very high end gym on the Upper East Side. I met clients like Joan and her husband, people who were really successful, and very social, very active. Although I had every kind of client you can imagine, the majority were very high achieving, A-type individuals who were running themselves ragged.
And so my objective was to help them to find more balance. And I loved the job of going into people’s homes and really learning a lot about how these families functioned because my other passion was journalism and documentary photography. I love people’s stories, who they are, where they come from, what is important to them, what makes them tick but also what their struggles are. I think there was an element of wanting to help, not that I was a therapist to these people, but our time together was perhaps a place to let go and process. To unload in a healthy way. A healthy outlet. I wanted to share some of my tools, give people the ability to do this work on their own. And I think it’s natural for yoga to be a place of release. We go INWARDS. As I continued to teach, I saw and learned so much, and became interested in mental psychology and turned to people like Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle and Oprah Winfrey and Tony Robbins and tried to understand our mental landscape: “Why are some of these people doing the right things, but still unhappy?”
I’ve had this decade-long interest and study with mental psychology, positive affirmation, trauma and how it connects to the body. On top of teaching yoga, I also do some body work as well. I studied in Kauai, Hawaii at a school that combined trauma and somatic therapy with massage. And I’ve been working with people who have had trauma, who have been rape victims, who have truly suffered. And through that, it amplified my interest in studying the connection of trauma and how it physically affects and even stores itself in the body. In the past couple of years I have even shifted gears towards working with women through chakra work, specifically throat chakra work. Releasing sound and being heard and standing up for what you believe and having a voice. It’s amazing to see how it is ALL CONNECTED.
How do you kind of feel like all of the parts of you kind of have contributed to some lessons you've learned throughout just your life?
I remember when I started teaching yoga, I was so nervous to be in front of an audience. And my dad is such a great public speaker, like the kind of guy who goes to a wedding and grabs the mic and is just so comfortable in front of an audience. So I grew up with someone who was confident in himself and what he had to say and you'd think I would have drawn some skill sets from that, but no, I was terrified. So nervous that I had to go take acting classes to get comfortable in front of an audience. And I think there are things that I've done, like that acting course where I was like, “Why did I do that? What was that all about?” Or there's the feeling of “Do I regret doing that?” And I think we have to remember that even when we do things that make us question ourselves, there is a bigger purpose. We pick up skill sets along the journey, and when we get to our destination, we realize the totality of all the places we’ve been, have been necessary.
What has your wellness journey been like?
I think the reason I was really turned on by yoga is because I was really sick as a kid and I found it helped right away. I am an asthmatic and I’m very sensitive to the environment. I am allergic to pollen, to certain trees and plants, certain animals, foods, etc. So I’ve always been really conscious of my health because my environment has forced me to. And it led me down this path. My Hungarian grandmother escaped war and fled her country for “better things” and her way of dealing with her trauma and stress was through daily Tai Chi. And so I saw my grandmother turning towards Eastern philosophy and Eastern medicine, towards spirituality. And then on the other side of the family my uncle is a Buddhist and I saw his transformation, living in a Buddhist community, changing his diet entirely, and coming over and then just flipping upside down in my living room, doing headstands. I was just fascinated.
And so I had this really beautiful experience growing up with other “possibilities” and other ways of doing things, other ways of living. There was a real curiosity around “What else is out there?”. So the combination of curiosity and having health issues led me down a path I’ve been on for the past 25 years. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all, you know? I think there’s so many things that work. It’s not like you have to do yoga to be okay. I believe in so many different tools that help support our well being but I think we all need something that fits US and our unique being.
You spoke about your father and grandfather, I wanted to know if you can tell us more about your community and their influence on your community growing up.
Yes, my grandfather was a Chiropractor and in that time, in the early fifties, it was a profession that was not very respected. And my grandmother was told not to marry him because of that. Glad she did and I’m so glad he followed his heart. At the same time, my grandmother was in school for physiology and became a therapist. So not only did I grow up surrounded by health care professionals, but also around women who were very determined to work, to help others. It was really amazing to grow up visiting my grandparents and to see their impact in the community as wellness advocates and natural healers. My father and uncle then became Chiropractors and also had the same deep impact on their own communities. I was a receptionist for my dad for years on and off to help and make a little money between College classes and I was in awe to see the deep respect he had and what a huge impact he really made. And anytime I’d go to the mall with my dad, no matter where we went really, people would stop and say, "Oh my God. I just wanted to say, thank you." But I was always rolling my eyes, like, whatever, I’m so embarrassed. Now, looking back, I get it. I have my own chiropractors and I have my own acupuncturist and I have my wellness team I’ve worked to put together through the years. They make such a huge impact in my life. And if I saw them out in the public, I would stop them on the streets and tell them how much an impact they were making.
You don’t have to be a celebrity. You don’t have to be a star. Last year I went simple on my Instagram and became private. Because I just want to be old school. Like my dad was, I just want to be word of mouth. I don’t think your community has to be a thousand people or 10,000 people. And it’s truly amazing that our audiences can really be endless, due to technology and social media. But I think that what we have to keep in mind, is that you can have an enormous impact on just a few people, and that’s also incredible. And if you can change one person’s life for the better, then you’re living with intention and there’s integrity in what you’re doing. So I hope to be really impactful just in this small community than I am in. At 60, in 20 years, I hope to be a big fish in a small pond and make a huge impact on my community, like my dad and grandfather, and grandmother have. I always want to remember I came from a small town and that is sort of the person I am, those are my roots.
So my last question is if there’s a specific philosophy you take with you as you work with your clients, or if there’s a mantra that’s central to how you try to work with others.
You know, I never teach anything beyond my capability. I sometimes have this very “New York” person who’s like, I want to stand on my head and I want to lose weight and sweat my brains out and I have to say, “That’s not who I am. This is the level I teach at and this is what I truly believe the practice is about.” I always like to go into new relationships, just being very honest and transparent about my capabilities and understand what their goals are. If we have a good vibe together. If we can both create something magical together. For example, I have a woman I’ve been working with for just over a year. And when I first met her she said, “I am calling you because I heard you’re the best. And I want to do a handstand and I’m 55 and that’s my goal. I want to do a handstand.” And I had to really be honest with her and say, “I don’t know if you’re ever really going to do a handstand, all things considered, but we’ll work in that direction and it’s going to be all the things that we do along the way that are going to be really amazing and really exciting. It’s about the journey.”
So I like that I am multi-hyphenated. I don’t just offer this one type of yoga and that's it. I like to be flexible to the things that I've gained knowledge from and bring those into play with somebody. Massage, Thai massage, yoga, Chiropractic, physical therapy, acupressure, etc. We have to feel out the energy and capability of every person we’re coming into contact with. And sometimes what they're asking for help with is not really what they need! Sorry! And you just have to be able to be a very good listener to their physical vibration, to what they're saying, and also trust in yourself too. You have to feel into your intuition and find the “dance” when you're working with somebody.