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Area woman-owned yoga center celebrates 30 years

Instructor has strong lineage to yoga practice, principles

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July 25, 2023

GREEN BAY – Those interested in yoga – a posture-based physical fitness, stress relief and relaxation technique – are drawn to it for a variety of reasons.

For Kathleen Kelly, founder and director of Bay Area Yoga Center for Health and Healing, her interest in yoga was sparked after she was hit by a car while riding her bicycle, which caused injury to an entire side of her body.

“It changed my entire life, basically,” she said.

Following the accident, Kelly said she tried different types of fitness programs.

“But I always had pain,” she said. “So, one of my older brothers suggested I try doing yoga. I had no idea what yoga was but was willing to give it a try.”

Kelly said her first class was taught by Nancy Gilgoff – one of the first women to be given permission to teach certain forms of yoga.

“At one time, yoga was a very macho, patriarchal thing,” she said. “That’s interesting because, predominantly, about 80% of yoga in the United States is practiced by women. But, 50 or 60 years ago, women didn’t even practice yoga because it wasn’t considered something for them.” 

However, Kelly said after one class she was hooked.

“It gave me a completely different perspective on how to be in my body,” she said. “Nancy introduced that to me. I’ve had other good teachers since her, but she was my original step into yoga, along with my brother, who was (also) one of my first teachers. She lives in Maui these days and is close to 80 years old. But there have been people who have gone out of their way and come from around the world to practice yoga with her.”

Making a change
It wasn’t until Kelly had been practicing yoga for about 10 years that people started approaching her about teaching classes.

Though she wanted to make a change professionally, Kelly said she didn’t feel she was in a position to teach anyone.

“I didn’t feel comfortable teaching anyone because I was just practicing – it wasn’t like I was a teacher,” she said. “And all my teachers were amazing. They were people who originally brought everything over to the United States. So, I felt completely incapable of teaching people.”

Kathleen Kelly

However, after losing family members – including her father, maternal grandmother and one of her brothers passed – Kelly said those ideas of teaching shifted.

“I had a bad year,” she said. “I started being fidgety and life didn’t feel grounded anymore.”

Following a suggestion from her brother, Kelly said she took a break from work and went to a yoga training course for a month.

“I came back with a completely different perspective, and in a short period of time, started teaching yoga,” she said. “I eventually quit my job and opened a yoga studio. That was 30 years ago, and I never looked back. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

A passion for yoga, teaching
Kelly said she quickly realized teaching yoga was something she truly loved.  

“It was something I had a real passion for,” she said. “I felt so good doing it and felt awesome studying and getting myself ready to share with people. It was exciting and rewarding to watch people expand and to see on their faces when they got something (from yoga) and were hungry for something more.”

When she first started out, Kelly said she taught in many different places – traveling from Neenah to Door County to teach anyone who wanted lessons.

She eventually found a brick-and-mortar space to rent, and over the next 20 years or so, she rented space in seven different locations.

That was until May 2019, when Kelly said she found space she wanted to buy – her current location at 1825 Webster Ave., Green Bay.

Her own place hadn’t even been open a year yet when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

However, Kelly said an online presence – thanks in part to one of her instructors – helped Bay Area Yoga Center for Health and Healing stay afloat.

“It was a rough time during that first year or two of COVID, but we managed,” she said. “We had some generous people who made contributions – some people kept their memberships going even though they didn’t do any yoga during that time.”

Though the center was able to stay the course, Kelly said it’s been challenging.

“We’re now slowly starting to turn the corner,” she said. “2023 has been a better year, and with the 30th anniversary upon us, we’re still standing.”

Kelly said she still offers virtual classes.

Community driven
Kelly said one of the things that makes the studio unique is “we’re all about community.”

“We want people to feel a part of something,” she said. “We’re about people getting to know each other’s names and feeling a connection with one another. We’re about making an eclectic community, which is what our world is about.”

Besides the center’s group classes, Kelly said she also offers private sessions – whether it’s yoga, meditation or life coaching.

She said she is also a yoga therapist – taking a 1,000-hour yoga therapy course a couple of years ago.

“One of the things I do is work with movement,” she said. “A lot of times people who’ve had injuries get locked up – like with my own injuries, for example – I’m going on 63 years old, and I’ve had this injury since I was 19.”

Owner Kathleen Kelly has studied yoga, movement, meditation, stillness, therapy and mindfulness throughout the world. Submitted Photo

Kelly said she understands pain because she, too, has experienced pain.

“I’ve experienced injuries, but I’ve rehabilitated myself and have rehabilitated a lot of people through yoga and through movement, as well as life coaching, meditation, breathing techniques and looking at the different layers of pain,” she said. 

For the past 12 years, Kelly has also trained people to be teachers.

“I always tell (students), ‘You are in a lineage, where I’ve learned from a teacher, who learned from a teacher, who learned from a teacher,’” she said. “My training is a lineage that’s been passed down for centuries, and I can feel that inside myself and inside my practice. That’s what makes the difference with the practice I teach. It’s a healing practice, but it’s not my practice – it’s one we’ve shared and has been handed down for generations.”

Individualized journeys
Reflecting on the studio’s past 30 years, Kelly said she estimates she’s taught more than 100,000 yoga classes, with tens of thousands of people coming through her doors. 

“I’ve had people write me letters, telling me that… (I’ve) changed their lives – thanking me for being there when they needed me,” she said.

Kelly said many of those who attend Bay Area Yoga Center for Health and Healing have been with her since the beginning, with new ones joining along the way.

“They transform their lives through yoga,” she said. “There’s so many different combinations of people and the journey they’re on. I feel with my practice, I help people on their journey. Sometimes they stay with me forever and some people need me for a short period of time. Everyone is different and their needs are all different.”

Kelly said yoga is a transformational process.

“When you get into yoga, it will change you, and for the better,” she said. “It goes way beyond whether someone has a fit body or not. It’s about a fit mind, a fit heart and about meeting and finding yourself. It’s constantly unfolding and changing – it’s an amazing process.”

Kelly said she has a different approach to teaching, which is individualized for every person.

“The way I teach yoga is in relationship with what someone is able to do and how they can attain things…,” she said. “The various poses and moves in yoga can be adaptable to anyone. I’ve worked with people in wheelchairs.”

Kelly said she’s never known anyone who hasn’t benefited from yoga.

“When you get to the right practice and the right teacher, anyone can blossom,” she said.

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