Karen Kennedy has made it her mission to help people achieve a better lifestyle through yoga therapy. It can help people of any age, she said, but particularly those who are getting on in years.
“It’s for anybody who’s stiff and starting to feel that they’re just not able to get to the lower shelf at the market,” she said of her yoga sessions. “I have people who have hip replacements, knee replacements, you-name-it replacements, and then I have kids that come in that just are stiff. I can teach everybody, it’s all the same.”
When the body is tight, it hinders flexibility and circulation. “In our class, we spend time re-connecting with our many muscle groups and body parts to release this tension,” said Kennedy, “thereby oxygenating fully the body for maximum, self-healing.” She believes that age is only a number and people don’t have to accept old-age “labels” and stiffness. “The body can be taught to self heal through flexibility, healthy food choices and circulation in order to have a healthy, ‘handy body’ at any age,” she said.
Kennedy teaches people how to do the yoga movements while on the floor, rather in the more traditional standing position, which is a more secure approach for people who may have balance issues. And she works with people who are at all levels of experience and ability.
“Even if they’ve done something (with yoga) it doesn’t matter because they’re going to learn it a different way,” said Kennedy. “Most people that do the stand-up yoga have issues in their body that they don’t even know they have. So I flush those issues out and bring it to their attention that one side is not symmetrical to the other side, and then we work on aligning, to get both sides equal.”
People may turn to yoga therapy for relief from multiple issues, Kennedy said. “One man was flat-footed from the time he was a kid. It gave him lower back pain. It took about four years, maybe five years, but he got arches because of these exercises.” Others may have scoliosis, the sideways curvature of the spine, and while yoga therapy can’t cure that, it can provide the means for an improved lifestyle, she said. “Shallow breathing problems, there’s a lot of that. I teach them how to just sit at a desk. Just little tricks of life, little tips.
“If they come in and they can’t get on the floor, I teach them how to get on the floor and back up. Everybody learns these things and why. I reconnect them with their body.”
Kennedy has been teaching people how to do yoga since the early ’70s, but it was never her intent to become a teacher. In the summer of 1972, she and her new husband went to Europe because he wanted to buy a boat and sail it back to the U.S. At the time, she was attending college and pursuing a kinesiology/physical fitness degree.
“We were just going to stay maybe six months, and I’d skip a semester,” Kennedy recalled. But the boat they purchased turned out to be a much larger project than they had envisioned. “It had been converted from a sailboat over into a fishing boat, and we had to turn it back,” she said. The first time they took it out on the water after finalizing the purchase, the motor cracked. They also needed sails and masts, which was a problem for them financially. “We ended up having a forester chop down the trees and had to turn it and shape it for a couple of years before it aged. Then we got cheap sails that kept ripping out — that’s just the way it went.”
And so a six-month adventure turned into 10 years in Denmark. Kennedy said she would often do yoga on the deck of the boat, and one day a girl asked what she was doing. Kennedy explained she was stretching, and the girl asked if she would teach her.
“She found a place at a local school,” recalled Kennedy. “She brought all of her friends, and it filled up and then went into two days, three days. I wasn’t a teacher, I was just learning it myself in ’72.
“Then she brought moms and grandmothers, and the kids all went away, and I was left with all the seniors, and the stand-up yoga just didn’t work for them,” Kennedy said. “Their bodies weren’t the same. I was young, they were old and what fit me didn’t fit them. So I learned to adapt to a stiffer type of body by doing variations that worked for them.”
That was how she found her calling, and she taught yoga most every day for the next 10 years.
When she finally did return to America, Kennedy found that senior citizens in this country were even less flexible as those she had been working with before, “so I had to do an adaption again,” she said.
Initially living in Newport Beach, Calif., Kennedy and her husband moved to Waldport in 1990 to escape the city, and it wasn’t long before she was once again teaching yoga therapy. “Right away I started teaching yoga to the seniors at the Bayshore Beach Club. Then I also have a yoga studio here at the house, so I would do private classes,” she said.
At one point, Kennedy considered teaching yoga classes at the Lincoln City Community Center. “They said, ‘Well, are you certified?’ And I go, ‘Certified?’ I didn’t even know there was a certification.”
When she first started doing yoga, there were no certifications, but Kennedy took up the challenge. “I went out and got two certifications, one in hatha yoga, very slow, peaceful meditative-type movements,” she said, “and then the other one I got in alignment yoga (Iyengar techniques).” She is now a member of the Yoga Alliance and the International Association of Yoga Therapists.
“I thought I made up yoga therapy because that’s what I did in Europe,” said Kennedy. “It was just totally intuitive. When I went through the certification process with the two techniques, it was like, ‘Wow, I’ve been doing this all my life.’ So I realized everybody has it in them. It’s an old, old ancient thing that’s been forgotten, and it’s come around again.”
Kennedy said helping people through yoga therapy “is the only thing the fulfills my life. It’s like what I was made to do. It’s my happiness to watch them get happy and able. I give them a way to have a handy body again. I want them to realize that it’s within their grasp, but they’re going to have to work at it.”
Kennedy offers yoga therapy classes on a donation basis every Tuesday at the Bayshore Beach Club (1512 NW Oceania Drive, Waldport). People gather at 10 a.m., “and we definitely let everybody out by 12:30,” she said. “We go slow. Everybody goes at their own speed, and everybody is at a different level — the same exercise, but a different level of depth.”
Kennedy also teaches classes at the Newport Recreation Center. The cost for those classes is set by the center.
Anybody who is interested in learning more about yoga therapy and the classes offered by Kennedy can contact her at the Alsea Yoga Therapy Center in Waldport, 541-563-3006.