Kelly Haas ~ The Path of Service

Join this excerpt of a spontaneous podcast discussion I had the great opportunity of having with Kelly Haas. Kelly is a yoga teacher with many years leading and facilitating yoga classes and trainings all around the world. She now resides in West Palm Beach, Florida and specializes in Yoga Therapy through adaptive practices as well as prenatal yoga, Conscious Aging and accessibility for special populations. Check her out on her website at and on IG @yogawithhaas.

Listen to the full episode of the podcast here at Native Yoga Toddcast.

Todd I’m really excited to have the opportunity to have Kelly Haas here with me in studio. This morning, when I woke up, I thought to myself, I’m going to bring my podcasting equipment to the studio and see who shows up for the 9:30am class and then just try to pull them aside here and see if they’re open and willing to have a conversation with me today. So Kelly, I’m so happy to have you here and to have a chance to speak with you. Thank you. 

Kelly Thank you. I am the lucky winner. Thank you, Todd, and for a beautiful practice here at Native yoga.

Todd I appreciate that. Something that’s also really great is that because we’re just on audio, neither you or I need to get our blow dryer out, have a quick shower or worry about what our appearances are after we just sweated like crazy in our hot humid room here in Florida. 

Kelly Yes, we are definitely in post Ashtanga mode. That’s right. 

Todd Yes, so with that being said, I just wanted to start asking you some questions about your own personal yoga journey. And if we bring it way back to the beginning, where and when was the needle turned toward yoga for you?

Kelly I’ve always been into practices of the body and body movements. I was a gymnast when I was a child, so that inquisitiveness was always there. And then in college at the University of North Carolina, I started dabbling in yoga classes. Shortly after that, after my graduation from there which was 1999, was when I really found a teacher that I resonated with and started practicing regularly. That was Sivananda style yoga in the beginning. Then I was just hungry to learn all that I could. I did a teacher training at the Nosara Institute in Costa Rica with Don and Amba Stapleton. I ran the yoga retreat center at Pura Vida in Costa Rica for a few years. And that was a really pivotal time in my yoga education. Because there was a lot of renowned teachers from different methodologies that were coming to the retreat center, every week or every few weeks to lead trainings. And usually they were very generous and allowed me to drop in. So I was teaching all of the in house classes for the program there. But then I had all of these wonderful ways of, you know, being introduced to Doug and David Swenson, who would come and offer Ashtanga or Baron Baptiste or Anusara Yoga with John friend, and Sianna Sherman. So that time was just a breadth of learning and being exposed to a lot of different styles of yoga. I found that Anusara really resonated with me at that time. I loved the biomechanics of it, and it helped me start to deepen some understandings of my own practice. That led me to working with the Anusara organization and managing their world tour for six years. At that time, I was just traveling all over the world, Asia, Europe, all over the United States. I had this really wonderful experience of delving really deep into that method. That also allowed me to become so connected with the worldwide community, which as we know, the yoga community is big, but it’s also very small. I’ve made so many wonderful friends and colleagues around the world that still now I’m connected to. I’ve been energized and am kind of feeding off of them from all those experiences. I landed after my time as the Anusara tour manager in New Orleans, and have spent the last 10 years cultivating community there and building a yoga therapy practice. Before my recent move to South Florida in West Palm Beach and I’ve moved here in November of last year.

Todd That’s amazing Kelly, because I really had no idea that you had that background, which really is testament to your humility, because you’ve been coming and taking classes now for the past couple months, and you just come in and you practice and you bust out a great routine and you have a big smile. And you say, thank you very much. I’ll see you later. And so I can’t believe that you have this incredibly diverse background! I had no idea. I love that. Yes! That’s really cool. That’s amazing.

Kelly It’s a testament if I may say to the space that you hold. I love to have a place to practice, it feels so comfortable to come in and I feel very supported. I love that wherever we are in our practice you make the group feel like they can all participate. It feels very community driven. And I think for me, after being such a leader in my community for so long, it’s also nice to come into a new place and, and go back to these humble beginnings, where you can just kind of float in and out and, and experience my practice again. And, you know, for me, Ashtanga has come into my yoga practice in my yoga field with consistency at different times. Over the 20 years, I’ve been practicing, but it hasn’t been a main practice for me in the past few years. And it’s feeling so good to get back into this practice, and to even have a deeper understanding or experience of it in my own body.

Todd Wow, that’s cool. Yeah. Sometimes I’ll say to people or I’ll think to myself, if you learn Ashtanga Yoga it gives the basis for a solid understanding. To remain humble in theory and practice, then I could go into any other yoga school and/or tradition and feel like I could navigate relatively well. Like I’d have a fairly good understanding of what’s going on. Would you agree with that in relation with all that you’ve had experience with in different practices with like Anusara, Iyengar, Ashtanga, and all these different vinyasa flow teachers? I guess the reason that I bring that up is that when I first started practicing hatha yoga it was in the Bikram method. Then I went to Mysore in India to practice with Pattabhi Jois, and I just kind of thought…. well, I’m coming from this one yoga, so I’ll probably just slide into this other yoga room and just be completely fine. But then I got my butt totally kicked, going into Mysore and was completely humbled. I liken it to as if was a dancer and I take tap all the time and then I think I’m gonna go study somewhere in Paris with some ballet master and it will translate. While tap and ballet are both forms of dance they are so completely different. Each style of yoga seems to be so unique and specialized in different ways. What has your experience been with being humbled in the yoga world?

Kelly Well, that’s the beauty of where if we are humble and open to being a perpetual student, right, which is where I always strive to be. I think for certain Ashtanga is one of the more rigorous and powerful methodologies and I think, you know, in my 20s when I was practicing it, and I have a fiery personality and a fiery way of being, I connected it to the fire of it, you know, it’s a strenuous practice, right? And I can almost feel sometimes like my anger or my anger issues coming up within it, you know, like, why are we doing another vinyasa? Why does there have to be four Marichyasanas? (Laughter) You know, come on, don’t you think two is plenty? But, but now I feel like coming back to it and me being in perhaps a less fiery time in my life and my existence with the way I’ve changed. It feels so much more therapeutic and even therapeutic on an organic basis, like on the organ level that I don’t think I experienced when I was younger. So it is hard to translate. I mean, I feel that so many flow and vinyasa practices we have now are so steeped in and of whatever the teacher wants to offer, not necessarily in the succinct fundamentals and methodology that goes behind a method like Ashtanga or Iyengar. I think. I think it always informs me in certain ways, but the Iyengar yoga therapeutics that I’ve studied, more in depth in the past few years, as well as restorative practices, has offered a whole other lens for me of yoga. In the sense of teaching a restorative class and having some student come in a wheelchair and you think, yeah, this student is coming to take a yoga practice with me. I don’t know exactly how to serve them. What do I do? Yeah, and that really was an instigator for me wanting to learn more on how can I serve whoever walks into the room? So while I love the Ashtanga practice, yes, the accessibility and the changes that I think we’ve seen with stress levels, with Western lifestyle with things like that. There’s some softer methods that I feel like maybe are a little more approachable for certain people.

Todd I agree. 100%. That’s really cool.

Kelly I hope I can say that on an Ashtanga yoga podcast?

Todd To be honest, this is not just an Ashtanga yoga podcast. I do bring all people from all different backgrounds on this platform. I welcome those that really love Ashtanga and are really focused mostly on that, and I also bring on people who are completely outside of the Ashtanga world. So I think that hearing multiple viewpoints and approaches is absolutely essential for development, right? Because don’t you think if we get to narrowed in on one thing, that it almost creates problems? Yeah, you know, if you start putting the blinders and thinking that “this” is the only way, or that my method is the best way and everyone else’s method isn’t quite up to par with what I’m doing. 

Kelly That’s a trap, that’s a closed myopic view. It’s very hard to learn or expand good in that way of thinking. You know, like Ram Dass says, “There are many paths to God, make sure you’re on one of them.” I think in our yoga world you are in practices that help you connect to your embodiment. Yeah, and feel embodied. And that can look so many different types of ways, even through the yoga lens?

Todd I just want to go out here on a limb and ask this question right off the bat, based on the information you gave me already. You were able to manage the world tour of Anusara and John friend, which at some point, I remember when I was looking at Yoga Journal back in the day, I mean, he was like exploding. And but then obviously, there was a little bit of controversy, where were you without going into all the heaviness of that? Were you out of managing the tour before that controversial component came up? Or were you in the thick of that when all that happened?

Kelly No, I was not out of the picture, I was quite steeped in the unraveling of that method, and of John’s downfall and the changes in the organization. And that has been a really wonderful and big teacher for me. And I wouldn’t change any of that experience. In hindsight, looking back at it, it was heart wrenching, and difficult for our community. I think for me personally, going through that feeling, perhaps a lack of trust in my teacher, or the methodology that I had learned. It makes you start to question a lot of things, which in the end, is a beautiful gift, because it allowed me to go all the way back to square one and to say, what do I want to teach? How do I want to teach? What resonates for me? What am I practicing? That’s what I can offer. And those are parts of the teachings that are not wrapped up in one person who can obviously very be very human, as we all are. I think it showed me a lot of traps that we can fall into in terms of when we are holding space as teachers or leaders with these practices that are really transformational. It’s important for us to remember and for the students to remember, that we serve. To remember that it’s through the service to others that holds the door open for their transformation. And that’s their innate power and innate intelligence. And it’s not coming from us. Right? Yeah! That helps with humility, for sure.

Todd Great answer, Kelly. That’s amazing. I’ve had a similar experience. And it obviously, is a very common thread in the yoga and meditation community that, like you said, with the transformational power of these practices that the teacher gets put on a pedestal and then the humanity of their experience comes to the light and it makes us question everything. So I don’t know if maybe that’s a part of yoga? In some strange way like it’s almost like if you keep going with yoga long enough that at some point, we’re going to bump into that. The rise and fall of the teacher can lead us deeper into the humility of being of service as the basis of all yoga. It teaches us to come to terms with it and learn and grow from that. I personally have the dream, the goal and the vision that that will never happen in a setting that I find myself in now and moving forward. I believe that I have learned the lesson now of the importance of humility and service because of my witnessing of that sort of abuse of power. I’ve seen it enough. And I can now move forward. I won’t be a part of it anymore. Does that make sense? 

Kelly Yes. 

Todd I just think that’s so important right now, especially watching what what we’ve seen in the last few years. I feel like I heard story after story, from this school from that school, from this tradition, that tradition, where there was a very similar, kind of break down, melt down period.

Kelly Right. An unraveling of power structures. Service to humanity and humility is the solution to that problem.

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