When asked what children want to be when they grow up, common answers include doctor, firefighter, movie star, or proathlete. Kelly Gardner didn’t know what career she would pursue, but she knew she wanted to be active and help other people feel good.

“I love being active and have since a young age. I felt the benefits physically, mentally, and emotionally. When I discovered the major sports and exercise psychology, it felt like a natural fit,” Kelly shares.

Kelly, a born and raised Memphian, graduated from the University of Memphis with a bachelor’s degree in sports and exercise psychology.

Throughout college, Kelly worked in the beauty industry, which took her to Atlanta after graduating. She continued to pursue her passion for wellness by teaching Jazzercise and owned two Jazzercise locations in the metro-Atlanta area.

Integrating the mental and physical

Kelly began taking yoga classes and enrolled in yoga teacher training through YogaFit in 2003. “At training, I felt like I was home. I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” says Kelly.

Yoga teaching training solidified the integration of physical and mental wellbeing for Kelly. She felt called to delve deeper into mental health and enrolled in the University of West Georgia’s Master of Education in Community Counseling program.

Upon graduation, Kelly worked in residential treatment for children and adolescents, focusing on sexual abuse and assault. “I taught my clients how to practice elements of yoga, like deep breathing to

balance the nervous system. It became immediately obvious how well cognitive therapy, also known as talk therapy, and yoga worked together,” she recalls.

Incorporating yoga into therapy

Kelly moved back to Memphis to be closer to family. She began working in a residential treatment center and saw firsthand the effect that heavy trauma had on the lives of her patients. She saw how much effort it took for patients to show up in their lives each day, and how the body held onto the energy of trauma.

Kelly moved into a role in an outpatient setting. At this practice, yoga was offered to patients three times per week. Kelly and her colleagues noticed that when the physical practice of yoga was introduced to the patients, their progress in cognitive therapy improved as well.

“That experience reinforced what I believed and was the catalyst in pursuing yoga therapy full-time,” Kelly shares. At the start of 2021, Kelly opened her own yoga therapy practice, working with adults who have a history of trauma. She also offers trauma-informed training for yoga teachers.

Kelly continues, “I support my clients in recognizing that they can trust their bodies. They talk about the story of their trauma with a cognitive therapist, and I work with them to regulate the trauma responses that occur in the body.”

Trusting the body

Kelly defines trauma as any experience that impacts the nervous system to the point of knocking it out of balance so that it can no longer self-regulate or come back to a calm

state after the fight or flight response. In her practice, clients practice yoga postures and breathing exercises to work on establishing safety in the body and regulating the nervous system.

Differing from traditional yoga classes, Kelly offers yoga therapy in a one-on-one setting with the primary focus on how the body feels in each pose. Kelly guides clients to become aware of what is happening in their bodies at the moment.

Kelly guides students into postures and breathing techniques that teach them to trust their bodies and the sensations they feel in each moment. This allows practitioners to listen to the body’s signals and to not always listen to the stories of the mind. “We can learn to honor the rhythm of our bodies. While our minds may lie to us, our bodies don’t,” she explains.

Practicing emotional well-being

When considering who can benefit from therapy, Kelly says, “I don’t believe that anyone was born into this world with the purpose of being miserable. If it can help you enjoy your life more, isn’t that worth taking a chance on?”

To Kelly, having a healthy mind means being resilient enough to be able to cope with whatever life throws at you. She continues, “You can redirect your thoughts and emotions in a way that supports your wellbeing, which is a skill that takes practice. And it also takes asking for help sometimes.”

For more information or to schedule an appointment visit Yourradiantsoul.com

By Morgan Stritzinger
Photo by Tindall Stephens