Kelley Denison is one of those people who lights up a room- her smile is bright and sweet, her eyes are glowing, her laugh is bubbling. I’ve been lucky enough to bump into Kelley here and there at the studio, and even have her in my class a few times, but never got a chance to really get to know this positive ball of light. I’m always looking for new goddesses to profile here on Everyday Goddesses, and was so excited that Kelley was willing to be a part of it. Getting to read her story through her own words was the best way to get to know her, and I’m so honored to be able to share them here with you today.
Are there any particular struggles in your life that led you to yoga? How has your practice helped you overcome these obstacles?
It’s hard to identify with one particular struggle that led me to my yoga mat. I suppose that there wasn’t just one particular event. It is more like my entire life has been leading me to my mat and my practice. Every stumble, every turn, every rise, every fall, every growing pain, every insecurity, every moment of doubt, every feeling of joy, every disconnection, every connection helped light the path towards my own little island of peace. Once I found it, it’s as if it was just waiting there for me with tiki torches, sand, waves and my own private ukulele player playing my favorite song. FINALLY! A place where I could let go. A place where I could surrender to what is and let go of what was. A place where I could quiet down my monkey thoughts enough so that I could begin to connect with my inner guiding light and let go of my ego driven mind.
I grew up in the ballet studio. I began studying when I was 3 years old from my beautiful and gifted Grandmother, Lareen Fender. She ignited this flame inside of me that grew into a deep passion for music, movement and the body. I loved learning about the body’s mechanics and exploring music through movement. I especially loved the freedom I felt when I danced. The mind was so focused on the art that it had no time to worry about life’s current woes. All I had to think about was the present moment and making that quadruple pirouette while allowing my heart to explode with joy! Growing up, ballet was my therapy. It was my way of processing. It was my way of healing and in a way it was my way of loving myself.
My body began to develop and change into a more athletic build. I didn’t look like the other ballerinas in my class. I had strong legs. I felt like I was the only one that had a butt and thighs. I kept obsessing about my body and how it looked in the mirror and I kept comparing it to others. This obsession started to take the joy and freedom away from me and it began to rob me of my practice and my peace. I left ballet because I no longer felt free when I danced. I felt trapped in a dark tunnel with all of my personal insecurities and self hatred.
I left the classroom and tried to find other passions. I tried to find other ways to find that freedom when I danced. Nothing ever got me there. I turned my back on myself and the connection to my center and I focused on a career and tried to enter the world of a “normal” person. During this time, I found myself day dreaming about teaching, dancing and feeling that connection to my center again. I craved that sense of freedom. I would daydream while listening to music and choreograph all types of ballets in my head. I had some serious trapped energy that was DYING to get out. I began practicing and studying Pilates. Pilates helped establish my foundation again and I fell in love with what it did for my body. I went back to teaching ballet, and trained to be a pilates instructor. I began teaching pilates privately as well as group mat classes.
At the time, I thought of Pilates and Yoga as being separate. People either practiced Pilates or they practiced Yoga. Nobody really talked about doing both. It wasn’t until I experienced a devastating heartbreak that I found myself crawling to my first yoga class. Some sort of magic was happening every time I went to class. It quickly turned in to my therapy and I began to realize that Pilates was my foundation and yoga was my exploration. I began to break through walls, I began to face my insecurities, I began to let go and I began to heal. I began to dive deeper and I soon found an authentic sense of gratitude and acceptance. Soon after I started practicing yoga, my heart began to open up and I began to feel that sense of freedom again. I also found a new appreciation for my strong legs. I realized I actually needed them to help get me through all of those warrior and chair poses.
How have you changed as you’ve gained both physical strength and mental resilience?
Yoga has truly opened my heart and brought me back to my center. Every time I get on my mat I reconnect with my mind, body and spirit all over again. I am reminded how much I love being connected and I am reminded how grateful I am for this life that I live and the body that I get to live in. In a way it’s brought me back home. Currently I teach Pilates, Yoga and Ballet at Lareen Fender’s The Ballet School Performing Arts. Pilates is my foundation and I’ve realized I need it for physical strength, flexibility and core stability. I treat it as insurance for my body. I feel so grateful to be back in the studio teaching ballet. When I teach ballet it opens up this powerful passion inside of me. The feeling I get is deeply rooted. It is a feeling I have realized I can not live without. This incredible sense of pride, honor, creativity and joy comes over me and I dive head first into it. I love training my students and teaching them from such a deep layer of my soul. It is truly exhilarating. However, Yoga is pure magic to me! It is MY time to plug in and connect to my center. I feel complete freedom when I practice yoga. Every time I practice I become more aware of the strong light that lives within me. Every time! Yoga has restored my confidence and has helped me to stay present and grateful. I have been able push past boundaries that have been road blocks for me in the past. Most importantly, it has taught me how to love myself again.
Do you see the pursuit of strength as one more women are being drawn to? Do you think more women should emphasize this pursuit?
I have the unique privilege to teach and connect with people from the ages of 8-85 years young. From my experience, it is not only necessary for women but it is also necessary for men to pursue their outer and inner strengths. In my opinion, this isn’t a male/female thing. This is a human being thing. Being physically fit and having strength in the body creates a certain confidence. Knowing the space in which your body resides is vital especially when you are on the pursuit of happiness. Strength, flexibility, control is all a part of living a healthy life. However, the more challenging pursuit of strength comes when you have to dive deeper and do the work on the inside. Bringing awareness internally helps strengthen the connection to your inner light and gives you a brighter sense of purpose. When you recognize the strength of your own light you stop comparing yourself to others and ANYTHING becomes possible!
Do you have any examples of moments when the lessons you’ve learned in yoga have transferred into your everyday life?
There are so many! I think the coolest lesson I have learned so far through my yoga practice is how to love and how to be more gentle with myself. Being more gentle with myself has taught me how to love myself for who I am, just as I am. Through my practice I have been able to really recognize and connect with the strength of my inner light. Making this connection has taught me how to love myself in a deeper more meaningful way. I’ve become more aware of the self criticism and negative chatter that has been a part of my daily thoughts for the greater part of my life. It has been so healing and life changing to untie that knot of self judgement. Connecting, understanding and healing from my own self criticism has really given me the opportunity to be of better service to my students, clients and personal relationships. With that being said, I am beyond grateful for all that was, all that is and all that will be. I have found that the most important thing in life is love. My wish is that we all learn to love ourselves and each other every day that we have the chance to be ALIVE.
Kelley Denison is a passionate student of life. She began studying ballet at the age of three and began teaching at the young of 14. With over 20 years of teaching experience, she currently teaches Ballet, Pilates and Yoga at Lareen Fender’s The Ballet School Performing Arts. She is driven by helping people plug in to their mind, body and spirit. In addition to teaching at The Ballet School, she is also the proud owner of Zo Studio, a private Pilates & Mindful Living practice located in downtown Walnut Creek. Kelley is also very grateful to be a part of the Just Be Yoga community. You can follow her on Instagram @WomanWarrior