Kelli Hansel Haywood didn’t know she was struggling with multiple autoimmune disorders. Here, how her yogic journey helped her heal and inspired her community in Appalachia.
Standing on the cold concrete floors of an old department store turned library, tucked into the timeless emerald hills of my hometown of Whitesburg, Kentucky, I look out over a yoga class of 10 or so students. With a population of less than 2,500, Whitesburg is in the far southeastern part of the state—in the coalfields of the central Appalachian Mountains.
The faces of my yoga students are familiar. Some are former co-workers; one was my fourth-grade teacher. Most have never done yoga before, and they are trusting me to guide them. And I’m not your typical teacher. Throughout my life, I’ve battled a long list of issues—depression, anxiety, and chronic illnesses, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, dysautonomia, and polyarthritis. Symptoms such as constant fatigue, brain fog, and migraines have, at times, created such a disconnect that I’ve often felt like an alien in my own body. Yet, here I am.
See also Yoga Transformed Me After Depression.
A Journey to the Whole
When I discovered yoga in 1999, I was a coal miner’s daughter putting myself through college. There weren’t any studios around. Instead, I practiced through videos, occasional workshops in nearby cities, and online classes in the tiny living room of my trailer. My first Sun Salutation was with Jane Fonda, who had released Yoga Exercise Workout on VHS in the early ’90s. I had no idea that would be the beginning of a lifesaving spiritual practice. And I never envisioned sharing it with people in my hometown.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second daughter, in 2007, that I tried a live yoga class at a nearby studio. And …