Teacher Tuesday Talk: Kathryn

This Tuesday we talked with Y4C Executive Director, Kathryn Thomas, for our weekly Tuesday Teacher Talk to get her take on yoga, teaching, and life.

When did you started working for Yoga 4 Change?

I founded Yoga 4 Change in March of 2014, after moving to Florida with my husband, and seeing the need for yoga in those dealing with trauma. Initially I had wanted to start a chapter of the Hawaii Yoga Prison Project, an organization I had worked with while living in Hawaii. However, the need for yoga extended past just inmates. Being a veteran, I am passionate about advocating for military members who are struggling with trauma or PTSD, as well as exposing them to a new way to deal with stress and anxiety. Yoga allowed me to get out of my own depression and I wanted to pass that onto those around me who are struggling in their everyday life.

What inspired to become a yoga teacher?

I became a yoga teacher during my medical retirement process from the Navy. I had practiced for years prior, and I figured while my life was ending with the Navy I might as well give myself another tool to help bring in some income while I found myself. Little did I know, I would find myself in practicing yoga as well as in teaching yoga.

Why did you choose to work with Yoga 4 Change?

At first when Yoga 4 Change was created, I did not even imagine how the organization would be 18 months later. Now I feel lucky and honored to be able to say I am the Executive Director of this organization. I get to help my fellow yoga teachers expand their own knowledge of what it means to serve – being surrounded by the most powerful yoga teachers in our city, I am able to teach amazing individuals who are going through a hard time and I am able to collaborate with program managers from multiple nonprofit organizations, as well as schools, prisons, substance abuse housing as well as at-risk youth residential facilities.

Share with us a funny, sad, interesting, or memorable story about your teaching?

I have so many stories about inmates, at-risk youth, veterans and former addicts. I have lost count of all the students these past 18 months, and many stories stick out. One of these stories took place at Hemming Park – while we were filming for our short video. We were worried the class would be small, and it turned out all the mats we laid out were filled. We had three children come, ranging from three years old to about ten, a former inmate of ours came out to support, three homeless people plopped down on the mats, and two additional Yoga 4 Change teachers showed up. The reason this class stands out is because the students were from all walks of life, all ages, all colors – and it didn’t matter. We were all brought together for one reason: to practice yoga. At the end of practice, a man who recently lost everything, and had never practiced yoga said “I was able to forget everything going on, and I was able to focus on myself.” Once we allow our students to feel comfortable enough to stop the constant self-loathing, regret, and doubt, even for a very short period of time, we begin to teach them this feeling is a choice. They have the power to choose calmness or peace.

What is your favorite drink?

I love pumpkin spice lattes in the wintertime. It brings back memories of my best friend and I driving in the hot winters during flight school, blasting the AC, and ordering the drink just to pretend it was cold out. I also love that you have to take advantage of it for that short period of time. It reminds me be thankful for the little things.

Can you name one thing Yoga has helped you get through?

Yoga helped me get past the depression associated with being medically retired from the Navy. I thought I had lost everything, and no matter how much love my amazing family and friends showed me, I hated myself and what I thought I was going to become. Yoga helped me accept my situation by giving my brain a break, and when I took that lesson off my mat and into my daily life, I was able to apply it more and more, and soon I discovered I felt less and less sad and was able to start to love myself again.

What’s your favorite yoga pose and why?

I love trikonasana (triangle pose) because it allows me to feel grounded and free at the same time. Without the feeling in my left foot (due to my injury), I used to judge my practice constantly. Now, I have been able to teach myself how to press my feet into the earth, and the more I press, the more I am able to reach up toward the sky with my hand. This pose reminds me to stay grounded in my life and in my relationships, so when I choose to express myself I am able to articulate exactly what I want without fear of being judged. I may fall out of the pose if I really get expressive, and it is okay. I just get back up – and start again. (much like what I do in my own life)

Cat or Cow? 

Cat. Even though I am a dog person through and through.

How can yoga help people change their lives?

Yoga changed my life by making me more positive. When I started to stop judging myself, I stopped judging others. When I allowed myself to fall out poses and get messy, I then did not get so frustrated with those around me if they made a mistake. When I was able to see the small accomplishments on my mat and not rush to make major accomplishments in one practice session, I also was able to give those around me more space to take their time. I tell my students almost every session that I am nicer after I do yoga, and it is true. If we can give individuals the space to get messy, or to see how much they have accomplished we are teaching them to give themselves a break – and those around them a break as well. This might not change everyone’s life, and that is okay. However, if we want to make a change in our communities we need to stop offering the same programs over and over. Let’s start making a change, and allowing our fellow humans the opportunity to re-discover themselves.

Why should people support Yoga 4 Change?

Our community should support Y4C because it is changing lives after every session we teach. We have been able to teach in over 40 facilities to over 3500 students in just 18 months with an extremely limited budget. What if we could start offering financial compensation to our director staff? What if Y4C was able to extend past the Jacksonville area into other areas which need yoga? By supporting Y4C donors become our teammates. Cheering on the change we want to create here in Jacksonville, and helping to expand it into more neighborhoods, communities, cities and states. Help us help our students.

After being medically retired from the United States Navy, Kathryn rediscovered the healing powers of Yoga. Having been introduced to Yoga as a child by her mother, she had always thought it was strictly a physical practice. When she was studying to become a Yoga teacher, through the Yoga School of Kailua (AKA Hawai’i Yoga Prison Project), she was exposed to teaching inside the correctional facilities on the island of Oahu and the emotional/mental healing powers of Yoga. When her husband was transferred to Jacksonville, Florida, she had hoped to bring the mission of the Hawai’i Yoga Prison Project with her. The need for mental, emotional, and physical healing extended further than simply those inside the correctional system and thus the mission statement for a new nonprofit was created to include veterans, as well as at-risk youth, and those suffering from substance abuse. Kathryn is a 500RYT through the Yoga School of Kailua, completing another 200hr Teacher Training through Big Fish Power Yoga in Jacksonville, Fl. She has also completed Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 through the Baptiste Institute.

3 Replies to "Teacher Tuesday Talk: Kathryn"

  • Helena
    July 7, 2015 (11:01 pm)

    Kathryn, you are truly an inspiration! I’m so proud to be your friend! You’re doing some amazing work-truly incredible.

    • Juan
      August 28, 2015 (1:53 pm)

      If you want to know the basic form I think it’s Padmasana’. But my opinion about yoga is wheavter your age is, don’t practice Yoga without an instructor. You see you can do the basics and the Pranayams like Kapalvati’ and Anulom Bilom’ all you want in a daily manner, but you should never do the other derived yogas which are restricted for people with certain physical problems. It may harm you. so do it under proper guidance. Good Luck!!!!

  • Celena Washeck
    July 9, 2015 (11:27 am)

    I love the messages in this article. I will particularly hold on to the one that she expressed – the freedon to “get messy” -with my yoga practice. I agree with Kathryn on this topic. We should allow ourselves and others to express themselves and encourage them, lifting them up when they are thinking and living outside the mat!

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