An MD turned yoga teacher, Nadine Kelly believes an asana a day keeps the doctor away.
Just seven years into her career as a pathologist, Nadine Kelly, MD, of Flossmoor, Illinois, felt herself burning out on the brutal pace of health care. What’s more, the increase in breast-cancer diagnoses meant Kelly had to deliver bad news more often, which added to her sense of overwhelm. So, she quit medicine in 2011 and found plan B when she enrolled in a yoga teacher training. Now, Kelly teaches 15 yoga classes a week to an older population coping with disabilities, cancer, chronic pain, and post-operative recovery—the same demographic she previously treated as a doctor.
Yoga Journal: Tell us more about your decision to leave medicine.
Nadine Kelly: At age 40, I was starting to think of myself as a highly paid factory worker, and I asked myself if I was making a difference in people’s lives. In my mind, if I’m not saving my community, I am a fraud. In the trenches of pathology, I started to question whether more could be done to prevent the diseases I was diagnosing. I did not feel like a champion of health.
YJ: What prompted you to become a yoga teacher?
NK: When I left the field of medicine in 2011, I had no idea what I was going to do. I’d been practicing yoga for eight years, and my teacher suggested I sign up for a 200-hour training. Midway through, I knew I could apply my medical training and desire to heal as a yoga teacher.
YJ: Why have you chosen to work with the elderly?
NK: They’ve shed the need to impress and have an inspiring authenticity. Culturally, they are discarded, yet they have so much wisdom to give.
YJ: What do you try to inspire in your students?
NK: To honor their path, their journey, and who they are. I want them to find the motivation to stay healthy. There’s always a way to stay active through yoga, regardless of physical condition or perception of physical limitations. My mission is to empower the elderly to maintain their everyday activities, such as getting into and out of a car, showering, sitting and standing, combing their hair, and sleeping comfortably.
YJ: Was the leap to teaching yoga worth it?
NK: When I’m teaching, I feel grounded, authentic, and of service. I’m connected to who I am, as well as to my students. I didn’t feel that way when I was working as a pathologist, trying to juggle my role as a mom of two young children and my work as a doctor. For a long time after I quit medicine, I still felt like a failure because I didn’t stick it out as a doctor. Instead, I made the tough decision to pick the path that was right for me. Now, as a yoga teacher, I am becoming the best version of myself—more so than I ever dreamed I could be.
In the Details: Kelly Shares a Few of Her Favorite Things
"Southern France—I love the landscape, culture, food, language, and lack of hurriedness."
"Playing drums brings me into the present moment. Mind, body, and spirit converge, and I feel free."
"Haitian food: rice, beans, fried plantains, and spicy coleslaw."
"Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way gave me the permission I needed to become a yoga teacher."
Nadine's Words to Live By
“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”
—Arthur Ashe, the first African American man to win Wimbledon