In the '70s, Coline “Kali” Morse danced on stages across the city. But she couldn't breathe properly and a teacher suggested she give yoga a try to help with her art. But learning to follow her breath took her in a totally different direction.
The dancer, who can light up a room with her presence, became a yoga teacher, took her first trip to India, and eventually became the director of teaching training programs at
one of the city's most prestigious, honest, and humble studios—Integral Yoga Institute—where, over forty years ago, she took her first class.
Now she is passionate about yoga therapy and its role in helping people stay healthy and achieving wellness. Recently YogaCity NYC's Dar Dowling caught up with her to find out more about her work and why she fell in love with yoga therapy.
Dar Dowling: How did your story start?
Kali Morse: When I came to NYC I was on a scholarship at the Joffrey Ballet School. One of the teachers told me that I needed to get more in touch with my breath to improve my dancing, and that yoga would help. Integral Yoga was on 13th St., and I lived down the block, so I went.
DD: Why become a teacher?
KM: I had started taking yoga regularly, although I was still dancing and started doing musicals all over the country. Also, around that time I lived in the ashram near Integral and was encouraged to start teaching. In 1976 I decided to take the yoga teacher training. I had experienced such beauty, not just in how my body reacted to yoga, but my being, and I wanted to share that with others. I was feeling happier and more content in the world.
DD. Yoga helped you with depression?
KM: Yes, I struggled with depression for a long time. When I told my teachers about my struggles, they said there were things I could do to get out from under the darkness. I was willing to do whatever it took, so I took their suggestions, which included doing breathing practices, backward bending poses, and meditating, along with changing my diet, hanging out with other yogis, going to satsang, and sharing my feelings. And it worked. The depression lifted, and I started feeling better, and more in charge of my life. In general, I was happier, clearer, and more optimistic about my choices.
DD: India is beautiful and full of mysteries. Did you have any special experiences on your trip there?
KM: While I was in Rishikesh, I met the president of The Divine Light Society and had a really deep experience with him. It wasn’t anything in particular that he said, but his energy touched my heart and I started to cry out of joy. Those moments with him created a heart-opening experience for me, one that I don’t really have words to describe.
DD: You’re passionate about yoga therapy. Why?
KM: It started shortly after I gave birth. I took prenatal yoga training and became a doula. Later, when my body started to change again, I took other kinds of trainings so I could learn more, not just about how yoga could help me, but others as well, including raja yoga, mediation, yoga for cancer, yoga for arthritis, and restorative yoga. I wanted to know it all and wanted to share it with people, especially those whose lives have taken an unexpected turn, and who may need a different perspective to be able to deal with it and move forward.
The therapeutic yogic approach can benefit people who are facing all kinds of challenges, whether they're physical or psychological ones. I love that as a yoga therapist you have to look at the whole person, both mind and body, to see what else is going on besides the obvious, beyond the cancer, the heart disease or the depression. It's extremely powerful and inspiring.
DD: You helped develop the yoga therapy program at Integral. Tell me about that.
KM: The medical establishment now recognizes the power of yoga to heal, with yoga therapy becoming very important in treating people in a holistic way. It's the wave of the future for yoga teachers, and certification has become a real necessity.
It was very exciting to help develop the criteria for the program at IYI. Swami Satchidananda broke ground in this area long ago believing that yoga is therapy, and he always said that “we have to treat the whole person, you can't just treat the body! It's always the body and the mind.” Our program's approach has that baseline in mind,
offering a more meditative and holistic approach to the art and science of yoga.
DD: Integral's yoga therapy program is 300 hours, shorter than others, which can be 800 hours. Why?
KM: We're involved with grandfathering people into the yoga therapy association's certification program, which is 800 hours. They have allowed some studios to offer a 300-hour program because they already offer the programs that are required for certification. All the teachers in this program have already fulfilled many of the requirements that have been formulated by The International Association of Yoga Therapists, so that's we have special dispensation to do a shorter program.
To find out more about Morse's classes, click here.