Occupational therapy alumnus changes lives with yoga

Anne Herford
April 15, 2020
Kaelyn Rogers leads a remote yoga class for CHP
Kaelyn Rogers, OT, Class of 2013, teaching a virtual yoga class for CHP. 

Just a few weeks ago, the announcement came that the spring semester would be completed online. With everyone working and learning from home, it was time to get creative to stay connected. Patty Coker-Bolt, Ph.D., OTR/L, a professor in the Division of Occupational Therapy, contacted Kaelyn Rogers, OT, Class of 2013, and registered yoga teacher from Boise, ID, about teaching virtual yoga classes.

The next day, in a packed Zoom meeting, Kaelyn taught an all-levels class to CHP faculty, staff, and students. The session incorporated a combination of mindfulness and breathing along with slow flow yoga movements.

While some may have been intimidated by the prospect of teaching a yoga class virtually, she didn’t hesitate. Kaelyn’s no stranger to teaching in unique settings.

Early in her career, she started incorporating meditation and yoga into her occupational therapy practice. She even spent time in Asia learning and practicing massage, reiki, and Ayurveda, the Indian medical system of treating mind, body, and spirit. While she’s worked in multiple rehabilitation facilities, over time, Kaelyn realized her unique skillset shines outside of the hospital. That’s how she found herself teaching weekly yoga classes at Idaho State Correctional Institute (ISCI), a medium-security men’s prison in Kuna, ID.

Last May, she started her own nonprofit, Upward Inertia. Their mission is to improve the mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being of marginalized populations through the use of therapeutic yoga and wellness education. Beyond helping those in correctional facilities, they also serve low income and at-risk communities, individuals on parole, in treatment for addiction, and recovering from a chronic or catastrophic injury, and provide preventative education for college-age individuals.

OT alumnus Kaelyn Rogers practicing yoga with male inmates 
Kaelyn uses her experience as an OT to modify the physical practices for those with past injuries.

In addition to her classes at ISCI, Kaelyn teaches at a second men’s prison and two women’s prisons. Like her class for CHP, her classes there incorporate movement, mindfulness, breathing excises, and meditation. But, what many of the participants find most helpful is the discussion portion of her classes. They learn about goal setting, non-violent communication, and identity. By combining discussion with other aspects of the class, she arms students with the skills they need to make real behavior change. According to Kaelyn, inmates most enjoy the feeling of community that comes with being a part of her class. Some even do yoga together and continue their discussions outside of class time.

Although yoga plays a significant role in her classes, her occupational therapy education has also come in handy. She uses her experience as an occupational therapist (OT) to modify the physical practice for those with past injuries. Kaelyn has also been able to apply classroom skills from her time at CHP to help chose topics and facilitate discussions.

The experience has been life-changing for everyone involved. Some of the prisoners she’s working with are realizing for the first time that they can choose how they respond to others. They’re unlearning a behavior of responding without thinking and have a desire to change. Their attitudes and interactions with others are improving, along with their general physical health, sleep schedule, and personal relationships.