A Letter to My Sisters – Part 1

 

Sweetest Sisters,

I’ve wanted to write this letter to you for some time. And today, after much procrastination, I figured better now than never.

First, let me tell you that I’m sitting in a busy and boisterous coffee shop in San Francisco. It’s the 5th of a 7-day intensive with my yoga teacher. As always, Manouso has worked me over in all manners of yoga. I don’t understand why it seems that in a roomful of 80+ people of ALL ages and abilities, I seem to be the only one heaving and sweating like it’s a marathon in the Mojave!

And… fun fact for the day… the coffee shops in SF also serve beer! Who knew!

But, I digress.

The days you were born, all of you, were some of the best days of my life. I didn’t really know then what it would mean for me when you were born. I just knew that I loved you before you took your first breath and that life with you was going to be AWESOME! And I was right (maybe you’ve heard me say that before).

I’ve had so much fun watching you grow up and growing up with you. I know that the miles have separated us and the whole our-family-is-a-bush-not-really-a-tree has made things complicated. But, really. How much does all of that matter when I hold you so tightly in my heart?

So, now I have some things to tell you. Some things that I want to share with you about life. I’m your big sister, after all. I think that I’m supposed to do this. Here we go…

My biggest life lessons:

  1. Things are never as bad as they seem, nor as good.
  2. You are always, ALWAYS fully capable of handling whatever it is that life flings your direction.
  3. You are loved. By many. In fact, there are people who love you and think about your happiness and you might never realize it.

That’s the Cliff Notes version of this letter. You can stop here if you have something better to do. I’m going to drone on for a few paragraphs now.

You were all young when Ted was first diagnosed with Infantile Spasms. I don’t know if you remember how devastated and terrified we were. I was a wreck. And Travis was even worse than me! When I think back, I see that it was fear that tore through my soul. What would happen? Would he die? What did I do to cause this? His first treatment was a heavy-duty steroid called ACTH. We gave him injections twice daily in his little, pudgy, infant thigh. Travis would inject him as I held him and kissed his fat cheek. I tried to soothe him through those alligator tears. I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of his strength. I loved him so much and it was gut-wrenching to be part of the “treatment” that made him suffer so much.

It never took more than a few minutes after the injection when Teddy would erupt into laughter. You know, the big belly laughs that babies do. Well, Ted’s were always music to my ears and comfort to my heart. He cried in pain and then laughed with the joy that only that beautiful boy knew existed.

You see, the pain of holding him and doing my best to hold myself together was hard. It was terrifying. My only protection was to withdraw. I sucked my tears back and bound my heart deep within so that I didn’t have to subject myself to the uncharted waters of fully experiencing how bad things were. Yes, it’s how I survived. I needed to do that. It was the only way that I was going to make it through. But the result was that when Ted laughed and cooed and bubbled his spit and laughed again, my heart was still bound. I couldn’t expose myself to the pain or to the joy. Unfortunately.

I’ve only missed out on something A MILLION TIMES and look back now and want to experience it again, all because I was afraid. Truly, I don’t know what I was afraid of except the “what ifs”. I can think of so many times when I missed out on your lives because I was too scared to reach out and sink my teeth into our sisterhood. Trav’s family taught me a lot about how to embrace life. I am forever grateful for them.

It’s a lesson that I’ve also learned from my yoga practice. The ongoing lesson of Skillful Action. I don’t look as much anymore for what I want. I look for what’s best. What’s the best decision, action, response. It’s never an easy equation to solve. In fact, most of the time it’s quite simply impossible. Because there’s never a RIGHT answer, only the BEST answer for this moment.

Typically, what I want is to just look at the pool of water. Maybe I dip my toes in from time to time, but I certainly don’t dive in! What if it’s too hot, too cold, too deep, too shallow? What if there’s a MONSTER WAITING TO CHEW UP MY FEET! Worse yet, there could be dirty dishes, stinky bathrooms, or some other form of torture for me to endure. Hell no. I’m not diving in.

And yes, I think sometimes about the possibility that the water will be warm and that when I dive in my suit will conveniently slip off, revealing a Sports Illustrated hot body, just in time for my Adonis (in the form of Brad Pitt, Norman Reedus, or David Beckham, or Travis of course!). But let’s be honest, it’s likely a monster in that pool so I’m not going to risk it.

That pool of water is my life… your life… all of LIFE. I like to plan, to ponder, but I really have to force myself to participate. It’s something that I’ve learned to do and now I embrace it… or at least I try after I’ve thrown myself into it! You see, I finally figured out that if I’m really going to enjoy all the good that life has to offer, then I have to also be prepared to experience to low points. After all, we live by comparison. If I want the good, the bad is coming, too.

And at the end of the day, the bad is never as bad as I think it will be. And the good is sweet but fleeting. What makes it all work is also one of my life lessons (#2), that we are always FULLY capable of handling whatever is in that dark, murky pool of the unknown – good, bad, and ugly. We are smart, strong, and quite talented.

You can do it. I can do it. We can do anything.

That’s part one of my letter to you. I’ll write more on the rest later. For now, just remember that I love you all and I love you with all of my heart.

Onward!

Love, Sis

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On Dancing

A long time ago, I began writing. I wrote in a sort of journal-esque manner whenever the mood struck me. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I was usually drawn to writing when I was feeling down. I scratched angry words. I painted poems of sadness. The words, always punctuated with a deep loneliness, flowed from my pen with such ease. I became a master of describing the sadness, the fear, the anxiety, and the isolation that ran rampant through me.

And then one day, I realized that I had painted myself into a corner. Or rather, I’d written myself into a box. I love writing. I love creating. I love telling stories and I love sharing myself with the world. But, I had gotten so good at writing about sad things that I was a complete novice with ZERO practice writing about the beautiful things in life (and there are so many!). Like the cartoon-figured muscle man who always misses leg day at the gym, the biceps of my depressed writing had overgrown the weak little legs of my writings of beauty, gratitude, wonder, discovery.

And worst of all, I realized that the evolution of my writing reflected the evolution of my own thoughts about life. I realized that I took great care in my head to explore, uproot, and analyze my sadness, anger, grief. But, I spent very little time discovering the essence of my happiness. I gave a cursory nod and faint smile to the sound of my children laughing, the warm embrace of my husband after a long day, the wonder of sunrises over the mountains. You get the picture.

If you consider the dance of life to be that of a pair of lovers, and the play between them is a discovery and display of their dependence and their devotion. They need each other. They want each other. The lovers are Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment. (They should really have sexier names like Sophia and Marlon, but they don’t.) Who leads? Who follows?

My lovers have fallen into a sort of unbalanced, aggressive, nearly abusive dance. Relentless Pursuit of a Better Life (that’s his full name) has forced the dance. Step here, pull there, dip, slide, step. “Me not you”, he says. And Supreme Contentment yearns to linger a bit longer in the embrace, to drape her hair and add a little swivel to her step.

When Travis and I were first dating, he wanted so badly to teach me to dance. We attended classes and practiced at home. The biggest challenge was that I insisted on leading. (Yes, I didn’t know the steps very well, but he didn’t seem to have an ear for the rhythm of the music… sheesh!) One day he told me, quite bluntly, that this dancing business will only work if I allowed him to take the lead. I was offended in a sort of feminist way. Why on earth did that make any sense for HIM to lead? Can’t we BOTH just drive forward together. Can’t we both just demand from each other and ourselves the Relentless Pursuit of a Better Dance?

When we were both driving forward, our dance became more of a mission and less of a celebration. When Travis led and I surrendered to Spaghetti Arms (remember Dirty Dancing?), the dance was his dance and I was a wilted piece of lettuce. But when I allowed Travis to lead, to pursue the next step and to choreograph, my work then was to add the flair. To swing my hips and flounce my hair with each turn and dip was my role. Without me, the dance was rigid. Without his lead, the dance lacked structure and courage. It is his determination and my damn-hot booty bumps that make our dances beautiful and full of love. For years we’ve curated our dance – on and off of the dance floor.

You see how this can happen with our thoughts, actions; and, how it’s happened with my writing. The more that I drive forward to improve, the more focus there is on what is bad. When I allow for gratitude, wonder, and love to have a voice and a place, the balance of Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment dance like the impassioned lovers they are, driving forward and always taking time to throw their heads back in laughter.

So what did I do to change this dance?

First, I write. I write first everyday. I wake up when the house is still sleeping, I pour a cup of coffee and I write. I don’t craft. I don’t pay attention to punctuation or sentence structure or anything other than getting words from my head onto the paper. Julia Cameron in The Artists Way calls this practice Morning Pages. And it helps me blow the dust off of my brain so I can approach the day from a fresh perspective.

Second, I practice. Rather, I am practicing. I make a conscious effort to see the pretty stuff. I take time (even a few seconds!) to remind myself how delicious coffee tastes with the perfect amount of cream, how funny Joe is when he’s describing his day, the richness in the color of my sister’s ginger hair, how soft and quiet the snowy scene appears when looking out my window. I’m taking time to stop and smell the roses, as they say.

Lastly and most importantly, I’m telling YOU all of this. Sharing with you the Truth of Me has been the single most important practice for learning to appreciate what a beautiful life I live. When I describe to you what I feel and think and why reminds me that although my sadness and loneliness has been better documented, my happiness and love is just as big and just as important.

So, I sign off with a commitment to you. I promise to explore and document my happiness. And I promise to share it with you.

Love, Kisa

Growing Gorillas One Fight at a Time

We posted this article (“Letting Children Win Is Always A Losing Strategy”) on the Growing Gorillas Facebook page about how important competition is for children. I encourage you to read it and think about it. Really. Think about it.

Think about how competition has helped you to become who you are. Think about those times when you failed or lost. What happened before, what happened during, what happened after. Who was there with you and what did they say?

Every match, every game, every competition is practice in living.

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And if you are a parent, ask yourself, “What am I doing to prepare my child for life?”

If you’re an adult, ask yourself who you have to thank or what experiences do you have to thank for your ability to show up for life, work hard, struggle, win, lose, win again, lose again, and show up again.

Listen. I don’t brag about our Growing Gorillas Kids Program nearly enough. But THIS is EXACTLY what we do. We teach kids to solve problems. We teach kids to compete. We teach kids to win. We teach kids to lose. But most of all we teach them to face life as it is handed to them.

No one is ever guaranteed a fair fight. No one. Ever.

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Sometimes you win because you’re better, faster, smarter. Sometimes you lose because they are. Sometimes winners lose and losers win because the “system” is wrong. But then what? What will you take from that? Where will you go? Will you withdraw and let that experience define you? Will you move on? How?

If by adulthood, our kids haven’t yet learned and experienced failure, success, hard work, or found their talents, then we have work to do. If as adults, our kids make excuses, complain about the unfairness of the world, or think that any one moment defines them completely and forever, then I know we have to go back to the drawing board and adjust what and how we teach children.

My wish is for each of us to see ourselves for who we are, strengths and weaknesses. My wish is for us to accept the challenges set in front of us. My wish is for us to have the training, confidence, and experience to ask ourselves, “What is the next right move?” And then, my wish is for us to have a team, a tribe, a family, a friend to cheer us on as we touch hands and go.

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I realize that some of you don’t know what Growing Gorillas is… hold onto your hats! My husband and I created a curriculum to teach jiu jitsu to children.

Wait – that doesn’t really explain it fully. We created a curriculum, using #jiujitsu to help children learn the basics of living. They learn through play, they learn through competition, they learn through the experience of being part of a a tribe, guided by coaches, supported by parents, and cheered on and pushed by teammates.

We incorporated what we knew and learned from teaching and raising our own children. We’ve since expanded the program and will be releasing a #kidsyoga curriculum this year.

The underlying thread of success is that we teach children how to be better versions of themselves.

Do you understand what we did? We created a curriculum for PARENTING! If only someone had given this to me when we took home Teddy from the hospital 17 years ago. Oh the grey hairs that would have never been!

Let me put it this way. When my kids were born, I felt an overwhelming panic that I had NO IDEA WHAT TO DO! I wanted them to grow up to be happy, healthy, and productive members of society. I wanted them to laugh, play, and find something in life to throw themselves into. I wanted them to learn how to love, how to be a friend, how to have a conversation, and how to be a good neighbor. Everyone wants that for their kids, right?

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Well, here’s the clincher. We really didn’t know how to do any of that stuff ourselves. In fact, neither Travis or I really knew what we were doing at all. We learned our life lessons through our practices in jiu jitsu and yoga. What we learned, we put into a curriculum for kids. That was our next move.

Life is short and it is what it is. The only thing we have control over is our own next move. What is your next move?

I love you all. Keep the fire burning. We have work to do.

Follow Growing Gorillas on Facebook.

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Oh Well.

Life has been difficult lately. It’s like my heart is stuck in the mud and no amount of pulling and heaving could bring it to the light of day. The reading, writing, practices, conversations, and bubble baths that usually inspire me haven’t worked to change it. I haven’t been able to figure out why the funk laid so heavy on me. There was no crisis, no problem to solve, no dilemma to massage into passage. Nothing has really changed this month from last month.

I’m a generally happy person, so this moody weight is not familiar. But as much as I wanted to know Why and What, I decided to just let it be. “This, too, shall pass,” I kept telling myself.

Mostly, I decided to let it be because even the thought of trying to figure it out was just too much. Even thinking has been slow and painful.

It’s not fatigue because that would imply that I’ve overdone or worked hard – whether physical, mental, emotional. Definitely not tired.

It’s not depression. My life is quite perfect. I have stresses, anxieties, and things I wish were different. But I am grateful for the life that I’ve created.

I don’t think it’s seasonal. I love autumn! The leaves, the colors, the excitement over pumpkin spice lattes and sweaters. I love it all!

I honestly don’t know what’s been going on. There’s really only one way to describe it.

Bleh.

That’s it.

Well, I would add a BIG, HEAVY <sigh> to the end of that Bleh.

Bleh… <sigh>…

So, all month I’ve just been sighing. A few tears here and there. Plenty of laughter. But, mainly just… Bleh… and <sigh>.

Then I moved on to the next task, the next class, the next load of dishes.

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Somewhere mid-month. I decided that as terrible as it seemed that I was so… Bleh… it didn’t really matter. As important as my mood, my energy, my happiness FEELS… it’s not really that big of a deal. Regardless of the experience I am having, the planet would continue to turn on its axis, the sun would rise and set, and the local supermarket would have something new on sale this week.

So, I unloaded the dishes, packed lunches, analyzed numbers, studied and prepared for classes, and showed up for life. I didn’t want to. I wanted to wallow in my funk. I wanted to listen to The Smiths and write about how not-happy I was. (Just kidding… I hate The Smiths! They’re so depressing…!)

You get the point.

My mood was prime for me to withdraw from my family, my friends, my responsibilities, my life. But I decided instead to just shift into autopilot and carry on.

Don’t be confused. There was no bravado involved. It was a pathetic campaign to the outside observer. I just simply forced one foot in front of the other. It was grueling some days to roll out of bed. So many heavy sighs!

But whatever. And… Bleh.

I did it… Bleh.

And then, guess what happened.

I woke up this morning, pressed the snooze three times and dragged my ass out of bed (again). I sighed (again) and kissed my daughter good morning. I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to write and sighed (again). The words were slow from my pen (again). I sighed (again). And I continued to write (again). I didn’t really write about anything in particular this morning. I just wiped the dust from my brain and yawned.

But then, as I shut my notebook, it happened. The heaviness began to lift. Every so quietly, I could feel it easing up and a familiar lightness replacing what had been weighting me down.

I’ll be honest. I have NO IDEA what’s happening right now. Am I happy? Am I sad? Am I mournful? Anxious? I don’t know why I felt so Bleh, or what this new color of heart is all about. I don’t know if I should welcome the experience of the last month or run for the hills if it happens again. Likewise, part of me is a little suspicious about this strange feeling of lightness that I’m currently experiencing. What if it’s fake! What if it goes away again?

Oh well.

Does it really matter? No.

Oh well.

Yes. The big headline for today is that my Bleh has been replaced by Oh Well.

And that’s about as inspiring as a bowl of over-cooked spinach.

Oh well.

#womensequalityday

I’m a lucky girl to have so many amazing women in my life. What usually leaves me both speechless and smiling ear to ear is this:
Every woman I know is working very diligently in her own way to make life a little better. 
We may disagree on the “how”. We may work in different ways, at different speeds, and with different results. But we work.
We work to open opportunities for women that were previously denied. We work to improve education for girls we’ve never met. We work for pay that adequately represents our contribution. We work for access to health care. We work for the right to have a say in our governments. We work for freedom to wear whatever the hell we want to wear.
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Most of the time, the work that I see women doing is actually very, very personal. It’s work that no one can really see while it’s happening. There are no big demonstrations or public campaigns. There are no commercials or news reports.
Most of the time, the work that we do is in our own thinking. And the actions that come about from that thinking.
And while no one may notice today, over time the world will notice. Because each microscopic change we make in how we view ourselves in the world, how we interact with others, how we think about challenge and celebrate success – they all add up to large, sweeping shifts in the human condition.
Look around. Women are working diligently every where to make life better for themselves and the rest of us. We don’t all do it the same, but we do it.
#womensequalityday

What Are You Waiting For?

“How do you do it all?”

That is the number one question that people ask me. Hands down. I usually downplay my response. “Oh, you know. I just kinda put one foot in front of the other.” Or sometimes, I turn the question back on them, “I didn’t realize I had a choice? How could I not do it all?” All of the time, my first guttural, instinctive response is a big “Ha!” But seriously, what does that question even mean!??!

The truth is that the question most people are really asking is, “Why do you do so much?”

familyiseverythingMy four children who are now teenagers were born in the span of 3 ½ years. My husband and I are entrepreneurs. We own several businesses and a handful of residential and commercial properties. I am a dedicated student and teacher of yoga. I train in jiu jitsu and exercise regularly. I am an amazing cook and diligent housekeeper. I don’t like dirty toilets or unkept yards. I have a very large, amazing family that I keep in close touch with. I have a very involved social life and a travel schedule that will make your head spin. I read voraciously and write everyday.
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And I’m always looking for a new project.

Why?

Because I can. Because I want to. Because I’m called by a whisper that sometimes yells loudly in my head. Because everyday I engage with the people, activities, yoga poses, and ideas that tickle my interest – AND especially those that terrify me – is a day that I learn more about who I really am.

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Everyday I am challenged by a problem, time schedule, financial quandary, or teenage hormone-fueled drama is a day that I inch closer to the Real Essence of Me.

In my opinion, we don’t get better with the typical challenges of life. We get closer to our true nature. And every challenge, problem, weakness, shortcoming is just a speedbump or a crack in the road. Some of them take a little more thinking, a little more effort to traverse. But at the end of the day, there’s no choice. Keep going. Acknowledge your challenges. Use your strengths. Be bold. Keep going. Even better – bring it on!

So what’s my response to that initial question? How do I do it all? My response is a question.

What are YOU waiting for?

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The Daily Grind of Life on the Edge of Living

10276558_10152136056348992_1825844190_nTwo years ago, we walked Ted out of UCLA hospital after a surgery to remove brain tissue that was believed to be the cause of his lifetime of seizure activity. Surgery was a traumatic experience for me as his mother. I was terrified. And today, when I look at this photo, I see the smile of happiness, anticipation,  excitement in his eyes. I see the sweet demeanor working so fervently to peek through the temporary flattened affect that frontal lobe surgeries can cause. While those images remind me that he is better than he was two years ago, I am also quite clear that we are far from where I want to be.

“Any idiot can face a crisis. It is this day-to-day living that wears you out.” – Anton Chekhov

I’ve been thinking about this quote recently. It was a guiding mantra for me during his surgery. Oddly enough, I’m encouraged by the simplicity of the complicated things in life. Maybe it’s my dad’s voice in my head? Or my pragmatic, Kansas upbringing. Anton’s succinct reminder is that there’s really no choice but to fight and move forward, despite the seemingly overwhelming circumstances in a crisis.

Well, Ted is having part of his brain removed today. Yup. Nothing to it but to do it!

Having your child hospitalized or undergoing brain surgery or open-heart surgery is just  like that. It’s a crisis. You kiss him on the forehead before he’s wheeled back to face the team of doctors, waiting to make their play at making his life better. A few hours (or several) later, you are summoned to recovery to kiss him again. This time, you kiss him on the bandages that are tightly wrapped to compress the healing wound. And then you wait.

You wait for the next nurse to check another beeping machine. You wait for the team to make their rounds. You wait for the doctor to remind you that you also need to sleep. You wait for him to begin to show those first signs of recovery. Whether you like it or not, the crisis evolves to the next stage of no-longer-a-crisis. Whether you are ready or not, life moves on. You do your best. But the window of crisis is small and thankfully, fleeting.

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Two years ago, after the initial window of post-surgical crisis was closed and curtained, I realized how deeply I wanted Ted to be “better”. It’s taken me these past two years to truly understand what I have been looking for in “better”. As Anton reminds us, this day-to-day living wears you out. Having a child with a chronic illness or lifelong condition is a bit like facing a crisis. A crisis every day, that is. EVERY DAMN DAY.

Every morning when I wake up, I listen for Ted. Despite having his tonsils and adenoids removed many years ago, he still snores softly. For me, it’s a sound that reassures me that he is alive. Ted’s condition increases greatly his chances of dying from SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy). His risk of dying is highest at night. He is at risk of dying every night. So you can imagine that no sound is sweeter to me than the sound of my son’s snoring!

So, what I’m describing here is that I make my way through crisis every morning. By the time I’ve poured my coffee, I’ve already seen what I hope is the worst of my day. Most days I’m okay. Some days, my tears pour as thickly as my coffee. This day-to-day living really does wear me out. And the crisis part of the day-to-day, I suppose, is what allows me to get over it all and move on. At least until the next morning.

But what is it that I want for Ted? I want him to be seizure-free, yes. I want him to continue to grow and develop and improve his cognitive ability that has been barraged by 16 years of epileptic activity. I want him to have meaningful relationships with friends and family. I want him to have work that he is excited and proud to do. Above all, I want him to live. This is the important goal. I want the risk of death to decrease and disappear. I want my son to live.

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Unfortunately, my sister faces a similar journey tonight. Her son was hit by a car today. While it’s a miracle that he is alive, his little body full of fractures, lacerations, bleeding, and acute trauma. He has a long road of recovery before he’s back on the pitcher’s mound. The odds are with him. He has a strong will and an even stronger mother behind him. My sweet sister. I want nothing more than to scoop her up and tell her it will all be okay. But I can’t. I can’t because even I know that this may appear a crisis to others, but to us mothers, this is the crisis of day-to-day living.

Life is so short, considering all that we pack into it. It’s no wonder that we cling to tightly to each day. And we cling even tighter to the illusion of control over the lives that our children live. Yes, it’s biological that we would do everything in our power to ensure their survival. But, there’s only so much we can control. All we can do is show up, do our best, and accept that there are things out of our control, including brain lesions and speeding cars. 11426240_10153079969873992_5468293588372826986_n

Yoga in Paradise, Anyone?

What are you doing in the new year? Join Kisa for a winter escape from January 25-31, 2016 and start your year with a fresh perspective in the lush practice space of Selva Armonia Retreat Center in Uvita, Costa Rica!

Explore the Practice and Possibilities of Yoga during this 6-day exotic retreat. Dig deep, explore, befriend, and connect to the true nature of yourself with daily asana, practical philosophy, and pranayama teachings. Outside of practice, take time to enjoy the natural and relaxing ambiance of the area.selva

Yoga is a practical practice – accessible by everyone and laden with possibilities to explore and discover the true nature of our selves. What possibilities will you find with your practice?

WHAT TO EXPECT:  A yoga practice that is based on a desire to understand and befriend, rather than assume or achieve is a powerful tool for self-enquiry. When we step on our mats ready to embrace vulnerability, explore the discipline and detachment of practice, and passionately pursue the truth of who we are, we are practicing yoga. With practice, possibilities are revealed.

This retreat is open to those with a sincere curiosity and a desire to know more about themselves and the possibilities that are revealed with a dedicated practice.

Kisa uses a playful, encouraging approach to explore movement, mind and the challenges presented when we look deeper into ourselves. During the week, we will meet with new poses, examine familiar poses, and see what possibilities unfold with the practice.

RETREAT INCLUDES:  Round-trip airport ground transportation (SJO to Selve), 6 nights of luxury accommodations, full service vegan cuisine (all meals provided throughout retreat), twice daily yoga/pranayama/meditation practices, and more!

PRICING:  $1700 after January 1, 2016 ($1550 Early Bird pricing) *Does not include airfare.

TO REGISTER: Pay Online, Call 406-752-7244, or Email kisa@theyogaroomofmontana.com

Paradise, here we come!