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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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.

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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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!

Hi, My Name is Lily…

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This is Lily. She is 63 years old. She’s a black belt in Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and her cooking will leave you begging for an invitation to her next dinner party.

What I admire most about Lily is that she is always learning. It is her constant inquiry into how to live better that I think keeps her young in mind and heart.

63 isn’t very old. But if you saw some of the takedowns and chokes that she taught me today… you would wonder what else she puts in her Wheaties.

P.S. This picture is of Lily learning how to improve her Vrksasana.

What’s in a stretch?

If I had a piece of chocolate for everytime someone asked me this question…

So, to get my hamstrings to stretch… do I just need to stay in that pose for a long time? How long is long enough?

My answer is always the same.

As often as you can, as long as you can.

But. let’s be clear about this activity that we call Stretching. When you stretch, you are working on loosening up the muscle fibers and fascia that is so tight that your mobility has been compromised.

Most doctors and physical therapists will tell you that it requires 30 seconds to 180 seconds to loosen the tightness in the muscle or the connective tissue that you are stretching. Ultimately how long you stay depends on what you were trying to achieve. Learning the appropriate position and pressure is key to increasing sensitivity and getting what you want from the stretch.

Tips for the Best Stretch:
1. Set up in a relatively comfortable position where you can stay for a period of time with little fatigue. I usually recommend slanting Uttanasana for hamstrings (also known as Butts-Up-the-Wall).

2. As you increase the pressure, breathe and relax the muscles you are stretching in order to release the contracting muscle fibers and connective tissue fibers.

3. Continue to breathe and let go of the contracting muscles. In other words you have to make a concerted effort to relax what is contracting and pulling. This is not always an easy task. But as your sensitivity increases you will have more control.

4. Stay for at least 30 seconds up to three minutes. Continue to breathe and become more sensitive so you are better able to actively relax what is tightening.

5. Remember to always move with careful attention in and out of a stretching posture. I often see injuries occur when people haphazardly get out of poses. It pays to be attentive.

With regular practice you will find improvement in no time.

But you can keep the chocolate coming!

Easier Said Than Done

As a yoga teacher, one of the challenges of the trade is taht I am often asked about neck pain, back pain, and whether or not there is a pose that would help streacth a certain area in the body. What no one ever asks me is how to detach from designs, still the minds’ flucturations, or find steadiness and ease in a body and mind that appear so rigid and unadjustable. Funny, since those are the root practices of yoga.

I have always been under the impression that people don’t talk about the classical philosophy and practice of yoga because they don’t understand it or they are afraid. More likely it’s because of the public image of the cloth diaper-wearing, patchouli-laced, overgrown hippie who talks in strange vagaries about “beingness” and unrelatable terms that involve fabled stories of ancient times where fabled people always did the right thing and never worried about healthcare, taxes, or how to update their new iOS.

In reality, the psychology, philosophy, and practice of yoga is quite practical and very applicable to our modern lives.

The first aspects of yoga are physical. Yama and niyama remind us to be good and do good. Asana keeps us physically fit. Pranayama teaches us to be still and pay attention. Pratyahara bridges what is tangible to what is more abstract and brings us to examine our consciousness.

When we work on our consciousness – our “being-ness” – then we start to see changes in how we think, work, feel, and live. And believe it or not, therein lies our answers to aches and pains, depression, anxiety, and whatever else it is we are looking for when we type Yoga in to the Google search.

And, like all important practices in life, it’s much easier said than done.

 

Why Bother?

I spent the last week with a room full of wide-eyed, eager yoga students under the direction and discrimination of legendary Iyengar Yoga teacher Manouso Manos.

Wow.

I’ve heard the stories and had an idea of what to expect. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of this intensive. Every pose, every correction, every adjustment, every smack on the ass – the impressions he created on the physical surface of my practice were so poignant and perfect.

The practice that I brought back was changed dramatically from what I was doing before. Movements are more precise. Actions are more penetrating. My seated posture is more upright. My hips are getting better about staying in their sockets. I’m learning to straighten the leg without locking the knee. You could say that I’m learning to cultivate more skillful action.

Skillful action.

That seems worthy enough, right? But I titled this post, “Why Bother?” for a reason.

My family is lovely, really. But when I tell them about spending 35 hours doing yoga for a week in San Francisco, they say, “Oh, that’s nice” with their heads slightly tilted and brows furrowed in a way that only slightly veils their questioning of my sanity. I know what they really mean is, “Why?”

Can you imagine what they would say if I shared with them the excitement of how I learned to sharpen my tailbone in Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana? Ha!

They would say… Why Bother?

Manouso reminded us all that according to the Gita – which is the earliest mention of the practice – yoga is skillful action. We can practice the skillful action in our asana practice. We can skillfully navigate daily life. Ultimately, it’s the skillful action that will lead us down the path towards what we seek.

So, what is it that we seek?

Ultimately, yoga is a personal practice. Whatever it is that you seek to get from it, you should make sure that you are getting it. Or at least make sure you are getting closer.

I practice yoga for physical reasons. Manouso put it poetically and succinctly when he said that our physical practice is “for full range of motion and strength throughout.”

I also practice yoga to get closer to that quietness and equanimity whereby my skillful actions produce no pain or pleasure, no comfort or discomfort. I seek what we understand to be enlightenment. It begins in the physical body and (hopefully) penetrates deeply to the core of my being.

That’s why I bother.