Missy Balsam’s Story
Missy and her mom, Pam, had transformational experiences last fall in India, while mother-daughter duo, Lauren and Michelle, cemented their relationships as well as their spirituality, in the Bahamas. All, look forward to repeated trips that deepen their relationships while nourishing their souls.
Missy Balsam was born and raised in Philadelphia but was working in marketing in New York. Switching gears, she left the fast-paced big city business world to dedicate herself to yoga. She is now a full-time yoga teacher and kirtan musician based out of Naples, Florida.
“This practice is all about having fun,” Missy says to students in a class at BhaktiFest, a spiritual yoga music festival. This is the third year she was invited to teach at BhaktiFest Midwest in Madison, Wis., and the first time for her to perform on the big stage.
In each of her BhaktiFest yoga classes, and when she’s leading kirtan from the main stage, her mom is there to cheer her on, and relish the yoga and music that Missy leads. The closeness between them is visible to all. The bonding, in great part, is due to mother/daughter shared experiences and getaways.
“I never exercised a day in my life,” admits Pam. “I had neck and back issues, with a double fusion at the cervical spine. I (first) took Missy’s yoga class because I wanted to be supportive of her. Now, I don’t even take aspirin.”
Missy decided to deep dive into kirtan by joining Bhakti Yatra last summer, a three-week yoga/kirtan guided interpersonal tour of India. Led by the founder of BhaktiFest, Sridhar Silberfein, and Saul David Raye, Bhakti Yatra is “a transcendent spiritual pilgrimage.”
Missy invited her mom to join her. At first, Pam was a little hesitant about joining the group. She was older than the other travelers and was not entrenched in the yoga and bhakti world. In the end, she went, and it was a transformational experience for them both, beyond the mother/daughter bonding.
“The learning experience was mine,” says Pam. “It opened my heart to bhakti yoga and I got more and more into it. I enjoyed the whole experience. I loved it. I’d go back in a heartbeat.”
Together, they visited with several spiritual leaders including Radhanath Swami, author of The Journey Home. They spent time at a handful of ashrams and pilgrimage sites. Plus, they practiced yoga, meditation, and kirtan chanting, daily.
This year, Missy will be teaching yoga and leading the kirtan in November with Raye in southern India. In September, Missy will perform and teach at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California. Pam hopes to join her daughter in Joshua Tree and/or India.
“I was always the type of person that did what I was supposed to do. I just followed the rules. Missy had the fortitude to follow her dreams and heart, and I admire that. I think of myself as a late bloomer. Now, I’m learning to express myself and follow my heart. I go to kirtan, and I’m like a groupie. This has given me a wonderful sense of focus that I didn’t have before. My daughter has become my teacher. And it only made us closer.”
Michelle Witter, of Chicago, attended Missy’s yoga class at BhaktiFest in Madison. She and her mom, Lauren, made the trip to Wisconsin, together. This was not the first spiritual getaway for the mother/daughter duo.
A few years prior, they went together to the Sivananda Ashram in Nassau. Michelle said, “Going to the Bahamas for the Sivananda yoga vacation was definitely memorable. It was the first time I had left the country, and it was the first time my mom and I had done more than just one (yoga) class together. Doing yoga on the beach or overlooking the water–there’s no contest. It was the perfect mix of a dream vacation and actively participating in yoga or kirtan. Sivananda was simply idyllic.”
Sivananda yoga vacations are not about an hour or two of yoga, and the rest of the time sipping margaritas or suntanning on the beach. Sivananda ashrams, located all over the world offer immersions into the yogic life and philosophy. Guests eat vegetarian diets, abstain from caffeine and alcohol, and practice yoga, meditation, and kirtan, daily. They can also participate in a myriad of workshops ranging from positive mental attitude to Vedic astrology.
Mom Lauren says, “Sivananda was wonderful. The weather in the Bahamas was perfect, the food was great, we met some interesting people, and listened to interesting lectures. It was hard to sit on the floor for so long twice a day, but we managed. It deepened my understanding of yoga and Kirtan.”
The experiences at both Sivananda and BhaktiFest have deepened Lauren and Michelle’s relationship and clarified their understanding of each other.
Michelle explains, “When we’re away for a few days and it’s just the two of us, we are able to connect more often and get into more meaningful conversation than if we had other people to focus on. We have an understanding with each other that I don’t personally have with anyone else. She’s the only one who understands the spiritual side of yoga and how it enhances my life. I can tell people about my experiences and my beliefs, and they think it’s great, but they don’t really ‘get it’ like she does.”
These spiritual yoga getaways give Michelle and Lauren special shared experiences. At the same time, they are able to express their individuality and are not together 24/7.
“If we go to a festival or retreat where multiple classes are offered at once, we’ll always find one or two that we both genuinely want to do together, but then we’ll find a couple of instances where we want to go our separate ways. It’s the best of both worlds because when we are in the same class, we have that connection and understanding of what we just experienced and we can compare and contrast what we liked and didn’t like, how we feel, etc. And when we reconnect after attending separate classes, we get to share our new experiences with each other, which is very cool. I feel very lucky that we were able to initially find a hobby we both enjoyed, not knowing it would turn into this passion both of us individually and together could expand upon.”
Lauren and Michelle are hoping to continue these spiritual yoga vacations at least once a year.
Lauren adds, “I feel that Michelle and I understand each other a little bit better than we would if we didn’t travel together. We talk about deeper subjects, we know each other a little bit better than we did before we did this. It is a wonderful experience for me. BhaktiFest was amazing. I really relate to Bhakti yoga.”
On a Personal Note
I have spent more than two months at Sivananda ashrams in the U.S. and India. I consider Sivananda my yogic roots. I also credit Sivananda retreats with making profound differences in the way I live my life on and off the mat.