Missy Kai Yoga
"One of my proudest moments was signing the lease for my studio, Missy Kai Yoga Sanctuary, where I base my private clinical practice in West Los Angeles. It was a huge dream for the longest time, and allowed me to adopt a car-less, eco-friendly lifestyle ..."
Wanderlust Weekly: Congrats on the growth of your practice! What inspired its creation? Missy Kai: I grew up in the Silicon Valley, back when Apple and Google were still just start-up companies. This entrepreneurial environment influenced me heavily. So even as a young woman, I always aspired to start my own business, and I knew deep down I was destined to inspire positive change in the lives of many. But I began to encounter some big challenges at a young age. At just 13 years old, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and ulcerative colitis (a chronic autoimmune disease in the gastrointestinal tract). I struggled to conceive why I was constantly sick, and why my body didn’t operate normally. I saw the best doctors in the field, all of whom were very kind to me. But none of them could answer some very simple questions like “what is the underlying cause of this disease and what can I do to heal once and for all over the long-term?” Doctors told me that my condition was “uncurable” and that I would never be able to get off medications, which was incredibly frustrating and hard to fully conceive at just 13!
Upon entering my early twenties, with all my natural drive and determination, I graduated college as valedictorian with an accounting degree and entered the high-pressure business world of auditing, accounting, and finance. As I did, my condition grew worse and I struggled to keep up with the different layers of my health, my career, my relationships, and my happiness. While everything seemed perfect on paper, I felt like I was crumbling inside. I knew something had to change. In addition, I was constantly pushing myself to my edge, and always on “overdrive” mode. This resulted in several hospitalizations with panic attacks and colitis flare-ups. I had totally failed to understand the connection between how our mental condition can significantly influence and impact our physical health. So by the time I found my way to a yoga class, I was going not because it was trendy, but because I was truly in need of deep healing and relief from a complex combination of ailments. While I had tried yoga a couple times before, I didn’t know that much about it, beyond the poses.
Luckily I eventually wound up studying with Lorilee Gilmore, a very well-known Ashtanga yogi and Ayurvedic practitioner – and I got completely hooked. She was the first teacher who introduced me not just to the physical elements of the practice, but to the 8-limb model of yoga philosophy and the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. Her teachings reaffirmed my inherent value and wholeness as a human being rather than casting me as some “abnormality.” I jokingly called her master class “church” because it was scheduled on Sundays at 9 AM – and I went religiously. Coming from the medical world where I was constantly told that I was “broken and needing fixing,” Lorilee’s teachings of yogic philosophy that we can “heal ourselves naturally” really resonated with me… so much to the extent that over the next year or so, I dedicated all my free time to learning about and adopting a holistic yoga practice and healthy lifestyle habits. I learned about biomechanics, the autonomic nervous system, vegetarian Ayurvedic dietary principles, breathwork, meditation, chanting, and other holistic practices.
It was impossible to deny that the more I dedicated myself to my yoga practice, the more my health improved. These changes enabled me to bring my condition back into remission within a few months. After a year, I no longer needed medication – to my doctor’s great surprise! That’s when my “lightbulb” moment really hit - I realized that over my whole life, yoga was the only modality which consistently brought long-term relief (instead of masking symptoms with band-aid solutions). I became increasingly passionate about the science and art of wellness. This is how I decided to begin teaching others and sharing my passion for a healthy, holistic lifestyle. So I moved to Santa Monica, the mecca of yoga in America, to pursue the study, practice, and teaching of yoga in July 2014. As yoga has become increasingly sensationalist, commercial, and appearance-driven with the rise of social media, I wanted to reach others on a deeper level than that. So “my yoga” has always been rooted in the principle of honoring the wholeness inherent in each individual. That is to say, a therapeutic and healing intention underlies all of my teachings.
While transitioning from being yoga student to a yoga teacher was an organic, natural extension of my own personal healing journey — and a passion for helping others - my journey of transition from accounting to yoga therapist was definitely a bit of a bumpy ride! Ditching your corporate job, creating your dream life, starting a successful business, mastering necessary skills at your craft, and dedicating yourself to a life of service around living your passion isn't easy for anybody. It's not supposed to be. In business school and my corporate career, so much of my self-worth was projected on being productive, completing tasks, thinking strategically to win out our competitors. In my spiritual life, I have come to learn that "pushing" isn't always the best way to get things done or even the fastest path to progress. I've had to become aware of and slowly untangle these thinking patterns. For a long time, I struggled to define exactly what my focus and unique contribution to the world was. My analytical accounting mind found countless ways to discredit my inner intuitive guidance – “yoga teachers don’t make any money, the market is oversaturated, why would you throw away all of that training in accounting?” To gain confidence and experience, I split my time between training yoga and working as an accounting consultant for about a year.
It’s popular for coaches to paint themselves as overnight successes, but the reality is that it simply doesn’t happen that way. Success is the cumulative result of many small steps. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be a full-time yoga therapist and acro yoga teacher. I got there through winding my way through many tangential explorations of similar subjects. Many times, I came to a fork in the road and took the path less traveled. For a while I even thought I was going to become a dietitian, or psychologist. But the longer I looked at job descriptions, the more I knew that nobody was going to “give me the keys to the empire.” I had to create my own opportunities and truly walk my own path, if I were to successfully pioneer a new paradigm of healthcare and live out my most authentic calling in life. So, I persisted towards a different concept of yoga, in studying its role in therapy and holistic healthcare. Yoga therapy serves a huge unmet need in giving people whose needs cannot be met in group yoga classes a safe outlet to cope with various ailments, conditions, and diseases. In addition, acro yoga was extremely attractive to me for its fluidity, grace, and sensuality. It has taught me so much as a practice of playfulness, intimacy, communication, and self-awareness. I decided to specialize in these areas. I started off teaching friends and family for free, then charging barely anything, and then working my way up through studios.
Wanderlust Weekly: You've built a strong community following in Los Angeles, what are some of your proudest moments? Missy Kai: One of my proudest moments was signing the lease for my studio, Missy Kai Yoga Sanctuary, where I base my private clinical practice in West Los Angeles, California. It was a huge dream for the longest time, and allowed me to adopt a car-less, eco-friendly lifestyle! The Sanctuary (as I’ve dubbed it) was created from a vision to build an unconventional, serene, safe where people could go to receive services for healing. It was a huge struggle to find a place that fit the unique needs of ‘yoga therapy’ - I didn’t want it to feel like sterile a doctor’s office, boring like a therapist’s office, or overwhelming like the huge openness of a yoga studio. It’s an intimate, boho-chic space specifically built for serving yoga therapy students, one at a time. My clients tell me how much they love coming to the studio because it’s such a unique environment. For some of my clients who are extremely busy, especially parents with young children, coming to the Sanctuary is the only time in their life that they have to be still and breathe – literally!
After I became rooted in my studio, I turned all my focus and attention into developing a signature program that treats all aspects of the mind, body, spirit —using scientifically-based therapeutic yoga techniques. I now have the expertise, programs, and space to helping people from all walks of life. It was a long and arduous process, but it paid off! In working with some of these more complex and chronic cases, over time, my proudest moments are when clients have hugely meaningful breakthroughs. For example, a powerful athlete struggling with a shoulder injury was able to return to his other fitness practices without fear of injury. An extremely busy medical doctor says how she finally felt like she got a handle on giving herself the same care she gives to everyone else. A student struggling with depression finally was able to voice his suicidal thoughts and develop healthy coping techniques. A busy actress struggling with severe emotional distress got a full night’s sleep for the first time, in months. An acro yoga student working through a tough transition nails it after a few failed attempts. These moments make my heart incredibly full. My students are the main reason why I teach!
Wanderlust Weekly: The wellness field is constantly evolving, what upcoming news or developments can we look forward to? Missy Kai: For this reason, a strong message of my practice is to get my clients to stop thinking about healthcare as an expense, and more as a continuous investment of time and energy into your overall vitality and well-being over the long term. Through teaching people to be accountable for their own heath, we are putting healthcare back in the hands of the people. Instead of waiting for a doctor to tell us what to do with our health, we need to empower ourselves with education, and follow through with inspired action. I believe we are moving more and more toward making this shift as a society, but there is work to do. I believe that yoga therapy will be at the epicenter and the forefront of the increasing shift toward holistic, integrative, and complementary medicine… mainly because it uniquely combines both ancient Eastern therapeutic modalities and modern Western research-based medicine. Therefore, yoga therapists are truly pioneers in the “new age” of healthcare.
In working with my clients, we not only focus on poses, but we take into account sleep, diet, stress levels, meditation, relationships, work, and spirituality. This helps us to get a 360 degree look at all the aspects of body, mind, and spirit. As a certified Yoga Therapy RX Instructor, AcroYoga Fit Coach, and Yoga Alliance registered 200-Hour Yoga Instructor, I am renowned for my personalized, holistic yoga and acro yoga coaching programs. Many of my students come to me, because nothing else has worked for them! Specifically, I specialize in teaching stressed and busy professionals how to integrate simple self-care tools into everyday life, and also injury prevention and rehabilitation to different kinds of athletes. Increasingly I am also becoming known for leading highly transformational workshops and immersions in the West LA area. I like to go deep with my students.
I’m leading an Intro to Yoga Therapy workshop series at SoCal Hot Yoga beginning in May, and in June I’ll be co-leading a restorative retreat at a Lavendar Farm with my partner Amie Barsky. In the future you can also expect to see several international retreats, self-study e-learning courses, and online coaching opportunities. I want to get the message of yoga therapy out to as many people as possible, and expanding my offerings through these avenues will play a big role in bringing the message of yoga therapy to the world. For more information about yoga therapy and my offerings, you can visit me online at www.missykaiyoga.com or check out my facebook and Instagram pages (@missykaiyoga). Please send any questions or inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org – it is a pleasure and honor to serve as a guide in your journey to healing and wellness! [ learn more ]