Women Empowering Women: A Surprising Addition to Our Fall Into Joy Yoga Retreat


The following reflects the views of Amanda and was written after the September retreat at Deep Portage. For a bit of context, the Kavanaugh hearings were held Thursday and we headed to Deep Portage Friday morning.

We’ve mentioned that each retreat is unique. This past retreat was yet again, a surprise.

Friday morning the weight of the week was heavy, almost suffocating. I called Bryana and told her I wasn’t sure I should attend, “I’m not bringing anything positive to the weekend.” I muttered. Even talking felt difficult. I wanted to sit in silence, alone.

Like a wound recently opened and exposed to air and infection, we were feeling highly sensitive and irritable. We came up with a strategy. We agreed not to talk specifically about current events. We needed to give ourselves an oxygen mask so we could bring energy and healing as teachers and hosts.

We wanted to ensure we held space for all the perspectives joining us at the retreat. We wanted to create a respectful space for diverse opinions, backgrounds, and perspective.

Some events penetrate the national psyche. There are moments of time that stand still, perfectly preserved behind the glass of a snowglobe. These are the days we can all recall where we were and what we were doing. Heading into the retreat, many women made the drive to Hackensack turning the snowglobe over and over, considering the experiences of their own lives and the emotional rollercoaster of the hearing itself.


Many of our retreats are full of belly laughter, singing around a bonfire, spontaneous dance parties, hidden talents, seeking adventure, and JOY. This retreat was largely contemplative, reflective, inward, and a time for rest, relaxation, and healing. We came to the space feeling somber, we left feeling contentment and strength.

Friday evening we had a delicious, nutritious meal catered by The Green Scene, followed by a powerful opening circle and intention setting writing exercise. Since the retreat, Bryana has written a blog about setting a sankalpa, the practice we utilized over the weekend. (I have found the sankalpa practice to be highly effective in the months following the retreat and am feeling ready to transition from “I am unplugged” to a new sankalpa. How are y’all doing since the retreat on your sankalpas? Leave comments and let us know!)


Joella led us through a grounding, dreamy vinyasa flow. Afterward, we huddled around the cozy bonfire and tried out essential oils with Stacy. Most of us found our way to bed by 9pm, astonishingly early for a yoga retreat. Of course, some of our retreaters had a bit of wine and silliness by the other bonfire in the dining hall.

Saturday morning Bryana led us through a meditative and relaxing class, ending with a soulful accompaniment by musician Kristy Marie NurJehan Chishti. During the class, Bryana shared information on balance, pranayama and Kapalabhati- breath of fire.


After breakfast, Joella led a workshop utilizing a sound bath with her crystal sound bowls while Amanda and Bryana led a workshop on the yamas and niyamas- living our yoga; on and off the mat. If you are interested in the yamas and niyamas, I cannot recommend Deborah Adele’s book enough! Buy it, read it!


A guest instructor from Longville, MN, Pam Veilleux, one of Bryana’s first yoga instructors in the area, joined us to lead a vinyasa flow on cultivating gratitude.


After lunch many guests got cozy with a book or a journal near one of the roaring fireplaces. Because it was SNOWING outside, in SEPTEMBER, the mood was one for hunkering down in blankies and slippers. A few brave souls went for a guided hike outdoors and/or climbed the indoor rock wall.

Bryana, Joella, and I led a workshop on inversions from 3-4 and we all gathered together at 4pm for the second master class of the day. It was clear to me that everyone came to my class feeling calm and rested. I told them it was time to WAKE UP! I wanted to get those bodies moving and encouraged participants to practice tapas, or discipline, and stand in the heat of their practice, of course while also practicing ahimsa, non-violence.


Every yoga instructor has her/his own style and voice. I enjoy bringing my writing and imagination to the room. We visualized ourselves as Artemis while shooting arrows at goals like autonomy, boundaries, and saying “no”! We “peyeewed” as we shot the arrows at our self-doubt and judgment. We sent out love in Warrior I while making “shooshing” noises, and then let go of what was no longer serving us. We went for a snorkel. We shook and laughed.  We shed our self-consciousness making strange noises and silly faces, and felt the freedom in letting go of fearing what others may think of us.

While my original plan for the class was to talk about cultivating joy in our lives by seeking out experiences that bring us joy, that message didn’t feel right. Rather, I talked about finding joy in everyday moments of gratitude. A hot shower, a cup of tea, laughter of a child, wind howling against the windowpane. While we cannot be grateful for everything, we can be grateful in every moment. Even when we feel we cannot breathe and the sadness is so overwhelming, we can bring our awareness to small things for which we are grateful. I closed my class with a reading from this Ted Talk on gratitude. I’ve listened to this inspirational message at least 100 times over the past five years. Not every day is a lavish vacation. We can’t expect every day to be full of joy, but we can find joy through contentment and gratitude.


I headed to dinner feeling lighter. Class reminded me of my own strength, resilience, ability to laugh, and ability to control my mood.


After dinner we gathered in the Great Hall for the highlight of the weekend- live music provided by Kristy Marie NurJehan Chishti , Bryce Kastning, Aaron Tanke, and Libby led us in Kirtan.  The first hour was full of calming music. Many of us sang-along. After an hour we revisited our sankalpas. Many retreaters opted for an early night in at this point or headed to the other fire in the Dining Hall for wine and laughter. Our retreats are always buffet style, we encourage guests to do whatever serves their needs.

Those of us that stayed for the final hour had a magical experience. Kristy led us through dance and song. It was impossible to leave the evening feeling anything but contentment, gratitude, joy, and hope.


Sunday morning we woke up early to watch the sunrise from a fire tower.  I tried to sleep in but Bryana and Joella wouldn’t hear of it. We were greeted by one of the most memorable sunrises yet. Moving in the fresh, cool, morning air, we remembered that there is good and beauty in the world despite the slam of negativity available 24/7 on our screens and devices.  


After our invigorating morning hike, Bryana led us through a myofascial release class utilizing a tennis ball to massage sore muscles. We concluded with brunch, yin with Joella, and our closing circle.


It is always a gift to hear what is shared in the closing circle.


In these moments of crisis and distress, it is more important than ever to be grounded in our practice. When we are grounded, calm, and whole, we can greet the gales with deep roots. When we have cultivated acceptance, peace, empathy, and mindful listening into our life, we are prepared to face the chaos. When we seek out the experiences that bring us together rather than the differing opinions that divide us, we can find common ground, mutual respect, and friendship.

We just have to take time to remember that love is always more powerful than hate.


For those of you that joined us, we thank you for your presence.


One more thing…

Below is a poem I wrote during Joella’s yin class Sunday  morning. I thought it was a bit too dark to share with the group in the closing circle. I read it to Bryana, Joella, Stacy, and Kristy Marie as we cleaned up the Great Hall. They encouraged me to share with you.

I was thinking of becoming a box

Inside another box

in a dark room.

I was thinking of painting myself into a wall

standing still

until I yellow and crack.

I was thinking of becoming an autumn leaf

damp on the forest floor

trampled and composting.

I was thinking of sewing myself into the couch

My eyes becoming buttons

So I could watch the Netflix all day.

But then Bryana called

Told me to get to the woods

“it’ll be better when you lose cell service,” she said.

I was thinking of sleeping in

Hoping to be forgotten

Enveloped in a cocoon of warm blankets.

Bryana turned the lights on.

“I’m not really a sunrise person,” I said.

“Remember how you just said, ‘sometimes you gotta drag yourself outta bed?’”

“oh yeah.” I said.

And so we marched,

like all our ancestors before us

20 centuries of the same.

And sure nuff  there was that old sun

Rising like he does every day

Takin’ himself for granted and

makin’ it look easy.

I was thinking of becoming the negative space in a crescent moon

The darkness, visible yet not

The suggestion of form/absent the light.

But Bryana called.

So now I’m in the woods

Remembering to become what I love

and not what I hate.


Thank you!

..so much to the lovely Rohana Olson of Comfort and Cashmere Images for your beautiful work and capture of this weekend retreat in the north woods.

For more information on Rohana Olson, contact her at:

  •  (218) 491-3424

  • info@comfortandcashmere.com

  • social media: @comfortandcashmereimages

Amanda Thoe3 Comments