Thursday, April 29, 2010

Facing the Burrito Demon Through Self-Awareness

Last night in a particularly intense (for me) yoga session, the instructor said something that I found to be incredibly profound:

“Yoga is not about self-improvement. Yoga is about self-awareness.”

Her timing in sharing this little tidbit was auspicious since the intention I’d set for my practice just moments before was “Listen to my body”.

Listen to my body. Easier said than done - tapping into that self-awareness.


We don’t realize how hard it can be to really, truly, truthfully listen to our body when we spend most of our time rushing from one task to the next at home, at work, in life...largely in denial of neglecting our most precious resource.

I challenge you to listen to your body.

What does it say? What is it saying right now? What does it say when you’re stressed or anxious or angry at the latest turn of events?

-- Does your body sleep peacefully at night or does it protest and toss and turn?

-- Does your body enjoy the fuel you give it through the food choices you make? Does it stay happy for hours feeling strong and fulfilled or does it constantly object through grumblings and hunger pangs or bloating and indigestion?

-- Do you abuse your body with smoking or drinking alcohol or filling it with sugars and chemicals? Or do you lovingly provide it with precisely the fuel it needs for optimal health and wellness – things like water and tea and organic produce?

-- Does your body relax when you give it a moment to release or is there a perpetual tightness that creeps into your neck or shoulders or face?

-- Do you criticize your body for not being slim enough or strong enough or healthy enough or tan enough or smooth enough, wishing for a different body free from these imperfections?


I have a complex and many-layered relationship with my body.

It is out of shape, overweight, occasionally plagued with low back pain or pinching knees or protesting ankles and constantly tense/tight shoulders and neck. But it has carried me through life with as much grace as possible considering the abuse I’ve laid on it for so many years…over eating, under exercising, neglecting it at every turn.

So, how do I transform this life-long habit of abuse into love and nurturing and compassion and acceptance?

It’s a journey and a slow one, at that.


Last night, we were doing seated twists but my belly prevented me from getting into the position I wanted in order to get a full twist. I did my best to accept that this is where I am in this moment and I did my best to modify without judgment.

In moments when I’m on the yoga mat doing a yoga practice, I am given permission by my wonderful instructors to sink into this moment called “Now” and to settle deep within myself in order to have an honest dialog.

In challenging poses, I ask my legs for strength, or I ask my breath for precious air, and I do my best to listen to every single cell for cues on how to execute each move to the best of my ability.

Self-awareness comes with a price, though. Holding up a mirror of truth, I begin to see how I got here and it’s not pretty. I am challenged to face my fears, to walk towards them, and then come out the other side wiser and stronger for it. But it’s painful and scary, at times.


After yoga last night, I began experiencing symptoms of my panic attacks. It starts with a tingling in my left arm and chest so my anxiety attacks present much like a heart attack. This sends me off on a ride of worry – Is it anxiety or is it a heart attack this time?

Then, I plunge into anger and fear chastising myself for the latest poor eating choices or for not exercising more, blaming myself for the heart attack that I am now convinced will take me at any moment.

So what did I do in the middle of this panic and fear and self-judgment? I went to Taco Bell and got a burrito.

Yes. You read that right. I got a burrito and immediately started consuming it like it might be my last.

But, something amazing happened.

Halfway through that burrito, I stopped myself and listened.

I realized that I had just made a choice that was perpetuating this awful cycle of self-destruction.

I was scared and ignoring the fear. This pushed me into a desperate search for something comforting (food) which lent itself to the panic that had originally led to my fear in the first place.

In that moment, I saw the awful cycle that I’d created for myself for all of these years.

And while it was a relief to have this moment of insight, I was completely overwhelmed at the size and scope of this cycle that gripped me so tightly. How do you begin undoing a set of habits that have been a standby since childhood?

It all comes back to self-awareness, to being present, and in listening to my body.

It was a step towards healing. One of one hundred million, but it was one. And one step is profound.

“Yoga is not about self-improvement. Yoga is about self-awareness.”

Through self-awareness, I can begin to identify, heal, challenge, accept, grow, and love everything that is me. I’m not becoming aware of myself for anyone or anything. I am looking at myself with honesty and settling into the imperfections and seeing where I come out on the other side.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Creating Sacred Space Amongst the Chaos

"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart." ~unknown

I know I'm a victim of my own mind more often than anything else. I pressure myself to be more successful, do more at home, do more in my personal time from volunteering to meeting up with friends and the first thing to go is usually myself.

Finding peace and creating sacred space even in the most stressful of situations is something I work on constantly.

So how can you do the same?

Here are a few techniques to combat anxiety, stress, fear, frustration, and a myriad of other harmful reactions to our everyday lives and create a space of sacred calm despite it all.

Just Breathe

It sounds too simple, too easy. But it is the most effective tool in your toolkit and it's free, fast, and always available.

No matter what's going on around you, if you take a few moments to stop, pause, and take a few deep breathes you'll immediately feel more grounded and level-headed.

If you're looking for a simple, effective breath that only takes a few minutes then do four-corner breathing.

Find a semi-quiet spot whether it's your office, the bathroom, the shower, the car or outside. Then, find something square to gaze at: a TV (that's off), your computer monitor, a frame, a picture you love, even your phone or a piece of paper. Anything with 4 corners.

Starting in the upper left corner, inhale as you slide your eyes to the upper right corner. Pause your breath and slide your eyes to the lower right corner. Exhale slowly as your move your eyes to the lower left corner. Pause your breath and slide your eyes to the upper left corner.

Repeat this, slowly, at least 5 times (10 is better) and you will instantly feel like your reset button has been hit.

For more information on the power of breath, look into pranayama techniques or Breath of Joy for a truly revolutionary breath experience.


A personal, self-affirming mantra is something that you can take with you everywhere. It's a powerful reminder that you are greater than the sum of the current chaos in your life.

Mantra can be something as simple as "I am beautiful" or "I breathe peace" to something more personal like "I am proud of my strength in moments like this". It can even be something more spiritual like "Truth is my name" or "I bow to the divine within myself".

Whatever mantra you select for yourself, write it down on a few pieces of colorful paper and slip them into your wallet over your picture ID, tape one on your steering wheel or dashboard, to the base of your monitor, or under the case on your cell phone. Having these little reminders everywhere is the perfect way to remind yourself that you are powerful, beautiful, empowered, and capable of peace even in the most challenging moments.

As soon as you think your mantra or see your mantra, take a few deep breaths and let it really sink in. Say it to yourself in the mirror. The positive affirmation will immediately elevate your energy and lend a positive spin to whatever is going on around you.

Laugh, or Fake It 'Til You Make It

We all know the power of a smile and a laugh to heal some of the world's most serious ills. So use this magical tool to your advantage.

When the going gets tough...fake it 'til you make it. Fake a laugh, fake a smile and believe it or not, you'll truly tap into some of the benefits of a REAL smile.

Even better, think of something completely ridiculous to illicit a true peal of joy from your lips. Think about doing something totally crazy like the chicken dance in the middle of your next corporate meeting, or running screaming with your arms over your head while you screech like a chimpanzee in the grocery store. Think of a funny joke your kid told you or something hysterical your partner did last weekend.

Whatever it is, if you can find a little levity in the moment, you will immediately bring light and a small dose of joy to your heart and mind.

Turn On Some Music

Sacred space is all about you and bringing peace and serenity to your body and soul. Music is another great resource most of us have access to that can give us a brief respite from the madness of the moment.

Whatever kind of music you enjoy when you want to relax and unwind, pop it in (even if you only have time for one song), close your eyes and let it carry you away.

Music has incredible powers to heal and if you pair it with mindful breathing, an inspiring mantra and a little smile, you will have created a space in time that is healing, healthy, powerful, transformative and accessible in even the most insane afternoons.

While these are only a few of the tools we have at our disposal, they are very very powerful when you use them mindfully and frequently to get you through the day.

We have several even more powerful techniques and tools for creating transformational moments throughout your day, so check back soon for details on the forthcoming workshop.

Namaste and remember that you deserve a few moments of love and joy each and every day!!!

Monday, April 26, 2010

First Impressions: Yoga Nidra


This is one of those cases when doing a little research probably would have better prepared me for my first encounter with yoga Nidra.

My impression from the website description at this studio was a relaxing yoga hour. I expected something similar to Svaroopa with assisted poses and long-held gentle stretching.

Nay nay!

Yoga Nidra actually means yogic sleep.

With a bolster under my knees, a blanket for a pillow and a blanket draped over my supine form, I closed my eyes and let the teacher talk us through a deep slumbering meditation (and it included lots of snoring).

While I did hear part of the meditation, I also woke myself up a few times with a startling snore.

I'd expected to have SOME movement, but I have to say...I finished the hour feeling refreshed, cleansed, relaxed, and alert. As if I'd had a delightfully long nap and was ready to face the day.

It's something I'd like to learn more about: what are the effects, how does it work, how does it different from guided meditation, etc...

The folks in the class all seemed to be regulars as the teacher knew them well.

I was slightly amused and slightly intrigued.

If you need a major relaxation or to totally unwind, then Yoga Nidra might be just what the doctor ordered.

Conquering My Fears and Self-Doubt

Yesterday I did something extraordinary. I attended a workshop at a yoga studio I’d never been to and I pushed through my fear to discover something completely uplifting and incredible.

It was billed as a 3-hour yoga workshop with Para Darin Somma to raise funds for an Indian Sage named Amma Sri Karunamayi. Unsure of what to expect out of the space, the attendees, the presenter, and how intense the yoga would be, I felt out of my element and a little scared before I even walked through the doors.

Upon arrival, I found 6 people already in the studio and ALL of them were the epitome of crazy yoga bodies in impossible (to me) poses.

One was doing an arm balance with his legs scissored sideways, another was in lotus but his entire chest and head were flat on the floor in a deep reverent bow to Ganesha, a woman nearby was in some other super bendy pose and to make matters even more uncomfortable they seemed to all know each other.

Insecurity got the best of me and after dropping my mat on the floor, I retreated to the hallway to give myself a pep talk.

I reminded myself that if this studio truly taught yoga in its spiritual form, then they would welcome me regardless of my body size or ability.

Then, Darin came in (the workshop leader) and he was simultaneously intimidating and warmly peaceful.

He had a big bushy black beard and prayer beads around his neck. He looked to be in his mid-30’s and had a fairly traditional (Indian) look to him. When he spoke, I immediately felt as if we were friends…casual, authentic, approachable, humble, and a great sense of humor.

I learned much in the initial talk:

- What “guru” means
o “ru” in Sanskrit means “remover of” or “destroyer of” and “gu” means “darkness” – so a guru is someone that destroys darkness, or lights the way, or brings light to…as Darin said, a guru is a like a lightbulb in a room: it lights up the room but it is up to you to SEE the room as it is and to walk thru the room on your own.

- Karma and the true meaning in bowing at the feet of a guru or deity
o Karma, or truth, flows in thru your head and out thru your feet. This is why when you meet someone with great wisdom like a guru or a deity, you bow at their feet…you are trying to accept some of their karma, which flows out of their feet, by putting your head nearby. Who knew?

- Tantra
o It means “technique”, so if you know the tantra of something, you know the technique. It’s not nearly as sensual as I first thought when Darin was saying he knew of all these different tantras.

- A series of Sanskit chants (some familiar, some not)

- The history of yoga…it fit perfectly with what I’ve been reading in "Wisdom of Yoga" by Stephen Cope.

When we went around the room and introduced ourselves, it was like being cradled in pure love by all of these strangers for 3 hours. I can’t explain it. They accepted me without question, without judgment, and I felt completely safe in that space.

It’s an extraordinary thing to cultivate in such a short period of time. I think that speaks to the power of the people that participated in the workshop.

The actual yoga asanas were simple and straightforward, but we held them for long periods of time and did each a few times. I'm a little sore today in that delightfully yummy way.

As usual, the most challenging pose for me was the simple seated forward-bend because my belly gets in the way. I worked very hard to just accept my belly for what it is, to send it love instead of getting frustrated and tense, and I feel like we had a little breakthrough, my belly and I.

At the end of the workshop, Darin blessed each of us individually and it felt truly sacred.

While I certainly soaked up tremendous knowledge on an intellectual level, the lessons I really have as my take-away are:

- to face my fear and let go of the need to control a situation, to trust myself – because if my intent is to learn and to grow it’s going to turn out okay.

- to love my body’s limitations, no matter what they are, because it’s where I am right now and that’s just fine. If I reject myself or wish for something else, I’m not living in the Now and I’m stressing myself needlessly.

- meditation and chanting are powerful tools that I can use to heal the world AND to heal myself.

So, one more step on a path of millions on my quest to manifest Caya.

I feel so at peace today…there is something invaluable in being accepted, welcomed, and loved by strangers in a sacred space.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kickstarter Project - coming soon

AWESOME news!!!!

We were just accepted by to promote and raise money for our business/project. YAHOO!!!!!!!!

If we are able to raise the funds that we will be asking for, we should be able to throw open the doors for our business by early 2011 (if not sooner!!!).

CAYA will be a reality!

It's terrifying. And real. Overwhelming, for sure.

As soon as we have our project available, we will post a link here. It has the potential to be one of our most memorable and major steps in achieving our dream.

Yep...definitely terrified.

Any words of wisdom floating around out there for us?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Plus-size yoga teacher?

One of my (Dawn) life-long battles has been with my body and my weight. For as long as I can remember I've heard things like "you're so pretty for being plump" and "you'd be stunning if you'd just lose a little weight". Crushing to hear that as a 15-year-old.

But despite the fat-phobia that abounds in our society, I have a pretty solid sense of self and a good grasp on self-confidence. My body and I haven't always gotten along and i've certainly mistreated my body on a more regular basis than my body has mistreated me, but it's been a pretty fun relationship so far.

The one thing that I have always, always loved is dance. As a little girl I did ballet, tap, jazz, gymnastics...if it involved being on stage, I was ready with a smile.

But somewhere along the way I forgot how great it feels to connect with my body in that deep, physical way. My body became an "it" that was out of control while I watched in the wings. Heavier and heavier I got (not that that stopped me from having a crazy social life and a wicked sense of fashion).

Over the last few years, I've discovered the power and release of yoga. Stepping onto that mat with my thick belly and thighs, wobbly arms and large breasts, I feel myself settle into this magical body of mine and we feel connected. One being - mind, body, spirit.

It's such a relief to know we still communicate through breath and poses, movement and postures.

I'm not going to say yoga comes easy to me. It's impossible to do a forward fold when you have a big belly blocking the way. And don't even get me started on boobs pretty much strangle me!

But, that hasn't stopped me.

Many a class I am the only person huffing and puffing from exertion by the end of the warm up. Too many sun salutations (4?) and I'm pouring sweat. But yoga is not a competition.

Just because all of the graceful and lithe women around me are in full Plow or Shoulder Stand doesn't mean I have to be...I simply modify and do my best.

Yoga has definitely taught me to be patient with myself. It took me MANY years to get this out of shape and I can't undo that damage overnight. But I can learn to love every single cell and jiggle and wiggle. I can learn to have compassion for myself and my past mistakes. I can begin to make better choices for myself today.

I've been thankful that most of the yoga teaches I've met have been accepting of my limitations without putting me in a spotlight. Most.

The one thing that I feel needs to change within the yoga community is that I want more plus-sized bodies and more injured or other-abled bodies to feel that yoga is accessible to them.

The 350-pound woman that's intimidated, the person with knee injuries that fears some of the poses, the people in wheelchairs that can't get up the stairs to the studio in the first is for all of you, too!!!!

Which brings me here.

I am on a quest to become a yoga teacher. I want to bring this joy into my community for everyone: the experienced and flexible, the out-of-shape, the folks that lack confidence, the handicapped and other-abled people, children and new mothers...everyone!

I may not be able to do a full twist because my succulent stomach prevents it and I may have to do modified plank because lifting 300-pounds of sexy woman into the pose is nearly impossible. But, darn it...I love yoga. I LOVE YOGA. I feel myself growing stronger with each class and what an empowering thing!

I can hold Down-Dog longer and longer (even with my boobs cutting off my air supply)! And that is an AMAZING feeling.

As for dance? I still love that, too. A recent trip to Kripalu reminded me that dance, like yoga, is a medium for completely and utterly surrendering to the moment and to my body.

So I am also going to get my JourneyDance teacher certification in a few months.

Oh what a ride it will be!

Watch out yoga world!!! A big, succulent, crazy, wild woman is about to thunder in plant and herself square in the heart of the community. Make room and please be kind.

PS - If anyone has any idea where I can find tight-fitted, FLATTERING, plus-sized yoga gear...would you send me a link or a name?

Namaste, everyone!!! Especially all you big girls!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Welcome any and all to develop their spirit

"Yoga is grace to the world. Welcome any and all to class to develop
their spirit and make the world a more conscious, joyful place to be."
- Kim Vidya Yoga

We strongly believe in the power of the human spirit to heal itself. At Caya (cah-yah): Come As You Are, we recognize that each person is on a unique path, filled with special circumstances and challenges. Whether you’re battling stress, anxiety, body image issues, health issues or you’re just looking for a place to be yourself, we welcome you. Body, mind, and spirit.

As we continue to develop our vision and Caya into a living breathing entity, we've been circling back to some of the same words and phrases over and over again. The short list includes:

authenticity, honesty, joy, peace, empowerment, be patient with yourself, celebrate your mistakes, never apologize for being yourself, dare to be different, listen to your body, find your passion, unleash your dreams, love your body (especially your belly), discover curiosity, live the questions

What other words and phrases should we include that embrace and celebrate the unique paths we are all on? What words would stimulate you to try out a new yoga or dance class? What message would encourage you to sample a new workshop series or try some bodywork with a practitioner you've never met before?

How can we be more welcoming and inviting to people just like you?

Samvega - we're in it

Samvega – a complex state involving a kind of disillusionment with mundane life, and a wholehearted longing for a deeper investigation into the inner workings of the mind and the self.

Described by Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkuh, samvega involves “at least three clusters of feelings at once…the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.”

We are certainly entering a state of samvega. Disillusioned by our current paths, we long to create a community of serving others through healing, laughter, movement, and a little bit of fun. ;)

So, we embrace our samvega, even though it's an uncomfortable place to settle. Even though we want the change to start NOW. But, change will come as we open ourselves to opportunity.

What kind of samvega are you in? What kind of metamorphosis are you striving for?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Blog? Oh the pressure!

Welcome to Caya: Come As You Are! Dawn and Gretchen, the creators and owners, felt that their community needed a Wellness Center focused on supporting, serving, inspiring, educating, and bringing joy to people in the area.

Though the center hasn't opened it's doors yet, we are in the process of building the business, finishing several certifications, networking, and preparing for a wild and crazy new adventure.