Magic in Me

Before the start of my magic themed kids yoga class, one of my students walked into the studio lobby a bit weary to say the least. Tears built at her lower lid as she clutched a stuffed animal in one arm and her mother’s leg in the other. It took some coaxing, but she eventually released both before following me into the studio to pick a mat and get herself situated in the circle of other students.

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“When I say ‘MAGIC’, what comes to mind?” I asked to kick off class and the first response was, “shoving cake in someone’s face.” Certainly not the response I was hoping for, but kids yoga classes have taught me this: expect the unexpected. I ventured on, “Well, I have a magic wand and I had planned on bringing it to show all of you today, but it seems I left it back in my tree house in Fairy Forest. Would you guys be willing to travel back there with me to get it?” Naturally, I received some skeptical looks, but kids yoga classes have also taught me this: keep calm and carry on.

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Our journey to the Fairy Forest was a long one that required us to warm up our bodies before beginning. We traveled through the Troll Trap, Hobbit Hollow, Dragon Dungeon, Merman Marsh, and the Talking Trees- each stop including a challenge or an obstacle for us to overcome. When we reached our destination, the magic wand helped us fulfill some of our wildest dreams: becoming unicorns, flowers, snakes, and much more. Then, I gave the kids the opportunity to craft their own magical wands to bring home before finding some magic in movement.

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I will use any excuse to have a dance party. (True story: I have one every night with the twins I nanny before I leave work.) With that being said, I segued in to a little dance party by explaining to the kids how movement can make some magical things happen in our body. We found our pulses and took note of the slow and steady beats of our hearts before I passed out flowy scarves, turned up the tunes, and we moved our feet to the beat! Afterwards, we took note of our heart rate again and talked about how movement helps make our muscles strong, especially our hearts. We played a few more games and did a “magic rainbow meditation” before ending class. (You can find more details in the lesson plan linked below.)

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Every time I step on my mat I find magic in the mundane– I marvel at how my body moves differently each time, how my mind is busy or quiet, how my breath is fast or slow. “Magic is always there when we pay attention,” I told the kids as I opened the doors to release them to their parents. The weary student from the beginning of class rushed out to tell her mom, “THIS WAS THE BEST YOGA CLASS EVER! CAN I COME AGAIN?!” And let me tell you- there was magic in that moment for me.

Kids Yoga- Magic in Me

Namasté,

yogi-nani

Transitions & Finding Balance

The yoga studio where I teach in Annapolis does monthly themes. This month’s theme was transitions and finding balance. It seems particularly appropriate since the vernal equinox occurred this month. And as if to make a point that transitions can be hard as hell, it snowed last week and was almost 70 degrees yesterday.

Winters are always hard for me. I’ve never been diagnosed with seasonal depression, but every December I can feel a sadness creeping in along with the cold. By the end of February, there’s a heaviness weighing on me like the fur coat I can’t seem to shed from my shoulders. Over the past few months, I’ve neglected my physical yoga practice. I’ve over-indulged on caffeine to get me going in the morning and wine to bring me down in the evening. I’ve avoided little things — like shaving my legs– and big things– like buying a new computer when mine finally bit the dust. I’ve read so many books and cross stitched so many patterns I’ve lost count. And just like I’ve been counting boxes and threading a needle repeatedly, I’ve been transitioning methodically… from one stitch to another, one day to the next.

In keeping with theme, I planned out a yoga class last week that included transitioning from virabhadrasana III (warrior 3) to ardha chandrasana (half moon.) I instructed the students to move slowly and mindfully, to steady their breath and gaze, to stack their hips and send energy out like the five points of a star. Some moved gracefully, with little struggle to hold the balance, while others repeatedly stumbled as I encouraged them to try again– reminding them it’s ok to lose balance in a transition.

Tomorrow begins a new month, and I can feel a blooming in my belly along with the flowers in my front yard. I’ve gotten back to my physical yoga practice. I bought a new computer. I just returned from a trip to visit my sister in Charleston. I shed the fur coat from my shoulders. I sat down to write. It’s been 3 months since I’ve posted on here and while I’m tempted to apologize for my absence, I won’t this time. I simply lost my balance in a transition. As I was putting the twins down for their nap yesterday, one of them handed me a small paper book that had come with their monthly Highlight’s magazine to read. The last page read, “As the seasons go a-spinning– night to night and noon to noon. There is one thing that steadies us– the great and shining moon.”

Namasté,

yogi-nani

P.S. Here are some of those cross-stitches… taking orders now 😉

 

 

Allow me to re-introduce myself…

When I started this blog back in January, I had a very grand, yet specific plan for it. The header states proudly, ↑”the ultimate cheat sheet for yoga, childcare, and fun,” which I reiterated in my first post by writing, “this will be the most organized and sensible haven to come for all things related to yoga, childcare, food and fun.” And while it seemed helpful at first to have such a specific purpose when it came to my topics… it feels restrictive now. I’ve focused a lot on yoga, I’ve focused a lot on child care, and I’ve focused a lot on the combination of the two. And now, It’s hard to not feel redundant, when in reality, my life and my interests are not.

In the past 7 years, I have gone from a college graduate with a psychology degree➝ to a bartender and restaurant manager➝to a nanny and yoga instructor. And lately, I’ve gotten reeaaally into cross-stitching. I mean really into it… I do it more than yoga. Not that I’m going to make that a career now as well, but it’s something I’d maybe like to share, ya know? And while this platform didn’t seem like the place, I’ve started to think, “why not?” Why not just throw out the guidelines? Why not write about all my passions, instead of just a few? Why not share more instead of just some? I don’t plan on going completely rogue here… just expanding my blog horizons.

So, allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Cathleen and I live in Annapolis, MD. I’m a full-time nanny to adorable twin girls, a yoga instructor and eager student, an avid reader and sometimes writer, a cross-stitching fiend and crafty queen, and depending on the day a million other things. I love having a space to explore and share all of these interests and hope you’ll continue to follow along on this ever-expanding journey of mine.

Namasté,

yogi-nani

Back to School Breaths

Hello friends!

Is everyone else in disbelief it’s almost fall?? Not only did my summer fly by, but the bugaboos are about to turn two! They’re getting bigger and smarter by the minute and my job has become less nanny, more ring leader. And while I told myself I’d be resuming my Yoga Buds classes this fall, turns out doing that while also balancing a life, a job, a practice, AND planning a wedding is a lot for one plate (can I get a “HALLELUJAH!” from all my engaged and married ladies!?). It’s difficult to not be hard on myself for this decision (because, hellloooo, I’m lucky to be planning a destination wedding in the first place, reality check!), but in truth, it has left me feeling like I don’t have much to write about on a platform I originally started to share my experiences in my kid’s yoga classes. Thankfully, my best friend cut my absurd guilt/pity party/writer’s block short this past week.

My bestie, Kate, is a pre-school teacher, child whisperer, and the reason I started nannying.  Last week, we were talking about her back-to-school preparations, and how she recently attended a meeting about how to introduce meditation and mindfulness into her classroom. She had shown her coworkers my blog, and wanted to pick my brain for more ways to integrate a daily practice into their morning routine. *cue angels singing and the lightbulb going on* I may not have students of my own, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help other teachers with their students!

A few weeks back I had the chance to lead an 11-year-old’s SUP yoga birthday party. As you all know, I love to incorporate crafts in my kid’s classes, so we created Mala bracelets and necklaces with wooden beads after coming off the water. I called them ‘Breathing Beads’ and explained to the kids they can use their bracelets or necklaces to count their inhales and exhales; how simply counting their breaths can help calm their mind by pulling it away from outside distractions to focus on what’s on the inside. Kate’s request immediately reminded me of this mindfulness tool and set my mind spinning with ways to personalize it for preschoolers.

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The birthday party making their bracelets.

In addition to using them at the beginning of the day to settle in at school, I love the idea of encouraging their use throughout the day. The beads can stay in a special place to be taken out for silent time or can be used to provide comfort and focus if a child acts out or seems overwhelmed (similar to the “breather breaks” the bugaboos take as opposed to “time-outs). The beads can also be creative in size, shape, and texture to provide tactile stimulation or aid with lesson plans. For example, a rainbow meditation could be used while the kids hold each colored bead if the lesson plan is focused on colors and feelings. (Another great rainbow meditation can be found in the Yoga Pretzels card deck.) The possibilities are endless, and I hope this gave you some inspiration to practice mindfulness with your minis at home or with your students in the classroom!!

Namasté!

yogi-nani

Baby Yoga: Expectations vs. Reality

Hello friends!

Since beginning this blog, I’ve had multiple people reach out to me about writing a ‘Mommy and Me’ post detailing specific poses to practice at home with their mini-yogis. At the end of this post, you’ll find just that, but I also want to give a little background story that hopefully has some humble and helpful advice for all mommies, daddies, and nannies out there who are trying to get that precious partnered mat time with their babes.

I taught family yoga classes (ages 4-7 with a parent) in the past, but that time was cut short. Soon after beginning, I stopped. While I always felt the kids enjoyed the classes (and of course I always enjoyed the classes because of the kids), I couldn’t help but feel that most parents left disappointed because the class didn’t meet whatever expectations they had created for it. Even an old classmate of mine explained how she felt underwhelmed by how little she had interacted with her baby in her first experience with a ‘Mommy and Me’ class. I recognize and completely sympathize with this disappointment because I felt the same way after the first few family classes I taught. In March, I even wrote about how I was disappointed with my kid’s classes because they weren’t meeting my expectations. I was throwing out whole lesson plans within the first 5 seconds of class based on the energy levels and attention spans in the room. I learned the hard way to go with the flow… to treat each moment on the mat with little ones, as new, fresh, and unpredictable. When people ask me, ‘How do you get kids to do yoga for an hour?’ my response is, ‘I don’t.’ I no longer set ANY expectations when it comes to practicing yoga (with or without babies), and neither should you.

Some days I can touch my toes in a forward fold, and other days my hamstrings yell at me. Some days the babies want to join me on my mat, and other days, they want nothing to do with it. But when they DO decide to join me, I try to make it fun for all of us… whether it be singing songs while holding a pose, using them as props, or allowing them to climb all over me like little monkeys. Below are the yoga poses I’ve tried out with the twins. I hope you enjoy trying them out as much as we have and I’ll continue to post more as the girls continue to grow!

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Push-Ups (top left): Lying on your back, engage your abdominals to flatten your lower back to the mat and lift and lower your babe. 
Leg Lifts (top right): Balancing on your sit bones, flex your feet to cradle your baby on your ankles, hold hands, and lift and lower your feet to the floor. Play around by lifting your legs high enough that your baby can somersault onto your stomach.
** (bottom) I’ll also combine the leg lifts and push-ups with the twins, but this can get pretty tricky and requires A LOT of abdominal work to balance on the sit bones.
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Cat/Cow/Camel (top left): Place your babe on your back and use one hand to provide support while moving through cat/cows.
Baby Bridge Lifts (top right): Lying on your back, place your babe on your lower belly and hold hands as you lift your hips into a bridge. *Be very mindful of your lower back.
Goddess Squats (bottom): Cradle your babe in your arms as you straighten and bend your knees into a goddess squat.
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Plank to Downward Dog (top left): Place your baby on your mat beneath you and come into a plank position. As you lift your hips and come into a downward dog, blow raspberries on your babe’s belly. (I sing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down.’)
Sit-Ups (top right): If you can get your babe to stay still for long, place him/her on your legs as an additional weight while you lower and lift your low back to the mat. Your hands reach to the sky as you lift and move to your sides as you lower.
Double Boat (bottom): Hold hands and put the soles of your feet together while balancing on your sit bones. (I sing ‘Row Your Boat.’)

Namasté!

yogi-nani

 

 

 

Just. Keep. Breathing.

Hello all!

Thanks again for your continued patience! I spent all of last week typing and deleting the first sentence of this post, endlessly distracted by the ticking blue lights of the baby monitor (that were in tune with my rising blood pressure). Has anyone ever heard of baby/toddler sleep regressions? Yup, me neither! If you’re with me, educate yourself with this article. The twins’ mom found it and sent it along to me … And here we were thinking temper tantrums were enough to put us over the edge. If you ever experience this nightmare, take solace in the fact it will come to an end. Thankfully, our bedtime/naptime battle only lasted a week, so I’ll get on with sharing some breathing exercises for you and your littles, since they certainly helped me this past week.

Before I dive in, I want you to tap into your breath. Right this moment. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest (just below the collar bones). For 5 to 10 breaths, simply watch how your breath fills your body. Is it filling your chest or your belly? I ask this because most of us are completely unaware of our own breathing habits and their repercussions. When you breathe into your chest, you’re taking shallow breaths that induce stress. When you use your diaphragm, you pull the oxygen into your lower lungs where there is more oxygen exchanged with the blood, which calms the nervous system. This post by ‘In Pursuit of Yoga’ does an amazing job at explaining the differences between the two.

In yoga, we’re constantly being reminded to bring awareness to our breath because we want to maintain a diaphragmatic breath (unless we’re practicing other breathing techniques, but that’s for another day). Below are a few of my favorite exercises to strengthen the diaphragm and train ourselves to breathe in the most beneficial manner for our mind and body…


Diaphragmatic Breath in Crocodile Pose:

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  1. Roll up a blanket and come down on to your belly, placing the blanket just below the collar bones and tucking the ends under your side ribs. (This prevents the chest from moving and gives the belly a slight lift away from the floor.)
  2. Stack the forearms to create a pillow for the forehead to rest on.
  3. As you inhale, observe how the belly inflates and meets the floor, the lower ribs expand and push into the blanket, and the back gently lifts … as you exhale, the navel draws back towards the spine as all these areas contract. Notice how there is no movement in the chest region.
  4. For as long as you wish, continue to focus on these deep breaths and how each inhale flows into the exhale without pause or sound. The breath will take on a natural, steady rhythm that creates a sense of calm in the body and promotes relaxation.

Diaphragmatic Breath in Corpse Pose:

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  1. Come down onto your back with your arms resting at the sides and your feet relaxed and falling out towards the bottom corners of the mat… perhaps place a thin cushion under the head to support the neck and a small object on the belly to direct your focus. (I call these “breathing buddies” when I’m teaching this exercise in kids’ yoga.)
  2. Soften the abdomen and become an observer of your breath, witnessing the rise and fall of the belly on each inhalation and exhalation. Remember, you are making no effort to “puff up” the abdomen, it occurs naturally with the movement of the diaphragm.
  3. In this pose, the abdomen moves with minimal movement from the lower ribs and low back.
  4. Rest your awareness on the cycle of breath for about 10 minutes or so. The breath becoming deep, smooth, and continuous… without pause and without sound.

When you are finished with either of these exercises, take a full body stretch to “wake up” the body.


While they may seem easy and straightforward, they’re more challenging than you’d expect. Bringing awareness to the breath can often cause us to make changes to it rather than allow it to flow freely, especially if we’re in the habit of using our chest muscles to breathe. Regardless of your experience with pranayama, or breath training, I highly suggest practicing these exercises a few times to reap their endless benefits.

Namasté!

yogi-nani

 

Taking a “Breather Break”

Hello all!

I’ve come to the official conclusion that “The Terrible Twos” should be renamed “The Terrible Indeterminate Age Range.” This realization coming from the fact that the twins have started to throw temper tantrums.

Fortunately, it’s only one of them that is actually throwing full blown temper tantrums. Unfortunately, I swear she’s harnessing the energy of the other one to really blow up. But maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. She does, however, end up working herself into such a frenzy she starts hiccuping for breath. At this age, they’re too young to really understand what a “time out” is, and in my experience, they don’t really work anyway. Luckily, I read this article a while back which prepared me for my “tasmanian tot.”

I call their time-outs “breather breaks” and “alone time.” I know it isn’t always best to give tots options, but I’ve actually had success thus far with this course of action. “Alone time” means they can cry it out in their crib and collect themselves alone. A “breather break” means they sit in their elephant chair and we take deep breaths till we can work it out together. Here is a play-by- play of how it usually goes …

  • D grabs a toy out of H’s hand
  • H grabs it back and runs away
  • D throws herself onto the floor in a fit of rage
  • I say, “Since H had the toy first, you can have it when H is done playing with it”– adding fuel to the fire
  • I ignore her for a minute or two (sometimes she gets up and carries on like nothing happened, other times she continues to act like the world is ending)
  • If she continues to carry on….
    ME: ‘Do you need alone time?’ D (invariably gets it together enough to mutter): ‘No.’ ME: “Would you like a breather break, then?’ D: ‘No.” ME (making the decision for her): ‘Alone time, then.’ D: ‘NOOOOOO!!’ ME: ‘OK, let’s sit and take some breaths then.” D: ‘Ok.’
  • She sits down and we either hold hands and inhale our arms up and exhale them down, or we place our hands on our bellies and watch our breath move our hands. Her vocabulary is obviously still pretty limited, but I acknowledge she’s upset and ask if she can try to communicate better rather than acting out.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been grappling to stay on track with this blog, yoga, and life in general, and some days are easier than others. I know my prefrontal cortex is more developed than the twins, but sometimes, I also feel like I’m on the brink of a major toddler-esque meltdown. Yesterday was the first Sunday in months that I didn’t teach a kids yoga class, or even have set dates for future classes on my calendar. I love teaching my Yoga Buds, but in addition to low class attendance, I’ve been feeling a disconnect with my personal practice. Ultimately, I’ve decided to treat my impending tantrum the same way I would with the twins… by taking a “breather break.”

Ok, maybe not in the same exact fashion… there will be no elephant chair, but there will be a break and a lot of deep breaths. I’m a firm believer the universe conspires to give us what we need, and just when I decided to put my kids classes on hold, I was offered a rotating position teaching “Community Yoga and Meditation” 945AM Sundays at Avalon Yoga in Catonsville and a permanent position teaching “Foundations of Yoga” 6PM Tuesdays at Prana Yoga Studio in Annapolis. In addition, I’ll be teaching SUP yoga throughout the summer at CapitalSUP in Annapolis. For now, I’ll be replacing games and galavanting with getting back to the basics because regardless of age or emotional maturity, we all need to pause, connect, and breathe.

In my next post, I plan on sharing some breathing exercises I have found helpful in Yoga Buds, with the twins, and for myself. Stay tuned and Namasté!

yogi-nani