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

March Madness

Hello friends!

I was drawing a blank on a theme for Yoga Buds this week when I came across this post on YoYo Yoga School for March Madness Yoga. While I’m not a huge follower of college basketball, I knew it would be the perfect lesson plan to talk about what collegiate athletes and yogis have in common… a lot of practice. I also decided it would be the perfect class to use my new nifty balloon inflating toy, but I quickly regretted that decision.

After our ‘Welcome Song,’  I mentioned the NCAA Championship and asked if anyone had a favorite team. In attendance were two brothers and their younger sister, and to my surprise, not only were they watching the tournament, but they were all rooting for Gonzaga-“Dad’s favorite.” We talked about what it takes to make a great basketball team and then I pulled out the balloon inflater, which gave a whole new meaning to “March Madness.” The class swiftly went from being basketball oriented to a “who could burst their balloon first” competition. To get the class back on track, everyone held their balloon like a basketball as we moved through yoga poses, but as usual, my plan took another unexpected turn. IMG_3372

As we were about to begin warm-ups, the kids thought it would be funny to rub the balloons in their hair and stick them to their shirts rather than hold them. I decided to run with it and we saw how many poses we could move through without the balloon dropping. Then, we played around with keeping the ball up in the air before moving onto a game that incorporated more yoga poses.

I set up a game that looked similar to Skee Ball with the use of hula hoops and a yoga wheel. After the kids were situated in a circle around the hoops, I handed them each three pom-pom balls. They each took turns tossing their pom poms into the hoops. If they made it into one, they picked a card from the Yoga Pretzels deck and had to hold the pose for a designated time; the center hoop was 5 seconds, middle was 10, and outer was 15. Finally, we moved to our craft for the day.

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I found this craft here, and felt like I had hit the jackpot. Any craft that also functions as a game is a tiny blessing in my book. However, I did make a few adjustments to the supplies (you can check them out on the cheat sheet), since the original post had issues with sturdiness. The kids got to decorate the backboards, assemble the parts, and shoot some hoops before we laid down for final relaxation. I may not have had a Final Four favorite at the start of class, but…

Go Gonzaga and Namasté!

yogi-nani

Mindfulness and Mandalas

 

Hello friends!

If you haven’t noticed from previous posts, I love alliteration. I also love coloring and crafting (see what I did there). So to celebrate the month of March (although I guess May would have worked too), the kiddos and I practiced mindfulness and colored mandalas, which just so happen to be two of my favorite activities.

While there are many amazing mandala coloring books, I went the cheap/easy route by printing off free ones I found online. When the kids arrived, I had them laid out along with markers, colored pencils, and crayons (which also successfully kept the kids occupied while I got everyone signed in). Once we were ready to get started, the kids slid their mandalas under their mats to come back to at the end of class. Then, as always, we began with our ‘Welcome Song.’

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After welcoming everyone into the space, I had them all close their eyes and listen to the noises around them. They heard everything: from the cars outside, to the heating unit, to each other’s breaths. Then, I had them place their hands on their own bellies to observe the movements of their own breath – to notice the expansion of their bellies on the inhale as well as the deflation on the exhale. I told them how this is a perfect way to practice mindfulness, since mindfulness is simply being aware and focusing. I pointed out how they practiced mindfulness before class even started by trying to stay inside the lines of their mandalas, and how mandala means ‘circle.’ After pointing out mandalas around the room – the clock, our eyeballs, the overhead fans, the prints on a yoga mat –  we jumped into warmups.

Sun salutations became a ‘moving mandala.’ We flowed through three and then came to seated to create mandalas with our bodies. I placed a hula hoop in the center of our group circle and we practiced poses that would look like a human mandala from above. Then, of course, we had some fun with the hula hoop.

As our group game for the day, I had everyone come to standing and hold hands. I placed the hula hoop in the crook of my elbow and joined the circle. The aim of the game was to move the hula hoop around the circle and back without letting go of each other. After we finished, we came back down to our mats for final crafts.

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Before we got back to our individual mandalas, we created one together. Everyone picked out a crayon and I started it by drawing a flower in the center of a piece of paper. Each student then added a pattern radiating from the center point until we filled the page. Afterwards, they had the option to finish coloring their own or create another with the supplies I had brought with me.

To finish, we laid down on our mats with our heads together to create one final mandala for savasana. As a perfect parting snack and special take home treat, I offered clementines to show once again how mandalas can be found everywhere, even in the foods we eat!

Mindfulness and Mandalas

Namasté!

yogi-nani

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day

Hello friends!

If you know me outside of this blog space, you probably know that St. Patrick’s Day is my favorite holiday. I like to call it my family’s “Christmas in March.” Ever since I was a wee lassie, my parents have thrown an epic party on March 17th. My mom cooks over 200 hundred pounds of corned beef, my dad’s bagpipe band provides entertainment, and friends, family, and strangers (my Dad likes to extend the invitation to anyone he comes in contact with that week) come from far and wide for the celebration! Needless to say, I was just a tad excited to share this holiday with my Yoga Buds.

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As we welcomed each other in “circle time” this week, I asked each student to share their favorite holiday. When it was my turn, I said, “President’s Day!” Juuust kidding, but I do feel the need to share that one little girl said, “Father’s Day because it’s like an extra birthday for my Dad and I love him so much.” After I regained composure from melting into an emotional puddle, we began class.

Our warm-up this week was something I like to call the “wake up wiggles.” Starting at the head and working their way down to the toes, I had the kids massage and wiggle certain areas of the body to wake them up. Once the entire body was awake, we did an Irish jig to make sure we didn’t miss any spots. Then, we stretched with “rainbow breaths.” From a standing position, I asked them to bend their knees and place their hands on the outside of one of their feet. On an inhale, they swept their arms in an arch overhead, and as they exhaled, their hands came to land on the outside of the opposite foot. With each arch, they pretended to paint a color of the rainbow across the sky. We then came to seated for a little story time yoga.

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This weekend, we read “Lucky Tucker” by Leslie McGuirk. Tucker is a dog who rolls in a leprechaun’s bed of clovers and ends up having the luckiest day of his life. As I read the book, I paused every few pages so we could translate the story into yoga poses. For example, we did downward dog for Tucker, tree pose with one foot doing a jig for the leprechaun, and bow pose for a pot of gold. After building some strength, it was time to put it to the test with a “rainbow relay.”

My early class was a bit smaller and competed as individuals, but my late class was bigger and broke up into teams. I placed foam sticks (every color of the rainbow) at one end of the room for each team and had the kids line up their yoga mats at the other end of the room. The object of the game was to get the foam sticks back to their mats and put them in the correct order of the colors of the rainbow. Each trip to the foam sticks required a different type of movement or obstacle; i.e. crab walks, standing twists on a blanket, or walking on blocks. Finally, we ended class with a simple shamrock craft using green pipe cleaners and rainbow beads.

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Each week brings new faces, new challenges, and a renewed sense of why I’m doing this… and I’m feeling pretty darn lucky.

St. Patrick’s Day Yoga

Sláinte and Namasté!

yogi-nani

Kids Yoga: Expectations vs Reality

Hello friends!

I was going to do my usual weekly post and cheat sheet about my kids yoga class, but I’m just not feeling it this week. I’ve been having a conflict lately between the expectations I hold for my classes and the reality of them. I want to teach classes at my ‘home’ studio in Catonsville, but the travel and attendance can be discouraging… and I want to teach classes in Annapolis, but having to promote them can be discouraging. (Any sort of self-promotion – in all honesty – makes me uncomfortable, but I’m learning it’s a necessity). I also find myself planning classes expecting  that I’ll have more than just a few students, but then the reality of my expectation hits when only two or three students arrive.

All month I’ve had low attendance in my Catonsville classes; this past week was no exception with only two students. Just as I was accepting it would only be my niece and I practicing together, the second student came tumbling in to the studio like a ball of energy with the biggest smile on her face. Her mom looked at me relieved and said, “Oh thank goodness, it’s finally time. She’s been staring at the clock since 9:30 this morning.” I had planned on talking about satya, or honesty, for the day, but as we moved into our warm-ups, the ball of energy stopped me and asked, “Can we just dance?” In that moment, I decided to throw all expectations for the class out the door. If I was going to teach about satya, I was going to need to be honest with myself first – I may pre-plan my classes and I may expect to have more students, but it isn’t always going to go as planned and growth isn’t going to happen overnight… it’s going to require a lot of patience and work. So we danced. My two students burst into a fit of giggles and we all twirled around the room until we landed on our mats in a heap of heavy breathing.

Later that day, I had my first Yoga Buds class at Prana Studio in Annapolis. I’d like to say I maintained the care-free attitude I had cultivated in my earlier class, but then again, reality. I was expecting around six students due to emails I had received, but only half showed. I was also expecting everyone to be just a littttle more enthusiastic about being there. When my third and final student arrived just as class was about to begin, she was reluctant to say the least. I could tell mom was just as reluctant to stay for fear of being a hindrance, so I suggested that the two of them sit and watch in the back of class. If her daughter eventually wanted to join in, she was more than welcome. It took less than five minutes before she began to scoot herself closer and finally made her way to her mat. My lesson plan went swimmingly; I taught them the ‘Welcome Song,’ how to do a sun salutation and the warrior sequence, and we ended class decorating ‘Namaste Candles.’ When the kids rejoined their parents in the lobby to go home, I heard two of them tell their moms they wanted to come back.

This is satya. I do spend a lot of time planning out my classes and it is discouraging when only two or three students show, but rather than setting my expectations too high, I’m going to work on accepting the realities of my situation. Because I may only have a few students in my class, and I may have a hesitant participant, and I may need to change my lesson plan, but hearing just one student look up to their mom or dad and say, ‘I want to do yoga again,‘ is more than enough.

Namasté!

yogi-nani