Sound Baths, Cosmic Naps and Animal Sounds with ATX Yoga Girl
How tragedy inspired a beloved Austin kids' yoga teacher, then launched her into sound baths and mindfulness for all
Known to friends as Cynthia Aguillón Bernard, she’s Miss Cynthia to her youngest students, who are still in diapers. Bernard keeps kids on their toes with a busy schedule for not just tots, but also kids, through group classes, in-the-home yoga, and kids camps.
Michelle Inguanzo’s son, now age six, started taking classes with Cynthia when he was two years-old.
“He’s been practicing breathing exercises with her since he was a baby,” said Inguanzao. “Now he’ll say ‘I need some deep breaths.’ In the car the other day he said, ‘Mom I’m gonna do some rainbow breathing to help me feel more relaxed because I’m feeling a little nervous.’”
Rainbow breathing? A technique he learned from Miss Cynthia.
More rooted than a tree. More rounded than a cat. She’s not a superhero. She’s ATX Yoga Girl, toddler yoga teacher.
So how exactly do you teach yoga to kids? Animal movements, said Bernard. “You name poses differently. Let them make sounds. There’s a lot more whimsical movement. You don’t expect them to stay on the mat and be still,” she said.
Family yoga looks like partner poses, being silly together, and sound elements. And bubbles! For toddlers, lots of bubbles. Each youth class is designed differently depending on the age of the children in it, too.
Ultimately, ATX Yoga Girl wants to help children accept their emotions. She believes that no emotion is intrinsically good or bad, and hopes to teach kids how to move their bodies to move those emotions.
“I was an anxious kiddo,” she told us, on the Soho House rooftop. “If only I’d had this when I was younger. If every child could learn diaphragmatic breathing, the world would change,” she said.
Here and there she has encountered resistance. At an East Side school in the Austin Independent School District, families were opposed to their children learning yoga, fearing that it represented a religious practice or indoctrination. Lots of information had to be sent out to allay their anxiety.
Perhaps because of experiences like these, Bernard says she rarely uses the word yoga, opting for mindfulness and mindful meditation to represent her work instead. And overall, the community embrace of her work has been profound.
Maybe you heard of her classes at Pease Park, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, or Zilker Botanical Garden. Maybe you know people sending their kids to her camps at Casa de Luz.
Erin Ungar said she’s been sending her kids to work with ATX Yoga Girl for years. Ungar described a habit of asking her children how they could manage foreseeable discomfort and being surprised by the answers. They were strategies they learned on the mat.
Sometimes those strategies are breathing techniques, and other times they are mantras. “Peace begins with me,” for example, was one Ungar child brought up at home.
Tragedy and Transformation
Born in Victoria, Texas to a Catholic family where prayer was embedded in the fabric of togetherness, Bernard says a brief childhood hospitalization made her want to be a nurse and help others as much as her nurse helped her. Later, having taken up dance, she decided she wanted to become a dancer; maybe even a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. As a yoga instructor, she combines both the nurturing and movement aspects of those early experiences.
Bernard’s life as ATX Yoga Girl, however, did not emerge until after the unexpected and tragic loss of a partner 11 years ago. At that point, deep into a decades-long career as an educator with Estee Lauder, she was unmoored. She developed adult onset anxiety, something that must have felt familiar from her young years, but also more pointed.
A friend suggested she try yoga, and Bernard found herself taking class every day for a year. The modality facilitated deep healing, but Bernard acknowledges that she could have gone in many other directions. After a trip to Bali and a few teacher trainings, she saw a clear vision of what she wanted to do – share healing with others.
When we first met Bernard, she was offering a yoga class and sound bath on the rooftop of the Colton House Hotel. Adult yoga classes, she said, grew out of teaching children and family classes, because the parents requested it.
As part of the celebration, she invited Latinitas, a group with a mission to teach children about STEM education and create digital equity. The class, and the entire quarter, would help Bernard donate to Latinitas, one of many non-profits she’s sought to benefit from the creation of ATX Yoga Girl.
On the rooftop of the Colton House, she concluded the hour with a sound bath. It’s the same for her kids’ classes, but the kids always get to play with the sound elements at the end of class too, she said. In fact, sound baths are how lots of people are drawn to ATX Yoga Girl.
Sound Baths and Cosmic Naps
Since the pandemic, her most requested class has been for sound baths, she told us. A few Colton House attendees knew her from the sound baths – which Bernard also calls “Cosmic Naps” – at the Rowing Dock, where she hosts them monthly.
“My first sound bath was an out-of-body experience,” she told us later, about a class she took eight years ago, while she was still dating her husband. Today, she’s been featured on Camila Alves McConaughey’s Women of Today website, and recently won the Austin Monthly Best of ATX award for Sound Baths.
“Tibetan metal bowls have been used for centuries for healing and meditation,” explained Bernard. In her own classes, she uses crystal singing bowls, shells, chimes, and other instruments.
“Sound is an anchor for the mind to go to,” she said.
James Butler, Mindfulness Campus Coordinator for the University of Texas, told us ATX Yoga Girl will lead a sound bath for students in the Blanton Museum during an upcoming mindfulness conference. Butler also worked with Bernard in his former role as Mindfulness Specialist with AISD.
“Her overall energy is healing in and of itself,” he said.
Growth and Change
Bernard’s niche in mobile wellness, time spent instructing in the home for whole families restricted during the pandemic, was inspired by her husband’s own mobile holistic veterinary practice, Even Flow Veterinary & Acupuncture. (Yes, he’s a huge Pearl Jam fan.) But she wants kids to have more access to mindfulness practice.
She’s proud of the potential to reach a global audience through kids yoga videos for Yoga with Adriene Mishler – Mishler is a big personal influence on Bernard, along with Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra – but she’s found herself unable to keep up with the demand for her own time.
To fix the issue, Bernard says she is creating a new program to mentor kids’ yoga teachers. Launching the program at the end of October, she plans to feature the teachers on her site, creating opportunities for them, and sharing the mission when she cannot teach every single class herself.
Mentorship will help other teachers learn to establish relationships with institutions that facilitate the spread of that message and the healing modalities. Currently, Bernard has yoga programs for kids at Headwaters, Girls School of Austin, and American Youthworks. She also has her own kid’s mindfulness camps and after-school programs at Casa De Luz. She nurtured these relationships so that the programs could exist, and wants to teach those skills to kids yoga teachers too.
In the meantime, she’s out in the community, cueing deep breaths.
Learn more about her upcoming sessions at atxyogagirl.com. She’ll see you on the mat!