It’s Universal Children’s Day! (November 20)

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Today (November 20) is Universal Children’s Day, a day on which children’s rights, welfare, and empowerment are highlighted as internationally important issues.

All children deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and love.  This is why Your Sunshine makes it our mission to empower all children and help them realize their immense worth and potential.  Kids should all get a chance to be shown that they have gifts and abilities to be unlocked, regardless of any disability or special needs they may have.

Our social, emotional, physical, and recreational programs and activities all help contribute positively to the well-being and development of youth and adolescents. 

We seek to not only make the world a better, more positive place for the children we serve, we hope to provide them with the means to grow and in turn bring their own positivity to the world.

Remember today to think of all children and our responsibility to nurture and guide them.

Jewelry-making Workshop (Nov. 11)

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Last Saturday, Your Sunshine held a jewelry making workshop for individuals of all ages. Everyone who joined us had the chance to relax, eat pizza, make new friends, work on their hand eye coordination, and create some beautiful pieces of jewelry.

At the workshop, there were crystals and natural stone beads provided to create unique pieces of jewelry. It was amazing to see everyone having fun while focusing on the pieces they were making. We hope everyone had a great time at our workshop!

Here are some moments shared with all the wonderful people at Saturday’s jewelry making workshop–

Anastasia Martynova Certified in Strong by Zumba

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Martynova was certified at the One World Fitness Conference by Master Trainer Renee Pickett.

By Tallie Dameron

Anastasia Martynova is the founder of Your Sunshine, which is based on the discovery of “inner sunshine.” Discovering your inner sunshine should bring out joy, cheer, and greater potential from within. Martynova founded the organization to make the dreams of children, youth and adults with special needs come true by unfolding their talents and creativity.

Martynova grew up as a child with special needs so she knows what it feels like to be different from others. While facing her own challenges, she developed a compassion towards all individuals with special needs. She is now devoted to programs and curriculum for people with special needs to develop skills, talents and lasting friendships.

Martynova is a successful entrepreneur, teacher, and yoga instructor. She recently became certified in Strong by Zumba by Master Trainer Renee Pickett. This was at the One World Fitness Conference on Oct. 22.

Strong by Zumba is based on high intensity interval training with synced music that combines body weight, muscle conditioning and cardio. Despite her challenges, Martynova remained strong and believed in herself, which helped her reach this impressive goal.

“It was a privilege to learn the life journey of Renee Pickett, who is one of the initiators of Strong by Zumba. She is dedicated to help others live a healthier and happier life,” Martynova said.

Renee Pickett from Strong by Zumba is a cheerful and uplifting person that always has a smile on her face.  Despite her tough personality and success, she was told as a child that she would need to use a walker and give up any intense activities. Pickett never gave up on her dream and kept progressing with her health by working hard and doing physical therapy. She is now a mother, personal trainer, and Master Trainer by Zumba Fitness. She achieved all of this by overcoming fear and stayingpositive.

“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. No challenges should stop you from unlocking your gift. We are all special and unique,” Pickett said.

The key to overcoming a health challenge is to keep moving despite the challenges. Martynova and Pickett are perfect examples of staying positive and working hard to achieve life goals. Both of these women are successful despite the challenges they faced throughout their lives, and that should be motivation for anyone struggling to reach goals.

Renee Pickett: The Power of Perseverance

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Renee Picket (right) with Your Sunshine founder Anastasia Martynova,

A Profile of a Strong By Zumba Master Trainer

By Tallie Dameron

Renee Pickett is proof that if you don’t give up on your goals, they will come true. When Pickett was a kid, doctors told her that she would need a walker and should never be apart of intense activities. She did not let that hold her back and was strong enough to overcome the fear, frustration and sadness that came with her journey. She started doing physical therapy and slowly progressed with her health.

Pickett is now a mother, personal trainer and master trainer by Zumba Fitness. Zumba is a high intensity workout with synced music that combines weight, muscle conditioning, and cardio. She went from being told she should never be a part of intense activities to training others to be healthy and strong.

Pickett believes that the key to overcome any health challenge is to keep moving despite all of the challenges you face. She is an empowering, cheerful woman who always has a smile on her face.

“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. No challenges should stop you from unlocking your gift. We are all special and unique. Set goals, achieve, progress,” Pickett said.

Pickett has truly dedicated her life to help others live healthy and happy while overcoming challenges. She is proof that if you overcome fear and work hard, your dreams can come true.

Three October Activities Your Kids Will Love

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Fall is here!

October is the quintessential month of fall. The weather is getting cooler, the colors are beginning to change, and the holidays are just around the corner.  It’s the perfect time to get outside and enjoy quality time with loved ones.

Here are three fun and engaging activities to enjoy with your children to get the most out of the fall season.  

Prince William Forest Park

1. Visit A Local Park

Northern Virginia is home to countless beautiful parks.  There is hardly a better time to enjoy nature than in October as the leaves change.  The beauty of many of our state parks in Virginia is nothing short of breathtaking this time of year!  Whether you sit down for a relaxing family picnic or get in some exercise with a scenic hike on the trails, there are a number of parks in the area your family can enjoy on a fall day.

Some of the larger parks in northern Virginia include Prince William Forest Park, Burke Lake, Lake Fairfax, Great Falls, and Leesylvania.

Visit the parks’ .gov web pages for more information on each of their unique features!

2. Attend a Fall Festival

Even if the spookier Halloween attractions are not a good fit for your child, this doesn’t mean the holiday’s festivities cannot be enjoyed.  October brings festivals with a variety of all-ages activities: hayrides, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, slides, and much more! 

They are being held at countless local venues throughout the whole month of October.  Be on the lookout and pick out the one best suited for you and your child.

3. Get Artistic with a Seasonal Project

Pumpkin carving is a perfect fall project for kids for various reasons.  It is fun, therapeutic, and involves a number of important skills; coordination, following instructions, and creative skills are all aspects of pumpkin carving that can benefit your child.  

A safe alternative to carving to consider is painting.  It is just as fun and creative as carving, but may it be more suitable for younger children.

Halloween costumes are another great opportunity to help your child express themselves and be creative.  A fun DIY alternative to buying a Halloween costume for you child is to supervise them in making their own.

Here are some examples of what can be done easily (and often at a low cost) at home.  You could even see what you can put together from the household supplies you already have.  Projects like this are great ways to spend quality time with family.

October is a month ripe with opportunities for family fun.  Be sure to take full advantage of the activities this unique time of year has in store!

The Importance of Mental Health Support for Youth and Adolescents

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World Mental Health Day was last week, so now is a good time to reflect on how key the issue of mental health is for youth.  Anxiety and depression can affect anyone at any time of their life, and some people need extra support and love to cope with these issues.

It is important to know how depression may look in children in order make sure they get the help they need.  Prolonged lows, compulsive behavior, frequent physical pains or aches, and trouble sleeping are all signs indicating that a child may be dealing with depression and/or anxiety.  Some loved ones of depressed adolescents decide to let these problems linger without treatment so they will “go away on their own”.  However, understanding and support are key to assure the child can cope and the issues do not become more entrenched.  Catching an issue early and getting help from a professional is often the better course of action.

Another important set of symptoms to look for in children are signs of panic attacks.  Symptoms often include an intense dread accompanied with physical symptoms of hyperventilation, chest pain, nausea, sweating, and fast heart rate.  Some children may describe it as feeling like something terrible is happening, but that they have trouble articulating what is wrong.  Similar to depression, a child with this issue requires support.  The child should be monitored and calmed so they can breath properly and return to a baseline state.  It must be remembered that one should never dismiss the sufferer’s feelings when it comes to panic attacks.  Understanding is key to helping a child through this issue.

Youth and adolescents can also benefit from sharing with one another.  There is oftentimes a stigma felt by those suffering from mental health issues, and they feel they must suffer quietly on their own.  However, young people with similar issues may benefit more from sharing their struggles.  It puts less emphasis on the stigma of having an “illness” and lets them see that they are not alone in dealing with these issues.  Some areas of country are incorporating programs addressing this, and focusing on empathy and mental wellness appears to be an approach worth pursuing.

No one should feel like they must suffer quietly when it comes to mental health issues.  Youth can certainly learn how to better to cope with depression and anxiety, provided they receive the help and understanding they need.

Overstimulated and Overwhelmed: Sensory Overload, Anxiety, and Depression

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What is sensory overload, what are its effects, and how can you relieve it?

Sometimes, the world around us can be overwhelming.

Sensory overload is the term used to describe an abundance of stimuli that is intolerable and causes one confusion and/or anxiety.  Evidence is increasingly showing that overstimulation is a major factor leading to anxiety and depression. This is especially true for those more sensitive to stimuli.

This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.

Overstimulation can take quite a toll.  Anxiety and stress has a number of detrimental physical and mental symptoms.  The immediate sensory overload can build into intense sensory issues (affecting all five senses adversely).  This is because the stress response (or “fight or flight” mode) triggered leads to changes from the body’s normal functions that are excessive and exhausting if too frequent.  Muscle and nerve sensations can be felt, as well.  Muscle tension leads to aches, pains, and sometimes even mobility issues.  Additionally, the heavy anxiety that comes from overstimulation can result in feelings of helplessness and cause depression.  In other words, the resulting anxiety and depression can become a negative loop that builds and builds.

This overload can be worse for certain individuals than others.  For example, introverts, individuals with autism, and those with sensory sensitivities (such as Sensory Processing Disorder) all have more difficulty than most avoiding overstimulation.  Recent research suggests that for those with autism, this is because their brains are actually hyper-functional and thus more easily overwhelmed by stimuli.  Social overstimulation in particular can affect both those with autism and more introverted individuals.

Some individuals in these categories experience what is known as a sensory meltdown.  In sensitive children and some individuals with autism, these meltdowns involve anything from shutting down, to a panic attack, or to what can appear to be a “tantrum.”  It depends on the individual how they will react.  A certain “sensory diet” may need to be provided for these individuals with greater sensitivity.  This would mean regulating their environment and schedules to be as tailored to their issues as possible.  It is important for parents or loved ones of these individuals to be supportive and responsive to the person’s sensory sensitivities.

There are some general methods of dealing with sensory overload.  It helps if one makes sure to take breaks when possible, and finds a balance based on their limits in regards to stimulation.  Of course, a general way to avoid overstimulation would be to use said breaks to get away from the stimuli causing overload.  If the problem is excessive noise, for example, one could find a quiet space to recover.  Meditation, deep breathing, and activities such as yoga can also help decrease unnecessary arousal.  These help in part due to the mindfulness, or the brain’s ability to stay in the present moment, they help develop and strengthen.  They help your brain get away from the habits of excessive multi-tasking.  The Pomodoro Technique, or working intensely in short, timed bursts can aid in avoiding these issues, as well.

Sensory overload is a serious issue that can affect our physical and mental well-being greatly. Therefore, it is important to be aware of how stress affects yourself or your loved one, and to engage in methods to reduce overstimulation whenever possible.

Your Sunshine to Offer Adapted Yoga and Mindfulness Program in October

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Your Sunshine will offer a yoga and mindfulness program this fall, taught by Anastasia Martynova and adapted for special needs individuals.

Your Sunshine, based in Oakton, VA, is a nonprofit organization offering programs aimed at instructing special needs individuals in order to empower them and unlock their uniques skills and potentials’. Among the various programs that will be offered this fall is Adapted Sunshine Yoga and Mindfulness. The sessions, adapted for students with special needs, will be taught by organization president and co-founder Anastasia Martynova.

As a certified (kids, adults, and special needs) yoga instructor, Ms. Martynova is committed to guiding students through experiencing the deep meaning behind yoga practices. Her goal through her organization’s programs is to give each student the tools for self-acceptance and self-love. Having grown up as a child with special needs herself, Martynova gained significant insights through her experiences. She thus has a particular understanding of and dedication towards children and youth with special needs. Martynova sees the importance of looking beyond limitations in order to reach one’s full potential. She is devoted to delivering her organization’s programs to help special needs individuals develop their talents and skills, highlight their self-worth, live well and productively, and feel the support of community.

The adapted yoga and mindfulness sessions includes a sequence of yoga poses (all of which modifications are offered for), breathing techniques, color therapy, self-massage, positive self-talk therapy, and mindful relaxation techniques. The aim of these techniques is for all students to achieve the benefits, such as mind-body alignment and improved stamina and balance, that these practices cultivate.

Other special needs programs offered by Your Sunshine include dance and movement therapy, social skills groups, conquering anxiety, and back to nature.

More information on Your Sunshine’s classes and events can be found at or on the organization Facebook page. All first-time students are able to sign up for any class for free with the Class Pass shown above. Those wishing to sign up for Adaptive Yoga and Mindfulness (or any other classes) can contact Your Sunshine by phone at (202) 317-0496 or via email at

Anastasia Martynova on Working With Kids Through Your Sunshine

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By Anastasia Martynova

“When I look at the kids, I see kids: their smile, innocence, and pure heart. I don’t focus on a disability or label; instead I see the precious and wonderful blessing of their lives. I admire their beauty, their joy, and their happiness for every moment.

When I was growing up as a child with special needs, I learned to cry tears of joy for all of life’s lessons and to smile with serenity during the tough times in my life. I realized that challenges make me stronger and guide me on my path and life purpose. I am grateful for the different journey life prepared for me. No diagnosis or label can define the depth of pure heart or gifts and talents.

Life is like a storm full of experiences, emotions, and feelings. My hope and belief is so strong; everything is possible with the power of determination and unconditional love. Everything starts with love. Love is infinite. It is a nurturing and healing miracle by itself. My deepest gratitude goes to all kids and teens who teach us what life is about. Your Sunshine honors and supports everyone for who they are.”