Ellie Schwartz of Roland Park is only 12 years old, but she’s already an experienced yoga student. Schwartz had a yoga birthday party when she was 8 and has been taking classes on and off since she was 9.
Last year, she took part in a week-long yoga camp at Baltimore Yoga Village in Mount Washington. Dianne Schwartz, who helped organize the camp, says yoga and Ellie are a good fit.
“She has mindfulness, flexibility, calm,” says Schwartz.
Guilford mom Laura Wrigley signed up her two oldest kids, Isabella, 10, and Enzo, 7, for the Yoga Village camp. (Her youngest, 5-year-old Lilly, was too young.)
“I thought it would be a great experience for them,” she says. “I like the community (at Yoga Village), so it was nice to hook my kids into that as well.”
Wrigley adds that camp was particularly helpful for Enzo, who underwent multiple surgeries last year to repair a narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to his kidneys.
“The yoga camp started right when he was able to be active after his first surgery, so it’s a really safe place for him,” says Wrigley. “It was very therapeutic.”
The half-day camp featured a yoga class, snacks and an art project that encouraged mindfulness. The campers also spent some time in nearby Robert E. Lee Park.
Through stories and games, instructor Jenny Berkowitz introduced the kids to the philosophy of yoga and the background of some of the postures.
“A lot of learning happens through exploration, through different games,” says Berkowitz, adding that campers wrapped up the day with a restorative Shavasana: kids on their backs, eyes closed, focusing on their breathing.
Baltimore Yoga Village is holding the camp again this year, although the dates and specifics are still being finalized.
Avalon Yoga Studio in Catonsville also is holding a week-long, half-day yoga and art camp. This summer will be the camp’s fourth year, and the dates will be July 7 to 11 and July 28 to Aug. 1.
Avalon owner Leslie Coombs says instructors Sara Murphy, Missy Wheeler and Emily Kimak engage the campers through stories, games and activities.
“It’s always a noncompetitive, very nurturing environment for them,” says Coombs.
During camp, Wheeler sometimes had the kids sit perfectly still and then share what they experience. “They’ll say, ‘I felt quiet in the whole room.’ ”
At the same time, says Kimak, it’s not all stillness and quiet. In fact, classes are playful and kid appropriate. “Last year, the kids were so excited and really got into the art projects and learning different yoga poses.”
Coombs believes yoga is part of a well rounded summer.
“Some of them, they do this one week, then they go to soccer camp,” she says. “The parents want to develop all aspects of the child.”
“Over the summer it’s a great opportunity, because during the school year they’re so overscheduled … summer’s a really great time to start to build the wellness habit,” adds Maura Rother-Gormley, office manager for Baltimore Yoga Village.
Kids’ yoga is a great idea, agrees Charm City Yoga instructor Edith Brotman, who says youth teachers don’t expect children to hold any yoga pose for very long, and kids’ classes are more talky and, yes, a little louder than adult classes.
Brotman is the author of a new book called “Mussar Yoga” (Jewish Lights Publishing, Spring 2014). Mussar means “instruction” in Hebrew, and Mussar Yoga combines Jewish contemplative practice with yoga.
There’s no conflict at all between Judaism and yoga, says Brotman, explaining that yoga is a spiritual practice, not a religion.
“It’s not meant to be a replacement for religion or to be a religion,” she says. “A lot of the concepts you find in yoga you also find in Jewish spirituality. There’s nothing too foreign that you’ll find in yoga, especially in a kids’ class.”
While there are a couple of local yoga-specific camps, many camps and summer programs include yoga in their roster of activities.
Camp Red Fox of the Greater Pikesville Recreation and Parks Counsel offers a Magical Mats Yoga for campers ages 4 to 12.
Magical Mats owner Chelsea Smith takes a playful approach to the lessons. She has the younger kids put a Beanie Baby on their chests so they can watch it rise and fall as they inhale and exhale. The elementary-age kids play a sort of Yoga Twister. All ages work on balance, flexibility and strength.
Of course, there’s no guarantee your child will return home from the camp yoga class calm, centered and relaxed. Anecdotally, however, it seems to do the trick.
“I had multiple parents say, ‘Our kids come home in the afternoon and they’re so calm and centered,’ ” says Berkowitz. “I had a couple of kids who came in with a little anxiety, and parents say by the end of the week the kids weren’t stressed out.”
Wrigley says Isabella and Enzo like how they feel after they’ve meditated and enjoyed meeting other kids who were into yoga, just like them. She’ll likely sign them up for yoga camp again this summer.