When she opened Karma Kids Yoga 10 years ago, Shari Vilchez-Blatt's West Village studio offered eight children's yoga classes. A decade later, her studio now hosts 100 classes, employs 36 instructors and provides yoga lessons to 17 schools throughout the city.
Across Manhattan, a growing number of yoga enthusiasts are enrolling their children in yoga classes. New demand for children's classes is creating fresh opportunities for instructors. These instructors, also known as yogis, insist that teaching children yoga can help build self-esteem and discipline.
"People are really opening their minds and opening their hearts to the potential of yoga for kids," Vilchez-Blatt said. Until relatively recently, her classes specifically for kids made her studio one of a kind in Manhattan.
This trend is not lost on Alexa Klein, a corporate attorney and yogi whose kid-focused studio Yogi Beans will be opening in March on the Upper East Side. More than 100 people have already signed up for classes, which will be free for all ages during its opening month. The studio's Saturday morning yoga class for children reached capacity so fast that a Sunday morning session had to be created.
Yogi Beans, like many other studios offering children's classes, will use a playful and highly active approach to yoga instruction. An example of this is the yoga adaptation of Simon Says called Yogi Says, which will challenge kids to practice the yoga poses they learned in class.
"We're not watering anything down but instead are making the best parts of yoga accessible to children," Klein said.
Lauren Chaitoff, co-owner of Yogi Beans, has been a yogi for five years. She believes that a big part of what makes yoga so helpful is that it fosters confidence in kids without placing them in an overly competitive environment. She touts her own experience of how yoga improved her life.
"I was always in the group three gym class growing up because even though I love to be physical, the competition was not for me," Chaitoff said. "Yoga taught me mindfulness, self-awareness and body awareness."
Jo Sgammato has been an instructor at the Integral Yoga Institute for more than 10 years. This West Village studio opened in 1966 and in the late 1990s began offering family classes. About 10 families usually attend.
"You see people who began learning in our studio bringing their children here now," Sgammato said. "It's a testament to the power of yoga."
A particularly memorable moment for Sgamatto came when she was at an East Harlem elementary school as a visiting instructor. She was speaking with the principal when a rowdy group of 25 1st graders walked by them. The principal challenged Sgamatto to demonstrate her skill.
"I told the children to breathe deep, close their eyes and stand up straight," Sgamatto said. "And don't you know, in less than a minute they were all doing it?"
For instructors like Sgamatto, yoga is a way for children to find stability in a fast-paced world. In this way, it holds much of the same appeal that it does for adults.
"Even kids today are stressed," Sgamatto said. "Through yoga, children learn to access the peace that's inside of themselves and inside of everyone."
Eva Grubler is an instructor at the Dharma Yoga Center, a studio that has offered two classes for children since 1989. She also sees yoga as a way to help children calm down and develop focus.
"A lot of the kids who arrive here are just all over the place," Grubler said. "But yoga helps them learn how to keep from being distracted."
One of the ways Dharma Yoga Center helps engage children is through games. One is the yoga version of Red Light, Green Light, where instead of freezing in place, the children assume a yoga pose they learned earlier that day.
A former student of the Dharma Yoga Center who stands out in Grubler's mind is Jeff, a young man from Manhattan who began taking lessons at the Gramercy Park center as a boy. Grubler credits yoga with helping Jeff through the trials of being a teenager and moving him past the awkwardness that can often define this phase of life.
"He used to be all glasses and shy," Grubler said. "Thanks to yoga, now he is so present in this world."
- Alexander Tucciarone