Sarah Schain started “playing yoga” with children at a Chevy Chase park soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. ” “I thought, ‘What am I going to do with myself to relax me? And what can I do for these kids?’ ” she recalls.
Yoga worked, and soon parents were asking Schain, a yoga practitioner for nearly 15 years, to hold impromptu sessions in basements for neighborhood kids. “I just played with them and did some funny yoga poses.” Today, Schain runs Yoga Tales in Bethesda, one of a few area studios that cater to the younger set.
Advocates of children’s yoga believe that the 5,000-year-old practice can help with concentration, flexibility, relaxation and even digestion. The goal is not to turn children into tiny yogis who can twist themselves into pretzels, but rather to develop their natural yoga knowledge through fun exercises kids can relate to. So rather than telling tots to get in poses such as utkatasana , they are told to squat like a rocket ship that’s about to take off.
Storytelling and music are also a part of many classes, and teachers use props such as stuffed animals and bubbles to teach proper breathing, a central element in yoga.
Here are several places around town that offer multiple classes for kids — usually about 45 minutes each (and some locations are participating in D.C. Yoga Week, April 29-May 5, when classes may be free or $5).
CAPITOL HILL YOGA. The unassuming, one-room studio resembles an old-fashioned storefront on the outside. Knock before you enter — the door opens right into a studio space painted in soothing pastels. Most likely, children’s instructor Ceci Monahan will be waiting inside with a pile of Beanie Babies she uses with students to assist in the yoga experience. (She’s also starting up her own business this month, adorably titled Red Wagon Yoga, since she schleps around all her equipment — including those Beanie Babies — in a red wagon. Go to http://www.redwagonyoga.com/ for details.) Classes start at $20 for an adult and child. 221 Fifth St. NE, 202-544-0011, http://www.capitolhillyoga.com/ .
CIRCLE YOGA. Sunflowers hang from the walls in this upper-Northwest studio that, despite a location off bustling Connecticut Avenue, is serene inside. Annie Mahon, founder of the Budding Yogis program says that babies are born as little yogis. “Our philosophy is to help them maintain that natural playfulness and natural joy they have,” she says. To that end, plenty of toys and props are off to the side of the children’s studio, though the young yogis tend to gravitate toward the leopard-skin fleece blankets used during relaxation time. The studio is in the middle of an expansion that will add a third classroom this summer. Classes start at $13 a child, and yoga camp sessions run throughout the summer. 5615 39th St. NW, 202-686-1104, http://www.buddingyogis.com/ .
SPIRAL FLIGHT. Kids get to pick a mat from a rainbowed selection in this cramped but vibrant Georgetown studio. (A perfect location for mornings, with a Starbucks next door and an Einstein Bros. Bagels across the way.) One of Washington’s first centers to offer kids yoga also throws yoga parties and teaches off-site classes for after-school programs, scout troops and birthdays. The studio can also brag about its comprehensive Web site that links you to other yoga programs around the country. Classes start at $13. 1826 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-965-1645, http://www.spiralflightyoga.com/ .
SUN & MOON YOGA STUDIO. The sound of eight youngsters chanting “sa-ta-na-ma” reverberates in this spacious studio — one of three in this deceptively large building off Lee Highway. Chinese lanterns hang from the walls in the dimly lit room, adding a Eastern flavor, and children don’t seem to mind spending time in this pleasing space. (One girl asks the instructor sadly, “Is this the last day of kids yogo ?”) Classes start at $10, and there are a couple of yoga camps this summer. (A second studio can be found at 9998 Main St., Fairfax, and offers similar children’s classes, including some for home-schooled children.) 3811 Lee Hwy., Arlington, 703-525-9642, http://www.sunandmoonstudio.com/ .
WILLOW STREET YOGA CENTER. Don’t let this nondescript office building in the heart of Takoma Park scare you off: Inside there’s an inviting, extra-large studio that gives restless students a little more room to burn off their energy. Visitors will notice a human skeleton (nicknamed Stanley) hanging in the corner — a prop that allows teachers to demonstrate how the body operates. The studio has just added a program specifically aimed at home-schooled kids. Classes start at $8.50. Starting Monday, the studio offers a week of free classes. (A second studio with similar classes can be found at 8561 Fenton St., Silver Spring.) 6930 Carroll Ave., Suite 100, Takoma Park, 301-270-8038, http://www.willowstreetyoga.com/ .
YOGA TALES. This gorgeous studio in the heart of Bethesda has enough books along its mirrored walls to start a library. Makes sense too, since storytelling is a bedrock of each kids class, with the tales told usually incorporating one of the values of yoga (such as compassion or patience). In the lobby, the kids vibe is evident: Gratis fruit leathers are offered in one corner, while children’s books about yoga are sold in a small gift area. The studio also offers classes for children with special needs and begins yoga camp this summer. Classes start at about $18. 8020 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, 301-951-9642, http://www.yogatales.com/ .