If you could be any butterfly, which butterfly would you be? That's the existential question facing Camille Faucheux, 3, as she sits on her purple exercise mat. She assumes the butterfly pose--knees splayed, the soles of her feet touching. "Hold on to your butterfly wings," Jodi Komitor instructs her Saturday-morning class of mothers and toddlers in New York City. Camille clutches her toes and prepares for flight. Komitor continues: "Lean back, open your butterfly wings and whee!" Her students flap their legs in the fantastical studio, where paper flowers seem to grow out of the bubblegum-pink ceiling. "I'm flying to a flower," reports Camille. "A pink one."
Komitor's students at Next Generation Yoga will become sleeping doggies, lions and snakes before the 45-minute session is over. They will walk on their hands and feet with their butts in the air, balance on one leg and sit chanting, "Om." Similar menageries are sprouting up across the country. With the zeal of the newly converted, baby boomers are introducing their children to yoga on the apparent theory that balanced lives begin with balanced children. And with their easy flexibility and willing imaginations, kids are proving natural yogis.
YogaKids, an organization in Michigan City, Ind., that certifies adults to teach yoga to children, expects to graduate 35 teachers this year, compared with only 25 in the past three years. YogaKids, a video tutorial created by that group's founder, Marsha Wenig, has sold 80,000 copies since 1996. And the shelves are filling with books touting the technique for kids of all ages, from Yogababy to I Can't Believe It's Yoga for Kids.
The American Yoga Association can't quite believe it either. Alice Christensen, the association's president, scoffs that marketing yoga to kids is a distinctly American phenomenon, and she is firmly opposed to children under the age of 16 doing asanas (yoga positions). "Yoga exercise brings on hormonal changes," she says. "Children should not practice it because it affects their growth system." There are no studies supporting that contention, but Christensen says there has not been enough time to assess yoga's long-term damage to young bodies. Hogwash, counter instructors like Marita Gardner-Anopol, who teaches yoga at preschools and elementary schools in New Jersey. "Does ballet interfere with natural changes in the body? Skiing? Ice skating?" says Gardner-Anopol. "Come on. Children are active from the time they are three."
In fact, most children take yoga in addition to other sports. Solomon Powell, 15, says his yoga classes in Los Angeles--which include headstands, handstands and rigorous standing poses--have improved his skills in basketball. Chandler Taslitz, 7, takes ballet and jazz dance as well as yoga. "When I get wound up and crazy it helps me to be quieter and relaxed," she says. Her friend Ellery Garland adds that yoga has helped her focus on her homework.