He's trained NFL stars and top Hollywood celebrities, but at today's Child photo shoot, Boston-based yoga guru Baron Baptiste faces a different type of tough customer: rows of 4- to 8-year-olds from local public schools, all ready to twist themselves into poses with names like Warrior and Downward Dog. And this is no group of novices, either: For these elementary schoolers, this is gym class by way of the Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga Institute.
Sound unusual? Increasingly, schools are buying up yoga mats the way they once stocked up on dodgeballs. Kids' yoga is a hot commodity -- instructional books and videos aimed at little ones line store shelves. "We're at the beginning of the trend," says Mariam Gates, director of Baptiste's program for children, KidPowerYoga. "Within the next five to 10 years, yoga in school will be the norm." Though statistics aren't yet available, Gates believes that many schools nationwide have already incorporated yoga into their curriculum, benefiting hundreds of students. And it's not just for "big kids" -- many preschool programs offer classes for the youngest yogis.
As yoga for children surges in popularity, Baptiste and Gates remain central figures in the movement. As co-owner of Baptiste's Boston studio, Gates helped shepherd the growth of his kids' classes. Praise for the method spread throughout the city, and in 2001 educators in the Boston school system approached Gates about bringing Baptiste's classes to their physical education programs. "They were interested in setting up a pilot program for fourth-graders to help them deal with the stress of standardized tests," she recalls. Enthusiasm ran so high that some administrators made room in already-tight district budgets for the classes -- which replace gym or are offered as electives -- so parents wouldn't have to pay. In other schools, motivated parents, members of the yoga community, and teachers helped Gates find funds through grants and PTA sources.