Shari Vilchez-Blatt is the ultimate kid at heart. As the owner of Karma Kids Yoga since its inception in 2002, she’s become the downtown go-to for everyone from prenatal mommies to toddlers and teens.
YogaCity NYC’s Allison Richard sat down with the playful and enviously energetic entrepreneur to talk about teaching 25 classes a week, keeping things creative, and what to do when the kids bring in violent ideas they’ve seen on tv into the studio
Allison Richard: How did you get on the path of teaching kids yoga?
Shari Vilchez-Blatt: At the beginning of my advertising career, I worked with both Hasbro and Crayola in new product development. A huge part of my jobs was working with focus groups of kids watching them play with the toys, talking to them about playing, asking them what would make the toys better- should this lever be red instead of blue?
Should this have glitter on it? I really got a chance to understand how kids work and what appeals to them.As my career progressed I moved from firm to firm continually climbing the corporate ladder, making lots of money, but I had no quality of life. Grey walls, fluorescent lights and no chance of going home at a decent hour any day of the week. I dreaded going to work.
Eventually my company lost a big account and they couldn’t afford to keep me. I got to spend lots of time with my nieces and nephews. I would do yoga in front of them and they followed me. I found out there was a teacher training with YogaKids and took it, following it soon after with a kundalini- based training through Radiant Kids.
AR: Did you ever have a desire to teach adults?
SVB: No. Never. Kids don’t judge you. It’s the perfect place to be in the moment. It keeps me young and playful.When we opened the prenatal studio it seemed like a natural progression. I’m trained to teach prenatal, but I have yet to use it. I became certified because when the studio first opened a teacher couldn’t teach and no one could sub. I had to cancel class and that is one of my pet peeves!
AR: You teach 25 classes a week. How do you keep them fresh?
SVB: Kids are so influenced by movies, books, television shows, Internet. We want kids to participate not just physically, but verbally. If kids look through their binoculars and see a three-toed sloth, you don’t want to say “I’m sorry there isn’t a pose for that.” I mean, what a bummer! So we challenge ourselves to come up with ways to become everything from a pair of scissors to a circus tent.
If we get into a situation where we don’t have a pose, we turn to the kid and say, what does your “anteater” look like? The child gets to create a pose, their confidence goes up and most of the time what they come up with is brilliant!
AR: What do you do if kids bring negative media influences into class?
SVB: I keep it playful. Even if a kid pulls out finger guns, I jokingly tell them “we may shoot arrows in class, but we check guns at the door”. I will actually ask them to march outside and put them where they left their shoes. They’ll look at me like, "Really? This lady’s crazy," but I’ve never had it not work for me.
AR: What is something you’ve done that hasn’t worked with kids?
SVB: The nice thing about kids is that when you try something that doesn’t work, kids will try to help fix it! Often times our ideas get refined into something that does work, like our yoga art classes.
AR: What are some of your most successful events?
SVB: Pajama yoga is once a month and there’s usually a waitlist. And Downward Doll yoga, where kids (3-6 year olds) actually get to bring their favorite animal/toy to class. That was so successful we started American Doll yoga, which is for 6-11 year olds, because some of the kids were sad they had outgrown the other class!
AR: Which age group is your fav?
SVB: I can tell you my favorites right NOW. I feel guilty even saying it because I like them all, but I love the toddlers and the teenagers. The toddlers because they’re clean slates, will do anything you ask, will clap after everything you do and absolutely love their teachers.
I love the teens because you can get into really deep conversations with them that could be life changing. They’re coming because they want to, not because they have to.
I taught a teen class on Valentines Day and brought cupcakes. I offered everyone a cupcake if they could tell me one thing they liked about themselves.
One girl looked really stressed out like she absolutely couldn’t think of anything. I gave her a few things I liked about her and then her friends got into it and started adding things. She still seemed like she was struggling so I asked the group, “if I had asked you to tell me something you don’t like about yourself would that have been easier or harder?” They responded, "oh my god, so much easier!" I said, "hmmm doesn't that seem like a problem maybe we should do something about?”. A week later they came back and told me they had a longer list of things they liked about themselves. I had tears in my eyes.