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Yoga and meditation are on the agenda at mindfulness-focused summer camps

Circle Yoga Summer Camp keeps kids’ attention with games like “yoga freeze dance.” (Jim Vecchione)

Some kids play dodgeball at camp; others meditate. Mention the “m” word to a 10-year-old, however, and you’ll probably get this reaction: “People think, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s going to be silent — I don’t know if I can be quiet for long, extended periods of time,’ ” says La Sarmiento, a leader with Inward Bound Mindfulness Education’s Virginia Teen Retreat. “But it’s not like that at all.”

Here’s what it is like: At iBme’s week-long program at Serenity Ridge Retreat Center in Shipman, Va., teens rise at 7 a.m. to do a seated meditation practice before breakfast. Later, they do two hours of guided mindfulness instruction — both seated and walking, inside and outside. They close their eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and do a body scan from the head to the toes, noting any tension or stress. After a gentle yoga session, they might write a poem or join a workshop on laughter yoga.

“They learn how to anchor into the present moment through breath, body sensation or sound,” Sarmiento says. “I like to say that you’re watching your own reality show when you meditate. We’re always so concerned about everyone else’s reality show, but this practice is going inward and seeing, ‘What’s really happening for me right now, and how can I best take care of myself given what’s happening?’ ”

The iBme program is one of a growing number of summer camp options designed to teach kids and teens mindfulness skills, which advocates say are necessary for a healthy, well-balanced life. “I’m 53, and when I was a teenager, I don’t think I had half the stresses teens do today in terms of technology and constantly being bombarded by news and current events,” Sarmiento says, adding that campers turn their smartphones and tablets over to staff on day one.

The retreat, which runs from July 27 to Aug. 1, is open to teens ages 15 to 19; tuition is 1 percent of the family’s annual income, up to $2,000.

Other local options, like Kids Yoga Summer Camp at Breathing Space on Capitol Hill, cater to the younger set. There, days are filled with yoga movement classes, relaxation activities, games, crafts and lots of outdoor playtime. There are eight week-long options ($400, held at Christ Church, 620 G St. SE). No yoga experience is necessary, says director Jennifer Mueller. “Kids’ yoga class looks very different from adult yoga class,” she says. “The teaching is very visual and engaging, and students are encouraged to do the poses however feels right in their bodies.”

Mueller says one of the campers’ most loved activities is candle gazing — minus the live flames. Color-changing tea lights are situated around the room, and kids relax on the floor while watching the lights dance from red to purple and back again. They also delight in the “mind jar” — a snow globe filled with glitter that they’re free to shake, creating a cloud of swirls. “The act of just watching and paying attention is relaxing for our brains,” Mueller says. “A lot of life right now is really overstimulating, so these activities are valued and the relaxation time is among our students’ favorite activities.”

If mindfulness-oriented camps are gradually becoming more mainstream, Circle Yoga’s Summer Camp in D.C. was ahead of the trend. The program has been offered for more than 15 years, and there are now seven week-long options ($365 for full-day camp; $250 for the half-day version). Many kids come back for several weeks each summer and return year after year, instructor Linda Feldman says.

Kids kick off the day coloring mandalas, then sing mindfulness-themed camp songs so popular with families that the studio turned them into a CD. They do a playful yoga session, with moves like “yoga freeze dance,” plus breathing exercises, guided meditation and a foot massage. They have snacks in a Zen garden and free playtime in a local playground, and they spend time silent journaling. “You’d be amazed how they do this for 20 minutes — they love it,” Feldman says. “It gives kids the permission to just find some stillness, ease, creativity and joy.”

On the first day of Dancing Jaguar’s Spirit Camp Arlington ($195 to $275), meanwhile, kids create a spirit toolbox: a cardboard box-turned-home for the tools they collect over the week to nurture their inner selves. By the time they leave, it’s filled with chakra stones (crystals thought to heal different parts of the body), a book that teaches calming breathing techniques and a mask that represents their spirit animal.

Founder Eva Goulette created the first version of the week-long camp in Maine five years ago to help kids realize “there’s an entire world to explore inside.” “This is how we’re going to reach the children of today,” she says. “These kids will grow up to be balanced in mind, body and spirit. They come out of camp really understanding they have tools to help themselves.”

Mueller echoes that sentiment. “It’s something that becomes very easy for them to translate to other times: ‘When I’m stressed out, or when I’m angry with my mom or dad, I can take a quiet time and do a visualization and let that steam out,’ ” she says. And it’s fun, too. When Mueller asked her daughter how to describe the Breathing Space program, the 10-year-old said: “ ‘You have to explain it’s a very silly camp.’ That part she thought was very important.”

More on D.C.-area camps: 

At these summer camps, kids learn to create their own video games

What counselors wish parents knew before summer camp