New Orleans' First Yoga Studio for Kids
Yoga is a growing pastime in the U.S. — up over 50 percent in the last 5 years — and Lolo’s Studio, New Orleans’ first yoga studio for kids, is looking to help the next generation get in on the action.
If you stop by Lolo’s Studio at 6107 Magazine Street expecting a raucous cacophony of kids screaming, you may be surprised.
That’s not to say that students at New Orleans’ first “yoga and fitness studio for kids” don’t have fun, but rather that owner, teacher and director Laurie Azzano has helped her students key in on something more: the idea that fitness and fun can go hand in hand with relaxation and mindfulness. And what’s more, once these kids get a taste for meditation, they can’t seem to get enough.
Magic? Perhaps, but not really. Since celebrating the grand opening of Lolo’s Studio on Dec. 2, Azzano has found that the kids in her yoga and fitness classes crave a mix of both performance and poses with the calm that resting, relaxation and meditation can bring together as a whole. This is a concept known in yoga circles as the “mind-body connection.”
“I had a home practice for about five years, and then I became certified to teach kids,” Azzano said. “Lola’s is about more than yoga; it’s a place for kids to have fun, focus on healthy and good lifestyle practices, and yoga is a part of that. Kids want focus and calm in their lives. Their lives can by so busy that they crave a time to relax and focus.”
Who Practices Yoga?
There are currently 36.7 million U.S. yoga practitioners, up from 20.4 million in 2012.
Practitioners are significantly more involved in many other forms of exercise such as running, cycling and weightlifting, than non-practitioners.
74 percent of American practitioners have been doing yoga for five or fewer years.
The top five reasons for starting yoga are: flexibility (61 percent); stress relief (56 percent); general fitness (49 percent); improve overall health (49 percent) and physical fitness (44 percent).
Among practitioners, 86 percent self-report having a strong sense of mental clarity, 73 percent report being physically strong and 79 percent give back to their communities — all significantly higher rates than non-practitioners.
Women represent 72 percent of practitioners.
A Booming Industry
34 percent of Americans say they are somewhat or very likely to practice yoga in the next 12 months.
80 million more Americans will likely try yoga for the first time in 2016.
Students spend $16 billion per year on classes, gear and equipment, up from $10 billion in 2012.
New Trends to Monitor
37 percent of practitioners have children under the age of 18 who also practice yoga.
30- to 49-year-olds are 43 percent of the practicing public, followed by 50+ (38 percent) and 18-29 (19 percent).
Source: 2016 Yoga in America Study by Yoga Journal.
Adult yoga enthusiasts have long since figured out the benefits of mind-body fitness programs, and classes, retreats and seminars on such have become big business.
According to a 2017 report by the National Institute of Health, 9.5 percent of American adults (or 21 million people) practice yoga regularly. But the rise of yoga hasn’t been limited to grownups alone. The number of kids practicing yoga at home, in studios like Lolo’s and in school, now adds up to 3.1 percent. That’s 1.7 million kids, a number that has risen by 429,000 from 2007 to 2012.
Azzano says she was inspired to bring yoga to kids after a number of years practicing for herself.
“I’ve always been a runner,” she says. “I’ve been running since I was 14. I started yoga for flexibility and performance and to prevent injury. It’s also a great full-body workout. What I wasn’t expecting were the mental benefits. That’s what I want to bring to my clients, that mind-body connection.
“Lolo’s is a nickname my husband gave to me. When I hear it, it reminds me of a time when life was not so hectic. It makes me feel more relaxed and always makes me smile. I always knew I wanted to use it for my business. It represents the feel that I want the business to have.”
After school and summer camp art classes provide another opportunity for mind-body connection for Lolo’s students, in addition to a full roster of yoga and meditation classes.
Azzano started getting involved with teaching kids by volunteering with her daughter’s Girls on the Run group — a nonprofit that encourages running in girls in grades three through five.
“I found that I really enjoyed working with kids,” she says. “They asked me to teach them some yoga because they knew I practiced at home, and it went from there.”
A recent Parents Magazine article cites five ways practicing yoga may benefit school-aged children, including: enhancing flexibility, refining balance and coordination, developing focus and concentration, boosting self-esteem and confidence, and calming the mind.
Azzano says she has seen all of those benefits reflected in the practice of her students.
“It’s been interesting to see the positive peer influence that has come out of group focused yoga,” she says. “It has been really surprising. Often peer groups can have a negative impact, so it’s been great to see them interacting and trying new things in a positive way.”
Another thing Azzano says has been surprising has been her students’ response to meditation. Drop-in prices are typically $15 per one-hour class, or $96 for an eight-week session. The same applies for “Mom’s Yoga,” currently offered from 8:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“After I lead them through poses, we spend time in meditation,” she says. “I thought at first they would rush through it, but it’s often the thing they ask for the most. They really enjoy the time to calm down, relax and process the day.”
Lolo’s has classes for all age groups, and special classes designated just for boys and just for girls.
“I have had students as young as 5 years old,” she says. “We incorporate play, some poses, some breath work and more play. Yoga allows young people to get in touch with their bodies, and helps to also focus their brains.”
While many of Lolo’s current students are girls, Azzano says she offers boys-only group classes in order to encourage the practice for both demographics, a trend she says has been slow to come to New Orleans.
“Boys tend to have a hard time initially relaxing into it, but once they do it really works for them and they get into it,” she says. “In a recent boys class, I led a group and one boy afterwards asked if he could share. He shared that he realized how stressed he had been about a recent school project. After sharing, another boy said that he had felt stressed about the same thing.”
Azzano says that as celebrity role models also emphasize the health benefits of a yoga practice it can further encourage both young boys and girls to get started.
“Things are changing across the country,” she says. “It hasn’t happened completely in New Orleans just yet. We see athletes such as LeBron James and other NBA players, football players, tennis players all getting involved in yoga as part of their fitness. It helps with a range of motions and balance, and is great for everyone,” Azzano said.
Lolo’s Studio business model reaches for something unique, especially in New Orleans, according to Azzano: getting kids to embrace yoga and overall fitness at an early age in order to guide a lifetime of healthy choices, both mentally and physically.
“I encourage students to get involved in yoga early so that they have a lifetime of enjoying the practice,” she says. “They learn how to self-calm in their teen years for example. They know how to identify the emotions they are feeling and how to work with them. We offer not just yoga, but fitness where there is no competition. It’s about feeling good, being good.”
Lolo’s philosophy of mind-body is expanding each month. Azzano is excited to incorporate all aspects of health living in order to give her students the essential tools they need as they grow into adulthood.
“I feel we are filling a new category of fitness. I have a thousand ideas I am excited to try,” she said. “Right now we are continuing to build in multiple aspects of fitness, with yoga as a big component, for all. We recently had a self-defense class for boys and are going to have another one for teenage girls. We have an after-school program that is really strong. We will have a summer camp for girls, which will be a full day of camp where we do fitness, yoga and art. We will bring in experts that will teach us about nutrition and cooking and healthy living. There’s so much more to do and we are looking forward to it.”
Lolo’s Studio owner Laurie Azzano (left) and business partner and art director Claudia Blom.