Hold On, What Is Camp Yoga?
At a glance, Camp Yoga is an adult summer-camp-meets-yoga-retreat hybrid, where individuals gather for a weekend of activities such as kayaking, campfires, archery, ropes-course climbing, wine tasting (yes, wine tasting) and a whole lot of yoga. The activities vary by location — and there’s several of them, such as California, New York, Colorado, Texas and all over Canada. So, Camp Yoga’s not new to the party of retreat-style weekend getaways, it’s just their first time here in the Sunshine State, where they’re also piloting it as their next potential site to host long-term.
The Yoga Lifestyles film crew packed up all of our gear and followed the winding country roads to the Elks Camp in Umatilla, Florida, for the weekend where the first ever Camp Yoga Florida took place. We came with the intention of filming a documentary, which we’ll be publishing on our YouTube channel, but more on that later.
Overall, the weekend was an exciting new venture for us over here at Yoga Lifestyles HQ — but after taking some time to reflect, I realized I got way more out of it than just capturing some incredible stories on film. Below are 10 incredible breakthroughs I had at Camp Yoga.
1. We Carry Our Insecurities into Adulthood
I’ve been to sleepaway summer camp when I was a kid. It brings back happy memories of horseback riding, building a jewelry box in a woodshop class and even learning how to fire a shotgun (full disclosure, it was the deep South in 2002, and much to my European surprise, most children had handled some kind of firearm before they’ve reached puberty at that point).
But along with the good memories, there was also the initial anxiety of the socioeconomic dynamics upon arrival to camp. Thoughts crept into my mind such as, what if no one likes me? And, who am I going to sit with at lunch? Those all tend to dissipate within the first few hours because you quickly realize everyone is looking around, wide-eyed, thinking the exact same thing.
After interviewing a few campers, I discovered they all felt similar insecurities bubbling up, even now as fully grown adults. It didn’t matter how old they were, if they were a man or woman, or even if they came with a friend. Everyone experienced the same initial feelings when they got there. And for nearly everyone, it vanished at the opening ceremony when they saw the baby goats. Which leads me to my next thought:
2. Baby Goats are the Ultimate Ice Breaker That Brings People Together
That may be a completely biased statement, but based solely on my observations, it’s 100 percent scientifically accurate. At the opening ceremony, campers instinctively unrolled their yoga mats facing a picturesque lake to kickoff the first activity as a group. And off to the side, a woman who looked like the gentlest of souls, set up a pen and filled it with baby goats.
Distracted by how absolutely adorable this was, I completely abandoned all desire to film a documentary and made a B-line for the goats. Just kidding, the guys were busy setting up their equipment and I had some time to kill, but I digress.
I learned from Carol Peters — whom, with her husband owns Slow Turtle Farm, the local farm that provided the goats — that these spunky animals are extremely intelligent, each have their own personalities and are basically puppies with hoofs. Additionally, the title on her business card read: Owner-Goat Herder, which is a profession I now am seriously considering.
Anyway, I was so preoccupied with one of babies, also called “kids,” that fell asleep in my arms the moment I picked it up, that I didn’t realize the crowd that had gathered, all playing and taking photos with the goats. I saw a dozen or so campers who went from complete strangers to acquaintances in a matter of seconds, all from realizing that their mutual appreciation for baby goats meant they had at least one thing in common.
3. The Atmosphere Was Friendly, Diverse and Inclusive
Over the course of the three days, I got this general sense of unity from the campers, volunteers and staff. We’d be hauling around our equipment, looking as out of place as sore thumbs, and I was surprised at how many people offered to lend a hand. It was also interesting to see such a diverse group. Some campers were moms, and I learned that this was their first weekend in months, even years that they decided to take for themselves. Go mamas!
Others were twenty- and thirty-something’s who wanted to break out of their comfort zone of their typical weekend activities and try something new. Many came by themselves to relive the joy of the outdoors and camping. I even saw a few couples, who took the weekend to reconnect with one another. Regardless of background or time spent on the planet so far, everyone was welcoming, friendly and supportive of one another.
4. We All Have an Innate Need to Connect
Everyone had their own reasons for being there, but watching the genuine interactions just blew me away. I saw a husband cheer on his wife for hitting a target in archery; a young woman 20-feet high on a ropes course climbing as her new friends collectively cheered words of encouragement; a group of at least 30 men and women (including myself) conclude a yoga class with a whole new take on Savasana by piling on the ground like little kids and singing Adelle’s Hello, laughing in fits between the chorus.
We all want to connect with one another, and sometimes we get so consumed with our day-to-day that we forget what it’s like to have basic human interactions.
5. Your Level of Yoga Experience Doesn’t Matter
The schedule was packed with lots of yoga, and each of the volunteer teachers offered something unique, such as a flow that focused on energizing fire breath, chakra alignment and even core sculpting by a former Olympian athlete. For those who might only practice one style, this opened up a whole new world of experiencing something new and outside their comfort zone.
Of course, for those itching to try something completely different, there was plenty more to do such as swimming, paddle boarding, archery and even a rope swing that harnessed you in and launched you Tarzan-style from one end of the course to the other.
6. Summer Camp Is Cool. Summer Camp with Optional Alcohol Is Awesome
Did I mention there was an informative wine tasting class, live music and a glo-rave? If the day’s activities didn’t wear you out, there was plenty to do after sunset. In nostalgic camping style, there wascampfireire with marshmallows being toasted and great conversation going on; but those who wanted to let loose could dance to their heart’s content, complete with a DJ and glow-in-the-dark paint.
7. It’s More Than Just Connecting Personally, It’s Great for Networking
Camp Yoga focuses on recruiting local instructors from each area it’s held at, which adds yet another unique aspect to the event. The majority of the teachers were Lulu Lemon ambassadors from all over Florida, and it was amazing seeing not only the new friendships that formed, but also a ton of natural networking going on.
At lunch on the last day, a few campers and volunteers excitedly talked about collaborating at their respective yoga studios, while a health and fitness coach traded Instagram handles with a new friend and client. It makes sense, from a business perspective: with a group of 100 or so like-minded individuals all gathering in one place, of course professional relationships could form.
8. It’s Not Your Average Camp Food
I remember food at summer camp being a mix of greasy pizza and chicken fried to oblivion. Camp Yoga offered options that were both healthy and indulgent. There was a full salad bar with all the works, but vegans and vegetarians also weren’t limited to salads for every meal. We’re talking everything from quinoa wraps to pulled pork or chicken stir fry, hearty ham with mashed potatoes to pumpkin-squash bowls and fresh fruit to blueberry muffins.
And if you don’t like cream with your coffee in the morning? You could lighten things up with vanilla almond milk. Of course, meals vary by location, but the Camp Yoga staff consider every dietary factor when putting the event together, and are mindful to offer gluten-free, diary-free and every option under the sun.
9. Is This Camp…Or a Resort?
I love the outdoors. I’ve camped in many a tent and cabin. But sometimes, Florida’s heat can be not-so-forgiving, and the idea of a six-legged critter crawling through a crack in a log-cabin and into your shoe can be extremely unsettling. Not so at Camp Yoga Florida. Campers were offered a few options for accommodations. The most common and economical setup included a six-person cabin with standard bunk beds, full plumbing, heating and air conditioning.
The more pricey, but private options included the equivalent of a private 4-star hotel room complete with down comforters furniture, carpet and a mini fridge. From the outside, the six-person housing looked more like a gated community complex than a rustic cabin in the woods. Rest easy… this is truly glamping at its finest.
10. The People Running it Make All the Difference
The Camp Yoga staff worked their asses off the whole time, running all over the grounds answering phone calls, giving directions, firing off emails and making sure the campers were comfortable and happy. Yet they were still accessible, made time for us to sit down for interviews, reminded us to eat and were generous enough to offer us lodging on-site.
Chesley Long (not be confused with Chelsey, which I did many times in emails, phone calls, and texts. Sorry dude!) runs the show along with Jen Cerullo, Henrietta Devine and a few others. Within seconds of meeting anyone involved with Camp Yoga, it’s easy to see the passion and dedication these individuals have for it.
They’re not corporate sellouts looking to cash in on the hype and trend of yoga retreats. They’re genuinely creating a sense of community and connectedness for campers, hoping that they’ll take that refreshed mindset home with them once they leave and apply it into their everyday lives.
In fact, Chesley told us in an interview that he was running operations out of his RV for two years trying to get Camp Yoga off the ground. These guys are the real deal, and that sincereness and authenticity sets the tone for the entire weekend.
What’s Next for Camp Yoga?
Even though it was Camp Yoga’s first time in Florida, it drew more than 100 attendees. Based on everyone’s feedback, it looks like they’ll be back next year. But, if you don’t live in Florida, there’s plenty of other locations, dates and flexible payment plans to enjoy it for yourself. Camp Yoga is held all over the US and Canada. To find the next weekend near you, check out details on their website.
Also, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get notifications when the documentary gets released.