If you’ve visited Yogaville during the summer, you may have seen a group of young yogis attending puja at Kailash, or you might have had the privilege of witnessing the boisterous fun of the Camp Yogaville talent show, or attending a lively Saturday night satsang performance—of all kids! Camp Yogaville is one of the most exciting events of the summer at Yogaville, and it’s not hard to see why. Kids gather to practice Hatha Yoga and meditation, but they also enjoy all the perks of a traditional summer camp, including making new friends, taking part in fun, kid-approved activities, and spending nights under the stars in rustic cabins. Reverend Rudra Swartz, one of the camp directors, answered some of our questions about what camp is really like and what we can expect this year!
What is a typical day at Camp Yogaville like?
We’ve always had a similar formula for camp, and that is: wake-up at 7:30am, go to Hatha at 8am, eat breakfast at 8:45am after 30-45 minutes of Yoga class, and then participate in morning activities.
Every day before lunch we have a short meditation, and usually a swami or reverend will come visit as a guest for a talk or a lesson. If not a swami, one of the staff or myself might teach something about Yoga before lunch and then we’ll sit for five minutes in meditation. That’s really fun, and that’s part of what makes this camp a Yoga camp.
In the afternoon we usually provide an activity like arts and crafts, and then we offer options to break off into smaller groups for different activities, so the kids have the choice of a couple things to do. In the evening we might also have a kirtan or a kirtan sing-along.
What kind of activities do campers participate in?
In addition to Yoga and meditation classes, our activities include hiking, visits to the LOTUS temple and Kailash, tie-dying, scavenger hunts, sports activities, and various arts and crafts. One night we have a movie night where we show a popular kid’s movie.
We also have a sports day that we call Yoga Olympics. We always say there’s no competition in Yoga, but the Yoga Olympics are really fun because we do things that encourage practice. Of course, we still do potato sack races and things like that, but we also have a meditation “competition” and it’s amazing to watch the kids sit together and see who can stay quiet the longest. Last year there were 35 kids there and they were all absolutely silent. It was kind of magical. Part of why they’re so inspired by that is because they’re doing it for points, but it makes them really motivated and quiet.
There’s also one day that we dedicate to going to Holiday Lake. The campers will leave for the lake after breakfast and they don’t come back until dinner. We’ve been discussing whether we’ll do two lake days this year, since some campers are only coming for one week. Also, I don’t know whether we’ll have one or two opportunities this year, but everyone gets onstage to participate in the Saturday night satsang. Our satsang performance is always Yoga-related, and all the counselors and campers participate.
This is the first time you’ve offered two weeks of camp. How will Camp Yogaville be different this year?
We’re very excited about having two weeks of camp this year. We have some kids coming to the first week, some coming the second week, and some that have signed up for both weeks, so we don’t exactly know what that’s going to look like, yet.
A lot of this year is going to be an exploration year to see how the second week is going to work. One of the magical things is that we’ve asked the staff to come together early to help prepare and plan, so we’ll have two full days for the staff to give input on the activities. It’s great that Ellen Mangum and Chris McCooey came on board this year as program directors. Ellen’s been coming to camp for the past 17 years, or so. I believe this is her 18th consecutive year at camp, so she’s our number one consultant. Chris has been involved for four or five years. We’re really going to put our heads together. It’s more exciting because we have the things that we normally do, but we’re going to see what we can come up with creatively to add to the program. We can strategize how to have the best camp that we can have.
Sam and I have been co-directors now for 5 years. The previous 4 years, we just took the last year’s template and adapted it. So this year we have new opportunities.
How long has Camp Yogaville been running?
I think it’s about 30 years old. A lot of the parents were campers once upon a time. I believe Swami Sarvananda started the camp. [Swami Sarvananda later confirmed that she started camp either in 1987 or 1988 so that her niece could come visit Yogaville.]
Rev. Kumari and Snehan were then the directors for quite some time. They stopped for a few years and Haris “Harini” Lender re-started it in 2000 so that her daughters could attend. She ran it for 11 years.
How did you and Sam get involved with Camp Yogaville?
When Haris was the director, Sam was actually a counselor and had been for several years. When Haris decided to step away from camp, I had been living in San Francisco and I was completing my 200-hour teacher training. Haris was visiting San Francisco to take her daughter to Yosemite and asked me if I’d like to meet up to get tea. When we sat down at a local café, she told me she was giving up camp after that year. She said, “It’s really going to take two people to replace me. So far, they’ve only found one volunteer to do it.” I said, “Well, I wonder if I could help out. I don’t know how much I could do being that I use a wheelchair. I’m willing to go and see how much I can do.” She said, “If you’re serious, let’s do it! Come!”
So I went! The kids really responded to my voice and I got along well with the kids and loved my time there. Any wheelchair issue was totally workable. The following year I had to skip camp because I had a health problem, but I came back in 2013 to help. After that year, the person who had originally taken on camp decided to leave. So Sam and I looked at each other and said, “We have to keep this going.”
So 2014 was our first year as directors. The first year went super well, but the second year brought a few eye-opening moments. The past two years have been great and we’ve had great staff members. We’ve had a little problem booking time with the Ashram because of Guru Poornima holiday and all the programs that are going on. One of the main issues was coordinating Ashram transportation for the campers. If the Ashram is having a program, then it makes it difficult for the camp to have any transportation.
We were also having a problem getting kids to come to camp in late June or early August because of school. Depending on when Guru Poornima is, it can sometimes be difficult to have camp in July. But because Guru Poornima isn’t until the last week of July this year, we asked if we could try offering two weeks of camp, and the Ashram gave us the okay. Also, camp has been so good lately that we’re hoping to get our own transportation this year. So if the two weeks of camp work and we can have our own transportation, it won’t matter when Guru Poornima is because it won’t affect the Ashram so much.
There was talk a few years ago that people wanted us to have camp all summer long. We thought, “Whoa! Give us a chance to get the one week right!” So there’s no real plan to expand yet; we didn’t originally think we’d be able to offer two weeks or that we’d be able to a have camp in July, so we’ll see what happens.
While you’re called Reverend Rudra by most here at Yogaville, I hear that campers call you by a different name—Sarge. How did you get that name?
In 2011, when I told Haris that I would see what I could do to help with camp, she said “You’ll be our camp sergeant and we’ll call you Sarge and you’ll even wear a sergeant hat! That way, it’ll give you the authority for sitting in your chair while giving instructions and the kids will listen to you.” And it just took! All of a sudden, the kids that year are just calling me Sarge. I didn’t have the name Sam or Rudra at camp. It just stuck! Some people have asked, why are using a military name? But we’re just borrowing the discipline aspect—it has nothing to do with the military otherwise. It’s just become a name that they’ve given me and I wear my little camouflage hat.