RSS Feeds

Meet the District's youngest yoga instructor

Tuesday - 8/20/2013, 8:06am  ET

Ivan Nolia is a 9-year-old D.C. native and a certified yoga instructor. (Courtesy of Eleanor Kaufman)

Natalie Tomlin, special to

WASHINGTON - It was a typical Thursday evening when D.C. yoga instructor Mike Graglia greeted his Flow Yoga 4 class at the 14th Street Yoga District studio. As he walked to the front of the room, one student caught his eye.

Among the crowd of adults waiting for class to begin was 9-year-old D.C. native Ivan Nolia.

"I walked in and saw this kid, and I was like, 'That's not going to work,'"Graglia says. "Then someone stopped me and said, ‘No, that kid is really good.'"

It turned out Nolia was more than just a decent yogi for being so young. He surpassed the level of many students who have been practicing for years. Now, he is a certified yoga instructor.

His passion for yoga began when Nolia and his mother decided to go to a yoga class at a local library. From day one, Nolia says he loved it.

A year and a half later, he is D.C.'s youngest certified yoga teacher and recently began teaching the practice to his swim team as a warm-up for practice.

Nolia's swim coach, Robert Green, says the kids are really enjoying it, although some of the poses are difficult for them.

"Ivan is one of a kind, definitely. He's extremely mature for his age," Green says. "It was a blessing to have Ivan (start teaching yoga) around this time … The kids are dragging, and the heat is getting to them. The yoga is teaching them to breathe and be patient."

Nolia is inspiring more than his team, he's also making a mark on his teachers. Yoga District instructor Aqeel Yaseen says Nolia was "the highlight" of the 11-day teacher training and really inspired the older students.

"When he laughs, everyone laughs," he says. "He really lightened up the whole group … when he focused, he was there learning. Then as soon as he had a break, he was playing around … He made the environment less stressful and much more playful in the sense that it was OK to be relaxed and not have a certain persona."

Nolia enrolled in Yoga District's 11-day, 200-hour intensive teacher certification training a couple of months ago after stumbling across an ad for the training online.

"It just looked so fun," Nolia says. "Most people were 22 and up … I'm the only 9- year-old there … The first day it was very scary, the second day I got used to it, and third day -- it was awesome."

The most wonderful thing about teaching yoga to a child, according to Yaseen, is his ability to easily absorb the philosophical aspects of yoga in addition to the physical poses.

"What is often difficult about yoga is the mind is very restless and it doesn't want to hold on to lessons in life, so they have to be constantly repeated," he says. "Ivan doesn't have this problem since he doesn't have past experiences like adults do to hold him back from accepting certain philosophical lessons from yoga."

At just 9 years old, Nolia is at a level that most yogis won't ever get to, Graglia says. Nolia's talent and dedication are unparalleled, and his skills extend far beyond his yoga practice.

"I've been doing martial arts since I was 4," Nolia says. "I do it every Saturday in the morning … (Yoga) teaches me how to be calm, and it also teaches me how to be flexible, so now for example, if someone hits me in the rib (during kung fu practice), it won't hurt … and I can dodge it better."

The rising fourth grader at Washington International School in Georgetown also speaks Spanish fluently and is learning Chinese. Nolia says he wants to be a doctor and an astronaut when he grows up so he can help people if they get injured while exploring space.

"He's naturally very inquisitive," Yaseen says. "Almost every class we find out something new he can do. He's serious and interested to know more about yoga outside the poses -- the philosophical aspects of yoga."

Graglia says he is truly amazing and just belongs in the yoga studio. It's striking how seriously dedicated, strong and flexible this child is, he says.

"You never know what (your yoga students) are absorbing … He came up to (Founder of Yoga District and Yoga Activist) Jasmine (Chehrazi) at the end of teacher training and said, ‘That changed my life,' and in that way, he is really soaking it up," Graglia says.

View the photo gallery to see Nolia in some of his favorite yoga poses, and watch him in action in the video of him teaching his swim team.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter.

© 2013 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.