Yoga Added to US Elementary School Lesson Plan

Baltimore program aims to give students better problem-solving tools

Along with reading and arithmetic, school children in the East Coast U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, are learning yoga.

The aim is to help inner-city children stay out of trouble on tough city streets, by giving them better tools to solve problems.

First, the students do their homework. Then, they sit together to meditate and practice yoga.

A breathing exercise, called "Breath of Fire," is 9-year-old Janaisa Brown's favorite.

"When you breathe, it just brings all your senses together," she says, "and it calms you down really a lot."

Atman Smith is one of the founders of the Holistic Life Foundation, which sponsors the after-school program. He says yoga can help young people deal with life's difficulties.

"It's like a serious cycle in most inner cities where people don't know how to resolve conflicts peacefully, that's why there is so much violence and abuse," Smith says. "I see in us teaching these kids meditation and giving them these tools to self-regulate, that it is going to change, I guess, the social construct and the way the inner city works and is thought of."

Tyrone Boykins has participated in the program for two years at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School. Yoga and meditation have become part of his daily life and he even teaches some classes.

"When I wake up and I get ready, I do the sunrise [yoga position] because I was told that, when you do the sunrise, it helps you when you are confused," he says, "and it helps you wake up and when you go to school you have a good day."

Principal Carlillian Thompson brought the program to her school two years ago. She places some of her most troublesome students in the class instead of suspending them - and says for one group of fifth-grade boys, it has made a difference.

"When the boys got in the program, their behavior didn't change overnight.  But I could see, over time, that they learned how to, instead of using their fists, to resolve different situations, that they started with the breathing techniques. They began to talk about their problems, instead of reacting like they used to," Thompson says. "So I said there must be something really good about this program if it can change them."

She wants to expand the program at her school and hopes other schools will join in.

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