Stepping outside the perceived yoga “norms” of thin and stretchy folks sipping green smoothies and spouting quotes from a bottomless well of inspiration, somewhere in the middle of high-crime, poverty-level, gang-ridden neighborhoods, school kids stand strong in mountain pose. Some such kids currently reside in East Palo Alto, CA where they are faced with very real stresses and anxieties that should be beyond their years, but instead take the form of piled on anger, fear and sadness. For the students of Cesar Chavez Academy, though, a new yoga and mindfulness program may help them cope on the inside with the violence and noise going on outside.
PBS NewsHour reports on how a Stanford University backed project is bringing yoga and mindfulness practices to Cesar Chavez Academy where middle schoolers, at such a young age, are already showing signs of PTSD just by living their daily lives.
According to Dr. Victor Carrion, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine and head of Early Life Stress Research Program who is overseeing the project at Cesar Chavez Academy, up to 30 percent of children living in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods will show signs of PTSD which can in turn affect and impair their ability to learn. In fact, there is a link between stress and behavior that actually shows up in the chemicals and activity of the brain. But Dr. Carrion is hoping to help the kids at Cesar Chavez by providing the tools of yoga to ease the stress before things go too far.
Says Michael Fu, a Stanford University medical student involved in the project:
“The principals of mindfulness really try to make you focus on the present moment. So whether or not you came in this morning experiencing something stressful at home or something bad happened, for you to be able to come into the classroom and really embrace it and embrace the learning, I think it really allows students to reach their potential.”
While it took a little while to get the kids to be OK with doing poses and breathing in front of everyone else (these are middle schoolers, we’re talking about!), students are showing improvements in their attitude and reactions, which can translate into better learning abilities, and environments, as well as more positive temperments overall.
“When I get home, I want to play, but [my mother] doesn’t let me because it’s too dark now. And I get so mad,” says student Brayan Solorio. ”And then I put my yoga mat that they give me, and I start using it. The difference is that I’m angry, and then as soon as I use it, I’m not angry no more. It calms me down.”
Principal Amika Guillaume echoes young Brayan adding, “If we can get kids to the point that they realize that, oh, I’m getting hotheaded, oh, my adrenaline is flowing, I am not thinking clearly, I need to stop, step back and reassess, then maybe we have a chance.”
Watch the full PBS NewsHour report below. It’s an inspiring and sobering look at how yoga is can make a real difference for current and future generations even in its simplest of forms.