WASHINGTON — At a school in Anacostia, three 7-year-old kids are practicing yoga, giggling as they move from one pose to the next.
A little girl named Precious has a big grin as she balances on one leg.
“It makes me feel calm and it makes me feel happy,” she says.
Her classmate Derrick eases into the yoga pose called “the tree,” while nearby, a wide-eyed ball of energy called Caleb lies on the floor, his back slightly arched as he prepares to slip into his favorite pose, “the snake.”
He teases and jokes, telling his volunteer teacher that yoga “makes me ecstatic.”
These are some of the faces of YoKid, a local nonprofit that aims to introduce as many children to yoga as possible — especially those in parts of the region where life can be tense for a child.
“Sixty percent of our programs are to our target population in underserved communities,” says YoKid co-founder Michelle Kelsey Mitchell.
The program started in a middle school in the city of Alexandria, Virginia with an original class of naysaying tweens.
One by one, they were won over, and today it is not unusual for Mitchell to walk through the neighborhood and hear, “Hey, you are the yoga lady!”
Over the years, YoKid has shifted its primary focus from teens and tweens to younger kids, with classes held in school gyms, community centers and other venues.
The nonprofit recruits volunteers with yoga skills to help, and provides extra teacher training. Fees for classes are adjusted according to income, with some families paying nothing at all.
Mitchell says the goal is both to get these kids moving, and to teach them skills they can use to relax and destress.
“Kids who live in poverty are under tremendous stress,” she says, adding the staff at YoKid aims to teach them the tools to help them find peace in the midst of chaos.
This week — Nov. 11-13 — YoKid is hosting the National Kids Yoga Conference at George Washington University’s Marvin Center. The conference brings together mental health care professionals, yoga teachers, educators and parents to talk about the benefits of yoga for children — especially those living in underserved communities and stressful environments.