As kids head back to school, the stresses they encounter can lead to misbehavior and sometimes fighting. Annelise Lonidier, owner of Sacred Thread Yoga, offers kids from low-income families in the Old Fourth Ward a healthier and creative alternative.
Thanks to a partnership with Operation P.E.A.C.E., Inc. and funding from a Fulton County grant, Lonidier has taught children yoga for the past five years and is seeing results.
“I’m really passionate about children being exposed to yoga because it comes so naturally to them. This idea of making shapes and having creative movement of their body – they tend to love it right away,” Lonidier shared.
Yoga not only strengthens their bodies, it builds their self-esteem and gives them strategies for dealing with conflict, she said.
“I can tell when they first come – who is probably getting in trouble in class – and that student tends to do really well with us. That student has a hard time sitting still, but with us they have an outlet for their energy. After a few weeks, they’ll say ‘I do great in yoga’ and they feel good about themselves,’ Lonidier said.
Five years ago, Lonidier opened Sacred Thread Yoga because she wanted a studio close to home. At first, she juggled a healthcare career with a few classes in her spare time. Two years ago, she left the corporate world to fully pursue her passion for yoga for practitioners of all ages.
Teaming up with Operation Peace, an after-school and summer education and enrichment nonprofit, was “a natural fit.” The nonprofit is always looking for new activities for its kids and Lonidier had attended a low-income high school and understood how a lack of resources can limit opportunities.
During the school year, 5 to 7 year-olds attend weekly yoga practice at the Sacred Thread Yoga studio. In the summer, Lonidier and her volunteers work with two age groups, ages 5 to 7 and ages 8 to 13, twice a week.
A typical class includes intention setting, movement, breathing techniques, singing, partner postures, a short final “savasana” (relaxation pose) and yoga nidra.
“Most kid yoga is games and fun play, but I really try not to water down what I do.
We talk about how your blood circulates, the composition of your body, and your lung capacity,” Lonidier said.
Her young “yogis” even love yoga nidra, a relaxation technique clinically shown to reduce anxiety, hypertension, depression and chronic pain. “It’s crazy to see 6-year-olds go from playing to still. Once they lay down a hush falls across the room.”
Lonidier guides them through a body scan and helps them let go of the chatter in their minds. “We tell a story with a lot of imagery. They become completely still. A few fall asleep. It teaches them the importance of being still and how to quiet their minds,” she said.
Lonidier is open with kids about how yoga can fit into their life. Through activities and story telling she helps the younger understand how to use yoga when they are upset. Her older students tell Lonidier how they take a moment to be quiet or just sit and breathe when they are troubled.
“After being in school all day, our kids have a lot of stockpiled energy. Yoga shows them different ways to relax and calm down. They already know about running, basketball, football, soccer, dancing etc., but yoga gives them another way to exercise that they can even do at home,” Operation P.E.A.C.E President Marcel Benoit, Jr. explained.
Sacred Thread Yoga also hosts training each year for yoga students who want to volunteer with kids. “It’s not a yoga teacher training, it’s about taking a yoga aficionado who wants to teach a girl scout troop and giving them the basics they need to do that,” Lonidier said.
As the training program grows and Operation P.E.A.C.E. raises more funds, more kids will have access to yoga.
“Yoga promotes a healthier lifestyle and we all need a little more of that,” Benoit said.