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Reading, writing, arithmetic, and now, yoga

Elementary school-aged children take an average of 12-25 breaths per minute, without even thinking. But what happens when they slow down, focus on each one of those breaths, and use their newfound focus to calm their minds and reduce stress?

Thanks to the support of the Sonima Foundation, 3,400 students from seven schools in the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto will participate in yoga-based exercises, mindfulness practices, and nutritional education. 

The East Palo Alto students are joining more than 23,000 children nationwide who already benefit from the Sonima Foundation Health and Wellness program. The goal of the program is to support classroom teachers by giving students tools that will help them feel calmer and more focused in class, putting them in a better position to learn. 

Leading a study on the program’s effectiveness is Victor Carrion, MD, director of the Stanford Early Life Stress and Pediatric Anxiety Research Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and associate chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University Medical School. Carrion and his team will follow a group of East Palo Alto students over the next four years as they learn about mindfulness and positive habits. 

Carrion hypothesizes that students enrolled in the Health and Wellness programs will display emotional regulation, higher academic performance, and a generally healthier lifestyle. During the study, he and his team will track the students’ academic and cognitive strengths and weaknesses, emotional and behavioral functioning, stress-related hormone levels, sleep patterns, and brain activity and structure.  Eventually, the team hopes to better understand the fundamental mechanisms of stress, adversity, resilience, healing, and recovery. 

To kick off the study and introduce the Sonima Foundation Health and Wellness program to the East Palo Alto community, an event was held on January 21 at Costaño School & 49ers Academy and featured a number of supporters of the program, including Carrion; Gloria Maria Hernandez-Goff, PhD, superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District; California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom; Oakland Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck; and Sonima Foundation Executive Director, Eugene Ruffin. 

“The reason we do this is to give students the tools to navigate an uncertain future,” said Ruffin. 

Photo credits: 
Tony Avelar/Invision for Sonima Foundation/AP Images