Danialle Karmanos had goose bumps.
She was watching Detroit elementary school kids work it out on yoga mats practicing alongside each other.
“There was energy happening and swirling in the room,” she says. “It was giving children who often live in extremely stressful situations inner peace.”
That’s the goal of Karmanos’ Work It Out yoga program. Done in partnership with the DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan, the idea is to use yoga to help kids develop a healthy mind, body and spirit and at the same time reduce anxiety, prevent childhood obesity and increase self-esteem.
So how did Danielle Karmanos, wife of wealthy businessman Pete Karmanos, get involved in this yoga program?
The answer is pretty simple. She’s a news junkie. She and her husband read five newspapers a day. She read about the childhood obesity epidemic and wanted to help. The problem is huge. In the U.S. alone, more than 2.3 million children suffer from childhood obesity.
“We wanted to fight for these kids in a meaningful way,” she says. The non-profit Work It Out yoga program started in 2005.
Part of the fight is helping them relieve stress. “Kids often don’t know they are stressed,” Karmanos says. Stress can be toxic. It can lead to weigh gain, behavior problems such as bullying or being bullied, and health issues later in life including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
Yoga is powerful and can help change all that, Karmanos says. Kids who take part learn to make healthy choices – not just with food but with life.
Bullying behavior and its results decrease. “They learn to step away catch their breath and make healthy choices,” she says.
Academic performance improves. “They learn to imagine themselves doing well, and they do,” she say.
Here are some pretty amazing statistics.
- 93 percent of the kids who took class said it made them feel good
- 72 percent said they used breathing techniques to reduce stress
- 69 percent either changed or tried healthier foods
So far, 7,500 kids have participated in the 10-week Work It Out yoga and nutrition program offered in elementary schools in the fall and winter. This summer 250 kids from Detroit Public Schools and charter schools will be involved in a six-week program. Kids who sign up must commit to being there for every session – one hour, one day a week.
At the end of the session, each child goes away with his or her own yoga mat, a colorful workbook and a certificate of completion.
The Work It Out sessions are led by volunteers, all of whom are certified yoga instructors.
“Our goal is to reach as many kids as possible,” Karmanos says. She hopes to take the program to the suburbs in the future.
Work It Out was part of the annual All Children Exercising Simultaneously (ACES) Day held in early May. The event draws thousands of elementary school students to sites globally for exercise and promotion of physical activity in schools. ACES takes place on the first Wednesday in May as part of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month along with National Physical Education Week and has been called “the world’s largest exercise class.”
This year Wayne State University’s Center for School Health in the College of Education, and WSU Athletics partnered with the Michigan Fitness Foundation and Karmanos’ Work It Out to co-host the event.
“For children, 60 minutes of physical activity every day is critical,” says J.J. Tighe, president and CEO of the Michigan Fitness Foundation. “The Michigan Fitness Foundation is grateful for the support of Wayne State University and Danialle Karmanos’ Work It Out for ACES Day. Their commitment helps children appreciate how enjoyable physical activity can be, and develop healthy habits for life. It’s great to see hundreds of children on the field getting active and having so much fun.”
The following schools participated in the ACES program this year:
- Coleman A. Young Municipal Center
- Keidan Special Education Center
- Gesu Catholic Center
- Highland Park Renaissance Academy
- Allen Academy
- Southwest Detroit Lighthouse Academy
- Detroit Leadership Academy
- Detroit Christ the King Catholic School
- Starr Detroit Academy
“My heart leapt as I watched those kids on their mats practice yoga powerfully and peacefully,” Karmanos says.
For more information on Work It Out program please go to the website.