While teaching in South Lawndale, Tantillo felt powerless to protect against the cycles of violence that ravished their community. While she practiced yoga regularly for her own emotional and physical health, it was’t until she read an article about yoga being taught in schools that she realized the same techniques she used to manage her stress could help her students manage theirs, to lessen the emotional impacts of community violence and even to prevent violent incidents.
Tantillo set her sights on creating an accessible yoga curriculum for students and teachers. AGC was one if the first schools to implement Tantillo’s Mindful Practices approach, which debuted during AGC’s first school year in 2008, but many have since followed suit. Mindful Practices now offers a dozen unique K-12 programs and teacher trainings in 50 communities all over Chicago, and in 130 schools and schools districts around the world.
Mindful Practices conducted a two-year study with an 80% low-income school and found a 21% decrease in disciplinary referrals for students participating in yoga and mindfulness programming. When a special-needs school implementing the program lost their yoga funding, they found that disciplinary incidents increased over 300%.
At AGC, the Mindful Practices curriculum has facilitated student-led morning yoga. Students take turns leading their peers through a series of centering poses which help them transition from the excitement of breakfast into their work day. Students, staff, and parents alike have learned to use yoga as a tool to manage their energy and stress.
AGC’s work with Mindful Practices is part of a much larger movement in Chicago and across the world. I Grow Chicago, led by AGC parent, Tameka Lawson, uses yoga and community gardening to bring peace to Chicago’s Englewood community, one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods. Ms. Lawson explains, in this piece from People Magazine, that her students “live in an environment where everything’s rushed, everything’s pressured. So if you breathe through certain things, you are able to see clearer. Then they can act rather than react.” Chicago Police officer Daliah Goree, who refers at-risk youth to Ms. Lawson’s program, agrees: “when they get in a tense situation, they can breathe and relax and make the right decision instead of jumping out at someone and hitting them.”
Academic research supports the work of I Grow Chicago. In a study featuring at-risk and incarcerated youth, researchers in Oakland found significant improvements in stress resilience, self-control and self-awareness among youth in a participants in a yoga and mindfulness program.
To see firsthand the impact of yoga and mindfulness on youth, we invite you to visit AGC for one of our monthly morning tours. See our schedule and sign up here.