- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

DETROIT (AP) - When Taurean Camel is feeling mad or worried, he knows exactly what to do: strike a yoga pose.

“I just breathe in and breathe out, slowly,” the 9-year-old said, “and all the stress and negativity just comes out of my system.”

Taurean is one of 1,200 elementary school students in Detroit who are bending and twisting on bright purple mats as part of a yoga-based fitness and nutrition program run by the nonprofit Danialle Karmanos’ Work It Out.

The program aims to prevent childhood obesity and increase self-esteem.

“It’s had more far-reaching positive effects than we ever could have anticipated,” Karmanos said recently after watching students practice at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Sciences. “We’re seeing a significant decrease in bullying behavior and an increase in educational productivity.”

Karmanos, a community activist and wife of Compuware co-founder Peter Karmanos Jr., started Work It Out 10 years ago because she wanted to offer an option to children in low-income areas who might not have access to health programs.

The 10-week class is in seven Detroit charter schools and eight schools that are part of Detroit Public Schools. It’s especially welcomed in places that have lost or cut gym classes because of budget belt-tightening. Wright, for instance, is the only participating DPS school that has its own physical education program, said Tom Anderson, CEO of Work It Out. The children there do the yoga during their gym class.

DPS works with various nonprofits to bring a patchwork of after-school physical activities such as soccer, golf, football and basketball to some elementary schools, including those without physical education programs.

“We can’t do it alone. We need these partnerships,” Edward Tomlin, deputy executive director of elementary and middle school sports for DPS, told the Detroit Free Press (http://on.freep.com/1LJyXwR ).

In the last decade, nearly 6,000 children have gone through Work It Out. It costs about $10,000 to run in each school.

At Wright, 23 third-graders positioned their purple yoga mats - provided for free and theirs to keep - in a circle on the gym floor. With a wide smile, energetic instructor Kerrie Trahan led them through a series of poses.

“Does everybody know what’s next?” she called out.

“Downward dog!” the children shouted. They positioned their hands and feet on the ground - and then started barking.

Amihr Nelson, 9, said yoga has helped him be a better football player. His favorite pose is the warrior, with arms outstretched, feet spread apart and one knee bent.

“It helps you in sports,” he said, “so you can keep your balance and stay focused.”

Trahan ended the session by telling the kids: “Think about what brings you peace.”

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com

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