Kids growing up in the urban core and marginalized parts of the world face daunting challenges that go beyond education or getting enough to eat. Many of the families in Unbound’s program also experience daily fear and anxiety with the same challenges.
Unbound, an international humanitarian organization headquartered in Kansas City, Kan. works in 21 countries around the world. Unbound serves more than 300,000 children, youth, elders and their families as they fight to break free from poverty.
Mothers groups in Bogota, Colombia occasionally use relaxation techniques during their monthly group meetings to reduce stress in their everyday lives.
“Doing breathing exercises before the start of a mothers group meeting is a way for the moms to become calm,” said Judith Bautista, project coordinator in Bogota. “This activity brings a sense of calmness and harmony to the group.”
Though it’s difficult for Unbound staff in Kansas to use these calming techniques in the field themselves, Ellen Edgar, project specialist at Unbound and a yoga instructor, uses a unique type of yoga to help reduce stress in a class of 4 and 5 year olds at Operation Breakthrough, a local Kansas City organization.
“There are so many benefits for kids who practice any physical activities regularly such as coordination, strength, physical fitness, concentration, increased self-esteem,” said Edgar. “In my opinion, yoga stands out because it focuses specifically on the mind-body connection. It helps to give kids tools for when they feel worried or anxious. Yoga teaches that our breath and mind and body are all linked, so you can use your breathing and your body to calm your mind.”
Several Unbound employees exercise with yoga and even hold weekly classes after work. They decided to bring it to the Operation Breakthrough as a way to help the children manage their bodies and emotions.
According to Brijin Gardner, director of clinical and social services at Operation Breakthrough, many of the kids at Operation Breakthrough are dysregulated and are seen in a state of hyper arousal. They struggle with managing their bodies and emotions.
“We use Namaste as a mantra,” said Gardner. “When they hear that word, students raise their hands, close their eyes, and calmly say ‘Namaste, SHHHHH, calm body.’ We are training the brain to calm the body down.”
Operation Breakthrough uses several calming techniques, including yoga, but Edgar added a few new touches.
Edgar had a bag of animal beanie babies and the children would take turns choosing one. Then the whole class did the yoga pose associated with the animal chosen, which included a flamingo, penguin, snake, horse, monkey and many more.
“This kind of yoga is non-competitive and teaches acceptance of your body, so it’s a great way for kids to be active who might not always get picked first for sports or be as competitive,” said Edgar. “For kids who love competition, yoga can be a nice balancing activity – encouraging them to collaborate with others and work together.”
The last activity of the class was for the kids to lie down on their mats with their beanie baby on their tummy. According to Edgar, this encourages deep breathing, which can alleviate stress and anxiety. The animal gives them something to focus on and helps them to feel more grounded.
“Yoga, guided imagery, music and other breathing techniques are teaching students how to manage their bodies,” said Gardner. “Research is demonstrating that learning these types of skills can buffer effects of stress on the brain and encourage life skills for children and adults.”
Unbound is the largest nonprofit in Kansas with more than $120 million in annual revenue. Unbound works side by side with people of diverse faith traditions in 21 countries, bringing people together to challenge poverty in new and innovative ways.