He sits cross-legged, eyes closed, the picture of concentration.
An upturned hand with thumb and index finger pressed together rests on each knee as he chants, “I am happy. I am grateful. I am happy. I am grateful.”
Eight-year-old Taquarius Hampton could be enjoying video games, watching television, or playing outside. While he definitely makes time for all those things, an ancient practice has become his passion. For Taquarius and 5,000 other Flint youth, yoga has been presented as a health and wellness exercise available for learning.
It’s part of the Crim Fitness Foundation’s CrimFit Mindfulness program implemented in many Flint Community Schools and others in Genesee and Oakland Counties.
Mindfulness training is the practice of disciplined focus. CrimFit Mindfulness incorporates the standard yoga mental, physical control and balance techniques, and has been positively received among students and families who’ve been left stressed and fearful in the wake of Flint”s water crisis.
“You just have to crisscross your hands like Spider Man when he shoots the webs,” Taquarius says of “spider man,” his favorite yoga pose.
A lively boy with an appealing smile, Taquarius regularly uses what he’s learned through CrimFit Mindfulness Training at Eisenhower Elementary when he’s home with his mother.
“Even if we didn’t have this crisis, children, daily, need to run, bike, walk, do something in the gym,” says Hampton. “Children need to exercise. We have a lot of obese children.”
Taquarius is not overweight, but his mother says yoga keeps him active and also supplements his life in other vital ways.
“It’s helping him keep his mind off the negative stuff,” she says.
Since receiving yoga instruction Taquarius is more even-tempered.
“It calms him down a lot. It takes the edge off,” his mother says.
Crim staffers say the purpose of the instruction is promoting understanding of “social, emotional learning” and to improve focus, while also contributing to student academic achievement and life skills.
“Yoga just kind of provides that peaceful place where they can forget about those things, because with yoga we’re in the moment,” says Josie Lemke, Crim physical activity coordinator. “We’re focusing on the poses and on the breathing, and it gives those kids that opportunity to escape reality, to escape their worries.”
Studies show the positive impact of “mindfulness” training increases when school staff, parents and communities support the concept, according to Crim.
Hampton encourages yoga for other families. She compares the practice to a sport her son enjoys, but with special benefits a parent can appreciate – like helping Taquarius adjust his attitude in mischievous moments.
It’s a short trip to the TV where he can watch guided instruction. “I tell him, ‘Boy, you better go put that yoga on.’”