Nightly News   |  December 07, 2011

Teaching lessons on and off the mat

In lieu of naptime, one group of West Baltimore students is finding peace with “Namaste” -- the Hindi greeting that yoga practitioners know well. NBC’s Rehema Ellis has more.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Our MAKING A DIFFERENCE report tonight is about a group of guys who returned to the neighborhood where they grew up and they're helping the kids who live there find peace of mind in a way you might not expect. NBC 's Rehema Ellis has their story from Baltimore .

REHEMA ELLIS reporting: They were asked to coach peewee football, but Andy Gonzalez , along with brothers Ali and Atman Smith , had another idea...

Mr. ALI SMITH (Holistic Life Foundation Co-Founder): Chin up and exhale it out.

ELLIS: ...yoga, offering an extraordinary experience to Baltimore kids who know nothing about inner peace .

Mr. ALI SMITH: I think there were four shootings in, like, a one weekend period.

ELLIS: Shootings in the neighborhood where the Smith brothers grew up and learned yoga from their dad.

Mr. ATMAN SMITH (Holistic Life Foundation Co-Founder): It wasn't what we left, you know, when we -- when we left the neighborhood to go to college. So when we came back, we saw a need there. There you go.

ELLIS: Nine years ago they formed the Holistic Life Foundation , a nonprofit offering free yoga classes.

Mr. ALI SMITH: We got the kids that had all the behavioral issues, anger management issues, emotional issues.

ELLIS: They started with 15 students. Now they've taught more than 1,000.

Mr. ATMAN SMITH: How many inches in a foot?

ELLIS: Away from the yoga mat , these men are tutors and mentors. They've even gotten kids who once destroyed property to help build this neighborhood park. There haven't been a lot of studies on how yoga affects kids, especially inner- city kids like these in Baltimore , but early findings show this kind of exercise is helping kids manage their stress.

Miss JANAISA BROWN (9 Years Old): When someone wants to fight me, I just -- I start -- I start to do deep breathing. I just start breathing so I can calm myself down.

ELLIS: One volunteer, Darrius Douglas , said he fought every day until he started doing yoga 10 years ago.

Mr. DARRIUS DOUGLAS: If I didn't have Ali , Atman and Andy , I probably would be somewhere on the streets selling something I shouldn't be selling.

Mr. ALI SMITH: If the kids that we help are getting older and seeing that they need to give back, too, then I really feel like we're doing a pretty good job.

ELLIS: Stretching bodies and teaching kids the value of learning to