‘I am strong! I am smart!’: Program empowers girls to be their true selves

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CHICAGO — In nearly 90 Chicagoland schools, yoga is being used to teach girls to stretch not only their bodies, but also their own self-perceptions.

At Mission Propelle, yoga mats are magic carpets and surfboards, taking the girls anywhere they want to. The program combines yoga with lessons in empowerment for girls as young as five.

“Studies show that when girls get to the third and fourth grade level the ideas have already been imposed on them regarding gender are already really strong, so if we can undo that before it happens, then we could have an even bigger impact,” co-founder Annie Warshaw said.

The program teaches young girls to be their “truest self” by including creative storytelling and strong mantras like: “I am strong. I am smart! I am kind! I take up space!”

“Girls understand that their voice is important and what they have to say matters…that they take up space and that’s okay,” Warshaw says with a smile.

Principal Dawn Sandoval said she has seen a remarkable change in the young student’s outlook since beginning the after school yoga classes five years ago.

“They’re self advocates, and now the leaders in their classrooms,” Sandoval said.

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