Yoga was ingrained in the Smith household, where as kids, the brothers would do yoga and meditate before going off to elementary school.
In 2002, the three rounded up some neighborhood toughs and started offering them free classes at Windsor Hills Elementary School. With parents addicted to drugs, in jail and living on the margins, the students were skeptical of yoga, Ali Smith remembered. "We'd get an occasional, 'Yoga? You mean that little green guy from Star Wars?'
"But it's funny how they took to it," he said. "We're from where they're from, we look how they look. We make sure that we are presenting yoga to them in a way that they will get it."
Darrius Douglas, 20, was among that first group introduced to yoga. Where most of his friends were hanging out on corners selling drugs, Douglas was perfecting his Kundalini lotus position — sitting upright, hands grabbing the ends of his feet as his legs are stretched up and out to either side.
"Yoga saved me," said Douglas, who volunteers with the Holistic Life Foundation every week, helping to teach yoga's benefits to a new generation of students.
The traveling yogis combined various yoga disciplines, poses and breathing exercises to create their own blend of practice that emphasizes mindfulness, or awareness that emerges when one is present or "in the moment."
These days, the Holistic Life Foundation runs an after-school program offering yoga and meditation to about 25 students in pre-K through fifth grade at Robert W. Coleman Elementary in West Baltimore.
One recent afternoon in the school gym, only about half the students in the 45-minute class were paying attention. A 4-year-old bounced around the room, getting up every few minute from her mat to ask for water, her sweat shirt and to go to the nurse. A 10-year-old ran around in circles. And the teachers were constantly reminding the fidgeting bunch to stay focused.
Then, Atman Smith began a guided meditation, which caps off the practice, and the students settled into corpse pose, resting flat on their backs. He encouraged the group to surrender to the breath and focus on the "thumb-sized light at your heart center."
Within seconds, the room fell silent.
For eight minutes, the students lay motionless on blue mats, eyes shut tight, palms facing the ceiling in total calm. When the meditation finished, some eyes remained closed. A handful of students had dozed off.
"I just be so deep into my meditation, I fall asleep," said Ja'naisa Brown, 9. She tries to draw on her yoga skills when she's frustrated, she said. "If somebody gets on my nerves, my mother tells me to go into the house and do yoga. I sit on the floor in my room, put on my music and breathe."
Carlillian Thompson, principal at Coleman Elementary said she has seen shy students open up since taking the class and angry students learn to settle themselves down.
"I look at some of the older children who have had anger management issues; now they do the meditation, and they try to solve their problems by speaking," she said. "Is it a quick fix, are all of the children making great strides like this? No, but they all are making progress. And that's the thing I really like about it."