When Laura Leslie’s daughter had a hard time falling asleep at age 3, Leslie turned to the internet. It was there that Leslie, who has been practicing yoga most of her life, said she found a kids yoga training course that helped her learn basic breathing and massage techniques for kids.

It worked, Leslie said. Soon after, her daughter’s preschool asked if she would come and start teaching yoga to the other kids.

“We talk a lot about breathing,” Leslie said this week. “I just try to do a fun class but I am very heavy on the breathing and paying attention to different parts of your body and the kids love it.”

Leslie and Gita Carpenter, a local yoga therapist and owner of the Gita Yoga and Healing Farm, are part of a movement that wants to bring yoga and meditation to schools as a way to help kids deal with stress and anxiety.

“I think the schools are becoming much more open to it,” Leslie said. “In the last five years there is a huge difference in schools saying no yoga — that’s a religion — to them realizing that there are benefits to it.”

Carpenter has seen the progress.

About 20 years ago, Carpenter said she was banned from teaching yoga as physical education at St. Augustine High School because some parents told the school that yoga was "calling the devil." If the school didn’t stop the yoga program, the parents threatened to pull the children out of the school, Carpenter said. The principal reluctantly stopped the program. Carpenter said part of the issue was that some parents thought that she was teaching yoga as a religion, but she insists that yoga is not a religion but a practice that incorporates physical and emotional well-being.

“I was quite disappointed, but I went to other schools and the teachers became the students,” Carpenter said.

Since then, the public perception and the popularity of yoga and meditation has changed. A Google search turned up 14 different yoga studios in St. Augustine. The benefits of meditation have been backed up by science in hundreds of studies. And it appears parents are taking notice.

Leslie said she has been teaching yoga and mindfulness to 3- to 5-year-olds at Bartram Academy preschool for five years.

“I see a difference and parents say they see a difference,” Leslie said.

Leslie, who runs a nonprofit organization called Project Balance, has also led classes at Habitat for Humanity, the Boys & Girls Club and the Betty Griffin Center. Carpenter has taught yoga all over the country including a Jewish Center in New York City and jails in West Virginia.

Leslie and Carpenter say students who practice yoga and meditation regularly can see increases in the ability to concentrate, decreased depression, increased creativity and enhanced body awareness. The teachers hosted a free class for students and parents on the subject at The Center for Spiritual Living and hope to do more next year.

“We feel like there is a real need for people to have yoga and meditation in their lives,” Leslie said. “The people who really can use it really aren’t exposed to it or can’t find the time or the means to do it in their lives.”

Leslie said she has led yoga clubs for students at area schools and was approved for an after-school program with the St. Johns County School District, but no school picked up the program for the 2018-19 school year. She hopes to have better luck next year.