This Billionaire Couple Wants To Empower Kids Through Yoga

What is it about the billionaire crowd and New Age stuff? 

In the past, I've written about Ray Dalio and Daniel Loeb, the former who's deep into transcendental meditation and the latter who's been practicing rigorous Ashtanga yoga for years. 

Then there's Paul Tudor Jones, whose philanthropy focuses on supporting charter schools and addressing poverty in New York. Jones founded the Excellence Charter School in Bedford Stuyvesant, and helped start the Robin Hood Foundation, New York's top anti-poverty funder. Meanwhile, Jones's wife, Sonia, is a yoga entrepreneur who recently cofounded the Sonima Foundation, a Southern California-based outfit that combines yoga and other wellness activities to support children and youth. Jones chairs the foundation. With a fortune of $4.2 billion, Jones is the wealthiest yoga booster that we've come across yet. 

I'll say more on the Sonima Foundation in a moment. First, though, let's talk briefly about Sonia Jones. The native Australian and former fashion model is another proponent of Ashtanga yoga, the form of yoga that sent the aforementioned Loeb on retreat to India for a month. (A break from his day job of roughing up companies that he sees as underperforming for their shareholders.)

Sonia also has a deep history with this yoga method and teamed up with the heirs of an Ashtanga yoga master to open studios, called "shalas," in order to continue teaching Ashtanga. Sonia helped finance some of these studios, one of which operated for a while in Greenwich, Connecticut, where the Jones family lives. In the Jones' residence—which, by the way, resembles Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home (only with a 25-car underground garage)—Sonia, Jones, and all their children have practiced Ashtanga as well.

OK, so Sonia is all about yoga.

But the interesting thing about the Sonima Foundation is its focus on children and youth, particularly those who are at-risk. No, this isn't about introducing yet more privileged 30-something yuppies to the power of yoga. Sonima wants to empower the most vulnerable using yoga and other wellness strategies.

To that end, the foundation runs programs at so-called Sonima Schools, which reportedly serve "over 27,000 children grades K-12 across 54 schools in California, Florida, New York, and Texas." In California, for instance, nine different schools in the Encinitas Union School District in San Diego County participate in Sonima programming.

Seven schools in the Bay Area recently signed on to Sonima, and the goal of the multi-pronged program is to arm students with the "skills to handle stressful situations, curtail bullying and violence, prevent obesity, and improve their ability to absorb information in the classroom." It gets at several of the issues plaguing kids and youth in schools. The core curriculum at each of these schools will include health and wellness, which will be taught twice a week. Across all these schools, there will be 15 instructors total, one assigned for every 250 students. Sonima will be footing the entire bill. 

Another component of this new partnership is research and a research team at Stanford University will be tracking the progress of these students for the next several years. Dr. Victor Carrion, Head of Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and a Sonima Foundation Advisory Board Member, will helm this research project. 

In Carrion's words: "We're really looking forward to a year from now, when I tell you this is effective, for you not to only take it on my word, but for you to also have data."

In 2012, Carrion launched a mindfulness program in the Ravenswood City School District to treat PTSD in teens that was featured on a PBS NewsHour segment. Sonia and Jones happened to catch the broadcast, and the rest is history. 

Deepak Chopra and football player Justin Tuck are among the Sonima Foundation's board members.