UNITED NATIONS — As an eighth-grader, Osman Gomez of Freeport had more than the usual amount of teenage angst, he said as he spoke to a room full of hundreds of people at the United Nations Thursday.
Back then, Gomez, now 16, was so worried about the usual adolescent issues — from being popular to being tall enough — that he was stricken with anxiety attacks so severe that his mother called administrators at John W. Dodd Middle School for help. His grades suffered. He was depressed.
“I was very paranoid,” Gomez said in an interview before taking a seat where delegates debate world problems.
Gomez said he realized through a breathing technique called Victory Breath that his panic attacks were “all my imagination.” He learned the technique and others at a Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES) at the middle school and has lived by it ever since.
Gomez’s story was one of many shared Thursday at the UN’s observance of International Day of Yoga, which is being celebrated all week at the Manhattan campus for the fourth year in a row. The event was proposed in 2014 at the UN General Assembly by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.
Gomez, a Freeport High School rising senior, sat among yogis and swamis, a former gang member and an Iraq War veteran at an event titled Conversation with Yoga Masters: Yoga for Peace.
Some of the panelists had decades of yoga practice and teaching. All brimmed with anecdotes extolling the virtues of a practice that has drawn hundreds of millions of followers since its founding in India some 5,000 years ago.
Gomez attended the event through his association with Youth Empowerment Seminar-certified educator Elizabeth D’Aiello, a psychologist at Freeport High School who also conducts yoga in after school classes.
Gomez told the assembly that he suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, and D’Aiello developed a plan for him to succeed in school. The two connected through YES.
D’Aiello said Freeport High plans to incorporate YES into its curriculum in September.
“They really showed me another way of life,” Osman said to the audience, speaking of YES. “Yoga, for me, it has really made a better me. . . I know that if I was not practicing yoga that I wouldn’t be able to confront and accept my condition so I’m very thankful for learning about yoga.”