Breathe & Learn: After-School Mindfulness Training

Joanie Plake is on to something.

Only a year removed from her undergraduate degree, Joanie found herself back in school — this time to master the art of teaching others, and more importantly, children. An East Coast girl originally, she had gotten her feet wet in education by teaching the fourth grade, before embarking on a cross country journey to LA to accept an opportunity with Mar Vista’s Citizens of the World charter school. The new role allowed Joanie to experiment with new concepts like integrating mindfulness and meditation into the classroom.

As Joanie’s experience grew, she noticed how many students struggled to cope with their own emotions. She observed that an inability to properly express one’s emotions had a negative impact on learning.

Students who didn’t easily master new concepts would let their frustrations prevent them from absorbing the next lesson and the cycle would then repeat itself. As a devotee of the writings and concepts of Daniel Goleman and Goldie Hawn’s MindUp program, Joanie concluded that most schools were barely scratching the surface of helping students develop emotional intelligence.  

An avid yoga practitioner, Joanie saw an opportunity to fuse her passions into a teaching and business model using a playful and rewarding curriculum, basic yoga disciplines (mindfulness, gratitude, self-compassion, etc.) and movements to create an educational, social and emotional learning experience, achievable through an eight-week course. Thus, the birth of Breathe & Learn.

Today, Joanie serves as the master instructor for Breathe & Learn and, along with her highly skilled staff, have continued to meet the ever increasing demand for instruction.  

A normal class operates like this:

Upon arrival, each child sets up their yoga blankets and receives a ‘Gratitude’ journal. Throughout the course, the pages of each child’s Gratitude journals are filled in — some individually and some collectively. Children work on these daily and get to keep the journals at the end of the course — a memento or reflection of their personal growth over the eight weeks.  

Next, Joanie introduces a theme for the day and reads inspirational words of wisdom before the breathing exercises begin. Breathing exercises are constantly changing, giving each child variety and allowing them to find their own comfort zone organically.

After this, they’re officially ready for some yoga! Joanie introduces poses in a game-like fashion with some of the more exciting poses even requiring a partner — allowing students to share the fun and learn together. To further help them build self-esteem and stay engaged in the learning process, Joanie will sometimes let students lead portions of the exercises, creating better citizens of the world, one little person — and yoga move — at a time.  

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