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Meet Joanie Plake of Breathe & Learn in South Bay and Mar Vista

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joanie Plake.

Joanie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My teaching and yoga journey began in New York City. I earned my Masters in Childhood and Special Education from NYU and was properly introduced to yoga by my good friend, Simone. I fell in love with the practice and how it made me feel. A special shout out to Ishta Yoga and their amazing community of teachers and students who helped nourish my soul and navigate many transitions in my 20s. After teaching fourth grade at The Brooklyn New School for three years, I was ready for a change and the west coast sunshine was calling my name.

LA was a dream come true. The second day I arrived, I was sitting in a circle in the Temescal Mountains meditating with a team of teachers and a visionary of a principle. We were opening a Charter School, Citizens of the World Mar Vista, whose mission was to create a culture of mindfulness and explicitly teach kids social-emotional learning skills. It was an unbelievable experience and wild, wild ride. In the spring of my third year at CWC, I registered for a 200 hour yoga teacher training – something I had wanted to do for years. I needed it more than ever at this point in my life and although it’s a cliche to say, it changed everything.

I started teaching yoga and breathing exercises to my students because I needed to practice and figured it could help them too. They LOVED it! So, it became a daily routine in my classroom. We wrote in special journals every morning and afternoon, during a time I called “mindful minutes”. I noticed a shift in my classroom and how just a few minutes of breathing and movement worked wonders in improving their focus and attitude towards learning.

I knew this was the start of something really special. I took a huge leap of faith and made the hard decision to step away from the classroom. With much uncertainty, but a lot of determination, I began creating an academic and yoga summer camp to experiment with different ways to introduce these concepts to kids and families. In the fall, I designed a series of after-school yoga classes and a student’s family offered to host it in their home. Word of mouth helped grow my class size and eventually, I was able to rent studio space. While driving home one day, I was on a call with my sister and she was encouraging me to establish a name for this business I was creating ( I still didn’t think it was a business). I truly don’t know who said it first, but the name Breathe and Learn was said and it stuck. I’m forever grateful for that phone call and my big sister.

Has it been a smooth road?
I never really dreamed of owning my own business and never considered myself as an entrepreneur. So, when it all started happening, I was a mess. I didn’t know up from down or left from right. I just knew that I wanted to teach kids yoga and mindfulness.

Figuring out all of the “backend stuff” was (and sometimes still is) the biggest struggle. I had the name and the concept, but now I needed all of the marketing and digital stuff to go with it! I needed a website, a social media presence, a way to market myself and my classes, etc. Most of all, I needed to make money if this was going to be my full-time job.

Overall, I can now call myself an entrepreneur, but sometimes I still struggle with the loneliness of working for yourself and the intense feeling that it’s all on YOU.

Please tell us about Breathe & Learn.
My goal was always to create a unique yoga experience for kids that would help them develop fundamental life skills in a fun and active way. As a kids wellness company, Breathe & Learn uses yoga, journaling and mindfulness to support a child’s social and emotional journey. Our approach does focus on yoga poses and physical movement, but it is also curriculum-based to address the important job of building age appropriate skills surrounding the topics of emotional awareness, stress management, sense of self, physical development, positive relationships and creativity.

Our classes are broken down into four parts – journaling, breathing, moving and relaxing. This approach, along with the custom B&L journals that support meaningful discussions and outline the daily lessons, are truly what set us apart. It’s easy to imagine ten kids all holding hands in tree pose. But now imagine a group of kids also journaling, learning more about themselves, connecting with one another and settling into stillness so they can notice their breath. It’s possible and it’s happening. We’re planting the seeds for a lifetime of health and wellness and it’s magical to be a part of it.

We’ve recently expanded our programming and now offer classes for students ages 4 – 13 at various studios in the South Bay and Mar Vista. Here’s what’s currently on the schedule: Mindful Minis, B&L Signature Series, Athlete Yoga (Breathe & Stretch) and Aerial Yoga (Breathe & Fly). On the weekends and throughout the summer months, we host special events and beach camps.

What role has luck (good luck or bad luck) played in your life and business?
Not sure if it is luck, but when I started this journey I didn’t know I would create something that other teachers across the country and world would want to have access to. I received so many inquiries through my website and social media that I decided to put together a program to teach adults the Breathe & Learn approach and share my resources. I recently launched the online B&L Facilitator Training Program and it’s been so amazing to connect with a community of people who are equally as passionate about sharing this work with children.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Cristin Goss, Hailee Repko, Laura Kleinhenz

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