A young woman who founded an innovative health and wellbeing organisation, is determined to help young people learn to self-regulate their emotions and build their resilience.
Beata Heymann is the founder of Breath Circle – an organisation which works directly with schools to empower students and teachers through the practise of mindful breathing.
Students are taught to connect to and experience the power and depth of their breath, and to understand how breathing affects emotions, energy levels and focus. Students develop greater self-awareness, resilience and emotional regulation, which can have positive impacts on their relationships, education and wellbeing.
The path to this method of calm was discovered by Beata some time ago. An on-the-job trained social worker, Beata spent 10 years working in a drop-in centre in a busy multicultural community in Melbourne catering to local families who’d migrated from places including South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Vietnam. She developed close relationships with the families and children aged six to eighteen who had experienced trauma or difficulties in their lives, either directly through their own experiences of hardship like civil war, or indirectly through their parents. She started practising and teaching yoga in different communities, including at a youth centre in Fitzroy and in women’s shelters and refuges, where trauma-informed programs were being offered. Beata taught yoga for five years across Melbourne and lectured in Youth Yoga at Australian Yoga Academy before offering Breath Circle Programs in North East Victoria this year.
Beata says her two worlds came together and today she focuses on what she calls a simple, diaphragmatic breath practice that everyone can do and is the easiest way to calm people down. “I brought 12 years of experience in social work together with embodied practices like yoga and breathing and my yoga teaching to create Breath Circle. Basically it was like ‘These are the two things that I absolutely love and I’m passionate about – how can I make them work together?'”
“I teach mindful breathing to the kids so they can use it any time they feel stressed, mad, sad or angry,” she said. “I also do mindful movement with them to help them get out of their head and into their body – and then we sing together to free our voices and experiment with making different sounds, and playing instruments.
“I utilise all these games and somatic tools to get them to shift from being a little bit anxious, nervous and heightened – to drop into a calm, restful, relaxed and safe state in the nervous system.”
Beata said it was through her own exploration of therapies a decade ago, working at healing
herself from her own family trauma, she found and settled on a practice that worked for her. She said she realised you didn’t necessarily have to go to a healer or pay for professional assistance, as while they have their role to play, there are ways you can help yourself. “It wasn’t until I started the regular practice of moving my body, breathing consciously and taking care of myself with yoga that I felt in charge of my own healing and happiness,” she said. “I realised you can DIY quite a lot and simple deep breathing was the most powerful thing for me – even more than yoga.”
Sharing these techniques with a classroom of energetic, primary or secondary aged children or young people is not without its challenges but she has developed ways to get their attention and to keep it.
Having visited Myrrhee, Whitfield, Moyhu and Whorouly Primary School’s regularly for two terms, she goes through a series of steps to help them transition from frenetic energy to total relaxation. The students gradually learnt to trust and respect her, having found it was helping them outside school too.
Grade 6 student Isabelle said, ‘the benefits were experienced both inside and outside the classroom, finding deep breathing a tool to calm her when she felt angry or frustrated about things, but also to help her relax and go to sleep at night.’ Even teenage boys who were not into it at first, said ‘thanks miss for teaching us the breathing, ’cause I was actually really stressed and really tired, but I didn’t realise until we did the breathing, and then I felt so calm and realised I actually had nothing to worry about’.
Principal Mark Van Bergen said the Breath Circle classes provided an opportunity for students to trial a range of tools to help regulate their emotions and assist them to focus. “For some students the breathing tools have been useful when they have been anxious, for others when they have been frustrated or overexcited,” he said. “For some it is the sound, music and listening activities which have resonated with them while for others it’s the movement activities, focussing and sequences which have been valuable. “The classes have complemented our emotional literacy classes at school and increased the range of tools that they can draw upon to help manage their emotional wellbeing.” It’s hoped the benefits of Breath Circle will be something students can carry with them through their school years and on into adulthood.
Beata said at the end of every session there is time given to express gratitude and while the children were a little shy to begin with, by the end of the program they become more comfortable and confident expressing themselves.
She also conducts teacher trainings so teachers are comfortable continuing to integrate the breath practise in the classroom and use it anytime they think the kids might need it.
It couldn’t come at a better time for a broader community coming to terms with COVID-19.
“Not every child has a troubled family or has experienced anxiety, but we have all experienced challenges of one kind or another after COVID,” she said.
“It’s good to be able to express how you’re feeling, not be judged and to be okay with it.”
Beata has been working with schools across North East Victoria and greater Melbourne region and is currently working with the Rural City of Wangaratta and City of Yarra to roll out the program to another eight schools in Term 4, 2021. For more information on Breath Circle Programs or to Register A School, visit the website breathcircle.org
Original article written by Anita McPherson, adapted by Beata Heymann.
What's Your Reaction?
Beata is a youth-mindfulness specialist. Her programs are built from an intimate understanding of the challenges, trauma, stress and anxiety faced by young people and their families. She has over ten year’s experience working in the community and not-for profit sector in Melbourne with at-risk youth for Save The Children at Cubbies (Fitzroy Adventure Playground). Beata lectures for the Australian Yoga Academy, teaches kids yoga training and is qualified in various trauma-informed practices. Breath Circle is a culmination of her expert skills and passions, and has been successfully implemented in schools across regional Victoria.