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Room to Breathe

Distributed by The Video Project, PO Box 411376, San Francisco, CA 94141-1376; 800-475-2638
Produced by Russell Long
Directed by Russell Long
DVD , color, 55 min.
Jr. High - General Adult
Education, Adolescence, Inner City Schools, Mindfulness, Meditation

Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 6/11/2013

Public schools, especially those serving inner-city communities, often struggle mightily to provide underachieving students with the skills and environment they need to achieve success in the classroom and in life. Room to Breathe takes us inside one such school where training in mindfulness technique is equipping students with essential skills—self-awareness, impulse control, focus, empathy—and transforming the atmosphere in the classroom.

Marina Middle School in San Francisco has problems: its African-American and Latino students lag behind their peers in academic performance, and the school has the highest rate of disciplinary suspensions in the district; many students are disengaged, “don’t do school,” and teachers are weary of the daily battle to keep students on task. Several students featured in Room to Breathe speak candidly of peer pressure to act up in class, harassment from bullies, frustration with the way subjects are taught in school, and the chaotic atmosphere in their classes.

To address these issues, Megan Cowan from Mindful Schools is brought in to teach a form of meditation called mindfulness to a classroom full of very unruly and skeptical seventh graders. Mindfulness is a tough sell with this group, but Ms Cowan is patient and persistent— gradually her charges respond to exercises in mindful posture, breathing, listening (even eating!), being present in the moment, cultivating empathy, and replacing habitual negative thought patterns with positive ones. And as the students begin to practice mindfulness, in and outside of school, positive change ensues.

Room to Breathe is an excellent resource for parents, educators, and community members interested in seeing all students cultivate a lifelong love of learning; also useful for introducing young adults to the benefits of training in self-awareness. Bonus materials include futher insight from students who’ve found mindfulness helpful in dealing with shyness, distractions, the urge to bully, worry and stress; extended interviews with mindfulness experts Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dan Siegal and Megan Cowan; and contact information for organizations conducting training and research into the benefits of mindfulness meditation in schools.


  • Platinum Reel Award, Nevada Film Festival
  • Peoples Choice Award, Love Unlimited Film Festival
  • Social Impact Award, Richmond International Film Festival