Don't Struggle Alone

Yoga For Mental Wellness, a free class at The Breathing Project every week, explores how a consistent practice can enhance the lives of people who have persistent mental illnesses, like depression.

YogaCity NYC's Elysha Lenkin sat down with Elizabeth Plapinger, architect and director of this unusual class, to learn more about using yoga for mental wellness.

Elizabeth Plapinger

Elysha Lenkin: Your program takes place at TBP, hospitals, and community centers. How did this get started?

Elizabeth Plapinger: It was founded by Bess Abrahams, a yoga therapist, back in 2004, as a pilot program for the BP. I joined Bess in the late fall of 2004. I began as her assistant and was mentored by her. (That mentoring work remains a facet of our program today). In 2005, we began co-teaching, and then I took over the program, with Bess as my co-director. The same mentoring to assistant to co-director pattern was followed with our third YMW partner, L. Ruth Kalvert. Currently, I run and direct the program, and my partners provide support as needed.

EL: How did YMW get into hospitals and community mental health programs?

EP: Our first hospital assignment was at Mount Sinai in 2006. Bess took us there. She was working with a young woman who had been routinely hospitalized since she was 16. Bess visited her, and started the yoga program for the young adults.

EL: What is the difference between your classes at the different locations?

EP: My teaching changes given the resources of the room and the abilities and needs of the students. The studio is fully stocked with props. At a hospital or community mental health center, the poses I teach can also vary depending on the props that are available. But the skills and ideas I teach are always the same.

If I only have chairs, I start students seated in them for the opening breath and meditation work. Then I teach standing poses, using the chair or wall as a prop (e.g., modified down dog), and then seated poses, and finally, chair savasana.