About Us

The mission of Yoga for Mental Wellness is to help individuals, their families, and the mental health community discover the vast resources of the body and mind available through the consistent practice of yoga. Our teachers design yoga programs in mental health facilities and advise, mentor and train yoga teachers and mental health professionals interested in exploring yoga’s complementary role in mental health and wellness.  We are also engaged in empirical and qualitative research regarding our programs. Contact us for information about our hospital-based and other yoga programs in the community and mental health centers.

Katie Linn, Program Director of NAMI-NYC Metro, describes YMW’s impact this way:

Yoga for Mental Wellness has transformed lives, built a sense of community driven by love and acceptance, and removed the stigma often associated with mental illness.  [The teachers] . . . value the person first and challenge those who participate in their classes to change their own lives and discover a holistic understanding of wellness.


Elizabeth Plapinger, RYT, JD
Director, Yoga for Mental Wellness

Liz Portrait13449_WEB

Elizabeth Plapinger is the director and principal teacher of Yoga for Mental Wellness (YMW) at The Breathing Project, which has provided low-cost or free therapeutic yoga classes for those living with mental illness in NYC since 2004. Elizabeth and her colleagues, Bess Abrahams, RYT, IMT and L. Ruth Kalvert, RYT, SME, CMT, MA, administer and teach the YMW program and provide yoga to various hospitals and community mental health programs in and around NYC. Elizabeth and her colleagues also assist yoga and mental health professionals interested in exploring yoga’s complementary role in mental health and wellness.

Elizabeth conducts weekly classes at The Breathing Project and at various hospitals and community mental health centers in and around NYC.  She also works one-on-one with students and families,  and consults with yoga teachers, researchers, mental health policy makers and clinicians about yoga’s role in mental wellness.

Elizabeth, who is also a lawyer, taught conflict resolution and problem solving at Columbia Law School, is the former director of the Public Policy Projects at the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, and is the author of numerous policy and research studies, books and articles regarding ethics, mediation and other methods of conflict resolution.  Elizabeth brings the values of procedural justice—recognizing and honoring the inherent dignity of all beings—to her yoga work. In her yoga classes, she explores how breath, movement, and awareness of the body in the present moment work together to increase our sense of wellbeing. She is honored to assist people in crisis, their families and the mental health community in discovering the vast resources of the body and mind through yoga. For more on how Elizabeth has integrated her background in law, conflict resolution and mediation with yoga, Body-Mind Centering and mental wellness, read an interview.

Bess Abrahams, RYT, IMT 

Yoga for Mental Wellness co-director and founder Bess Abrahams  runs the yoga program at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx and gives workshops and lectures on yoga therapy at schools and other institutions.  She began teaching special needs populations in 1996 at the Association for the Help of Retarded Children (AHRC). She worked with developmentally-delayed adults, many of whom had secondary mental health diagnoses. Since that time she has consistently worked with people facing these exceptional challenges. Her current understanding and approach has been heavily influenced by IMT founders Molly Kenny and Stephanie Hagar, with whom she shares the overarching beliefs that the student is already perfect and whole, and that the student and teacher are both unlimited in their ability to heal.  Bess teaches yoga for special needs populations at yoga centers as well as offers one-on-one instruction.

L. Ruth Kalvert, RYT, LMT, SME, MA

L. Ruth Kalvert is co-director of Yoga for Mental Wellness at the Breathing Project.  She is also founder and director of Project Paean, which provides massage and bodywork within a yogic framework to guide and facilitate self-healing in those suffering from mental health challenges.  Her passion is to develop Project Paean and YMW and help integrate these healing modalities into the mainstream of mental health practices.As a licensed massage therapist, somatic movement educator and registered yoga teacher, she uses movement, self-care acupressure, Reiki, CranioSacral Therapy, Brain Gym and Body Mind Centering with a yogic approach and flow. Currently, L. Ruth is working towards a graduate degree as a part-time student in Mental Health Counseling at SUNY, New Paltz.  She is integrating her extensive work in body-centered wellness into her academic study and research.

In our 10 years of service, YMW has provided free yoga programs in a host of hospital and community settings in New York City.

  • At Babies Project:  Twice-weekly free YMW classes for people of any age or fitness level living with mental illness, as well as caretakers, and mental health workers (2017-present).
  • At The Breathing Project:  Twice-weekly free YMW classes for people of any age or fitness level living with mental illness, as well as caretakers, and mental health workers (2004-2017).
  • At NYC’s St. Luke’s Hospital outpatient Psychiatric Recovery Center: With St. Luke’s Psychologist, Dr Yuko Hanakawa, PhD, YMW develops and co-leads the weekly Holistic Health and Wellness Group (HHW), devoted to breath and body awareness, mindfulness and yoga practice for people experiencing psychosis.  The HHW Group has the largest and most consistent attendance of any group in the clinic, according to Dr. Susan Palmgren, PhD, director of the Psychiatric Recovery Center (Provided by YMW gratis; 2009-present).
  • At Fountain House, a community mental health center in Manhattan: From November 2011- June 2012, YMW and its sister project, Project Paean, offered weekly yoga classes and monthly massages for class members.  This program built on a prior clinical and research program by Project Paean investigating the role of touch and massage in mental wellness, directed by YMW teacher and massage therapist, L. Ruth Kalvert. (2009-2010).
  • Presentations and services at wellness forums and events in the NYC area for people with mental health challenges and mental health professionals, including St. Luke’s Hospital wellness events for staff, The Japanese American Foundation, the National Alliance for Mental Illness-NYC, and at the NYS Psychiatric Center at Columbia University. (Provided by YMW gratis; ongoing).
  • At NYC’s St Vincent’s Hospital: Weekly chair yoga classes to in-patients in the adult psychiatric ward, and training staff to incorporate yogic strategies into their work with patients. (Provided by YMW gratis; 2008-2010).
  • At NYC’s Mt. Sinai Hospital:  Weekly chair yoga class to in-patients in the geriatric psychiatric ward (Provided by YMW gratis; 2006-2007).
  • At National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-Metro): YMW body and breath awareness training for NAMI parents of teenagers or young adults with serious mental health challenges. (Provided by YMW gratis; 2007-2008).
  • At Community Mental Health Center in the Bronx, NY ((Geel Clubhouse): First yoga program in the Bronx for adults with serious mental health challenges (6-week program, 2008).

Since our beginnings in 2003, yoga teachers have been interested in how we use yoga to enhance and support health and well-being.  Since our small classes function as confidential, therapeutic spaces, casual or one-time visitors have been discouraged.  However, we have always welcomed and encouraged interest in apprenticing in our program.  In 2012, after informally supporting and mentoring interested yoga teachers for years, many of whom have become our colleagues, YMW accepted our first formal student for mentoring in the YMW method of teaching. Yoga teachers interested in participating in the YMW mentoring program are invited to contact Elizabeth.

YMW mentoring student, Kayleigh Pleas, who is a NYC yoga teacher, wellness and nutrition coach and positive psychologist,  writes about the YMW mentoring program:

As a yoga instructor interested in working with individuals suffering from mental disorder, shadowing Elizabeth has been one of the most valuable learning experiences I could have hoped for.  Elizabeth’s depth of knowledge, combined with her sensitivity and care, is a gift to witness in and out of the studio. The men and women who take her classes return time and again because Elizabeth so effectively and lovingly guides them towards experiencing the inner wellspring of peace in their minds and bodies. … Elizabeth’s work is cutting-edge and a prime example of the future of Western psychology. I look forward to continuing to learn from her both as a professional and as a woman aiming to live from her heart.