Community Members Find Mental Peace in Yoga


Andrea Jacobson warms up before the class begins. The workshop was scheduled from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., so many people came after getting off work. The ceiling was covered with red lights and heat panels to keep the room around 100℉.

“Sometimes all you need is a reset,” said Kate Wilhelmi, ending her yoga class. Wilhelmi is a teacher at Red Yoga, a hot yoga studio in downtown Ann Arbor, and offered to teach a free workshop involving mental health and mindfulness. This class was on Oct. 12, two days after World Mental Health Day. Participants sat in the large, hot yoga studio and practiced different positions that promote mental health.

The class began and ended with a silent meditation, where participants focused on themselves and their thoughts.

This class was in collaboration with Fresh Start Clubhouse, a proud recipient of the 2014 Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Fresh Start a rehabilitation community for people with serious mental illnesses. The clubhouse prepares young adults to enter back into the world, ready to see life in a new light. Their mission is for everyone in society to lead a productive and healthy life. They help people develop the skills necessary for maintaining relationships, employment, and self-esteem.

Summer Berman, director of Fresh Start Clubhouse, believes that yoga is beneficial for people struggling with mental illness. Many practices in therapeutic settings involve meditation and mindfulness to help regulate thinking patterns.

Berman considers yoga to go hand-in-hand with recovering from mental illness. She believes yoga isn’t just about yourself, but connecting with those around you. This can significantly help those who feel depressed and isolated from those around them.

“Sometimes, sadly, people’s friends and families don’t understand mental illness, and they’re just like ‘That person is acting weird,’” Berman said. “That leads to isolation. Yoga, the word itself, almost means ‘union’: the idea of connecting not only with your own self, but with the larger community.”

This sense of connection was shown towards the beginning of the class, where the participants went around the room and shared their name, their relationship with meditation, and what brought them there.

“I think that’s useful for anyone… but particularly for people who are challenged and maybe not having a really strong social support network, or feeling really isolated,” Berman said. “It can be really easy to not feel connected to anyone.”

The workshop was slow and peaceful, focused on becoming one with the mind. Andrea Jacobson is a regular member at Red Yoga and found this workshop different from her usual classes.

“I’ve never taken a Yoga class that focuses on meditation,” Jacobson said. “I always take classes that focus on a flow. [In these classes] I’m focusing on how my body feels while trying to remember the flow sequences.”

Meditation does not come easy to everyone, often it is easy for the mind to wander off and start thinking about other things. However, once the brain is more relaxed it is easier to focus. Meditation can often help those who struggle with anxiety, as it can quiet the overactive mind.

“In the beginning [of the workshop] I could not meditate at all,” said Jacobson. “And in the end, I actually could sit for five minutes and my brain was clear and empty, without having to fight the ‘monkey mind.’”