“Its wonderful, such a great way to start the week,” said Lauren Bush after the Monday morning community yoga class in the West Village at Urban Zen, the non-profit foundation launched by Donna Karan.

Every Monday morning between 8 o’clock and 9:30, one of the graduates of the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program (UZIT), teaches a yoga class that is open to the public with a suggested ten dollar donation. The room, at 711 Greenwich Street, is spacious with gentle music playing and smiling faces to greet you. We began our class with a one half hour centering meditation. Then we started to move for the next hour, under the guidance of the teacher’s soothing voice, into positions in which we are told to “modify according to our needs”.

Keely Garfield, who also teaches yoga at other Manhattan locations, taught a Vinyasa class, one that incorporates movements that flow gracefully one into the other. The instructors rotate, with the next one teaching Anusara yoga. Gillian Celibrasi, the program coordinator of the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program, said she likes to think of the yoga taught at the class as “non-denominational”, with different styles being made available to the community.

Not only do students of the one year program in which they become certified “Urban Zen Integrative Therapists” study yoga as therapy, but they are also learn principals of nutrition, essential oil therapy, Reiki, and contemplative care-giving. Graduates are required to have completed clinical rotations with inpatient and outpatient facilities at places like Beth Israel Medical Center and Hope Lodge (where cancer patients and their families are given a free, temporary place to stay when their best hope for effective treatment is in another city). Students also offer their services at one of the 100 volunteer sites. They work with patients with various medical issues as well as their families and caregivers The idea is to create a new paradigm of health care—one where the goal is to address the anxiety and uncertainty that accompanies diagnosis and treatment with a feeling of, as Donna Karan says, “a calm in the chaos”. Better decisions can then be made, as well as engendering a feeling of empowerment.

Mike Regan, a young man from Park Slope, felt the benefits of the class. He thanked the teacher afterward with a smile while another woman wanted to inquire about the possibility of attending the year long Integrative Therapy program. George, the photographer for this article, took the class as well, stopping to snap a few photos in between. He agreed with Lauren Bush saying “this class is a good way to start Monday—a bellwether of the week”.

I could not agree more.

This article appeared in the December 2010 issue of Westview: The New Voice of the West Village

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