Building and Nurturing Community Through Virtual Yoga and Meditation Classes
Jean King has been working on a campus wellness and wellbeing initiative with members of the faculty, staff, and administration for months. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 outbreak that the need for the “Be Well Together” initiative hit home.
“I wanted to create something that was helpful for people,” says King, Peterson Family Dean of Arts & Sciences at WPI. “It’s really the seed for the global campus program, and for something much bigger.”
The idea behind “Be Well Together” was to unify the campus community by partaking in wellness through healthy activities, including meditation and exercise, and was originally intended as an opportunity for different groups to mingle in person. “We’ve done things together on campus, but they were oftentimes targeted to individual groups—like, ‘this event is for students only,’ or ‘this event is for faculty or staff only,’” King says. “I wanted to do something that would bring all of us together.”
But when COVID-19 sent students, faculty, staff, and administrators to work from home in March for the remainder of the academic year, King recognized that the community would be even more separated. She didn’t let social distancing get in her way—scheduled from April 1 to May 13, “Be Well Together” will gather the WPI community online.
The initiative works like this: each weekday a 30-minute virtual class will be open to the entire campus community. Classes will consist of (a) a yoga session—taught by one of three WPI community members: Angela Rodriguez, assistant professor of psychology; Jeanine Skorinko, professor of psychology; and Kathryn Moncrief, professor and department head of Humanities & Arts—and (b) mindfulness exercises—taught by Justin Laplante, visiting assistant professor at Clark University; and Carl Fulwiler, professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at UMass Medical School, director of Strategic Initiatives, director of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Training at Cambridge Health Alliance, and affiliate faculty member in Social Sciences and Policy Studies at WPI. The community may sign up for and attend classes from home.
Rodriguez, who is a certified yoga instructor and has practiced the art for more than a decade, says yoga is a key tool for her own self-care. Particularly now, with people stuck indoors and feeling isolated during the pandemic, she says she hopes those who take her class will feel cared for and more united.
“I think this is a wonderful way to still feel a sense of community while joining together for such an important cause—promoting our physical and mental well-being,” says Rodriguez. “And specific to this moment in history, I hope that we'll all feel a little less isolated, a little less stressed, and a little more connected through this program.”
King echoes Rodriguez, saying she hopes “Be Well Together” will help WPI build its sense of community while off campus, a bond that will only strengthen once the campus reopens.
“The pandemic is something we’re going through together,” she says. “It’s something we’re going to get through together, too. Let’s be well together.”
--by Jessica Messier