Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.
In 2014, Breckenridge locals Amy Sabreen and Leslie Glenn lost their third friend to suicide over the course of the previous year. As the two mourned for their friends, both women felt overwhelmed with a sense of loss and a desire to impact what seemed like a growing issue in their peer group.
“I felt like we were missing something as a community,” Glenn shared, “and we wanted to make a positive impact and difference.”
As the memorial service ended, the two briefly discussed ways to help prevent future suicides. The idea simmered between the two yoga teachers and friends, as they thought about how they could create healing with something they both loved: yoga. Sabreen added, “I knew yoga was going to be my way to help but I hadn’t been able to connect all of the dots on how I was going to use it.”
For a while, it simply remained an intention the two had set, as they began to explore how tobring a “yoga as suicide prevention” concept to their town. The initial idea was to bring yoga out of the studio and build a safe space to share the practice and talk about the realities of suicide and mental health. Sabreen said, “We really wanted to serve populations that weren’t being served in a studio and make yoga less intimidating for everyone. We wanted to make sure our classes were a safe place for all to feel welcomed.” Out of these early manifestations, the Community Yoga Project was born.
We really wanted to serve populations that weren’t being served in a studio and make yoga less intimidating for everyone.
As Sabreen and Glenn brainstormed about how to create their vision, their close-knit county experienced another string of prevalent suicides, which left the community reeling. Out of grief and concern, a mental health initiative was formed to tackle the difficult subjects of suicide prevention and mental health. Summit County is a beautiful, mountain resort community located in the Rocky Mountains, where adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts flock to play. However, Summit County’s suicide rate is three times the national average. “There can be a lack of connection and support here. So many people move from around the country and it can be a transient community, which can lead to feelings of isolation,” Glenn offered before sharing, “It also can be hard to discuss mental health with friends; there is definitely a stigma around these difficult topics.”
In 2016, the Building Hope Summit County initiative was born out of the community’s suicide prevention work; it began to run “community connectedness” events as a way to foster relationships, reduce isolation and share mental health resources. Glenn and Sabreen were also ready to launch their Community Yoga Project — the timing was perfect. Sabreen spoke about the collaboration, “It was the perfect opportunity to connect our idea with their mission and they were excited about moving forward with it, so our first classes were with them.”
The goal was to offer classes twice a month in different locations around the community. A key component of the class was to offer it for free, reducing a barrier that often keeps people away from yoga. The turnout to the first few classes was huge and it seemed clear the Community Yoga Project was meeting a need for people. “We see a really diverse group of students through our classes. Everyone from young families with kids, seniors and people who have never come to yoga before,” Glenn said. The two teachers are also intentional about creating time to connect before and after class, often with tea and snacks. “It creates a space for people to open up and share their life experiences in a way that isn’t always possible in traditional yoga classes.”
Betsy Casey, Building Hope’s Program Director, also shared about the partnership: “Attendance at the Community Yoga Project classes has been incredible. I really think we hit the right formula of providing structure and local awareness through Building Hope with yoga, which has been a great vehicle for our active community by weaving concepts from class into an individual’s life off the mat. Sabreen and Glenn are so approachable and have created a space of love and safety for anyone to open up and feel a sense of connection that stays strong well after the class ends.”
While the Community Yoga Project has been going strong for the past two years, Glenn and Sabreen feel their work has just started. “We started with the intent of working toward suicide prevention but we have realized there is a need for access to yoga for more populations.” The two are currently discussing bringing yoga into school settings and expanding options for individuals with physical or neurological challenges. Perhaps most reflective of who they are, they want to create a framework for other yoga teachers, ambassadors and communities to be able to duplicate their efforts.
The issues of suicide and mental wellness are more prevalent than ever, as communities across the nation struggle to find the right formula to prevent future losses. Yoga, which is often thought of as a physical practice in our culture, is well positioned to support many of the risks people experience with their own mental wellbeing. Offerings like the Community Yoga Project allow individuals to take yoga off of their mats and into their lives, and to see yoga as not just an active practice, but one of true self care. By focusing on the simple ideas of reminding people that they are worthy of love and acceptance, offering gentle movement and breath to manage emotions and helping people to rediscover their purest form of self, Sabreen and Glenn are using yoga as a true opportunity to help people out of darkness.
Photos by Michel Infante.