Westchester Breathes is an ongoing program, initiated by the Westchester Library System (WLS) in 2018, that offers an experience of gentle movement, breathing and relaxation exercises that reduce stress and anxiety and increase a sense of calm and well-being. These exercises are simple and evidence-based – which is to say they are accessible to multiple audiences and they work!
Westchester Breathes is grounded in the work of Dr. Richard Brown and Dr. Patricia Gerbarg and their Breath-Body-Mind Foundation. Elena Falcone, Director of Public Innovation & Engagement at WLS, came across their work as a direct result of the organization’s work to support the
Westchester Resilience Coalition. As the Coalition brought the discussion of adverse childhood experiences and trauma into organizations and communities, there was a clear call for tools that individuals could use immediately – and at no cost – to address the discomfort of both past trauma and current stressors.
In early 2018, Elena began the work to become a Breath-Body-Mind (BBM) instructor. In the fall of 2019 WLS obtained funding to sponsor a 12-hour
BBM Fundamentals Workshop delivered by the two creators of the BBM practices at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Pleasantville NY. This was followed in April 2020 (right amidst the pandemic) with the first-ever fully Zoom-based
BBM Level 1 Teacher Training offered by the BBM Foundation. WLS recruited library staff and Resilience agency partners who could be instrumental in bringing these practices into the community as part of overall health and wellness offerings. The event was attended by close to 100 participants; many were drawn from those who had attended Resilience Coalition events held in 2018 and 2019.
In support of the growing Westchester-based BBM community, WLS created a web resource to direct interested individuals and groups to practice resources, including videos, live online classes, and printed materials such as the book written by the two doctors –
The Healing Power of the Breath.
Westchester Breathes continues to be an important offering to Westchester communities. A librarian who participated in the teacher training began to offer classes at her library and several organizations invited Elena to bring in custom program experiences to their staff and clients; a key focus was to help in addressing current stress due to the pandemic as well as exploring staff/client appetite for ongoing wellness programming. This has been an especially rich exploration among reentry support groups (e.g., Coming Home Program, Probation), seniors (e.g., the County’s Virtual Senior Center exploration), and those servicing individuals with disabilities (e.g., the ARC Westchester), as well as service agencies such as Southern and Northern BOCES, and the Rockland Office for Disabilities.
Thanks to funding from the Hope for Youth Foundation, during the summer of 2021, several teens and young adults from ARC Westchester were sponsored to attend a
Fundamentals Workshop. Three of those teens went on to obtain Level 1 Teacher Certification and can now lead their own workshops. Opportunities for bringing this program to youth continue to be explored.
Several libraries have been active supporters of Westchester Breathes classes throughout 2021 and 2022. The collaborative hosting and sponsorship has meant a reduced cost for the libraries and broad based promotion. Just in 2021, attendance at library-hosted events was close to 900.
WLS continues to leverage private donations to offer classes and scholarships for training with two aims: to provide yet another example of how libraries are there when you need them— and to support the health and wellness of the Westchester community. WLS’ second 12-hour BBM Fundamentals program, scheduled for July 30 & 31 on Zoom, is part of their ongoing work to promote this effective wellness practice and build capacity for continued training in their local communities.
On April 21, Westchester Breathes was among the honorees of the Dr. Harold Keltz Distinguished Public Health Service award. WLS was nominated by Dr. Andrew Bell from the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health. Generously, he noted in the nomination that “Westchester Breathes has reinvigorated our system of care at a time when it is most needed.” – Yet again, libraries come through for our communities!