Alexandra Samet teamed up with her brother-in-law, Ian Persits, to create Meditation4Medicine.

By Emilia Benton
April 28, 2020
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Whether you're an essential worker battling COVID-19 on the frontlines or you're doing your part by quarantining at home, everyone could use a healthy outlet for stress right now. If you're looking for a simple way to unwind, one yoga teacher and her brother-in-law, a medical student, teamed up for a cause that not only promotes mind-body wellness but also supports healthcare workers treating people with COVID-19.

Alexandra Samet, a writer, certified yoga instructor, and health coach in New York City, joined forces with her brother-in-law Ian Persits, a third-year medical student studying cardiology at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, to create Meditation4Medicine. The initiative offers live donation-based yoga classes to help people de-stress during this time, while simultaneously raising money for personal protective equipment (PPE) for underserved hospitals in the greater New York City region.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Samet most recently taught at New York Yoga's Upper East Side locations and offered private on-site instruction at corporations and in individual clients' homes. When Persits isn't studying, he works as a college entrance exam tutor. But once the two began working remotely in quarantine, they were inspired to create Meditation4Medicine, they tell Shape. Samet says she not only missed teaching in-person yoga classes, but she also wanted to use her extra time at home to give back to the community—namely, Persits' colleagues working in local hospitals that are struggling to obtain proper PPE.

Refresher: As the COVID-19 situation continues, some hospitals aren't able to get a sufficient supply of N95 masks, arguably "the most essential portion of PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the hospital setting," says Persits. (In the absence of N95 masks, many healthcare workers have to wear less-protective cloth and surgical masks.)

But even as N95 masks become available, suppliers tend to only sell them in bulk, explains Persits. So, to raise the funds needed to purchase large quantities of the masks, Persits and Samet are hosting free, donation-based yoga classes live on Instagram.

At least once a week, the two meet up at Persits' studio apartment (in light of quarantine and social distancing recommendations, they say they've agreed to only be in physical contact with each other at this time), move his coffee table out of the way, and set up a stand with their iPhones to live-stream their yoga class. "Most of the people tuning in are friends of ours who also live in the city, so carrying out a class in a small apartment space has helped people see that they, too, can make it work," shares Samet. "Some people find that working in a non-traditional yoga space adds fun and makes it more adaptable. We also encourage people to get outside if they can practice in a secluded spot where other people aren't present." (Related: Should You Wear a Face Mask for Outdoor Runs During the Coronavirus Pandemic?)

Not an experienced yogi like Samet? No problem—neither is Persits. Before Meditation4Medicine, he says he'd only taken a few classes with his sister-in-law, admitting he had a bit of a learning curve with their live classes at first. He credits his background in weight lifting—along with Samet's guidance—for helping him get up to speed. "[She] had been trying to get me to regularly do yoga for the last few years, as weight lifting alone doesn't really lend itself to flexibility, and incorporating yoga is definitely a good supplement to a weight training routine," he says. "The classes have definitely been beneficial, even though they kicked my butt at first." (Related: The Best Yoga Poses to Do After Weight Lifting)

During their classes—which typically run between 30 minutes and an hour (BTW, the live-streams are all saved in case you miss them in real-time)—Samet goes through yoga sequences while simultaneously instructing Persits. The classes vary in intensity (some are more of a light stretch and focused on meditation and breathing techniques, while others will definitely get you moving and sweaty, says Samet), and each session begins with a mantra for viewers to think about and connect with. Some classes are also done by candlelight to add a calming effect.

Overall, the goal is to make yoga approachable to everyone, even newbies who might feel intimidated by the practice, shares Samet. "The fact that viewers are able to see me adjusting [Persits'] poses and helping him make modifications helps a lot of beginners see that the practice is accessible to yogis of all levels," she says. "It's been great to witness both a physical and mental transformation in [Persits], who was admittedly not a yogi, which hopefully resonates with anyone interested in giving yoga a try." (Related: The Essential Yoga Poses for Beginners)

As for donations, Persits and Samet kicked off the fundraising campaign with their own respective contributions of $100 and $120. To date, they've raised a total of $3,560 of their $100,000 goal. They're holding off on their bulk purchase of N95 masks for now, as they need enough funds to hit supplier minimums for this PPE, says Persits. Those minimums tend to run around $5,000 to $12,000, he notes. "If we don't end up hitting the minimum dollar amount necessary to make an N95 order, we will use the money to purchase other essential forms of PPE such as the hazmat suits/gowns, gloves, and face shields that are more readily available," he explains.

Although there's no required or recommended donation for Samet and Persits' class, they've found that most participants have been generous. However, they don't want anyone to feel deterred from joining a class if they're not able to donate. "We want to provide a mental and physical escape from the stressors people are currently dealing with," explains Samet. "We just hope that if you feel you benefited positively from the session and are leaving feeling relaxed and like you got a good workout, you will be inspired to give freely and give what you're able. Our message is: 'If you can't donate, don't worry; just join a class and be happy.'"

If you're interested in joining a session, Meditation4Medicine offers classes about twice a week. Be sure to check the campaign's Instagram and Facebook pages, where Persits' wife (Samet's sister), Mackenzie, posts the class schedule and details. FYI: You don't necessarily need any equipment to participate, but Samet recommends a yoga mat to make the practice more comfortable and, if you want, any household item you have on-hand that can substitute as a block. (Related: These Trainers Are Showing How to Use Household Items for a Serious Workout)

Even after the New York City area returns some sense of normalcy, Persits and Samet hope to continue holding classes and raising funds.

"From talking to people directly on the frontlines, we know there is still going to be a need for these supplies after we go back to our jobs," says Persits. "So, as long as we have engagement, we're going to try to help in whatever way we can, even contributing to hospitals in areas outside of New York City, if possible."

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