The vision for Breathe St. Thomas, a non-profit yoga studio, extends farther than the confines of the physical building in Havensight. Founders Elizabeth Nurse and Tyler Rice opened the studio to bring mindfulness and wellness to the Virgin Islands through public outreach programs offering the discipline of yoga.
Initially, the organization pooled its resources to offer sailing camps, then began working with public schools on St. Thomas, providing their first yoga program to Lockhart Elementary. It was a transition that Nurse said felt very natural for them.
With the help of Suzanne Blaney, who produces the curriculum for the school yoga program, the non-profit has extended its reach to multiple schools on St. Thomas and its first school on St. John, the Julius E. Sprauve School.
“The whole intention with the studio is to bring it to parts of the community who normally wouldn’t have gotten into yoga and making it accessible to everybody in any way we can to bring wellness to the community,” Rice said.
Having secured a grant with the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands for continued work in public schools, the organization aims to expand to five public schools, a prison and an assisted living facility.
“I feel like the studio is just the home base for what is happening,” Rice said. “We want to see the ripples of change outside of the studio. In five years from now it would be great if every elementary school on island had the opportunity to have yoga.”
In addition to the funding provided from CFVI, the non-profit also accepts donations for classes taken at the studio. A sign hung outside the studio instructs patrons to “pay from their heart” instead of setting a class tuition rate.
These donations help continue the organization’s community outreach efforts as well as maintain the physical studio space that Nurse said was built for the intention of being “a place where everyone could come no matter what walk of life you are in or how much experience you’ve had.”
Nurse and Rice remodeled the interior of the location extensively and opened in 2018 after the hurricanes Irma and Maria brought on a need for trauma relief.
The studio was designed to be airy and well-lit, with white walls and plants that drape in front of the windows to serve as an organic curtain. Nurse and Rice ripped up carpet, tore down a wall, installed mirrors and removed a drop ceiling to create an atmosphere that would facilitate serenity.
“I believe the community had lost a lot of their safe places on island. There was a lot of residual emotion after all of the destruction everyone experienced, whether it be their home or their careers or businesses,” Nurse said. “I think yoga has been proven to be really therapeutic and a great physical body method to release a lot of trauma. We noticed that a lot of the community was really showing up after the storms to have that internal conversation with themselves of what happened to them and where they wanted to go next.”
Both Nurse and Rice want to “dream with the community” as to how best to appropriate future funding and where allocations might be most beneficial, but share a strong desire to maintain access to the discipline within public schools.
“For us yoga is a gateway into understanding your internal world. That’s important to us, the lasting effect of being able to deal with life,” Nurse said. “If the children of this community have that under their belts then I would be really excited to see the future and what they are able to do for this island.”