Yoga is an activity for more than the 30-year-old woman in cute yoga pants. Yoga is for everyone, and Liz Veyhl is spreading this message. Through Small World Yoga, a Nashville yoga nonprofit, Liz offers free and donation-based yoga classes to the community. Partnering with nonprofits including homeless shelters, public schools, detention centers, senior living facilities and libraries, Liz and her team of volunteer, certified yoga teachers are able to reach low-income neighborhoods and create access for everyone. Born and raised in Nashville and a graduate of Harpeth Hall, Liz not only started Small World Yoga (SWY) and its fundraiser Music City Yoga Festival, but she also co-owns Nashville Paddle Company, a stand-up paddleboarding company operating on Percy Priest Lake. Small World Yoga found a home in a 1900s house on Music Row on the corner of Wedgewood and 17th Avenue South, and 100% of every dollar from the studio supports SWY. Today, we welcome Liz Veyhl as our newest FACE of Nashville!
When did you start practicing yoga?
I started practicing in college. As an athlete, I was immediately drawn to it. I played three sports at Harpeth Hall, played intramurals in college and rowed my freshman year. Yoga just found me one day. It was the most physically and mentally challenging activity I had ever done. I immediately started seeing a shift physically. And there is something to be said for the breathing and working through challenging moments in class that can show up in other places.
I trained to teach yoga and was certified in 2011. When I went into training, I didn’t know that I would teach, but I knew I wanted to share yoga with others. The first class I taught was at a community center through Harvest Hands. The YMCA gave me my first teaching job. Sadly, I just put in notice for my last class after seven years of teaching there — to spend more time on SWY. I loved it!
And when did you start Small World Yoga?
Early on, when I got certified, I saw a gap in who yoga was reaching. I had only been working for a couple of years when I moved back to Nashville, and I didn’t have a huge income. The yoga community was missing people. Not just low-income people, but people like myself who didn’t have a lot to spend on gym memberships.
A program that inspired me was Africa Yoga Project — Small World Yoga is based on their model to a certain extent. The program trains youth in Nairobi to teach yoga, and they also teach them leadership skills. I went over in 2013 and got to see it all in action. I was so inspired by the work that they were doing. There wasn’t anywhere in Nairobi these teachers wouldn’t go — women’s prisons, hospitals … I thought, why can’t we do something like this is Nashville — where we have all the resources in the world?
I started Small World Yoga in 2014. I had been teaching at The Next Door and thought, what if we had a team of teachers supporting each other and giving back with yoga? What surprised me most is how many teachers came out of nowhere. This is why we have grown so quickly.
What is the biggest challenge in making yoga more accessible?
One of the biggest challenges is breaking the stereotype of people who do yoga — really cute white girls in yoga pants. We go out there with the idea that yoga is for everyone, whether it is the 90-year-old woman who comes to Edmondson every week or the 9-year-old at Harvest Hands. Every week, I teach a class at the men’s jail. The guys have a perception that yoga is just breathing, and while we do breathing, we are also giving them a physical yoga practice that challenges them, and they break a sweat.
The other challenge is the price point. Yoga can be for everyone. You don’t need expensive equipment to practice, and we bring the mats for you.
What is one of the most memorable moments you have had in your yoga career?
There have been a lot. One that is really memorable was International Day of Yoga, which takes place every year on June 21. The first year we held yoga in the park, we had 150 people. The event has doubled every year since, and last year, in its third year, the event drew 700 people to Cumberland Park on a Thursday night. I just stood back and was in awe of how many people showed up. We are doing things in this town, and people are showing up.
Every week, I go to the men’s prison, where there are so many barriers to entry — locked doors and buzzers. But as soon as I get into the room, I feel the heart and compassion these men have for me and my time. Recently, during Savasana, I was almost in tears. They are so rowdy when they come in, it is like teenage boys in the schoolyard. To see the shift in just 30-45 minutes is phenomenal. And this is just one example. It is happening all across Nashville with other teachers.
Tell us about the new studio.
It will be Nashville’s first nonprofit yoga studio! We will have donation-based classes and reduced rate/affordable yoga classes for $5 — with the option to give more if you want. The studio sits on the Metro Public Bus Route and is in walking distance to Vanderbilt and Belmont. I see the space functioning two ways: a new place for any adult or child who cannot afford a regular yoga membership and a place that creates access on a different level to align with the crowd we already reach. We get requests from the men’s prison and those graduating from The Next Door about how to find us. Now, we have a place that can function as their home.
It will also be a marketing arm for us. There will be a sign, and people driving by will ask who we are. It will allow us to reach those who want to practice yoga, as well as people who want to be funders and help the yoga community grow.
More than generating revenue, it is important to have a home for our teachers. They can have a place to practice, at no cost. I want them to take what they need from practice and pour that love back into teaching.
Where are your favorite spots to practice locally?
All over! I’ve recently shifted out of my regular classes at both the YMCA and Shakti and am able to practice and support more of our SWY teachers. Before SWY, Shakti was my home base. Kelly Carter and Laura Farina are good friends and women who inspire me.
When you aren’t practicing or teaching, where can we find you hanging out around town?
Before a week ago, I was Mrs. Jake’s Bakes, which is now Tiff’s Treats. [Jake’s Bakes was Liz’s husband’s company that was just purchased by Tiff’s Treats.] And I was often found hanging around the cookie shop. I also co-own Nashville Paddle Co., which merges with the yoga world — I teach yoga on paddle boards. I love being outside. My husband Jake and I take the dogs hiking and just enjoy the stage of life we are in. I never realized I would be trading in my 40-hour-a-week job for what seems like 120 hours a week. I just have to remind myself to put down the phone and make time to enjoy dinner with Jake and get outside and do the things we love.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Don’t be afraid to fail.” That has given me a lot of confidence to do what I love. If you are really passionate about something, others will see that. Like minds attract like minds.
My parents instilled in me, from an early age, the value of giving back and serving. Jake and I work hard, and we want to do well with the idea that we can give more with our time or financially.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?
Chocolate ice cream, a beach vacation and yoga pants
Join Small World Yoga, located at 1701 17th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, for their grand opening celebration on Saturday, April 7 from 9 a.m. to noon. There will be yoga, music, snacks, vendors and more!
A special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos!
Regina Bartlett began her nursing career back in 1978. Now, nearly 40 years later, she’s at the helm of TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center. Get to know this woman, who is both warm and dynamic, and find out what inspires her work and the secret to work-life balance. Click here to meet our newest FACE of TriStar!