The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Mindfulness in motion: Nashville’s Small World Yoga

Step into Small World Yoga, Nashville’s first and only nonprofit donation-based yoga studio, where yoga’s ancient art finds a new purpose.
Participants of a hot yoga class at Small World Yoga strike a pose. (Photo courtesy of Small World Yoga).

On a crisp Saturday morning, I rose for my 25-minute walk to Small World Yoga (SWY). Facing a 95-degree room at 9 a.m. may sound like torture to some, but to me, there was no better way to start the weekend. The heat enveloped me as I moved through each pose. The sweat dripping down my body felt like a badge of honor. In that room, surrounded by others on their mats, I found a sense of peace and focus that had eluded me due to the chaos of university life.

This experience is just a glimpse of the transformative power of yoga, a practice that has found a unique advocate in Vanderbilt physics professor Dr. Savanna Starko. A dedicated marathoner and a 500-hour registered yoga teacher, Dr. Starko brings a blend of physical endurance and mental discipline to her classes. Her integration of mindfulness, meditation and yoga into the university curriculum offers students a holistic approach to education that encompasses mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. This approach acknowledges the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit in the learning process, providing students with tools to cultivate mental clarity, emotional resilience and inner peace alongside their academic pursuits.

This February, I attended a Zoom yoga session hosted by the Vanderbilt mental health club, Active Minds, and taught by none other than Dr. Starko herself. Her calm demeanor and teaching style resonated with me, so much so that it prompted me to seek out more opportunities to practice with her. This led me to her power flow hot yoga class on Saturday mornings at Small World Yoga, the first and only non-profit, donation-based yoga studio in Nashville. Going from practicing yoga frequently to not at all, I set out to regain the strength and vitality I had lost. Dr. Starko’s class, with its humidifiers creating a 95-degree room, was a challenge unlike any other, and something I hadn’t experienced in two years. Yet, with each pose and each drop of sweat, I felt myself growing stronger, both physically and mentally, and reclaimed a part of myself that I had been neglecting.

Nestled in the heart of Nashville, Small World Yoga stands as a pillar of mindfulness and community connection. Its founder, Liz Veyhl, is a Nashville native whose passion for yoga and community led her to create something truly special. What started as a humble offering of yoga to a handful of individuals in 2014 has blossomed into a movement that now serves over 3,000 people monthly. Their goal is to make yoga approachable and accessible to everyone regardless of race, age, gender, religion or sexual orientation. 

One of the most impactful aspects of SWY’s work is its outreach programs. They partner with schools, prisons and underserved communities, offering yoga to over 18,000 children, youth and adults in the greater Nashville area. 

“Our vision is to create a world where everyone has access to the transformative benefits of yoga,” Veyhl said. “By empowering individuals through healing and connection, we believe we can make a big world feel small.”

Veyhl’s journey into yoga began unexpectedly during her junior year of college when she took a yoga class on a whim. As an athlete who thrived in more physical sports like volleyball, basketball and softball, she was surprised to find herself drawn to yoga for its blend of physical challenge and mental calm. This initial experience blossomed into a regular habit, even as she moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. There, she continued her yoga journey in public YMCA classes. However, it was upon her return to Nashville in 2007 that her passion for yoga truly took root as she began practicing regularly at the local YMCA and eventually pursued further training to become a certified yoga teacher.

Her inspiration to start Small World Yoga came during a transformative trip to Kenya in July 2013. During this two-week journey, she participated in yoga training for Kenyans to become teachers, working with communities that included women’s prisons and blind and deaf populations. Witnessing the profound impact that yoga had in these diverse settings, from affluent areas to impoverished slums, sparked an idea within Veyhl. She returned to Nashville with a renewed sense of purpose, determined to create a space where yoga could be accessible to all, regardless of background or circumstance. Thus, Small World Yoga was born, founded on the belief that yoga has the power to transform individuals and communities alike.

SWY’s commitment to inclusivity and sustainability is evident in every aspect of their work. They offer trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness training to every teacher, ensuring that they can provide coping mechanisms and tools to help students manage trauma and stress.

The impact of SWY extends far beyond the mat. Dr. Starko shared how yoga complements traditional education, shaping her classroom approach and contributing to students’ overall growth and development. 

“Yoga teaches us to approach life with mindfulness and compassion,” Starko said. “It’s about more than just physical exercise; it’s about finding balance and peace in a hectic world.” 

Small World Yoga’s impact also extends far beyond the walls of their Edgehill studio, as they focus on bringing yoga to non-traditional settings as well. While they offer some classes at their Edgehill location, the heart of their work lies in their outreach programs across Nashville. Dr. Starko, along with other instructors from the studio, has taught at numerous schools in Davidson County, forging partnerships that span from pre-kindergarten to high school. One such partnership is with the University School of Nashville, where Dr. Starko taught yoga to a handful of spirited students. Recognizing that some students may feel forced to participate, Dr. Starko and her team infused fun into their sessions, making yoga accessible and engaging. Beyond schools, Small World Yoga can also be found in more unexpected places, such as libraries, where they offer chair yoga or gentle flow classes. They have also extended their reach to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, offering yoga to those in the prison system as a means of promoting wellness and connection. Small World Yoga has reminded me to slowly embrace life guided by the principles of yoga, where every person is acknowledged, listened to and cherished. It’s not just about teaching yoga; it’s about approaching life with the same principles as yoga — being seen, heard and valued.

Their impact is felt not only in Nashville but also in my heart and mind as a Vanderbilt student who finds solace and strength in the practice of yoga. 

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” Veyhl said.

Yoga is not just about self-care; it’s about providing a space for me to care for myself, even if just for one hour a day. This sentiment resonates deeply with me as someone who often finds myself struggling to balance academic pressure and personal well-being. Yoga offers me a valuable opportunity to recharge and prioritize both my mental and physical health.

Small World Yoga has exciting events coming up, including yoga in Centennial Park every Tuesday evening May through October. This all-day event is open to all Vanderbilt students and all levels. Additionally, they will celebrate International Day of Yoga on June 21 at Centennial Park, featuring special yoga sessions, music, vendors and more. This event typically draws several hundred people, making it the biggest class taught. Dr. Starko is even set to teach!

SWY has been a lifeline for me, it’s a place where I can truly be myself and find peace during a buzzing time. In a world that often feels disconnected, Small World Yoga is a shining example of how yoga can bring us together, one breath at a time.

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About the Contributor
Rachel Marlowe
Rachel Marlowe, Staff Writer
Rachel Marlowe (‘26) is from Portland, Ore., and studies political science and English in the College of Arts and Science. She loves to hike, ski, horseback ride and practice yoga. You can reach her at [email protected].
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1 month ago

Lovely article and super grateful to be part of the SWY community 🙏