Breathing Space was begun in the Holyoke Public Library in the Fall of 2016. Founder Dori Digenti collaborated with the library to offer weekly free mindfulness classes open the public. The intention was to see what level of interest there might be in mindfulness and yoga in Holyoke, and if it made sense to set up a Studio there. Over that Fall to Spring period, dozens of people came and went from the mindfulness group, and a few people came each week. That Spring, Dori began the search for Studio space, and set up in June 2017 in the STEAM Building on Race Street in Holyoke. The vision of the Studio was to bring the life-sustaining benefits of yoga to all. To operationalize that vision, we chose to focus on Studio classes that help to break down stereotypes (that yoga is only for certain bodies, ages, or races) and make classes financially accessible. In the field, we simultaneously established outreach classes, with a mission of bringing free yoga to addiction recovery centers and jails. Most of the teaching was by Dori as a volunteer, with the regular presence of other yoga teachers who taught workshops in the Studio.
From 2017-2019, Breathing Space grew its support base and expanded from only the founder, to 4 teachers offering weekly classes in the Studio and in the field. Our Board expanded to five people, and we managed several fundraising events. We were able to expand the Studio offerings, set up memberships, and increase the number of Outreach sites. Breathing Space entered a partnership with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department to offer yoga classes in the county jails. Partnerships with the Prison Yoga Project and Yoga of the 12 Step Recovery were engaged in. We began to receive grant support from the Urban Outreach Project, River Valley Coop,
During 2020 and the Pandemic, we closed the Studio, moved online, and continued to serve both our Studio participants and our Outreach classes. In April 2021, we moved to a new space in Easthampton, have added 3 additional teachers, and expanded our yoga class offerings to express fully our antiracist/anti-bias goals. Our teaching team, who are all honorary Board members and have advisory input in all major decisions, includes 3 people of color, one non-binary person, one LGBTQ+ person. We have engaged with a training mission, under other funding, and further our understanding of these goals, and to date have sponsored individualized antiracist trainings, and two teacher group workshops focused on intersectional issues of race and gender.
Our program development reflects this evolution: in 2020, we launched a weekly BIPOC community yoga class. In 2021, we have launched two other specialized classes: a biweekly class for the Trans/Queer community, and yoga class series for Survivors of sexual violence. We believe these affinity groups provide further access, and expand the creative application of yoga to issues of oppression and exclusion. We also hope that these “safer” spaces can provide a conduit to bring those we have met in the jails and addiction recovery centers into the Studio.
Our purpose is consistent and clear: yoga is an ancient, time-tested mind-body practice, that modern science has affirmed can provide broad mental, emotional, and physical benefits with regular practice, and we will continue to creatively pursue ways to bring these healing practices to all. We continue with other yoga classes for the community as well. In 2021, we sponsored a fundraiser in the Spring for The Compost Collective, and Black-owned business that hires ex-offenders. In July 2021, we sponsored a fundraiser for The Ethnic Study in Springfield, a Black, womxn-owned business, and are discussing an ongoing community yoga class in their Springfield space. We plan for these outreach efforts to continue, and help us to support and reach creative communities that can benefit from having yoga practice and self-care right in the spaces where they pursue work and other projects.