In May 2007, Bonnie Yonker, yoga teacher and founder of The Yoga Sanctuary, opened the studio doors in the Swiss Connection Building at 403 Sullivan Street with just eleven classes on the schedule. The only teacher at that time, Bonnie led every single yoga class for six months. Sometimes only 2 or 3 people would show up. Other times, she’d have a packed room of 17. It was a simple one room studio painted yellow, with a tiny little boutique space. Students could brew a small cup of tea and then have a seat in one of the two classic IKEA birchwood chairs that sat across from the shoe bench. That very same bench and one of those chairs can still be found upstairs at 112 Sullivan Street today.
It was another 6 months before Bonnie had any other teachers to support her. In mid-November of 2007, her first addition was Gwen Burdick. Gwen had two young daughters and a love for sharing yoga with kids. She offered special kids yoga workshops, brought yoga into some of our local schools, and led the kids practice at all our outdoor community events.
A Note from Bonnie
As TYS grew, so did Gwen, moving from leading these special kids’ yoga events to writing about yoga philosophy and Vedic Astrology, while also offering birth chart readings for our community. Though the world lost Gwen in 2019, The Yoga Sanctuary still feels blessed by her supportive spirit.
Around the same time that Gwen joined us, Bonnie met a woman named Cody McClymont. Cody, who had training in the alignment-based, Iyengar school of yoga, added two more classes to the schedule bringing the regular weekly schedule up to thirteen. January 2008 then introduced Jennifer French to the teaching staff, and soon after, September brought us Margit Bannon, both just beginning their yoga teaching careers. In October, Sharon Fultz led her first Tai chi class at TYS. In this short time, the studio grew from one teacher to six, with a widening variety of classes available.
A Note from Margit
A Note from Sharon
A Note from Adrianne
Over the next three years, the schedule expanded to more than 20 classes a week with regular one-on-one sessions, workshops, special events, and more. Already we had seen a few faces come and go, but Bonnie worked to find just the right person to work the front desk, someone who would be there to greet and assist every student that walked in the door. First was Adrianne Butwell, who remained part of the TYS team in various ways for years, even participating in our inaugural Yoga Teacher Training Program. For a time, Jennifer also shifted from only teaching classes to working behind scenes of marketing, answering student phone calls, greeting students, and more. Finally, at end of 2010, Bonnie found just the right person in someone that had been part of the studio from the very beginning, Anna Martin.
A Note from Anna
At the turn of 2011, TYS had outgrown its original space. Searching for just the right space, Bonnie and her husband Terry discovered a unique property right down the road, but the whole building would have to be remodeled and made “yoga ready.” After much planning and a few snags and delays, TYS was finally able to make the move! We closed the doors of the old studio on 403 Sullivan on Christmas Eve 2010 and opened our doors at 112 Sullivan Street on Monday, January 3rd, 2011.
With our first ever Yoga Teacher Training program having started just the month before, this move also brought the addition of yin yoga with Annie Moore, energy healing sessions with Lisa Ahrens, massage therapy, and visits from guest teachers like Dr. Carrie Demers—who continues to join us annually to this day—as well as Bonnie’s own teacher, Alan Finger. It was an exciting time for TYS. A small humble yoga studio in a tiny little city in SW Florida moving into a larger space and inviting teachers from all over the country to visit us. Our skills as a team shifted from simply leading yoga classes to full event planning and coordinating.
A Note from Annie
A Note for Melissa M
Included in that team were the participants of our Yoga Teacher Training program, and some of these faces are still with us. Upon graduating that first group, we added two more new teachers, one of whom is Melissa Meehan, still a regular face at TYS as a substitute teacher. This first group also graduated Cathy Getz, a TYS student from Day One. Well, actually day three, as Cathy attended the first Sunrise class ever on the schedule—along with Margit Bannon!—and became a dear friend of Bonnie’s. Cathy is responsible for the growth of the TYS Boutique and worked as our Retail Manager through 2016.
A Note from Cathy
For several years, things moved along smoothly. We continued to grow, we added classes, we grew our workshop programs, we developed community, all as we worked to enrich the lives of the people that walked through our doors. Every other year a new group of students made the commitment to dive even deeper into their practice by committing to our Yoga Teacher Training program. And with each graduation we saw more teachers ready to share their love of yoga with the world around them. In 2013, after our second Yoga Teacher Training program, Julie Huffman and Sally Bartolotta began leading classes. Julie led seasonal classes and only stopped when she no longer returned to Punta Gorda—we still see her weekly zooming in with us from Missouri! And our sweet blue-haired Sally led evening classes until the day she and her husband Angel opened The Rock Box Music School and Stage in North Port, Florida.
A Note from Sally
A Note from Julie
It was this same year, in mid-2013, that brought us Melissa Goodwin. After living in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a number of years, Melissa and her husband took to travelling the states in their RV for nine months. They eventually landed in Punta Gorda and decided to make it their home. When she arrived, little did Melissa know that she would coincidently find a yoga home with a teacher that studied with her same teachers in New Mexico! Both Melissa and Jennifer name Tias and Surya Little of Prajna Yoga their primary teachers.
A Note from Melissa
A Note from Jennifer
With Melissa on the schedule, as well as our YTT grads, we were now able to offer 25 weekly classes in the summer and over 30 in the high season months. By early 2014, Anna had completed her own Yoga Teacher Training in India. In addition to working as the TYS Office Manager, Anna also began leading classes. Bonnie now had a three-year-old daughter and Jennifer Arnold had become Jennifer French. It was time for Bonnie to step away from ownership and focus more on motherhood. In February 2015, ownership of The Yoga Sanctuary shifted to Jennifer and her husband Gary. Since Jennifer, who was by then Director of Teacher Development, had been part of the teaching staff since January 2008 and had slowly taken on more and more of a managerial role, it was an easy and seamless transition.
Again in the middle of the Yoga Teacher Training, this time with our third cohort, we found ourselves in the midst of a shift. Bonnie stayed on through the end of teacher training while Jennifer slowly took the reigns of studio ownership. The 2015 graduates included Pat Francis, Heleen Schouten, and Sharon Fultz. Each of them still part of the TYS teaching team. We also added another graduate, Diane Danaher, first as a massage therapist and soon after she too was leading classes. That was an ambitious group to be sure!
A Note from Pat
A Note from Diane
Over the next few years, we explored and expanded our offerings in ways that were new and unique to The Yoga Sanctuary. Lisa began offering more extensive Shamanic workshops, ceremonies, and programs, and together with Gwen, developed a moving and powerful blend of eastern and western traditions in their quarterly Sacred Ceremonies. Melissa began to explore the overlap between yoga and Buddhist traditions with a focus on how each tradition helps to unlock creativity. On our calendar you might find workshops focusing on physical anatomy, the energetic body, chanting, meditation, philosophy and more. By 2017, we had hosted notable teachers from all over the world, including Tias Little, Nicolai Bachman, Baxter Bell, Liz Owen, Kristin Leal, and of course, Dr. Carrie. And we continued to grow.
At the very beginning of 2017, Robin Lee joined the TYS team. Determined to grow the TYS massage, several therapists were interviewed. Robin, a TYS student since 2013, was a perfect fit from the start. She is still with The Yoga Sanctuary today. This was also the year of our fourth Yoga Teacher Training cohort. With a solid, talented, and experienced team behind her serving as Yoga Teacher Training mentors and leading individual sessions, 2017 graduated 8 more yoga teachers, including Gill Ward and Jim Cupo, TYS’s first male yoga teacher. Not long after, Karen Ascher moved to the area and found her yoga home at TYS as well.
A Note from Robin
A Note from Jim
By our 10th anniversary, we were offering 28 classes during the summer months and upwards of 40 in the winter months. Our original mission, “to share our passion of yoga with the community by providing a warm, safe environment to develop the tools needed to incorporate yoga into everyday life,” was alive and well. And our vision mirrored this mission with each small step forward.
We continued to host teachers, kirtan artists, and guest speakers from within our local community and from afar. Our teacher training program, still led every other year, moved forward, graduating new teachers in 2019. Around that time we decided the next step was to offer the opportunity to dive deeper in a different way. Plans began for the first ever TYS Yoga Retreat, a week-long getaway that allowed one to leave their everyday life behind and immerse themselves in nature and practice. After lots of talking, tons of research, and what seemed like endless planning, we released the news to our community, and within two months we were filled to capacity. In January of 2020, The Yoga Sanctuary went to Costa Rica! Little did we know then, but the world was about to dramatically change…
In February of 2020, Baxter Bell came to lead a weekend of workshops, each filled with students from all over the area. Then Covid hit. The following month, we began to reduce our class sizes, no longer allowing the room to fill beyond 15 people. Props were removed and people started to bring their own or not use props at all. On March 20th, 2020, we were told that we had to shut our doors. The email went out; The Yoga Sanctuary closed.
Having a sense that this was coming, Jennifer spent hours and hours the previous week learning everything she could about teaching yoga online. Reading, watching webinars, signing up for trainings, you name it. The TYS team gathered online, testing out this new-to-us program called Zoom. Decisions and plans were made. With the doors closed on Friday, an announcement was made: Saturday and Sunday there would be a complementary online class each day to test our new way of being in the community. By Monday morning we had a full 12 class schedule available online. Classes were available every day but Sunday.
It was as if we were beginning again. But this time, it wasn’t just one teacher leading each class on the schedule. It was a full team. A team that had grown slowly over many years, a solid presence whose mission “to share our passion of yoga with the community by providing a warm, safe environment to develop the tools needed to incorporate yoga into everyday life” never changed. It simply adjusted to what was now.
That was 2020.
We learned so much that year. We learned the importance of connection. We learned the importance of being in community and sharing our yoga practice with others. We learned that connection and community go beyond being in the same physical space. We learned that our roots run deep, and that together we can accomplish anything. We continued to be present for our community and our community remained present with us. We offered online workshops and “zoomed” our private yoga sessions. We slowly added more and more options, and like a beautiful hibiscus that has been pruned back to its roots, we began to throw out new growth and bloom again.
At the end of 2020 we committed to move forward with our 6th Yoga Teacher Training Program to the largest group yet, graduating 12 new teachers in 2021. You’ll see a few of them on our schedule today—Debbie McGlade and Jackie McDaniel now on our weekly schedule, and Donna Berry as a substitute teacher. 2022 even brought another trip to Costa Rica.
A Note from Jackie
In the span of all our years, were other teachers, therapists and support staff that were with us for short periods of time. Victoria Barca, Christie Rosen, William Blackburn, Kim Bednash, Micaela del Solar, Barbara Melanson, Catherine Ouellette, Jaime Boswell, Katherine Jouan, Naomi Medrano, Sarah Carter, Sherry Bechtold, and Susan Shaw. Each left their mark on the TYS heart. We are sure that there will be others, teachers that share their love of yoga with us, students that share their curious and open hearts with us.
Our promise to you is this: we will continue to share our passion of yoga with the community by providing a warm, safe environment to develop the tools needed to incorporate yoga into everyday life for as long as we can. We will continue to provide a place of community and sangha, growing both with you and for you.