Heather Briann has been teaching body movement for more than a decade, and two years ago, she opened her business in Friday Harbor, Altar Movement Studio. The studio’s official opening came in April 2019.
“Altar was just the next progression, rendition of what I wanted to personally and then opening a space where other teachers could be teaching and highlighting what they do,” Briann said. “I really believe movement is life and we are movement.”
Briann began teaching on San Juan Island from a cabin in the woods but she wanted to expand the conversation about movement and how it can come in many forms. Her studio and its eight teachers focus on physical, mental and breathing movements.
Altar Movement Studio focuses on “whole-self health,” Briann explained. Altar teachers look to create a healthy, whole individual addressing the different facets of the person to help them feel vital, vibrant and alive, she said.
“I personally like to weave yoga type of movements with a lot of functional movement,” Briann said. Rooted in yoga, many Altar teachers focus on intentionality and mindfulness then expand that outward, she explained. Briann likes to bring in strength and weight training into her teachings.
Briann and her studio’s teachers lead instinctive meditation, she explained, which taps into instinctual natural knowledge, guiding people in a way that allows people to tap into their inner knowing.
”I think there’s a lot of stereotyping and pictures of images of what these things are,” Briann said.
She doesn’t want to move the training away from the dogmatic lineages that have been passed down, however, but she does seek to evolve the practice.
“How can we take some of these really amazing ancient practices and filter them through the lens of what we’re living with now,” Briann questioned.
Briann, who is originally from Northern California, spent her first summer on San Juan Island in 2010. After leaving for a year, she returned permanently in 2011.
“I actually came to the islands to learn a certain no-till method of farming,” Briann said. Prior to her first visit to the island, she spent six years traveling around the world learning different ways to grow food organically.
Her previous island jobs included interning on a small, one-acre plot of land, then working at various farms and restaurants.
When she first returned to San Juan, Briann explained that she was teaching people for fun but began to teach others full-time in 2013.
“It’s been a journey,” Briann said.
Her first experience in training in the traditional method was at an ashram in New Zealand, then later India. When she returned to the United States, she began training with 90 Monkeys, a professional yoga instructor based in Boulder, Colorado.
When she’s not working Briann enjoys long walks and talks with her partner and their dog Jaiya;
learning, reading and studying with her teachers; paddleboarding; engage in ceremony and rituals with her girlfriends; and adventuring to new places.
The COVID pandemic affected all businesses — Altar was not immune to the changes. But Briann had already pursued Zoom classes just as the shutdowns came.
“I just started Zooming my classes during the transition with whatever was going on with the county,” Briann said.
In October, she explained, Altar initiated a new digital platform that houses a library of pre-recorded classes and access to live-stream classes all hosted by the business’ website. It is something that has become a passion project of hers over the past three months, Briann said.
Altar Movement Studio was also able to receive a few local grants, allowing it to buy new equipment needed to evolve the business from in-person classes to online.
“We’re so grateful that we have the community support that we’ve had,” Briann said. “It’s really exciting.”
Also during the month of October, Altar Movement Studio introduced a free 30-day challenge, opened to people around the world. Nearly 400 people signed up for the challenge, Briann said. She is excited to create a global community and ultimately draw people to the islands for self-healing. Her goal is to plant the seeds and have Altar on the map for personal retreats and helping people support their inner and outer journeys.
“It’s been really, really interesting,” Briann said. “I feel really gratefully to be here on this small little island.”
Briann encourages everyone to experience her studio, opening their hearts and minds to something new. She hopes the community can see accessibility in her teaching and not feel as though practicing yoga is outside of their reach.
“There’s just so many other things that we can do movement-wise that can really speak to the individual who is in front of us,” Briann said.
Briann’s suggestion to anyone interested in beginning a business in the San Juan Islands is to have patience.
“Go for what you’re passionate about and stay rooted in your passion,” Briann said. “Just have to keep showing up for what you believe in and what you love.”
She also emphasised the importance of word-of-mouth in the island community.