Since it opened its doors in May 2009, over 1,500 yogis have walked through the doors of Amara Yoga and Arts studio in Urbana. It's become a place beyond relaxation and meditation. It's become a peaceful and welcoming environment for both teachers and students.
"Our idea is that we want people to find a community home away from their home. A place that they belong to, and that they feel cared for," said yoga director, Theresa Brandabur.
Amara is unique among other yoga studios in the area. It's an art gallery showcasing 15 different local artists' work. Currently on display are brightly colored kites mounted high and low throughout the studio.
"It's not just a yoga studio, it's a community center. We have art shows supporting local artists. It's very holistic, taking all of these aspects from the community and incorporating them into what Amara is," said yoga instructor Amanda Reagan.
Reagan is one of 11 instructors; all teach a variety of yoga styles.
"Our teachers are so awesome and we are so lucky to have them," said Brandabur. "They are all pretty diverse."
Amara offers classes in different yoga formats. From Vinyasa to Hatha, there are styles for everyone, from beginners to advanced yogis.
"Vinyasa style yoga is a very rigorous style of yoga. It's more routine based; following a set of series where all poses are in a certain order," said Reagan. "At Amara a lot of the slow classes are more based a creative sequence the teacher can make up."
Reagan is certified in Ashtanga yoga. She explained that it's very disciplined and is supposed to help build up strength and flexibility. Vinyasa can be a much more slow, and free flowing format compared to Ashtanga.
Teaching yoga isn't a walk in the park. Instructors must get 200 hours of training before leading their own class. In Champaign-Urbana, it's difficult for people to get trained because there are no local opportunities to do so. Amara studio changed that last winter.
From January through June, instructor hopefuls attend rigorous training for an entire weekend once a month at Amara.
"We have a way to bring yoga teaching training here and to give people the chance to train close by," said Brandabur. "Some of the people taking the program are local residents who wouldn't have the chance otherwise."
In addition to instructor training, the studio welcomes other community events on the weekends. Benefits, workshops, fundraisers, kids camps and art shows all keep students entertained off of the yoga mat.
"We periodically take on karma yoga projects that give back," said Brandabur.
She mentioned that studio raised over $600 for Haiti relief for a regular student who volunteered as a midwife helping Haitian women and children.
"She needed help, so we planned a benefit class and made a lot of money. She was so happy," said Brandabur.
Amara has also offered free community classes that support grieving folks.
"We're hugely passionate about karma yoga, and a lot of our ideas for benefits and fundraisers comes from our teachers," she said.
Reagan agrees, and also mentions that the studio is always willing to try new things.
"It's really open to new ideas and suggestions from the students, the people who are committed to coming," she said.
This spring as the sun shines on fresh cut grass and budding tulips, there will be many yogis at Amara saluting it.
"Yoga is feeling good about your body and yourself. You're taking all those feelings and bringing them out into the world," said Reagan. "At Amara you walk in the doors and feel good. You leave all your anxieties at the door."