A year and a half ago, old friends Kathryn Fitzgerald and Theresa Brandabur were having a conversation about what they would do if they could do whatever they wanted.
For Brandabur, the answer was starting a yoga studio. For Fitzgerald, it was to start an art gallery. It turned out that the two things weren’t mutually exclusive. As Fitzgerald notes, in a yoga studio, “You use the floor, but don’t use the walls.” And so, the concept for Amara Yoga and Arts was born. The business functions as an art gallery, yoga studio, community center, and more. Fizgerald – who also teaches art at Cunningham Children’s Home – is the Art director and Brandabur is the yoga director.
They enlisted the help of Taresah Youngman, a Webmaster/Graphic Designer, and began making their vision a reality. The three women met when they were all students at the University of Illinois in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and continued their friendship when all three migrated separately to the California Bay Area after college. Eventually, all three returned to the Midwest for different reasons, including the lower housing prices of Illinois, a Midwestern atmosphere in which to raise children, and nostalgia for the changing of the seasons. So, founding Amara in Champaign-Urbana, as Fitzgerald says, “is a full circle thing, in a certain way.”
Today, Amara has been open about four months. Fitzgerald reports that the business is “doing really well, considering how long we’ve been open.” Amara offers numerous yoga classes: “Sivanda” to “Yogalates” to “Power Yoga.” The variety of classes is so that anyone, regardless of age, abilitity and gender (yes, men do attend), can find what they’re looking for. Yet, as teacher Maggie Taylor explains, there are commonalities.
“In all of the classes, you move your body. You do breathwork.” She says that a meaningful experience can be had by anyone willing to open their minds to “the process and the path” the classes provide.
The studio offers different payment rates, varying for people who just want to pay for single classes, to plans for people who want a more extensive membership. Fitzgerald stresses that people can just show up for a $12.00 class on a drop-in basis any time.
She feels that one thing that makes Amara different from many yoga programs is that students can just take one class at a time, as their schedule permits. She recalls signing up herself for series of classes with other yoga programs in the past, missing one or two, and then not wanting to go back for the rest. With Amara, she says, the commitment a student makes is mainly to him or herself. So far, most of the students who have shown up have either found out about the studio by walking past its location on the east side of Lincoln Square in Urbana or have been referred by friends.
Amara also offers yoga classes to children. So far as the owners know, Amara is the only local studio to do this. There are art classes for kids as well.
As far as the art half of the business goes, there is a gallery separated by doors from the yoga practice area. It features “skilled but lesser known artists.” Starting on September 11th, works by local artists Jason Patterson and Barbara Miller will be on display.
On Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon during Farmer’s Market season, Fitzgerald (who holds a Master of Fine Arts Degree) puts on free art workshops for the community. Participants are led in an activity to “Paint and reconstruct the masters,” where each person is a given a square of a famous painting to fill in. According to community member Kara Padget, these events are a lot of fun.
“I like the concept of it,” she says. “I like that families do it together. I’ve been trying to talk other people into going up there.”
Indeed, Art Director Fitzgerald sees strengths of Amara as being its community and family aspects. She recalls a recent event where “The kids ran in and out while moms put stuff on picnic tables. There’s a community spirit; people felt like they belong.”
The word Amara comes from the name of an immortal flower in Greek Mythology. While Amara Yoga and Arts may not be around quite that long, hopefully they’ll be doing business in Lincoln Square for a good while yet.
Visit Amara Yoga and Arts’ official website for more information and to shop for various Yoga and lifestyle products at their online store.