by Mandy Francis
Landing on the homepage of Anahata Yoga’s website, it is clear that this is not just a run-of-the-mill yoga studio. Their statement of principles includes, “NO fancy yoga outfits; NO performing postures that don’t feel good in your body; NO fast movements.” These “NO”s are followed with glorious affirmations: “YES to reducing stress and anxiety in your life; YES to practicing yoga in a non-competitive, nonjudgmental environment; YES to experiencing the pleasure of deep, full breathing; YES to cultivating compassion for yourself and others; YES to mindful movement; YES to accepting yourself just the way you are.”
The passionate voice behind these pronouncements is Anahata Yoga’s founder and lead teacher, Kathleen A. Tooley. Tooley, who founded the popular Harleysville studio five years ago, knows that helping people to move beyond their preconceptions about yoga is key. “It’s so important for people to understand that yoga is not intended to be competitive or exclusive. Yoga is for everybody—and that means literally every body: old bodies, inflexible bodies, tired bodies. This practice meets you where you are. Yoga should be safe and comfortable for everyone who wants to practice, whatever the person’s size, age or fitness level.”
Tooley’s philosophy comes from her personal experience. “I was in my thirties, a mother of two, looking for a way to exercise my body. I tried the gym, but it felt cold and impersonal, and instead of feeling empowered after my workouts, I felt inadequate. I followed my inner guidance and discovered a yoga class at a local college. ‘Yes!’ my body said, ‘this feels good!’ ‘Yes!’ my spirit said, ‘this feels good! Yes, yes, yes! Yoga is for me.’” It’s her mission now to inspire others to feel the same.
Anahata’s philosophy and teacher training program are both inspired by Kripalu yoga, a hatha-based practice that focuses on gentle postures and breathwork, with an emphasis on developing a compassionate connection with one’s inner experience. This style of yoga was founded by Amrit Desai and named for his guru, Swami Kripalvananda, in the 1960s. The Kripalu Center is now an internationally renowned residential training and education facility for holistic health and wellness, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Tooley received her 200-hour certification there in 2010 and will soon complete her 300-hour.
With so many studios focusing on the currently popular vinyasa style of yoga, Anahata is unique in being one of the only studios in Montgomery and Bucks counties to offer this distinctive, hatha-based style of yoga and teaching certification. In fact, Anahata is one of only 16 studios in the country to carry the prestigious designation of Kripalu Affiliate. Kripalu Affiliate Studios operate in harmony with the Kripalu Center and its network of affiliated yoga studios.
Anahata Yoga offered its first Anahata Yoga Teacher Training (AYTT) in 2014, unsure of what to expect. “The first one filled up immediately,” Tooley remembers. “I was so inspired. And then we did the second one starting in the fall and it was better than the first.” Beginning this April, the third 200-hour AYTT will be offered one weekend a month for nine months. The program is a combination of on-site training, self-study and journaling. In addition to the comprehensive training components required by the Yoga Alliance, the program features electives, including How to Teach Beginners’ Yoga, Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, Ayurveda and the Chakra System.
The program, like all of the offerings at the studio, prides itself on being small and personal. There are only eight students accepted into each cohort, with four contributing teachers. Tooley explains that within that setting they are able to help people open up and explore the essence of who they are and what they have to share as teachers. She emphasizes the intimate friendships that the teacher trainees develop during their time together.
Tooley explains, “Anahata means ‘the energy of the heart’, and our teacher training program is no exception. Our program offers the tools you need to connect to the heart of who you are as a person and as a yoga teacher.”
As a new offering for 2016, Anahata has also developed a program for serious yoga students that are interested in learning more about yoga, but aren’t sure if they’re ready for the time and commitment of the teacher training. The Deepen Your Practice program includes intensive, small-group learning on the history and evolution of yoga, yoga philosophy, anatomy, posture clinics and more. The series will begin February 21, and will be offered from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on every third Sunday, over the course of six months.