After visiting her doctor for neck and back pain help, Mary Ansell, our NJMOMprenuer of the Week, took his advice and started practicing yoga, soon realizing that it was helping in so many more ways than just pain relief. Over time, she realized everyone should be able to reap the benefits of this practice no matter what their income. As a result, Mary opened Open Heart Yoga, a nonprofit yoga studio in Red Bank that’s able to provide complimentary classes to those who need them, thanks to generous donations and community business partnerships. For every single, weekly, monthly, or yearly yoga package purchased by students, the same amount is given to a volunteer or recipient of a local charity or nonprofit organization. We chatted with this Shrewsbury mom of 3 to discover how an intention led to her business, the unique classes coming to Open Heart Yoga, and her go-to in Little Silver for the freshest organic produce and prepared meals around.
Tell us a little about your family. My husband, Mitchell, and I have been married for 28 years. We have three children, Carly (26), Steven (23), and Matthew (22). We moved to Shrewsbury when our youngest was born because it has a great K-8 school, and we liked the idea of all our children being under the same roof for a few years. We also fell in love with the town, but our beautiful backyard sealed the deal. Our three rescue dogs love to run back there, and it’s on the Shrewsbury River, where we paddle and kayak. It’s like a wild kingdom–we see turtles, rabbits, dear, and foxes–but we also have our chickens who run around and inhabit their own She Shed so that we can enjoy fresh eggs every day.
Tell us a little bit about your career background and how (if at all) it played a role in opening up your yoga studio? I grew up in Springfield. It’s also where I started my career as an educator teaching special education. Over the years, I also taught in Long Branch, Summit, Tinton Falls, and Shrewsbury. When I was pregnant with Carly, I was concerned about back pain because of scoliosis, and my doctor recommended yoga–I fell in love with everything about it. After a while, I stopped teaching to raise my children and eventually decided to combine teaching and yoga, both things that I loved. I got certified, and then I added hundreds of more hours to my certification because I feel it’s important to continue to stay curious, learn, and approach it as a constant lesson. The practice is thousands of years old, after all.
Was there anyone or anything in particular that inspired you to launch Open Heart Yoga? I went into yoga for a physical benefit because I was looking for something to help me with back and neck pain, and I realized that it enriched my life in so many other ways than pain relief. It helps with strength, flexibility, and balance, but it’s deeper than that—it also made me more mindful and patient. I noticed the classes were so homogeneous, and I thought everyone could benefit from this practice. I wanted to make it accessible to all, not just those with disposable income that could afford it.
What makes your yoga studio unique? You get something, and you give something. With us, you get an amazing practice, and you also give it to someone who can use it simultaneously. You get double the dose of a fantastic feeling.
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur? When we start our yoga classes, we always set an intention. And that’s what I did here. It all started with a thought. It was something that I imagined, and I was able to make it happen. We make enough to pay rent, pay our eight excellent teachers, and provide free yoga access for those who need it. Seeing your intention come to fruition is pretty cool.
What’s next for you and your business? We’re in the process of moving floors in the building we currently use. We’re on the 4th floor, which allows us to do rooftop yoga and experience amazing Red Bank views. Still, we’re moving to the 3rd floor of the building, which has incredible bones and the energy I’d always imagined for this business. We added radiant heating so that we practice hot yoga, plus it has beams so we can add aerial yoga classes. An additional fee should enable us to still have access to the roof for our rooftop yoga classes.
What are your favorite things to do or places to visit in NJ with your family? I’m a nature and water girl. We go to the beach often and have belonged to Edgewater Beach Club for 20 years, but we recently got a boat and have been enjoying it on the Shrewsbury and the Navesink Rivers. We also love going to concerts as a family. PNC Bank Arts Center has some great ones!
What are some of your favorite local shops in NJ? I’m a big believer in supporting small and local. Jolie by the Sea in Shrewsbury is a new favorite of mine for clothing—it’s on-trend, and they have special things there. Also, they’re so personable and go over and above to help their clients find just the right thing. Sickles Market is another favorite of mine for its abundance of organic, fresh produce and prepared meals. I usually go to the one in Red Bank, but when I want to do a full shopping trip, I’ll head to Little Silver which carries lots of extra items. And I can’t say enough great things about the nonprofits that partner with my business and support everything we do. They are 180 Turning Lives Around, Beauty Foundation for Cancer Care, Bloom Again, Count Basie Center for the Arts, The JBJ Soul Foundation, Lunch Break, Parker Family Health Center, Stephy’s Place, Tigger House Foundation, and VNA Health Group. I couldn’t do it without them.
What is your best piece of advice for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? Balance–a big thing in the yoga community–is important in every area of your life. When you’re running a business, it’s crucial to balance your time, but know that the time you devote to your family, work, and social life will never be evenly balanced; it will fluctuate depending upon what’s happening at the moment. It’s also important to remember that you should never short-change your time on your relationship because that’s the foundation on which everything else rests.