If you haven't heard Anna Kaiser's name before, you'll soon become familiar with her growing fitness program, AKT, or the Anna Kaiser Technique. A revamped combination of dance, Pilates and interval training, Kaiser takes the boutique fitness craze and offers a revolution.
“When the boutique boom happened, I started working in boutique fitness and realized that the same thing was happening to me that was happening to many other consumers," says Kaiser. “You get really involved in one modality, and then you burn out and try a different modality. And all these boutique studios were focused around a single modality. I thought, why is no one bridging the gap between single modality boutique fitness and the comprehensive gym model?"
The $30 billion fitness and health industry has been growing around 4 percent annually for the last 10 years. The boutique fitness sector – which consists of familiar luxury gyms and group class settings such as Equinox and SoulCycle – has been gaining momentum, with membership growing by 70 percent between 2012 and 2015, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
This year, AKT became a part of Xponential Fitness, an equity-backed holding company that acquires boutique fitness brands and hit $148 million in revenue last year. Kaiser is set to franchise her brand with Xponential, and is projected to open at least 300 studios around the country.
Before her fitness breakthrough, Kaiser was a professional dancer. Her passion for fitness stemmed from her love of dance, which she holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in. Kaiser says that as a dancer, she had to prioritize staying fit both aesthetically and physically in order to perform. So she was always looking for a solution, whether it was yoga, Pilates or lifting weights at the gym. Kaiser highly prioritized her fitness journey while she was touring and performing, trying to learn as much as she could about exercise and the body.
If you're searching for someone who is knowledgeable about fitness, Kaiser is your person. She has done it all – taught exercise classes, managed fitness studios, received certifications in Pilates, yoga and barre and studied sports medicine long before she founded her own business.
“I was trying to figure out what I loved best, and what I believed to be the most efficient and effective way to work out," says Kaiser. “I started to figure out what that looked like with private clients. I did a beta class program in Connecticut for a year to test the market."
In addition to the beta program, Kaiser tested her work outs with private celebrity clients including Shakira and Kelly Ripa – who coined the name AKT. Kaiser says that her celebrity clients added valuable credibility to AKT.“They were encouraging me to open the studio and start the business. It helped get the word out and helped legitimize what I was doing," says Kaiser. “[Celebrities] have access to pretty much every technique, and anyone they could want to train with.
So why are they choosing AKT? It provided some intrigue to what I was doing."
After moving from Connecticut to Tribeca to test the New York market, Kaiser met with a client who wanted to become an investor.
“She said, 'let's do it, let's open the first studio,'" Kaiser recalls. “It was really a culmination of the last 15 years of my life, in dance and choreography, creative inspiration as well as the education I had in fitness and working not only for fitness companies, but as a manager of other studios and sales. I knew what to do to be successful."
By 2015, Kaiser had opened three New York studios. Her class model became an interval dance class, and she eventually created her signature series of four classes; tone, circuit, band and dance; in order to incorporate every level of a workout. AKT even offers classes for those who aren't choreographically inclined, says Kaiser.
Each workout is specifically designed by Kaiser, and they're the exact workouts she's using with her celebrity clients. And every three weeks, she spins it on its head.
“Once you get used to that content, I switch it up. You really are getting the programing of a personal trainer, but the community and excitement of a group class," Kaiser explains. “That is the heartbeat of what we're doing."
The community aspect of AKT is what excites Kaiser the most about her business. When presented with expansion, she says that franchising wasn't an option she had initially thought about. The great thing about franchising, she says, is that owners will bring in their own communities to her brand.
“It's a much more organic way to grow, and the way I feel AKT has grown," says Kaiser. “This is the continuation of that story. I'm so over the moon excited to share this with everyone. It's a dream come true."
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."