BRUNSWICK, Maine — For Vicki Hart, who has been practicing yoga for more than a decade, it took awhile at first to find the right fit. But that all changed after participating in a class at a Portland studio.
“My first class was a killer, but I went back for more because of the challenge,” the Richmond native said. “After just a few weeks, I felt a shift in my body, in my ability to concentrate, and in my relationship to myself and others. It dramatically changed my life for the better.”
And changes have continued for Hart, who now has her own studio on Stanwood Street in Brunswick.
The Times Record recently visited with Hart to learn, among other things, what prompted her to open Hart Yoga, what are the benefits one gains in practicing yoga, and who is this guy named Bikram Choudhury?
Q. Vicki, first of all, tell us a little about yourself, such as where you grew up, went to school, personal interests, etc.
A. I grew up in Richmond, Maine, where I attended schools. After graduating, I enrolled in classes at the University of Southern Maine. I left to work full time after two years. It took me nine years to return, but I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2006.
Then I attended Bikram’s nine-week teacher training in the spring of 2007. When I returned from training, I started teaching at Maine Bikram Yoga in Portland. I taught in Portland for almost three years before leaving to open my own studio closer to home.
I live in Georgetown with my partner Jeff, our 1-year-old daughter Violet, and our two dogs. When I’m not at the studio I enjoy being outdoors and spending time with my family.
Q. What is yoga, how long has it been practiced, and what are the benefits one enjoys from participating in it?
A. The 84 classical yoga asanas date back 4,700 years ago to India. Originally, these yoga postures were performed as a way of preparing the mind for long periods of meditation.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “jug,” which means to join. Yoga is the union of the body and mind and, ultimately, the body, mind and spirit. Yoga brings balance to the body, restoring all systems to their proper functioning.
People who practice yoga regularly report that they have more energy, less pain, less stress, and they sleep better. Yoga can help with depression, anxiety, and weight issues.
It can also be a way to rehabilitate your body, to lose weight, and to build and tone muscle.
Q. When did you first become interested in yoga?
A. I started practicing yoga more than 10 years ago. I started out with VHS tapes at home.
At that time, it was hard to find a yoga studio. I tried out places in Brunswick and Portland, but I never really found the right fit for me until I took a class at Maine Bikram Yoga in Portland 6 1/2 years ago. I was attending classes at USM and traveling to Portland from Richmond, fitting in a (yoga) class between work and school whenever I could.
Q. You said you really became hooked after being introduced to the Bikram style of yoga. What and who is Bikram? Is it practiced in many places in Maine?
A. Bikram Choudhury developed a sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises from the 84 classic asanas.
He grew up in Calcutta and started practicing yoga at the age of four. He trained with his guru Bishnu Gosh, the younger brother of Pramahasana Yogananda, author of “The Autobiography of a Yogi” and founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship in LA.
Training with Gosh daily, Bikram became the youngest ever “All India National Champion” at age 13 — holding that title for three years in a row.
At one time, doctors said he would never walk again after shattering his knee in a weight lifting accident at age 17. He went back to his guru Gosh and healed himself through yoga.
Bikram worked as Gosh’s assistant and came up with his 26 posture sequence so that he could treat many people at one time. If you lived in India and had a problem, you would go see a master who would prescribe yoga postures to you much like a doctor in our culture would prescribe a pill.
Gosh told Bikram he must go West and spread the yoga, so he came to the U.S. in 1973 and opened his first studio in Los Angeles. There are now more than 600 Bikram studios worldwide.
Maine Bikram Yoga in Portland is the one and only other place in Maine, besides Hart Yoga, offering Bikram Yoga with certified Bikram Yoga instructors who trained with Bikram Choudhury.
Q. Hart Yoga is the name of your business. Describe the studio for us. When did it begin and how has it evolved over the years?
A. I opened Hart Yoga in April 2010. I knew Brunswick would be a great location and I worked very hard with the help of my partner Jeff Annunziata, who is a carpenter by trade, to design and build a studio that was beautiful, bright and welcoming.
My parents, Mary and Phil Hart, and my Aunt Linda were there to lend a helping hand with painting or whatever needed to be done to help me open.
When you walk into the studio, I want you to feel at home but without the distractions we all have at home. We have beautiful custom sconces throughout and benches in the entry and changing room area that are made from reclaimed oak.
The studio has special hot yoga flooring and a mirrored front wall. The heat is radiant and the studio has a lot of natural light. We also added another bathroom and a shower to allow people the option of rinsing off after class.
It’s a space I’m really proud of and always happy to be in.
Our schedule has changed over the past two years, as I’ve tried different classes at different times and days of the week. Currently, our schedule is simplified and I’m teaching all but one of the classes. All classes on our schedule are Bikram, and I’m really pleased with the response.
Q. You have told us about Bikram yoga. I’m thinking there must be several different kinds of yoga. Is that true?
A. There are specialized styles of yoga for every kind of person — prenatal, children’s, gentle, etc. There are also styles of yoga that are suitable for all people.
You just have to try them on and see how they fit.
Q. Your studio specializes in Hot yoga. Describe it for us, please.
A. We teach Bikram’s Yoga — 26 postures, two breathing exercises.
The room is heated to between 95 and 105 degrees, with humidity of at least 40 percent. The heat allows for deeper stretching and the humidity helps to improve cardiovascular health and get circulation moving through the body. The resulting sweat factor from this heat, humidity and the yoga postures helps your body release toxins.
The classes are 90 minutes. We do two sets of each posture with a short rest in between each set. The class starts and ends with a breathing exercise.
The first part of the class is the standing series, where we warm up the body and work on balance and concentration. The last third of the class is the floor series, where we work to strengthen the spine and wring out the body in order to supply it with freshly oxygenated blood.
The class is suitable for all levels, from the beginner to advanced students. You do not need any experience with yoga and you do not need to be in shape. You just need an open mind and to be up for the challenge.
Q. So if someone is interested in trying yoga, what would you recommend they do?
A. You should avoid eating anything heavy two to three hours before class. Yoga should be done on an empty stomach.
If you are trying hot yoga for the first time, you should be well hydrated before class. You will also need a yoga mat, a large towel to put over your mat, and water for class.
It’s a good idea to come a little early and get acclimated to the heat before class starts.