ELLSWORTH — Like many of us, Tim McCormick has a birthday ritual. But unlike many of us, it doesn’t involve eating waffles in bed or having a third slice of chocolate cake.
“I do a headstand,” laughs the 74-year-old Ellsworth resident. “Of course, I do them throughout the year; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to.”
What helps McCormick complete his annual birthday observance? Yoga. Heated yoga and Bikram yoga in particular.
McCormick has been practicing yoga since his 20s, and has been doing Bikram and heated yoga for roughly 16 years, in studios around the country and the world. But for many years, finding a heated studio has meant traveling to Rockland or Portland, or stopping into one while he’s traveling.
But since this summer, McCormick, who spends half the year in Ellsworth, hasn’t had to venture nearly as far for his yogic fix: now he can get it on Church Street, at Steamy Buddha Yoga Studio, run by Natasha Sidhu.
There are nearly as many kinds of yoga as there are practitioners, but Bikram, a 26-posture sequence developed by Bikram Choudhury in the 1960s, requires a room heated to between 95 and 108 degrees F, with humidity levels hovering around 40 percent.
And that requires a specialized studio, with air-flow systems that are difficult to come by in a non-dedicated space.
“It feels like a womb when you go in,” said Sidhu.
The Church Street studio, with its attached cafe (opening soon) and patio overlooking a lush, sloping lawn, feels like an unexpected oasis in the middle of the city: the floor is soft underfoot, and sunlight spills in from a bank of south-facing windows. Twinkle lights peek out from behind gauzy curtains and bright green Pothos aureus plants spill their tendrils near a clutter of shoes shed by students getting ready for class.
Visitors to Steamy Buddha are often greeted by Sidhu, who is always nearby, and is quick to offer up anything to a fellow yogi in need. Did you forget your yoga pants? What about Ayurvedic tea for that cold? Castor oil to help take the sting out of that spider bite?
Sidhu’s energy may be in part why Steamy Buddha yogis are so loyal, with some traveling from as far away as Garland to come to class.
“It takes me an hour and 10 minutes to get to the studio,” said Allison Fortune, who began practicing Bikram to help heal from a knee injury in 2010.
“I try to practice three days a week. I absolutely love the studio and to me it’s worth the drive. I hope that people in the area…they don’t know how lucky they are. It’s such a blessing to have.”
McCormick agrees. “This is a wonderful studio. Probably one of the best studios I’ve ever been to.”
Sidhu wants the space to be more than a movement studio: she wants it to be a sanctuary, a place for wellness and healing.
“This is all part of it,” said Sidhu, gesturing to the studio and beyond, to the Sanctuary on Church Street, the turreted building next door where she and her husband, osteopathic physician Stephen Curtin, see patients.
“It’s part of the whole wellness center,” said Sidhu, a space for guests and patients to eat well, move their bodies and be healed.
Steamy Buddha is not strictly a Bikram studio, although it does offer daily classes with the true, 90-minute sequence of 26 postures developed by Choudhury.
The sequence is split between standing and seated postures, bookended by breathing exercises, and is designed, as the journalist and former Bikram studio manager Julia Lowrie Henderson put it, “to push you to the limits of what you can endure — to make you desperate for air and water and relief.”
For her part, Sidhu, who was raised in Malaysia by her Punjabi father and her Japanese and Chinese mother, found yoga after a “midlife crisis that changed everything.”
She has now been practicing Bikram for nearly a decade and teaching for three years. Sidhu knows that exercising in such intense heat and humidity may feel torturous to the uninitiated. But it’s meant to detoxify the body inside and out, to uplift, not to punish.
“No need to be your best,” writes Sidhu on the Steamy Buddha website. “Just show up as you are and find another part of yourself.”
After all, as Sidhu is fond of saying, “it’s just yoga.”
For more information on class schedules and rates, call 322-5777 and visit steamybuddha.com