Gerald Carbone: Hot Yoga’s Royalty Comes To Cranston

Saturday, September 21, 2013


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Rajashree Choudhury, a celebrity in yoga circles, will soon drop into Rhode Island to help Mary Ann Nassa, her longtime Cranston friend, open a new studio on Pontiac Avenue.

Their paths crossed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida nearly 30 years ago, a Cranston woman who had never lived outside of her hometown, and a homesick immigrant from India, living in a foreign country with a new husband.

“I was very new to America,” recalled Rajashree Choudhury. “And we connected very easily. Sometime you find people with the same likes and dislikes. She was very positive to me from the beginning.”

Choudhury is now a celebrity in yoga circles and she will soon drop into Rhode Island to help Mary Ann Nassa, her longtime Cranston friend, open a new studio on Pontiac Avenue.

Choudhury helped her husband, Bikram Choudhury, develop a widely taught form of “hot” yoga, and anyone who wants to share a meal with her may do so on Sept. 29 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Wright’s Farm Restaurant for $17, the price of a chicken dinner.

Nassa is a lifelong Cranston resident who credits Bikram Yoga with giving her life purpose. That life was almost a short one.

Nassa will never forget the day in 1973 when a doctor called: Her aorta, the main artery from her heart, was constricted, blocking blood flow to her legs. Nassa had just turned 18 years old, and she faced imminent heart surgery.

The diagnosis – an aorta constricted at birth – explained a lot: the tingling in her legs, her inability to complete basic jumps when she had tried out for cheerleading at Cranston East.

The treatment required cutting a 53-stitch gash from her left rib cage up to her shoulder blade, so that doctors could spread her ribs to access the heart.

“I had to learn really early what it would be like to die,” said Nassa. “It gave me a whole new outlook in life.”

That childhood scare back in 1973 turned Nassa into a seeker, someone who sought more than a job that paid the bills. “I was always looking. And looking. And looking.”

In 1984, she found what she was seeking. On a vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Nassa picked up a book by Raquel Welch, in which she credited Bikram Yoga with helping her maintain her sex appeal.

“Then I’m driving down Oakland Park Boulevard [in Fort Lauderdale], and there it is, this yoga studio. I’m driving right by the joint.”

Nassa enrolled in a class – 26 poses, each one done twice over the course of 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees. At the end she felt exhausted, and elated.

“I felt alive!” Nassa said this week while workers hammered away at constructing her new studio. “Blood was flowing so differently in my body than ever before.”

Her teacher, Jimmy Burkin, gave her a tape explaining the postures. Back in her parents’ home in Edgewood, Nassa worked on the yoga every day for three months, till the paint peeled off her bedroom ceiling from the heat.

When she returned to Florida she met Bikram, who introduced himself by jumping on her chest while she was bent back in “camel pose.” She didn’t flinch.

“You trusted me,” he told her. “So I knew I could trust you.”

She struck up a friendship with Rajashree, returned to Rhode Island, and opened the state’s first Bikram Yoga studio in 1984. Her studio has moved from place to place, but now she’s sinking her life’s savings into a permanent home at 1150 Pontiac Ave. in Cranston.

The studio won’t be ready till mid-October, so when Rajashree comes these two friends will skip yoga and go to Wright’s Farm for dinner. Anyone who wants to tag along as two yoga friends enjoy each other’s company may email Nassa at [email protected] or, absent an email account, call 401-461-8484.   

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Gerald M. Carbone is the author of Nathanael Greene, and was a journalist for twenty-five years, mostly for the Providence Journal. He holds a Master's in Public Humanities from Brown University and has won two of American journalism's most prestigious prizes--the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award and a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University. He lives in Warwick, Rhode Island.


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