MV Yoga: Primo Lombardi stretches his horizons

Primo Lombardi went from stretching pizza dough to stretching his body and mind. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

When Primo Lombardi decided to move to Martha’s Vineyard, he identified a need on the Island and established a business to meet that need. In 1978, he opened Papa’s Pizza on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs to give families a place to eat out, something he and his wife, Mary, found lacking in the town when they visited here with their young kids.

This time around, after running Papa’s and then the Chilmark Store for a total of 25 years, Mr. Lombardi is fulfilling a need of his own. In this, the latest chapter in his life, he has dedicated himself to the practice of Anusara yoga.

Mr. Lombardi has now opened his own yoga studio just a couple of doors from his former Circuit Avenue business in the building that had housed L’Elegance home goods boutique. “It’s still about stretching. Before I was stretching dough,” he says with characteristic impish humor.

Although he can’t resist cracking a joke now and then, Mr. Lombardi does so in a quiet way. Many successful entrepreneurs exude nervous energy. Mr. Lombardi has a calm about him. He is extremely polite and charming, with a way of making one feel at ease that would be easy to attribute to what he says is his life-changing complete immersion in the practice of Anusara yoga.

In 2003, during his last year as owner and operator of the Chilmark Store, Mr. Lombardi was invited by Peter Goodman, a regular customer, to a yoga retreat. Although he had very limited experience with yoga, Mr. Lombardi flew to Florida to attend the three-city intensive workshop, hosted by Anusara founder, John Friend. The novice ended up participating in a pre-workshop practice with a small group of yoga instructors and long-time practitioners. “Ignorance being bliss, I had a wonderful time,” Mr. Lombardi says.

That introduction led to an all-consuming love affair with yoga, and soon Mr. Lombardi was traveling all over the country to participate in other workshops. “I had the time and the means to pursue something I wanted to do, not that I had to do,” he says.

“I felt like I had uncovered and rediscovered something within myself. I was happy from the inside out.”

In 2009, Mr. Lombardi went through the yearlong process to become a certified Anusara instructor. He and Mr. Goodman then spent the next few years traveling all over the world teaching under the name the Bliss Brothers. They taught in countries from Canada to many points in Europe to Istanbul, Turkey. Mr. Lombardi also started offering classes at the Chilmark Community Church (he still teaches there twice a week).

Mr. Lombardi had for some time been toying with the idea of opening his own studio and last summer he purchased the building at 73 Circuit Avenue. He spent the off-season overseeing a huge reconstruction project, turning the ground floor into a studio and the second floor into an apartment for him and his wife.

The new studio is a peaceful refuge from the August traffic of Circuit Ave. It’s a softly lit space with blonde maple floors and complementary creamy colors on the walls. Two Hindu deities watch over the proceedings. Front and center, a bronze statue of Nataraja (the god Shiva as a dancer encircled by a ring) stretches his multiple limbs in many directions, “To remind us that life is a dance,” according to Mr. Lombardi.

In one corner sits the monkey god, Hanumen. “The monkey king is always in service,” says Mr. Lombardi. “We’re here to serve the students first. To remind them that, hey, it’s only yoga. Have some fun with it.”

Mr. Lombardi has recruited six other certified yoga instructors to lead classes encompassing a variety of disciplines. “We have yoga for every body,” says Mr. Lombardi, “whether you’re beginning or you’re an advanced practitioner or you’re recovering from a knee or hip replacement or a sports injury.” The studio offers classes at all levels and in many forms – as well as Anusara, one can also chose from a variety of Kripalu and Vinyasa classes. There is even a class called Meditation – Yoga for the Mind.

The one form not represented is Bikram — hot yoga. “I did Bikram once,” says Mr. Lombardi, “It reminded me too much of working. I was always hot making pizzas.”

It’s telling that the former restaurateur doesn’t think of teaching and running a studio as work. He continues to be a student as well as a teacher, attending workshops whenever he can, and his passion for Anusara yoga is as evident today as it was when he attended his first workshop 10 years ago. “It’s heart-oriented yoga,” he says. “It’s about getting in touch with the best part of ourselves. You see the whole, but you look for the good first, rather than have the two percent run the 98 percent.”

“To me yoga has less to do with the flexibility of your body or the stillness of your mind. It’s more about the happiness you receive from living to your full potential.”

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