by Anne Clendening
Three years ago, Niki and I were in the same 200 hour teacher training at Black Dog. If anyone is a go-getter, it’s Niki; every time I see her, she’s got something brewing, like a new workshop, a new perspective on a pose or a new project having something to do with art and/or music. She’s what you might call a “thinker.”
Yoga calls the practice of gathering of knowledge to gain insight into one’s true nature “svadhyaya,” translated as “self reflection” or “self study.” Knowing how invested Niki is in her skill set as a teacher, a student, a writer, a spoken word poet and a human being, I call it inspiring. She possesses a level of introspection that would rival that of the most accomplished artists and philosophers, a brain that would just love to sit down and break bread with great men of science and a heart as big as the sky.
I work the desk at Black Dog on Friday mornings when Niki teaches her Basics/Beginner’s class. I can tell you this: Niki truly cares about her students and their practice. She wants them to find freedom in their body, and peace and serenity in their life. She wants this for you, and for all of us. She’s not just a curly haired hippie chick with a curious soul; she’s the real thing, with enough experience on and off the mat to back it up.
We sat down over Skype on a Friday afternoon. After we chatted about the “old sweater” party she was having that night, we got down to business. (By the way, you read that right. An “old sweater” party. Maybe Niki will wear hers to class one day…?)
Where are you from?
What nicknames do you have?
Close friends will call me Nik. Nothing exciting. Nik Nik.
How did you first get interested in yoga?
Sort of by default. I needed one extra credit in college to graduate when I was at The University of South Florida. I remembered taking a yoga class back in high school, and I ended up really loving it. I started doing it three times a week for a whole school year.
After a different interview I did with a psychology major, I had to ask (even though I already knew the answer): are you constantly picking apart the psyche of everyone around you and evaluating them? You should have seen the look on Niki’s face. “Oh yeah,” she said.”It’s like a muscle that never stops.” We’re all in trouble.
I love your curls. It’s your thing. Do you get a lot of comments on your curly hair? (I happen to know Niki used to have dreadlocks.)
How would you describe your Basics/Beginner’s class?
I would say it’s breath driven, and focused on going deeper into your own practice. And I don’t mean necessarily what it looks like on the outside. Of course, taking modifications when you need to. It’ll help build a strong foundation across the board, in posture, in breath, and in getting to know yourself more clearly.
What’s your favorite pose?
I really love Triangle Pose, and any kind of back bend. And mermaid.
And your least favorite pose?
Twisting Triangle sucks! I do it, but it doesn’t feel good yet.
What was the most important thing you learned from Sigrid during your 300 hour training?
Trust your instincts. Practice no matter what.
What’s your greatest fear?
Hmmm… that people are inherently bad and evil. If that proves to be true, there’s no point to me even being here!
What would you want to do if you weren’t a yoga teacher?
I would probably still be figuring out how to do travel writing.
Tell me about the book you wrote.
“We the Peoples: The Bus, The Journey, The Lessons.” I co-authored this during high school and part of college, and we published the 300-page non fiction commentary when I was 24. It’s essentially a memoir on creating a common dialogue across the limits of globalization and cultural stereotypes. It has made it on a high school reading list in Hawaii and the desks of a few players in the UN and congress. An old friend found it at Barnes & Noble in my hometown last winter. It is, so far, the crowning moment of my 20′s!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I don’t like the word ‘perfect.” [Anatomy and movement expert] Leslie Kaminoff beat that out of me. I would say, probably just doing my thing… not being forced to do something that isn’t in alignment with what I want or need to be doing.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I might make myself more inventive. I like that personality trait though, people who are super creative, who can make something out of nothing. I love that quality.
Who do you most identify with in The Breakfast Club?
Probably the geek, with subtexts of all the other ones.
Do people sing “Darling Niki” to you all the time?
No, they sing “Hey Micky” all the time.
Tell me about your “Gratitude” experiment.
Oh, that was fun! I started a Facebook event; it was an open forum, so anyone could join. It ran for about 50 days, and every day you posted something you were grateful for. I started it to kind of get people to wake up, to a certain degree, and maybe appreciate what they had. Gratitude is super important. Studies show it’s important for bringing in and sustaining happiness. As a yoga teacher, I can kind of get that through in my classes, but probably not as widespread than it needs to be. It was a cool experiment; a lot of people got back to me and said they did feel happier.
What are you grateful for today?
My mom, ‘cuz she’s awesome.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.” ~Krishnamurti (Click here for more on that.)
You teach “Sound Bath Yoga.” What can you tell us about that?
It’s two different modalities of experience. The first is hatha yoga and breath work. Then there’s the sound component, which is a ton of different instruments, gongs, singing bowls, etc. It works off the principle that everything is made out of frequency and vibration. It can feel really great, super therapeutic and peaceful.
What do you love about teaching at Black Dog?
It’s a great community, first off. I’ve been to studios where it feels like you’re walking into a gym. You take the class, and you’re in and out. Black Dog doesn’t feel like that; the teachers really are friends. There’s a true community that emerges just from being there. I’ve met some of my closest colleagues and friends at Black Dog.
Who are some of the teachers who have inspired you?
I really like Mark Witwell. He bases his teachings in the Krishnamacharya philosophy, that yoga should be taught for the individual. I love that idea. Just like in psychology, you have to look at the individual to understand the collective conscious. Also Leslie Kaminoff; overall, he has such an amazing scope of knowledge. He seems to know a lot about a lot of things, in a really clear way.
I have a lot of different influences. Stanislov Grof, a pioneer in transpersonal psychology and holotropic breathing. (Read about his work here.) He has really fantastic ideas about human potential. He’s not into self limiting thinking or behavior patterns; he recognizes that it’s what we do as people, but there’s a whole other level to existence that we can access without drugs, without anything. And when can access that, our personal potential in life opens up.
(And now, for the same question we ask everybody…)
What’s your favorite Beatles song?
It sounds cheesy, but it’s “Revolution.”
Thursday, 10:45-12:00 Gentle/Healthy Backs. All Levels.
Friday, 9:35-11:00 Basics/Beginners
Saturday, 3:00-4:25 Yoga For Beginners
Sunday, 1:30-3:00 Yoga For Beginners
You can read her blog at YogaWithNiki.blogspot.com.
Shall we end with a bit of a rap?
Sattvic by Force
I am organic juice sipplin/ no slippin on my mat cuz im fashioned with the hand grip towellete/ Mats unrolled but i’m at the desk practicing my bedroom eye drishti/ This yogi checking in posers is sweet like some masala chai tea
As I walk back into the studio/ Im gazing bare feet on my mat/ “…um, excuse me but your overpowering my space, why you gotta do me like that?”
I am pro-enlightenment, I am so flexible/ I wear lululemon anywhere I go/ ’cause I am a yogi/ because I am so free/ My mind is released/ I am a yogi
The teacher’s guiding us through a round of sun salutes/ She says to energize my feet and feel my core through my roots/I’m taking big deliberate breaths/ Ujjayi rising out the top/ Is that my kundalini lifting…or was that a pelvic floor pop?/ I’m finding so much peace of mind/ Until I hear the teacher chime, “10 more breaths in utkatasana”/ And then my inner guru mimes: “You don’t know my dosha, bitch./ This flow is too firey/ My ayurvedic doctor said I gotta water down my agni.” / So I press into a handstand while these posers follow flow./ While they’re riding out their vini I’m showing off my mula bhanda, dope./
Cause I’m a yogi/Because I am so free/My mind is released/I am a yogi
So it’s the end of class/ The lights are low/ My third eye opens and off I go: /I’m chillin in a golden temple/ What’s up Krishna, hello Vishnu/ I’ve transcended my earthly body/ So there’s no telling how far in I’ll go. /I’m connecting to cosmic consciousness/I’m a sunbeam of pure shakti bliss/I bet I can stay forever like this…/Until I hear my neighbor snoring/I guess corpse pose can get kinda boring/ So I say peace out to Krishna, check ya later Mr. Vishnu/Bow to the one love brahma gaia/
Growing pissed about this corpse pose pariah/I wonder if I Should I unleash my throat chakra?/Like, who the fuck are you..snoring?!/ I was Pratyahra touring and your sleepy ass shook me/Took me back to this cold flooring!/ Nah…teacher says to stay relaxed so I let my grip go/ Fold my feet into full lotus and bring my third eye into focus/Teacher closes class with an ohm/But I’m already texting on my phone/Instagram a pic that reads:Time for some kale juice with organic mint leaves!/
‘Cause im a yogi/ Because I am so free/My mind is released/I am a yogi
(c) Niki Saccareccia 2012