February teacher of the Month: Yoga and BellyDance Teacher Nyota Nayo!

One of Harlem Yoga studios very first teachers is a life-long yogi who has studied yoga throughout many traditions – including Hindu, Egyptian, and Sufi.  She is also a dancer who has performed and taught internationally, a pre-natal yoga expert, and a doula that has helped bring many HYS babes into the world (after guiding their mama’s through prenatal yoga and belly-dance classes!) Here,  Nyota Nayo talks about her path to Yoga:

1) How did you start practicing Yoga? Tell us about your early yoga experiences

I began practicing Yoga and Meditation at a very early age around 7 or 8, with my Mom. At the time she was still in Law School and she was a yoga and meditation student at a school in Berkeley California where we would take classes together.  It was also then that I received a mantra and I would meditate with her and her friends (at the time for me it was just for fun).  Being so young, at that time it was a form of exercise, but I really connected (unknowingly) with the meditation aspect very deeply.  The style of yoga was hatha/kundalini based and it incorporated a great deal of meditation. As I grew older I continued taking classes and studying various styles of yoga (including sufi and egyptian yoga), in addition to dancing and teaching professionally and also practicing yoga as part of dance company classes when on tours.

2) When was the moment you knew that Yoga was different or special – more than just another “exercise” or way to be physical ?

As I grew older and studied yoga outside of the US, I knew that Yoga was a lot deeper than just the physical or mere exercise . I learned and realized that because of the more meditation based styles of yoga.  While I greatly enjoy the physical aspect and chanting and also those forms of yoga which use heat, the meditation aspect took the practice to another level.

3) What is your favorite and least favorite pose, and why?  

My favorite pose is King Dancer (perhaps second to Warrior!) – I love that asana because of the focus, strength, and balance and the “movement within the stillness” that I feel in the pose. The poses I find most challenging are the forward bending poses; I have learned that in those poses that aspect of surrendering and accepting where you are is not the easiest thing to do at all, but must be done to move forward.

4) What practices do you use to feel more peaceful, present and content? 

I use them all!  Meditation, visualization, breathwork, prayer, and ritual.  And I incorporate various dance/movement classes and practices as well (such as Belly-dance) – which I find all perfectly complement the physical yoga practice.

5) What Yama or Niyama do your find most helpful in your daily life, and why ?  (Yamas are “observances” that are recommended for relating to the outside world, and Niyamas are observances for dealing with internal struggles) 

The Yama in relation to the outside world for me is non judgment in relation to compassion (ahimsa) – to see the greatness in all living and non living beings, and objects, etc.  The Niyama for dealing with internal struggles would be Aparigraha – non grasping – that essence of letting go and being in present moment and moving forward,

6) Question of the Month! February – Bhakti – LOVE/ Devotion . How do you incorporate Bhakti   into your Yoga Practice?  Into your life ? 

For me, Bhakti is beginning with the heart center and sending out love from that place first.  Sending a prayer  for planetary healing through contemplation, prayer, meditation and visualization and setting and intention for balance, harmony and peace for all.