Have you ever met those few special people that live and radiate the practice of yoga? To me, Nicki Doane is one of those rare specimen. Nicki is not only one of my beloved teachers but also the beloved teacher of thousands.
If she’s not teaching at studios and conferences around the globe, you can generally find her at her home studio Maya Yoga tucked in the North Shore rainbow-riddled jungle of Maui, Hawaii. This gem of a studio, built from Alaskan yellow cedar, sits in the lush Huelo Valley and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. At the studio, you won’t be able to access wi-fi or turn on lights. It’s a visually stunning haven designed to allow students to let go of the hustle of daily life and drop completely into their practice and into their bodies.
Doane has been teaching and practicing yoga for more than 25 years. The practice was love at first sight, she said, almost as though she had just put on a pair of comfortable broken-in shoes. Her first introduction to yoga was through her university as a gym credit; that soon led to a completely different life path.
In 1991, Doane journeyed to India — “the motherland of yoga,” as she calls it — for the first time. It was there in Mysore that she met one of her most influential teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and immediately realized this would be the beginning of a long relationship.
She continued to study with Jois not just for the poses, knowledge and yogic philosophy, but out of the love. He became a grandfather figure in her life that pushed her far within her personal practice. Under Jois’s guidance, Doane became an authorized teacher of Ashtanga yoga.
Later, in search of more information on physical alignment, she went on to study the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga, a precise form of Hatha practice. This combination of two systems of yoga lead her and her former teaching partner Eddie Modestini to develop Maya Yoga.
Maya Yoga is a unique approach to Vinyasa with a focus on dynamic structural alignment, conscious breathing and practical yogic philosophy. This system of yoga emphasizes teaching to the individual while learning to create integrity within each pose that can be easily carried beyond the mat and into daily everyday life.
For Doane, yoga is about developing the tools to be a kinder person to yourself, the people you love and to the people that you don’t love. It’s a practice of becoming more mindful and learning to pay attention to how you are feeling. Yoga is a life-support system, a fountain of youth and a way to take care of the body. It is a tool to practice awareness and to heal. For Doane, yoga is both a science and an art.
“The practice was love at first sight, she said, almost as though she had just put on a pair of comfortable broken-in shoes.”
It is quite common to see blankets, pillows, straps, block and chairs in Doane’s classes combined with a vigorous Vinyasa practice. She incorporates chanting, yoga sutras, pranayama, yogic philosophy and storytelling into her classes.
The poses help students to tap into emotional and spiritual bodies, while the sutras are used as a road map to assure yogis there is a way out of the pain, whether it be physical or internal.
Elissa Cirignotta is a writer, teacher and world traveler. When she’s not teaching or practicing yoga in Des Moines, Portland or Sicily, you can find her growing plants, planning trips and writing stories. She founded Happy Mindful People; for more information, visit www.happymindfulpeople.com. This article was originally published in YogaIowa’s Summer 2018 issue.