Master Teacher: Nikki Costello
In an homage to B.K.S. Iyengar, Nikki Costello wrote, “Can you reach and know the depths of your own soul?” One could say her mission has been to set the path for others to do just that. In her weekly Teacher’s Practice at Kula Yoga, Costello has provided a place for alignment in inquiry and community for the last eight years. A Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher (CIYT), her teaching has been influenced by annual visits to India, the study of philosophical and scriptural texts, and a daily practice of meditation. In 2016 she was named one of 100 most influential teachers in America. When at home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Costello teaches public classes at Kula Yoga and Yoga Shanti.
Devoted student Peiling Junek said, “Asana is the easiest way into the teachings of yoga, and Nikki is able to craft a class that focuses your attention on both your body and mind while effortlessly linking teachings back to the scriptural study of this practice. Nikki is my teacher and my mentor, and her approach to the study of yoga is both universalized and unlike any other.”
Kathleen Kraft: What does your yoga practice look like every day?
Nikki Costello: Ritual and daily practice have sustained me for the last 24 years. This includes having a dedicated space in my home where I sit before the sacred objects, photographs and mantras that anchor me in bhakti yoga or devotional practice. I spend two hours each day practicing a combination of asana, pranayama and meditation. I am drawn toward chanting scriptural texts that offer prayers and blessings for peace and harmony in the world. One in particular comes from the later portion of Shri Skanda Purana, and contains the dialogue between Shiva and Parvati disseminating the science and alchemy of yoga.
KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?
NC: Humility. The subject of yoga is vast and all encompassing and learning is infinite. If at any time, I have a feeling that I have understood something my heart softens with gratitude. In the weekly Teachers Practice I lead at Kula Yoga Tribeca, I am amongst my peers and other teachers in this exchange. I do my best to uphold the universal role of teacher that is indispensable to the path of yoga. As I take my seat, what transpires in me is a deepening of my own studentship and a commitment to be steadfast on this path. Just as we offer our salutations to the rising sun so may we offer our salutations when realization dawns in our practice. Both the student and the teacher are humbled by yoga.
KK: Which sutra is guiding you and why?
NC: Madhya-vikasac-chidananda labhah: The bliss of Consciousness is attained through expansion of the center. From the Pratyabhinjna-hrdayam.
In the practice of asana we often refer to the midline of the body and use this as a reference to explore balance between right and left. The spine runs through our physical center and each asana aims to improve its length, suppleness and freedom. This sutra teaches one how to enter the subtle center, the true center or heart of recognition to experience bliss. This has been with me for some time and reminds me to penetrate more deeply using my body and mind, breath and soul to reach the heart of yoga.
KK: Who has been a major influence on your life, your work?
NC: The Iyengar family and all the teachers they have trained for decades have been a great source of inspiration. Light on Yoga is my guide and the first book I studied to see the shapes, learn the names and reflect on the benefits of asana and pranayama. When I met B.K.S Iyengar in 2000 at RIMYI in Pune, I knew that I wanted to be there and learn directly from the source. It has been essential for me to be connected to a lineage of spiritual masters and to continue the work of teaching, sharing and spreading yoga in their name.