Teaching Competitive Students

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Read Nicki Doane's Response:

Dear Allie,

I can understand the situation that you're in, working with athletes. They are a special kind of individual, trained to be competitive—and in their respective sports, this attitude is in fact desired and beneficial.

But in yoga, of course, we're seeking to remove that sense of competition and encourage a nondivisive attitude. When working with competitive students, we need to show them that yoga can be challenging enough within our own minds and bodies that we don't need the competition of others.

I often find that athletes tend to want a difficult class, or more of a workout. For these students, I stress that by focusing intently on alignment and Ujjayi breathing, the practice becomes more challenging. I also use a clock in my classes to time the length of a pose or to balance sides of poses. For example, to stay in Triangle Pose for 3 minutes on each side while maintaining proper alignment and smooth breathing through the nose is quite challenging in and of itself. The only real competition is with the clock and ourselves.

I also find that it helps to weave philosophy into the classes by reciting and then explaining various verses from the Yoga Sutra. For example, in II.47 it says that in our yoga practice we must relax the intensity of our efforts and meditate on the inner journey, because this yoga never ends. I find that bringing in the philosophy reminds students constantly that while we do come together in yoga to create a community, ultimately the journey is a solo one.

Nicki Doane had a wanderlust that led her to India in 1991 to study yoga. She went to Mysore to meet Sri K Pattabhi Jois and immediately realized she had found her teacher. Nicki started teaching in 1992. She cites Pattabhi Jois, along with Eddie Modestini, Gabriella Giubilaro, and Tim Miller among her most influential teachers. She is an authorized teacher of Ashtanga Yoga. Although rooted in Ashtanga, Nicki's teaching goes beyond the traditional. Her classes combine asana, Pranayama, philosophy, and poetry. The emphasis is on awareness: creating integrity within each pose that can be carried beyond the mat into daily life. Nicki lives in Sebastopol, California with her husband, Eddie Modestini. Together, Eddie and Nicki co-direct Maya Yoga Studios in both California and Maui, Hawaii.