We caught up with Francesca Nicosia to find out more about her recent CIYT certification and two new classes – Back Care on Monday at 4pmand Restorative on Friday at 4pm.
What inspired you to become a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher?
I love Iyengar Yoga for its systematic, alignment-focused and creative methods to safely work with injuries and health conditions, as well as cultivating emotional wellbeing and steadiness. Over the years, I’ve learned that I thrive when there is a structure to work within, both in yoga and life in general. Through structure and stability comes true freedom and creativity. The Iyengar method of learning and teaching, the rigorous assessment process, and the focus on mentorship inspires me to continue to evolve and deepen my own practice.
My journey to becoming a CIYT started in 1998 while I was an undergraduate in rural Indiana. At the time, there were no yoga studios in the small town. I was fortunate to meet three amazing women – a professor, my anthropology museum curator-boss, and a retired nurse and local healer — who had strong personal practices from various traditions and were happy to share their knowledge and practices with me. It was here that I first experienced the importance of the student-teacher relationship.
I moved to Colorado after college and was searching for a yoga home but was overwhelmed by what felt like a yoga “scene” in Boulder, with studios on practically every corner. I was searching for a teacher and community grounded in a spiritual tradition, which I eventually found at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat in the foothills above Boulder. In 2005, I moved into the ashram for a residential teacher-training program in Shambhava Yoga with the intention of deepening my personal practice. During this time, I immersed myself in the yoga philosophy, asana, Ayurveda, chanting, meditation and seva (selfless service) for 15 hours a day. The heart-centered focus of this practice continues to infuse my teaching and personal practice.
Although we used Light on Yoga as a reference book, it has taken me years to return to it and understand the depth of knowledge it contains. Around the same time, a friend of mine had been studying Iyengar Yoga and was going through a training program in Denver to prepare for certification as a CIYT. I remember when I heard it was going to take her two years before being eligible for certification, I thought to myself, “That’s so long!” Now I can appreciate the importance of those two years of intense study and apprenticeship and that certification is just the beginning of another phase in a lifetime of practice.
That same friend also taught informal classes in her home while she was going through her training program. I remember being taught Ardha Uttanasana at the wall as a variation of Adho Mukha Svanasana and thinking, “This isn’t downward dog!” Oh, how times (and my mind!) have changed! Ardha Uttanasana is one of my go-to poses both for myself and my students – it’s accessible to everyone, can be done at work or in your kitchen, provides great relief to the lower, middle, and upper back, opens the backs of the legs and is an important pose in its own right.
I moved to San Francisco in 2010 for a doctoral program at UCSF and UC Berkeley. Before I came to the Bay Area, I had been teaching up to 8 classes per week and knew that I would need to take a break from teaching in order to focus on full-time graduate school while also being a full-time mom to a new baby. Convenience led me to the UCSF gym and luckily I found a wonderful teacher, Barbara Weichmann, who had been the heart of the yoga program at UCSF for 30 years. She was a long-time student of Ramanand Patel and the first person I met that had traveled to Pune to study with the Iyengar family. She also taught classes at Bija Yoga in the Inner Sunset, which drew me into an Iyengar studio for the first time. Once I started practicing Iyengar Yoga, I knew that if and when I started teaching again, I needed to become a certified to teach the Iyengar method.
When I moved to the East Bay a few years ago, Adeline Yoga Studio just happened to be a few short blocks from my house. How auspicious! The quality of teaching, mentoring and community are so inspiring and I am so grateful to have AYS as my yoga home here in the East Bay.
You’re teaching Back Care on Monday at 4pm. Who should come to this class?
Back Care classes offer step-by-step approaches to relieving and preventing back pain. These classes are appropriate for any back issue – muscle strain, scoliosis, lower and upper back or neck conditions as well as countering the effects of desk jobs and computer use. It is also appropriate for beginners or those who need to move at a slower pace.
Students without back pain are always welcome in the Back Care class. The Yoga Sutras instruct us: heyam dukham anagatam – suffering from pain that has not yet come is avoidable. Our bodies are not isolated parts that make up a whole — many back and neck issues can develop from injuries or imbalances in the feet, ankles, knees and hips. In this class, you’ll learn how to prevent and avoid back issues in the future and work intelligently in regular classes and your home practice.
Back care the Iyengar way is central to my own practice. Having been through two auto accidents, hit by a car while riding my bike, and bus doors slamming on my head, I was fortunate to walk into a Back Care class with Cynthia Bates during a time in my life when I spent 2+ hours per day commuting by car to a stressful job and my body felt like it was falling apart despite having been a longtime yogi. For an entire year, the only class I could physically and emotionally get myself to was Back Care. It literally saved my life and my sanity, and reminded me that regardless of the condition of one’s physical body, yoga is always there for you.
For the past two years, I’ve assisted Cynthia in her Back Care classes and workshops both at Adeline Yoga Studio and the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco. I continue to deepen my own knowledge of how to work with specific conditions by studying with my mentors Cynthia Bates and Heather Haxo Phillips as well as Yoga for Scoliosis with Elise Browning Miller. We are so happy to now offer two classes per week for people with back issues.
What do you have planned for the Restorative class?
Making time in our busy lives to slow down to relax, renew and rejuvenate is so important. Incorporating an entire restorative practice at least once per week helps relax the body and mind and also works to soothe the nervous system.
Geeta Iyengar writes that Vishranta Karaka asanas, or restorative asanas, are designed to rest the organic body through passive, supported poses that allow you to prolong the duration of the pose for maximum benefit. Restorative sequences use a variety of supported backward and forward extensions, modified inversions and pranayama to facilitate moving through the layers of the physical body toward deeper levels of relaxation and quieting of the mind.
For beginners and experienced students alike, coming to a restorative class on Friday afternoon is the perfect way to end the week. I hope to see you there!
Come take class with Francesca at the following times, starting in January!
- Back Care on Mondays 4-5:30pm (starting January 8th)
- Restorative on Fridays 4-5:30pm (starting January 5th)
Francesca Nicosia is a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher, CIYT-1000. She took her first Iyengar Yoga class in 2010 and is a graduate of Adeline Yoga’s two-year Sadhana Studies program. She has been practicing yoga since 1998 and teaching since 2005 after completing a teacher-training program while living at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat in Colorado. She has a PhD in Medical Anthropology and is a researcher in the Division of Geriatrics at UCSF and the San Francisco VA Medical Center. As a member of the IYNAUS Research Committee, she volunteers her time to promote the benefits of Iyengar Yoga within integrative approaches to medicine and health care. Also an accomplished musician, Francesca is a soulful singer and kirtan leader who loves sharing the joyful practice of devotional chanting. She continues her studies of yoga philosophy, Sanskrit and mantra with Dr. Gitte Beschgaard and regularly assists her mentors, Heather Haxo Phillips and Cynthia Bates. Francesca’s classes share the transformative power of yoga to find freedom within the body and mind for people of all ages and walks of life. Find her online at francescanicosia.com and Fa