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Meet Your Teachers: Sachiko Nishizawa Willis

Many Adeline yogis have already been lucky enough to take a class with Sachiko, the newest member of Adeline’s teaching team. Sachiko has taken over Cynthia’s Back Care class and Women’s classes. She is also teaching a Level 1 class on Thursday evenings. In this interview, she tells us a little bit about what brought her to Iyengar yoga, what inspires her teaching, and what she’s up to when she’s not teaching yoga. Enjoy!

How did you first come to Iyengar Yoga?

I began practicing yoga in 1998 in New York City. At the time, I practiced a different style of yoga in which you do the same sequence every class. A couple years into my practice, I found a teacher in that system who was teaching slightly differently than others – talking about alignment and the actions of particular parts of the body, which interested me greatly.  I discovered that she was referring to the book, Yoga: The Iyengar Way.  I researched and found the Iyengar Institute of New York.  Around that time, I was suffering from knee pain, and it just so happened that the institute was offering a knee workshop.  The prerequisite was a minimum of six months studying Iyengar Yoga.  Not knowing better, I called up the workshop teacher insisting, “But I have been practicing yoga for almost three years!”  She was understandably hesitant but eventually agreed to let me in.

Immediately I felt that the teaching was taking me to a deeper place.  What’s more, there were students of varying ages, shapes and abilities.  The studio was inclusive, accepting, and inspiring.  I felt comfortable.  I felt at home. From that day on, I became a regular and dedicated student of Iyengar Yoga. If that teacher had not allowed me to attend her workshop, I don’t know if I would be practicing Iyengar yoga today, let alone teaching.

What inspired you to pursue certification?

There is a quote from Guruji that particularly resonates with me: The asana is an enquiry: ‘Who am I?’ Throwing out the parts until only the Self is left. The final pose is ‘I am.’ After about a decade of studying, I realized that every one of us already has everything we need to find who we truly are and that it is up to each of us to uncover it.  Yoga gives us a roadmap and a tool for this quest.  I love that the Iyengar tradition begins with a focus on the tangible – our bodies, something that everyone has – as a gateway into a deeper understanding and appreciation for the intangible layers of our beings.  This realization inspired me to become a certified Iyengar yoga teacher, which meant systematically developing the skills and knowledge to share effectively what I have learned.

What qualities do you value in a teacher? What, would you say, is the emphasis in your own teaching?

Courage, integrity, authenticity, and unconditional love for all who come to him or her.  I have witnessed and experienced the impact of such individuals on body, mind and life firsthand.  I try to cultivate these qualities in myself as a teacher and a human being.

I am also strongly drawn to teachers who can methodically take students from one asana to another, awakening intelligence in particular parts of body. It is almost like you are disassembling your body in order to discriminate one action from another, but in the care of a skillful teacher, you will begin to glimpse the integration. My teacher, Manouso Manos, sometimes describes this experience as a symphony in which all parts of the body, all asanas in a sequence, the body and the mind work in harmony.  I am very much inspired by this kind of approach. It is very physical, but it extends beyond the physical at the same time.

Do you have a favorite yoga sutra? What does it mean to you?

II.21 tadarthah eva drsyasay atma
Nature and intelligence exist solely to serve the seer’s true purpose, emancipation. 

In his description of this sutra, Guruji writes, “The things of the world are essentially there to serve the seer to discover and understand his/her own true position.” For practitioners, yoga permeates everything we do, see, touch, smell, hear, and feel. The achy back, an unexpected interaction with a stranger, a long and stagnant line at the post office, clipping episodes of anxiety, a walk on the beach with a dear friend… all these (and more) are here for me to learn something about myself and my place in this world.

You’ll be taking over Back Care and Women’s classes at Adeline. What draws you to these classes? What do you hope to bring to the students who attend? 

My ultimate goal as a teacher is to inspire each student to develop a well-rounded home practice and take up the yogic path of self-discovery on her or his own, whether it is through Back Care or the Women’s class.

I have a strong interest in the therapeutic application of yoga.  Last year, I finished a three-year therapeutic yoga program with Manouso. I assist his classes weekly, in which he often has therapeutic cases.  I have recovered from severe back and hip pains through yoga and am now mostly pain-free. I would like to share what I have learned from these experiences, as well as what I am currently exploring, with students who are suffering from similar issues.  I am excited about teaching the Women’s class because it is giving me the chance to delve deeper into womanhood and woman-ness—something I hadn’t given much thought to beyond the physiological level.  I am grateful that Heather has given me the opportunity to do so for and with the Adeline community.

When you’re not teaching yoga, what are you doing?

Up until the end of last year, I was managing a small theatre company called ShadowLight Productions in San Francisco. In fact, I came to the United States from Japan to study theatre and had worked in the field for 20+ years. I used to go see plays and dances quite often because of my work, and because I also felt at home in theatre.

Now I am very selective of what productions I see because of my schedule and energy level.  Besides, I am pretty home-bound by nature. I love being at home, taking care of the place, practicing, reading, surfing the internet, cooking, watching my cat nap (napping with the cat!), and doing absolutely nothing.

Come benefit from Sachiko’s teaching at the following times. See you in class!
  • Back Care  Wednesday, 4:00-5:30 PM
  • Women’s Class Thursday, 4:00-5:30 PM
  • Level 1 Thursday, 5:45-7:15 PM

Sachiko Nishizawa Willis is a certified Iyengar teacher at the Intermediate Junior I level.  She began her study at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of NY in 2001. Since then, she has experienced the transformative and healing power of the Iyengar method first hand. As a teacher, she strives to help students develop the sensitivity and tenacity required to take the journey of self-discovery and transformation; taking obstacles and ailments as part of the path. She is a dedicated student of Manouso Manos, taking and assisting his classes weekly. She also regularly studies with Brian Hogencamp, and has twice been to Pune, India, to study with the Iyengars. She recently completed a 3-year Yoga Therapeutics Program and continues to deepen her knowledge in this field. More details available at: