Hey there! I’ve been wanting to share people’s stories on the blog for sometime now. Nicolette David was the first person that came to mind. Nicolette is a well-loved yoga instructor in Orange County, owner of HB Yoga Collective, Lululemon ambassador, and new mom!
I sat down with Nicolette one Sunday afternoon after taking her class at YogaWorks Newport Beach. I met Nicolette back in February of 2015. At that time, I was looking to practice non-heated yoga. I also wanted to deepen my yoga practice. A good friend took her class and told me how much she learned from it. I was so excited to find a new yoga studio and instructor! After taking Nicolette’s class, I got the sense that she had a deep understanding of the body.
At the end of class, she announced she was leading a yoga retreat in May 2015 to Bali, Indonesia. I remember researching yoga retreats and instructors a few weeks before that class. The stars aligned! I went to Bali with Nicolette and a number of amazing women. I also brought my mom to the retreat! She is a beginner at yoga and has gone through a couple surgeries over the years. I knew I could trust Nicolette to guide my mom safely through yoga twice a day. It was such an adventure and I’ll never forget it.
That’s a little background on how Nicolette and I connected. Now here’s a play-by-play of our conversation. I was in post-savasana relaxation mode after her Level 2/3 Vinyasa Flow class. Nicolette and I sat on the floor on blocks. The sun was shining and a cool breeze flowed in through the studio from the open balcony.
We could start with your yoga journey. I know it’s been a long one. Tell me how you got started with yoga, teaching, and where you are now.
I got started with yoga right when I got back from the Peace Corps. I had a pretty rough transition back to the United States. Generally, language was different and our culture was different, and I’d been away for over two years. I was pretty depressed when I got back, just because of the transition.
I was a high school teacher in the Peace Corps. When I got back, I didn’t know that I wanted to go through the whole credentialing process, or getting that recertified, or renewed.
So, I took a yoga class with a girlfriend. She was like, I think yoga would be good for you. I was like okay, whatever, sure I’ll go. We took a class and it was a hot yoga class.
I hated it so much.
Was it Bikram style or something else?
It was yoga sculpt. I was wearing more like sweatpants- comfy pants, not technical fabric. I just remember being miserable and hating it so much. It was so hard and so loud. But, I do remember savasana was just a really great experience for me. I just remember feeling lighter and not so depressed. Then, I had a free week, so I went to another class. It was way more mellow. The lady had a gong.
She’s like the only person at that studio that would bring a gong. It was just a different tempo and a different energy. I thought, wow, these are both yoga. I had never really taken yoga before. If all these things are yoga, then this is what I want to teach, because I’m sure somewhere in the middle I’ll find what I love.
I loved the way that it made me feel. It just was a little bit lighter. It wasn’t like things were perfect, just a little bit lighter. So, I signed up for teacher training. I think I had only been going for a month maybe, not even. Maybe, two months or something, and I signed up for teacher training immediately.
Was it at CorePower?
Yeah, in Huntington Beach. I did my training there. I had met a lot of really great people, two people that I’m still very, very good friends with today. That was in 2010.
I did my first training there. Then, I did all of the subsequent trainings that they offered. I did the vinyasa one, hot power fusion, and sculpt. I was fortunate that I got classes right away.
No one wanted to teach at 6:00 a.m., so I got all the 6:00 a.m. classes. I developed a bit of a following at that time. I just taught a lot. Everything progressed really fast for me too, because I’d always been a teacher, so that always made sense.
Yeah, that totally makes sense, now that I make the connection.
Yeah. But, I didn’t know anything about yoga. I knew what it felt like to be in my body, as much as I knew how it felt to be completely out of it. So, all of the anatomy, even though I didn’t have a lot of background in it, I still kind of understood it kinesthetically.
I was with CorePower for a while. I started leading programs, assisting in teacher training, and then leading teacher training. Then, I got asked if I was interested in management. For me, I was like okay, this is the next thing. I thought there was a ladder to climb. Whereas, now I see that doesn’t exist.
So, I did that. I wasn’t super happy doing that, even though I felt like I did a good job, because I was going to do a good job. It’s in my nature. But the joy of teaching was really always the thing that I loved the most and connecting with people.
I think I managed for a year and a half. In Sherman Oaks, I was assisting in training to manage up there. Then, I opened the Costa Mesa studio as a manager. It was a lot of sales and I wasn’t familiar with sales. That had never been my background, so a lot of things felt foreign, and forced, and challenging.
Not that challenge is a bad thing, but it was very stressful. I couldn’t balance having a life, and I didn’t have much going on at that point. Then, my dad got sick, so it became even harder to manage just my own energy, and my own emotions.
I stopped managing and just started leading trainings and programs there. Then, I started teaching at a bunch of other studios. So, I kind of got out and saw that there were other ways to teach.
Is that when you did yoga tune-up?
I did yoga tune-up training with Jill Miller, which totally changed the way that I saw everything. Particularly, yoga, but just in general teaching. She has a very unique way of helping you find who you are as a teacher. Then, at the same time, I enrolled in the 500-hour program at YogaWorks.
At YogaWorks, I felt so much more creative and I could find more of my own voice. I was teaching at other studios. I was teaching at Equinox and some other local studios. But while doing this, I was studying with Jill Miller doing her intensives. You know, there’s one for the shoulders, hips, and core. But, YogaWorks also had more philosophy and the deeper teachings of yoga. I hadn’t learned anything about pranayama [regulation of the breath through techniques and exercise].
I was going to ask, because I would say your style of teaching and classes are the deepest I’ve taken. Would you say that’s from all of the training you’ve done? Is it an accumulation of all that?
Yeah. I think I love the body and just how remarkable it is. Because I don’t practice as much asana [physical yoga poses] much of my practice is the deeper stuff – I love meditation and pranayama.
I love diving into philosophy. I feel like that is more of my study and the living of my yoga more than the poses. So in the classes, I know what’s happening in the body, what I want to see in the body, and also the habits of the body.
Everybody’s spine is going to want to do the same things pretty much. We generally are stronger in one leg rotation or another. We all have our heads forward over our shoulder and have the same kind of tightness, ailments, or weaknesses. I think that brings a certain sense of commonality. So, I’m like what do we all need? I need it too. So, I know how I’d like to see the body open up and how I want it to affect the students.
I think the deep part is – I’m more of a greater depth than I was before. I think early in my teaching I really wanted to impress and have everyone like me. Now, I don’t so much care if people like me or not. I really want to just connect to whatever’s bigger than me. Then, just kind of open up and be like here you go, here’s my offering.
So, I’m not as afraid as a teacher as I was before. I was afraid before of not being the most popular or needing to have really, really full classes. So, that’s been a shift for me.
I’m sure you’ve become more vulnerable as you’ve grown as a teacher.
Yeah, for sure. My relationships with my students are deeper and I know about their lives.
I definitely have noticed that.
I can add humor very easily. Whereas, before I would be like, oh, my God nobody laughed at my joke. Now, I’m not waiting for that. It seems like there’s more of a connection than anything else.
Whereas before, I felt like I was doing it but now I want the students to feel like they’re doing it. That they’re getting the win, they’re opening themselves up, they’re the ones doing it. I’m just there kind of facilitating.
In the seven years that you’ve been teaching, you’ve probably seen a lot of people come through. With yoga, I feel like people come to themselves. Whereas, they’re probably unaware either on a physical sense, or spiritual, or mental sense. Can you describe why that is and what happens when you start being more aware?
Yeah. Well, I think yoga is unique in that. I know some people look at yoga as just being very physical and it being very connected to fitness. One aspect of yoga is the physical movements and the poses. But, really it’s kind of how we’re doing or how we’re using that pose that I think is much more exciting. Really all of the little instructions that you’re given and the ways of being in the pose, they’re really just to kind of wake you up.
So, maybe you need to wake up your listening skills. Maybe, that’s it, or maybe you need to wake up a particular area of your body that’s really weak, or is not strong, or you don’t even know that you’re doing something in a particular way.
So, the poses increase your awareness. So, then you start noticing like oh, gosh I don’t really like to be around these people, or I’m really not very kind to my mom. You start to notice other things, because your field of noticing is increased.
That just comes from listening better and noticing that oh, this in my body. You just start to become more conscious. Then, I think that’s where the mind body connection comes, is because you start to increase your awareness of things. Then, it comes through the body, doing all these poses. Maybe, all you could do before was point your feet forward. But, now you can point your feet forward and rotate your thighs in one direction. You know how to do that, because you’re so aware of your body. Whereas, before you were just like those are my feet, those are my legs.
Yes! That’s amazing!
I think that increase of awareness is really what the physical stuff is for. It feels good and it moves the body. It does all of those things and can create a release for us. Especially, when there’s breath, really conscious breath included in it.
You really have to be aware of the stressors in your life when you’re breathing. You take a breath in and you feel your emotions or you tap into something that’s really old. Like, grief or whatever it may be. But, you wouldn’t be aware of that if you didn’t go through the physical process of moving the body.
It’s weird how the breath says so much. I love that you always start your class with breath work. Because when you’re taking short and shallow breaths, there’s a reason for that. It could be a million things. But, you kind of come face to face with it when you’re breathing. You have nowhere to go really.
Well, yeah. So much of our emotions are in our breath. I’ll see people breathe these tiny, little breaths. I’ll watch their body and it’s like a tiny shallow breath. It’s almost like they don’t know that there is so much bigger and so much more for them. Then, it’s scary to go into that so much more and that bigger sense of sensation, or feeling.
That’s why – I think people are moving their bodies, and then they start to become more aware of some more finite things in their bodies. Then, they start to become more aware of their outer world. Like, what’s happening in their hearts, as they’re driving their car, or at work.
So it ends up going off the yoga mat with them.
Yeah there are plenty of people who don’t do any of the physical poses at all. But, they do meditation and that’s their practice. For them, it’s the same thing. It’s like, first you just realize, oh you have a mind, and the mind talks.
And, it has a narration constantly going. Then, you start to realize okay, I can slow this down and I can move away from it.
Like, you’re kind of a separate entity than your thoughts, and your emotions, which is really hard to get to, I think.
Yeah. But, I mean for some people that is so far out there that they’re just like “I know, I know, I’m crazy. I could never meditate.” It’s like, well, actually, if you wanted to get more space or more stretch in your hamstrings, you would have to do some things in order to do so. If you want to get more space and more quiet in your mind, then you have to do some exercises.
I read up a lot on inner work. From what I’m learning, we all have certain coping mechanisms. Whether it’s food or other substances. I think having mastery over those areas comes with your thoughts. To me, it’s all very connected.
Well that mastery has to also include the willingness or the courage to actually feel what’s going on. To really get to the source of it.
But, I think that in order to actually feel it all, the good, the bad, the middle– in order to do that it just takes a lot of courage. It takes the “I’m not right, they’re not right”. There is the “what is right for me right now”. Really, a sense of forgiveness.
That’s so good.
Maybe we could shift gears and talk more about what you’re doing now with your yoga studio.
So, we opened HB Yoga Collective at the end of November 2016.
To be honest, I don’t know that I really saw myself as a studio owner. But, my partner, who I love dearly presented the idea to me, and I was like, okay. Let’s do this. Let’s see. It is definitely a tight knit community studio. It’s not hot yoga. There’s not a lot of fitness focus. It’s a lot of softer notions.
We have an older demographic. No one is really there to do tricky stuff. We still have level 2 classes and that sort of thing. But, we have a wider range of classes. It’s more wellness than it is fitness. In doing that, it’s hard in the industry- Orange County, especially, runs on fitness.
So, bringing things in like Tai Chi and restorative sound, a spine therapy class and plenty of options for gentle yoga and meditation. Even the workshops we’ve chosen promote wellness instead of fitness.
So, there are three of us in the studio. It’s myself, my partner, who’s also a yoga teacher. She was my mentor for the YogaWorks 500-hour training. Then, our friend who does graphics, she’s an Ayurvedic chef, so she brings a different kind of energy and a different base of knowledge into the studio.
But, everything that we’ve done has been very, very conscious.
A lot of people bike to our studio. We offer philosophy once a month. We do a downtown street cleanup once a month, so we have other things that are inherently built in the studio that are more than just doing yoga.
That’s great! It seems like you are cultivating a community.
I think we just feel like there’s a need for people to have a place to go and to feel like they’re loved on. I don’t know that everyone gets that.
That’s really special.
Nicolette and I wrapped up our conversation talking about her partner Jason, her baby on the way (baby girl Billie was born May 12th), and future plans. She has a passion for working with yoga teachers and hopes to build a series of workshops from everything she’s learned. Nicolette mentioned hosting family friendly retreats in the U.S, at places like Wyoming or Montana. She’s been looking towards the future and is trying to focus more on the things she really loves and excels at.
Nicolette was a long-time vegetarian but now eats a conscious diet including fish and meat. On her free time, she loves going to concerts. Her last concert was Common and shares that she appreciates well-written lyrics. I’ve heard her sing in savasana and I must say, she has a beautiful singing voice. Her next trip with Jason and Billie will be for a wedding in Marseille, France in July.
Thank you Nicolette for sharing your story. You inspire me so much.
And for you, reading this, thank you for being here. I would love to hear from you in the comments below! Until next time.
Let’s keep in touch!