April Teacher of the Month: Shawna Emerick

Posted April 4, 2017
Get to know our teacher of the month for April

Shawna has been with Bread and Yoga since we opened our doors in 2009. She teaches a range of classes, from Gentle Restorative to Vinyasa flow. This Sunday, April 9th, she will teach a workshop on handstands, where she will share what she learned from a year of doing handstands every day.

Q: How did you get started with yoga?

Yoga did not come into my life until my junior year in college. I had no idea what it was until a guest artist came to my college in Indiana where I was a dance major and…for one week gave us a yoga class. I felt like it challenged me. I was surprised that [there were] some things I couldn’t do and I thought that as a dancer I should be able to do that. When I moved to New York I just continued it out of college.

Q: Did you move here with thoughts of teaching yoga?

I did not ever imagine myself being a teacher of anything. Everybody had this idea of what they wanted to be when they grew up and I didn’t so I was like, “What do I want to do?” I wrote down, “I want to help others create happy, healthy, confident lives” and that has stuck with me my entire life. I didn’t know how I was going to do that, but I thought maybe dance would be it, maybe through performance I could evoke different qualities that would support people for their own healing or transformation or happiness…Then I started doing more yoga in New York when I moved here. I started to witness how teachers could really speak to the heart or speak from their own heart as well. I finally realized that yoga could be a path to help me achieve my life’s purpose of helping others so I signed up for my first teacher training.

Q: When was that?

[It] was in 2004. I did one month in Mexico living in a tent by the beach. Being 23 turning 24, I was very unattached to anything. I had no husband or child at the time and I knew that I wanted to immerse myself in the learning so taking a whole month out and every day doing yoga was exactly what I wanted.

Q: You have been with Bread and Yoga since the very beginning. Why do you feel that your teaching style lines up well with the studio or the community?

I don’t know fully if it lines up with the neighborhood or the studio so much as it might line up with certain people. I teach from a place of being creative in your practice, being less rigid, stretching yourself both in the physical and metaphorical way. I think that also speaks to the community and to Bread and Yoga. It’s a place where you can come to learn and grow and stretch yourself in ways that maybe you hadn’t thought of yet.

When I think in terms of Bread and Yoga and the community at large, there’s a home base here.

That was part of our intention just this morning in class, [the idea of yoga as] the great remembering of coming home to yourself, your higher self and your best self. That’s why I practice and why I love teaching. It gives me an opportunity to connect with people on that level, but also giving them the opportunity to come to this class, to come to Bread and Yoga, a place where they can explore that safely and feel fully welcomed.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your home practice?

My home practice, especially after having a child, is so important! It gives me time to be alone, so it saves my sanity but also the home practice informs my teaching.

I learn so much because I take from videos online, I use [the Cody] app but then also, sometimes I’ll just turn all of that off and just move how my body wants to move.

I always feel better afterwards. Sometimes I haven’t gotten that on any given day, that opportunity [to practice] and I just feel like I have a shorter attention span, but I also have a shorter compassion span.

So I do something everyday, even if it’s just one thing like downward dog or my handstands.

Q: You focused on handstands in your practice this past year right?

It was something that I always wanted to be able to do, to do a handstand away from the wall. I got fed up with myself which often happens and it pushes me to start doing what I want to start doing but haven’t. With that and with wanting to learn how to use Instagram, I put those two together and during the year of 2016, I did a handstand everyday and I did post it everyday.

Q: What did you take away from that practice?

It meant a lot because the challenge of posting everyday, I was really scared about.

Q: Really? Why?

I was scared that people were going to judge me to be a showoff. That was my bigger challenge… to put myself out there doing what I love, also therefore supporting other people to challenge themselves in a way that they’re going to enjoy and to have this deeper practice of worrying less about what other people think of me.

With Instagram, you can get very easily caught up in what you see other people’s abilities to do. When I take classes…I really strive to hold an intention to let myself be me. If that means that I can do a stronger pose than the person next to me, then that’s ok. I shouldn’t hold myself back and also the reverse. If somebody next to me is doing this awesome something that is not where I’m at yet, that I don’t feel bad, that I turn it into inspiration. I have learned that life is so much more enjoyable when you have the ability to celebrate other people’s accomplishments and judge yourself less.

I also learned amazing anatomical things, from wrists and hands…to just understanding my pelvis and my core more and connections up through my whole body…I’ve learned that my own personal mantras have helped. [A few days ago] my mantra was “I am in control of my whole body” and I held my strongest, longest, most vertical line handstand where I felt completely in control.

Q: You teach such as range of classes here from the gentle restorative to the vigorous class. What ties those together?

I often set one intention for the whole week so all the different types of classes will have the same [spiritual] intention. I also make what I call a blueprint of a class. I’ll have this idea of a peak pose or a flow and I’ll ask, what postures are going to support that? How do those postures translate into an advanced practice versus a gentle practice? That blueprint informs the whole week’s classes. I have a couple of students who will take the gentle class on Friday and then they’ll come to the all levels Vinyasa on Saturday. I’ve often gotten feedback that “The gentle [class] really informed what I’m doing today at a different level here on Saturday.”

Q: Do you introduce yoga with your son? How has becoming a mom changed your practice?

Oh, definitely! My son Maxwell has a really great Down Dog and a really great Warrior One.

He has challenged my practice and changed my practice. It’s a challenge to find time and clear space and he’s also challenged it because the act of birth really changed my physical body, especially my back. I didn’t have the flexibility that I really thought I’d had before so I’m trying to work back up to it slowly.

But he also reminds me in great, awesome ways how it’s so not important. He’s a great reminder, going back to earlier talk, that it doesn’t matter what people think of you. It matters more how we are in life, that we are kind and compassionate.

Q: What did you get out of the mom’s group and baby yoga classes here?

I can say with confidence that becoming a mom would not have been as fun, it would not have been as easy, because it’s not easy, it’s not easy at all. I just don’t think that I would be the same type of mom without having the Mom’s Group, the Mommy and Me yoga with Ola, now the Scribble Art that we’re old enough to take. It’s so helpful.

Q: Anything to add?

I feel really compelled to give a shout out to all the students that come. Student isn’t even the right word, it’s community…The people that come are part of the reason that I keep coming. What I have the honor to witness in their practices changes my practice. I get ideas from them. I get great questions or I get to know them and they feel comfortable enough with me to tell a part of their life story after class. It helps me grow and it connects me with them more and supports the whole realm of life, [that feeling that] we’re not alone.


Join Shawna for a Handstand Workshop this Sunday, April 9th at 1:30pm.


Bread and Yoga
5000 Broadway, Suite A
(Entrance on 212th St.)
New York, NY 10034