Brianna Hawk is a New York-based professional dancer, student, and yoga instructor. She started practicing yoga in high school to complement her dance training and find a way to soften more into herself.
Hi, my name is Bri and I’m a yoga teacher at ONEYOGAHOUSE.
Hi Bri. Can you tell us about your first yoga experience and your journey with yoga?
Yeah, so I started doing yoga as a kid, so I don’t remember it too much. But, I do remember taking a break from it for a long time, because I was very heavily pursuing dance. And so, that was really my movement practice. It turned from starting off doing yoga as a kid, to getting into dance professionally. And I had an instructor in a [dance] class where we were given prompts of trust – so learning how to give weight. So actually giving your arm to somebody and letting them hold it. And if they let go, your arm should drop because you gave them all your weight. And this was something that I very much struggled with. I was the only person in my class who could not surrender my weight, no matter how much I tried. I would sit there and meditate for five minutes and say, “okay, let’s do it.” And I still couldn’t do it.
So this teacher just told me that you need to get into a new movement practice where you don’t feel like you have to perform. So, he had me return to yoga. And I just remember my first class – I actually went to a yin class and it was very emotional. I didn’t know what yin was at the time. I thought it would maybe just be like a flow, but I had no idea what it was. And in yin, you sit and you surrender and you let go. And I remember literally crying in this class, just thinking, ‘I just wanna leave. I hate this.’ I thought that I was going to be distracting myself, that I was going to be moving. And so, it was really a stressful experience for me. But I remember leaving and thinking about it over and over and over again. Asking myself, why was that so hard? It made me realize that I needed to keep doing it, because it was so hard. And I was used to things, movement practices, coming easily to me. But this art of just kind of surrendering in stillness and letting myself just feel what I’m feeling was really profound.
So obviously this movement practice has helped you, but what other kinds of things in yoga, specifically, like living mindfully, or breath work, has helped you in life and any hardships or struggles that you have now that you’re still working through?
Yeah, I think I have a tendency to intellectualize. So it’s really hard to tap into and to move from a state of feeling, rather than a state of thinking. And so a lot of the choices that I make or the relationships that I make come from an idea of logic, and if I think it’s right, just all those brainy-kind of thoughts. And with yoga, you can really tap into, “what am I feeling right now in this moment? How can I move through that?”
Meditation helps you slow your brain down so that you can really tap into that state of flow. So I try to take those practices into my life, and tap into what I’m feeling, without putting a thought to it, and move from that. And it’s really difficult. I still struggle with it, but I always believe that this is something that we don’t ever arrive at. We have to return to it over and over and over again. So I still find myself moving through the thoughts and acting from that. And then I have to say, “okay, return to it. What am I feeling?” Even in conversation or if you’re having conflict with somebody, that art of taking a second to be silent before reacting is really powerful. And mindfulness and yoga has definitely helped me with that.
Yoga really does allow you to find mindfulness which affects how you approach your relationships, how you approach conflict, how you approach politics, everything in life. And it does change, it does affect people.
Is there anything you’re specifically working on now in yoga through your teaching? I know you have a new class coming up in the Fall.
Yeah, so I guess I see a lot of students who remind me of myself when I first started yoga, where they really want to perform. It’s almost as if there’s like an audience in the room, and they really want to achieve these very beautiful aesthetic shapes. And my whole concept as a teacher is, ‘how can you find softness and tenderness and your strength?’ And maybe that means that you opt out of something because it’s not right for you that day. This is something that we see a lot in dance; moving through injury, moving through exhaustion and fatigue. And so I want to teach people that you can hold a pose, but you don’t have to clench everything. How can you really soften and feel and embody what it is you’re doing? And that’s why I really like the mantra “soham”, which translates to “I am that”. So instead of just kind of performing a pose, we become it. And so this is something that I definitely really like to kind of translate, and it takes a few times for it to click. But at the end of class when you’re in Shavasana, I think that’s when people finally start to realize what soham actually means. And it’s been really cool to see how my students have learned that over time.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yeah, I keep talking about mantras. Mantras I guess are something that I’ve really been coming to love. I really have been enjoying going to Kirtan ceremonies, where you kind of sing and there’s drums and you recite mantras. Another mantra I always share is, “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”, which translates to, “may all beings everywhere, be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to the happiness and freedom for all.”
And I really like to share this as well because yoga really does allow you to find mindfulness, which affects how you approach your relationships, how you approach conflict, how you approach politics, everything in life. And it does change people, it does affect people. There’s another quote by Octavia Butler, “all that you touch, you change and all that you change, changes you”. I really live by this. I believe that it’s a triple effect. And if you’re really dedicated to actually understanding what a yoga community is, what mindfulness is, you will benefit everybody around you.