Nina Yau took her first yoga class in 2009, in the midst of a highly dedicated and disciplined practice in Shotokan Karate. As a certified 2nd Degree Black Belt (Ni-Dan) by the Japan Karate Association of Chicago, the inward journey begun in 2006 with an intensive physical and meditative practice. Years of diligent training helped sharpen focus, develop purposeful intention, and cultivate deep self-awareness. She is a two-time Illinois State Champion, a two-time USA Karate Nationals medalist, the 2006 Champion of the American Shotokan Karate Championship and, in 2009, Nina was Gold Medalist in the Women’s Kata Division at the USA Karate Open in Las Vegas, Nevada. She also holds a Green Belt in Kyokushin Karate. In 2015, she placed 2nd in the Adult Kata Division at the World So-Kyokushin Karate Budo Giant Challenge in Montreal, Canada. Nina most recently was Gold Medalist in Adult Women’s Advanced Kata at the 2019 Fonseca Spring Challenge and Bronze Medalist in Adult Advanced Team Kata at the 2019 Windy City Traditional Karate Championship. Nina trains regularly in Traditional Japanese Shotokan Karate at the Japan Karate Association of Chicago – Sugiyama Dojo and is a member athlete of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and International Traditional Budo Alliance (ITBA).
As a complement to martial arts, Nina started practicing yoga regularly in 2011, unearthed a deep resonance with it, and soon made her way to South India where she received her teaching certification in Hatha Vinyasa. She is certified by the Yoga Alliance as E-RYT 200 and by The Yin Yoga Institute as a Yin and Yang Yoga Registered Teacher (YYYRT 500) under the founder of Yin Yoga, Master Teacher Paulie Zink. She is a 50-hour Budokon Yoga Certified Teacher under founder Cameron Shayne, which has broadened her training as a mixed movement athlete. She is also a certified Stand-Up Paddle Board (SUP) Yoga instructor. Nina has completed advanced trainings in Yoga Nidra, Tantra, and subtle body sequencing with experienced yoga teacher Mia Park, an initiated teacher of the Sri Vidya spiritual lineage.
Nina’s teachings are influenced by the traditions of the East, including the Tao, Japanese Zen practices and martial arts, and Chinese yin and yang theory. Her classes are focused on intentional movement through power of mental focus, coordinated breathwork, and developing an imperturbable spirit.
Christy V. (Isla Mujeres Yoga & Wellness Retreat – Mexico 2020)
I had imagined the perfect yoga retreat – challenging yet accessible classes, a master teacher who gives great hands-on assists, a sense of community among attendees, fresh fruit & seafood, a tropical island, and chill boutique lodging. Nina’s retreat was this and more.
Challenging yet accessible classes by a master teacher: Nina is a master teacher. Her classes will challenge your strength, flexibility, and balance. But, she doesn’t just call difficult poses, she gives you the steps and building blocks to get there. For example, she offered building blocks to getting to Crow which no teacher had shared with me before. These helped me get closer to the pose, but also helped more advanced practitioners build additional strength to accomplish the pose with more grace. She also pushes you to further deepen your practice and transitions between poses. For instance, instead of launching yourself into Half Moon using momentum, Nina guides the class through an intentional transition from Warrior II, to Triangle, to slowly lifting into Half Moon.
A variety of yoga styles: Nina is a teacher who has dedicated extensive time and rigor to her own learning. At our retreat, we practiced traditional hatha, vinyasa flow, slow flow, yin flow, yin (which targets fascia, tendons, and tissues through long holds), yoga nidra (a deep relaxation meditation sometimes known as yogic sleep), zazen (seated meditation), and budokon (a moderately paced style with martial arts and animal locomotion influences). Nina teaches each of these styles with ease, deep knowledge, and great hands-on assists.
Beyond asana: Nina told us at the opening of the retreat that “this is not just a yoga retreat; it is also a wellness retreat” – and she helped us each make that a reality. Nina’s classes focused on physical strength in poses, but also incorporated mental strength and meditation. She created an itinerary which left open space for relaxation, spa services, reading, writing, meditation, lounging, swimming, beach time, and conversation. There was freedom to take time to oneself, but Nina also created an inclusive atmosphere which encouraged the group to enjoy each other’s company and conversation.
Thoughtfully planned & well communicated: Nina is intentional about building a full experience. Everything from the location, to the accommodations, to the meals, to the daily schedule, to the sequencing of classes was curated, arranged and communicated with clarity and great care.
A positive community between attendees: Nina fosters an environment of joy, inclusion, fun, and loving kindness. I didn’t know any of the attendees going into the retreat, but we developed into fast friends. This is in large part thanks to Nina. She designed the retreat intentionally with some group meals, an opening circle to help people get to know each other in a meaningful way, and by selecting a semi-private boutique hotel with space for the group to relax and mingle.
Prior to attending this retreat, I had occasionally taken Nina’s classes. I admired her intentional cohesive classes and her joyful energy. Nina is a teacher who does not distance herself from her students. Coming out of this retreat, I am honored to call her not just my teacher but also my friend. I highly recommend Nina as a teacher and retreat leader.
More Student Testimonials:
You have encouraged me to challenge myself, to go beyond my strengths, to use my body and mind, to reach balance, peace and good health. Your kindness and compassion for life, people, adventure, and your love for yoga, has been very inspirational. You have changed me physically and spiritually. – Peggy L.
As I’ve practiced yoga with Nina over the past few years, I’ve noticed significant changes in my physical practice and, more importantly, subtle and positive changes in my mind and approach to navigating the wider world. My first classes with Nina were her weekly Inversions class. Like many people, I find inversions intimidating and a little scary. However, after a few weeks of regular attendance at Nina’s class, I found myself moving into handstands and headstands with more confidence and ease than ever before. Nina’s disciplined but lighthearted approach to teaching makes me feel both steady and expansive in body and mind. She makes sure always to incorporate postures and sequences that prepare students from the ground up, building a steady, safe foundation for inversions and other advanced postures. If anyone can make a disciplined, vigorous practice fun, it’s Nina!
The aspect of Nina’s teaching that shines the most is her fusing of techniques from her martial arts background with the practice of yoga. This unique fusion highlights what is similar and complementary among these practices. Recently, I took an Intro to Budokon series with Nina. This yoga style is deeply infused with martial arts and other movement forms, and it inspired me to learn more about martial arts. Whether she is teaching yoga, Budokon, or karate, Nina always brings aspects of Zen meditation and the Beginner’s Mind to the forefront. This mindfulness reminds me to remain open to the world around me while also letting go of preconceptions of myself and others. Nina is a warm, generous, experienced, and creative teacher. It has been a joy and privilege to practice with her! – Jess G.
Every time I take one of your classes, I am empowered. I don’t know what it is exactly that is happening that moves me to this moment but it is both a colorful and active experience. I believe it is your character and strength and how you integrate that into the practice. This strength and resilience is familiar. I have felt this is when I visit where my parents are from, Oaxaca (with the Zapotec culture). I carry this with my in my line of work and in my neighborhood. I am very grateful for your practice and your integration, your strength and your engagement with your students. It is felt and I walk with you in your strength when you are teaching. Thank you for that. – Cristina G.
I practiced yoga for over 20 years and struggled to get into Crow. Other yoga teachers said, “Crow is about trust; you need that before you can fly.” Not Nina. She is the only teacher who showed me how to fly. She showed me what I needed: a stronger core, a stronger upper body, focus and balance. Now I can fly for a few seconds.
Before Nina, I barely dared to dream of doing Flying Pigeon, Forearm Stand, Peacock, Bird-of-Paradise, Handstand and other advanced poses. I first started practicing yoga in my late 20s right after failing a yellow belt test in Karate. That failure demoralized me. I trained hard for a test that was supposed to be easy to pass. I was the only student who didn’t pass. Inside, I was still the weak, asthmatic kid no one wanted on their team.
Yoga saved me but Nina transformed my practice. I can follow her detailed and specific instructions even when my body is not ready to take flight or go upside down. Before Nina, my attempts at arm balances were half-hearted and noncommittal because of what I used to think: I can’t. Now I think, I can and I will so I stay focused and find strength.
Nina sees the strength in you that you don’t see and she draws it out with the right mixture of encouragement and tough love. She inspires me to reach for the impossible and keep practicing. I turn 50 years old this year and celebrate accomplishments I never thought possible in my 20s. – Vanessa S.
I love Nina’s classes! She offers a wide variety of classes available to all levels, all bodies and all frames of mind- vinyasa, inversions, yin yoga and everything in between! Nina herself is an experienced yogi and it is clear that she devotes time to improving her own practice through study and reflection and by constantly learning from other masters in the field. She incorporates many different styles of movement into her classes (she is 2nd degree black belt in karate too) so that every class you take with Nina is fresh and different. You will get your butt kicked in many of her classes without even realizing it, working muscles you never knew you had. Nina as a person is quirky, kind and compassionate. She makes everyone feel comfortable and calm in every one of her classes. The way she leads you through movement and meditation brings you to a spiritual place. She also quickly pivoted to offer classes online at the start of shelter in place. Even through zoom you can feel her connection to you and her classes and communication are always professional. Nina and her classes are a gift and I feel lucky to be able to interact/experience both! Do yourself a favor and find a way to take a class with her immediately! – Caitlin C.
Truth book, published 2012, available on Amazon.