Mankato's Pioneer and Powerhouse Yoga Teachers

Article by: Nikki Potts, Sun Moon Yoga Intern

In 2010, artist (and yoga student) Cheryl Casteen, had two entries in the Prairie Lakes Regional Art Council juried art show. “Mudra” (Mona Ceniceros pictured above) won a Merit Award.

       Mankato’s vibrant deep-rooted yoga community is the result of the passion of two women, one a yoga pioneer the other a yoga powerhouse. 

Pioneer Nita Nickerson began teaching yoga in the Mankato area in the late 1960s.   She taught classes at the YWCA at its former location, the Cray Mansion, as well as at Mankato State University, well into her 80s.

Powerhouse Mona Ceniceros created a teacher-training program (the first in a five state area.)  It led to the beginning of numerous studios throughout Minnesota, including, Green Lotus in Lakeville, Synergy Yoga in Anoka, Heart Work Yoga Studio in Northfield as well as Yoga Okoboji in Iowa, all which have owners that received their training at Sun Moon.

On top of sparking numerous studios throughout the state, Sun Moon Yoga has expanded the over the past 10 years.  Ceniceros and her studio have been featured in numerous articles.


       In 1975 Nickerson came out with the third edition of her hand-written textbook for her MSU class entitled, “Hatha Yoga.”  Nita wanted the book to be a tool for her students to continue practicing yoga at home as they had in her class.  “The only way to learn yoga is through experiences.  So my aim was to encourage students to experience for themselves rather than to read about other peoples experiences,” wrote Nickerson. (See samples of drawings from Nina’s Book)

Developing a strong community of yoga practitioners was an important part of Nickerson’s instruction.  She was well aware that while yoga was still new and held a small community in the Mankato area it would soon grow and evolve. 

“It [her textbook] represented my best thoughts on Yoga and health at that time.  But a lot of change has happened in the interim – both in the attitudes of the students for which it was designed and in my own understanding of Hatha Yoga as I continued to experience it,“ explained Nickerson in her 1994 postscript.

Nickerson says, and many yogiwould agree, that yoga can be practiced at any age.  It should be started young, and “much of the physical degeneration that requires medical care later in life could be avoided,” wrote Nickerson.

“She [Nickerson] saw yoga as a way for people who had various health or drug addiction issues to become healthy again,” said Denise Friesen, a previous student of Nickerson’s.

Nickerson herself tried yoga as a form of medical care.  She had Rheumatic fever and was willing to do whatever she could to be active and work again.  Nickerson felt the improvement.  While there are many activities that involve the whole person, “ I still believe that Yoga works to the point that I am surprised whenever I get a reversal in health,” Nickerson wrote.

Nickerson continued teaching yoga at MSU and at the YWCA until she couldn’t physically do the poses anymore. 

Nickerson then turned to teaching with the help of Ceniceros, a muscular, energetic fitness instructor, who became her “pose girl.”  Ceniceros aided Nickerson for just short of two years.  Although Nickerson thought Ceniceros was too “fitnessy” she asked the YWCA to have Ceniceros take her place when she retired.


       Ceniceros traded the fitness industry for yoga and never looked back.  She not only had inherited all of Nickerson’s loyal students, but she also had the challenge of continuing Nickerson’s legacy while adapting to evolving yoga and trying to expand it.

When Ceniceros took over for Nickerson she had already taught yoga at many other places.  She travelled to Madelia, St. James, St. Peter and New Ulm.  Ceniceros taught in libraries, schools and even cafeterias.  She described these institutionalized settings as toxic for her yoga students and thought her students deserved a better space to practice.  And that is exactly what she gave them.  Ceniceros opened Sun Moon Yoga in 2000.  It was a gift to her students.  “Now we had a home,” said Ceniceros.

The new studio had no problem acquiring a following. “When we opened we were completely full,” said Ceniceros.  No grand opening was needed.  The students Ceniceros had spent years travelling to teach were now travelling to her.   “Mona is a very nurturing teacher,” said Friesen who continues to take classes at Sun Moon. (Read more testimonials.)

Ceniceros said the past 12 years have gone fast.  The studio has expanded as it has acquired more space from previous businesses into what it is today. 

Mona says accomplishments that have grown her the most include:

    1. Creating a studio for Mankato yoga community:
    2. Sharing yoga outside of Sun Moon:
      Academia and Interns and local athletes
    3. A decade training Sun Moon and regional yoga teachers:
      Teacher Training

For the future Ceniceros wants to continue serving the yoga community that Nickerson and she have developed by creating a non-profit training and retreat center in Mankato.

“I want to create something sustainable from Nina’s seed-sowing legacy and my building of this community so we have this really vibrant community,” said Ceniceros.

She sees her future non-profit/retreat center as a collaborative place.  She wants all yoga studios that may be in Mankato someday to all have a place to share, benefit and sustain one another.

As Ceniceros pushes forward with her dreams of further expansion she is extremely proud of the “home roots” of this local yoga community and thinks Nickerson would agree.

“I think judging from her book she would have been supportive of us because she was really into hand-made, home-grown, from-the-heart. Look at the book that she came up with. If you look at her book and you look at our studio, they’re kind of the same. They are not perfect. They are homegrown and have natural quality. She was like that, and that’s what we are,” said Ceniceros about Nickerson, “She really planted a seed.”