Who I Am As a Yoga Teacher | At least, who I think I am

The other day I took my first Ashtanga class while on vacation with my friend Jack. It was the style of yoga he initially practiced, and the style that many of my peers were first introduced towards. It has taken me years to practice this style because I have always viewed it as extreme, regimented, and not for my body. Vinyasa, to me, has been Ashtanga’s little brother who always disappears out on adventures for hours at a time, always coming back for dinner; always willing to bend the rules a bit but still understand who to thank for meals, clothing, and housing. That was my first Ashtanga practice, and likely my last because it just isn’t for me. It isn’t what I need it to be.

I come from a technical background. I studied communication theory and the English language in undergrad, and then went on to study linguistics in graduate school focusing on language acquisition and bilingualism. All of these things required reading previously done research, qualitative and quantitative analyses of how humans verbalize and describe their world through the conduit of language. Language in itself is very much a science: it is an intricate system of communication that involves development, acquisition, usage, maintenance, and evolution as a means to understand one’s environment.

The most important aspect to me is that language always changes. Language adapts to the different needs of the people utilizing it. This is, in a sense, how the yoga practice parallels language — it evolves on-demand and as necessary. Take a look at all of the different yoga offerings out in the world: from goat yoga, to chair yoga, to queer yoga, to pool yoga, there is something for every body and practice. Centuries ago you would see that yoga would consist of one single asana, limited to men. Now, yoga is both a physical, spiritual, and mental practice that has changed into offerings that may seem borderline sacrilegious and controversial to the yoga asana purist.

Language has always fascinated me from a young age; growing up speaking Mandarin and then acquiring English quickly made me realize this set me apart from my monolingual peers at school. I saw this contrast and the different social implications this had when I would be embarrassed of my mother not having perfect English or my sister taking additional phonics classes to stay on par with her classmates in school. I could speak from a very young age and picked up reading quickly. Some of my most vivid memories are attached to books and being in the library. #nerd

I have never cared about superficial, tertiary by-products [of teaching yoga] like fame and notoriety, and I don’t think I ever will.

Naturally during my journey into becoming a yoga teacher, I was very much interested in the history, origins, Sanskrit, anatomy, and alignment. I have never cared about superficial, tertiary by-products like fame and notoriety, and I don’t think I ever will. These days when I practice and teach, I am concerned about the sensory and somatic experience of the asana practice; recognizing the spiritual and parasympathetic effects can co-exist; most importantly, understanding that I am simply a conduit for learning, growth, and exploration for each student.

What fascinates me the most about the technical aspects of yoga asana is that you can take a particular posture and dissect it for what it is, and for what it can be. Have SI issues in trikonasana? You can alleviate that by tweaking the angle of your pelvis. Need to take balance out of the equation? Either don’t do it or ask yourself how you can create less of a load. Have short arms and a longer torso? You need some leverage, like blocks. And don’t get me started on the human body and all of the anatomy…it is a serious wonder of the world (I think if I were to ever go into medicine I would study epidemiology)!

All of that being said, all of the technical aspects have taken more of a centerstage in my attention, but it doesn’t mean I don’t find value in other aspects of yoga. Bhakti never appealed to me for the longest time because there wasn’t a whole lot of alignment, and it comprised of chanting which was scary and unfamiliar. I have studied the Sutras with different translations because — duh, language — but a lot of it can be philosophical and esoteric which isn’t exactly riveting to your average student.

I started teaching in March 2017. As of this writing, it will be 2 years and 2 months that I’ll have been teaching — and what a journey it’s been. Many of you know that I came to a serious yoga practice after experiencing two hospitalizations for suicide attempts, and turning to that practice helped to better acquaint me to myself. I decided to become a teacher to share the love that I have for this practice, share my desire for how it can help to fulfill different voids that could otherwise be filled by other vices, and to share the the many opportunities for transformation be it physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Yoga is what I want it to be, when I need it to be. This has helped to shape me, my practice, and the teacher that I think I am.