Calm. Strong. Fearless. Flexible. These are just some of the words that come to mind when we think of a yoga teacher. But just like the rest of us, even the most experienced yoga teachers go through ups and downs, from dealing with stress to facing their fears. However, dedication to their practice has given them the tools to build resilience and courage, helping them to ride the waves of uncertainty and fear with an undercurrent of clarity and balance.
Yoga teacher Bruce Chung joins us on the blog to talk about how yoga gave him the tools to overcome his fears and struggles, and how working through more challenging poses, such as hip openers and inversions, can have an incredibly profound and positive effect on your life.
Don’t forget to sign up for ‘Ground Stabilise and Uplift with Bruce Chung’, a 3-part LIVE workshop from 17-19 July, to explore grounding through hip openers, stabilising through core strength and uplifting an introduction to arm balances & inversions.
Q: We know that yoga is incredibly important to you, but we also love that you have admitted in the past to finding that lifestyle a daily struggle at times. What brings you back to the mat everyday, even when you don’t feel like practicing?
A: There is a bliss that newer practitioners feel immediately in their early years of practice. I think that is what hooks so many of us at the onset. Here is a physical regimen that strengthens and lengthens the body, clears the mind, and brings space into the heart.
As time passes and practitioners learn more about the philosophy and how it can be applicable to our modern-day life, they realise that it is so much more. I’ve known yogis to give up smoking, drinking, drugs — a range of indulgences or “bad” habits simply as a result of the yoga practice. Yoga has the power to awaken people to feelings physical and emotional that they’ve not felt before that can motivate them to keep coming back to their mat. I am a student of yoga and have experienced these joys.
I’ve often said that yoga has given me many gifts in this life; but practicing yoga does not mean I am completely shielded from life’s hurdles. I think it’s fair to say that we can’t prepare for the woes of life. I have gone through hard times and difficult situations as much as the next guy but the yoga practice has helped me maintain a relative steadiness and calm through them. If I’m feeling clouded by indecision, yoga provides clarity. If I’m experiencing emotional duress, yoga does not take it away, but it does allow me to cope in a more controlled manner — a skill I have learned through the control of my breath and body.
Q: Yogis, both beginners and seasoned yogis, tend to have a love/hate relationship with hip openers! Why is it so important to open the hips, and why does it tend to bring up certain emotions in people?
A: The hips are located in the central part of the body and connect the lower half to the upper half. They play a key role in the movement of our whole body. If the hips are tight they can restrict movement and conversely, when the hips are open there is greater freedom to the legs and spine. To illustrate an example of how the hips are connected to the other parts of the body, I often recommend hip openers like thread-the-needle pose and/or passive pigeon pose as a way to relieve lower back pain.
On another note, yoga makes evident for practitioners the mind-body connection — what happens to the mind also happens to the body, and vice versa. It’s fairly common for one to contract a cold or migraine after a long and stressful week at work. If that is a physical manifestation after only one week of mental stress, imagine years of unresolved emotions — where do they go?
The hips are known to be an emotional centre for many people and are often referred to as a storage area for “negative” emotions. As these emotions are frequently not dealt with, they accumulate bringing greater tension into the hips. When we step on our yoga mat, and begin to create space in the body we work towards freeing that tension. But as most practitioners can attest, when we encounter deeper hip opening postures, we can feel resistance. It’s as though we know that by allowing ourselves to release, we are also facing things that have been pent up for a very long time. And that is when students can become emotional (during practice), at which point I encourage students to simply be witness to what comes up and let it pass. There are also occasions where there might be a physical release such as crying but no associated emotions. This is an equally important release and contributes to the overall catharsis.
Q: Yoga is often seen as an exercise all about stretching. Why does strength play such an important role in yoga?
A: In the same way that flexibility of the hips supports movement of the whole body, strength of the core (and in essence, strength overall) creates stability. Strength helps to keep the body from collapsing. Whether it’s keeping the shoulders stable while in crow pose, or using core strength to stabilise the lower back in backbends, strength is important in maintaining integrity in your postures.
Q: A lot of people have the belief that tricky postures like inversions and arm balances are unrealistic and out of their reach. Have you ever felt that way in your yoga journey? If so, how did you overcome those fears?
A: Thinking that inversions and arm balances are out of reach is a sentiment that I can relate to quite intimately. It wasn’t that long ago that I found inversions intimidating. I can recall that even with the support of partner work or the wall, I used to be afraid of inverting!
I was able to overcome those fears by continuous encouragement of my teachers Briohny Smyth and Dice Iida-Klein. Briohny and Dice are very experienced teachers and provide thorough instructions and modifications depending on one’s level which I found very helpful. Once I was able to understand the mechanics of trickier postures and learned several techniques for entry and exit into them, my own curiosity and enthusiasm kept me experimenting.
That’s why it is so important for me when I’m leading workshops on intermediate postures that I deconstruct them so students have a greater understanding of the poses. Hopefully (and usually) with the newfound knowledge, coupled with positive encouragement, students feel more comfortable in overcoming their fears.
Q: Finally—how can our yogis learn more from you!
A: The yogis of Yogaia can practice with me on 17, 18 and 19 July when I will be leading a 3-part workshop called “Ground Stabilise and Uplift”. It is my hope that through these 3 days of practice, students will see that yoga can create varying effects depending on the focus of the class. We will ground through hip openers, stabilise through core strength, and uplift through an energetic class introducing arm balances and inversions.
I will also be leading an accredited 200-hr Hatha Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training alongside my partner Steve Roberts in Cebu, Philippines from 19 September – 15 October 2016. We are excited about this teacher training programme as trainees will learn more about yoga, its history and philosophy, how it applies to the current times we are in, and of course learn the ins and outs of leading a yoga class while deepening their own practice with daily morning practices. For more information, please visit: www.asanayogamovement.com/overview.html
Sign up now for Bruce’s LIVE 3-part workshop ‘Ground Stabilise and Uplift’ from 17-19 July to explore grounding through hip openers, stabilising through core strength, and uplifting an introduction to arm balances & inversions.
ABOUT BRUCE CHUNG
Hi, my name is Bruce and I have actually experienced firsthand the myriad of benefits that yoga has in the body, mind, and heart. My heart and passion is in guiding students and I draw on inspiration from my studies, travels, and relationships. Yoga is a practice and a lifestyle for me, one that I, on one hand admit to struggle with everyday, and on the other continue to lean on for strength, clearing, and clarity.
Spending 6 years in Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong teaching for Absolute Yoga and Pure Yoga, allowed me to practice with, and study under, some world-renowned teachers who helped me understand the body and its intelligence. My yoga educational background is in vinyasa, yin and therapy. As a result, my classes can be energising, calming, and healing. I strive to provide an environment where students feel safe, and at peace.
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