The Path of a Teacher
David Cheung

Humbled. Relieved. Frustrated. These were all the emotions I experienced after teaching my first nerve-wracking community yoga class in 2014. I had just completed my 200-hour teacher training and was eager to show off everything I had learned. I had spent hours going over my playlist and my sequencing. However, things did not go as well as I had hoped. I struggled with the temperature controls (it was a hot yoga class), I kept mixing up my lefts and rights, and had to race through the cool-down because I lost track of time. After teaching my first yoga class, I quickly realized that I still had much to learn as a new teacher. The teacher training program at Down Under Yoga supported me in so many ways as a teacher, but most importantly it helped me find my voice and identity as a yoga teacher. More practically, the program also provided me a with a better understanding of how to guide my students with getting in—and out—of poses safely, as well as ideas and themes that I could experiment with and incorporate into my own classes.  The 500-hour program helped ground me during a time when I felt lost as a new teacher.

Teaching my first yoga classes was terrifying and something that felt way out of my comfort zone.  I had been excited to dive into teaching right after completing my training but quickly realized that my expectations for myself were unrealistic. My favorite yoga teachers had always seemed so at ease with dharma talks and were able to effortlessly weave both personal stories and alignment tips into a 60-minute or 75-minute class. I had not yet become comfortable with standing in front of a room of students, never mind sharing personal stories.  During my first few classes, I felt exposed and vulnerable. I was terrified of saying the wrong thing, scared to fail, worried about what my students thought of me. As I stumbled through class, shifting gears like someone new to driving a manual shift car, I wondered about the effectiveness of my class.  I was beginning to get the hang of teaching, and continued at it for about a year and a half until I found the program at DUY.  My own relationship to yoga was both physical and mental – the physical asana itself quieted my mind – my ever-racing mind that would always be thinking of checking another item off of my mental to-do list.  Mentally, yoga slowed me down and taught me what it felt like to really breathe and worry less about that never-ending checklist. Yoga was increasingly becoming an important part of my life, and I knew I wanted to share it with others. Practicing and then eventually teaching yoga has helped me become more at peace with myself and with those around me.  As I became more comfortable with teaching, my focus became less about me and more about my students.  I remembered the core reason of why I was there as a teacher –to help people understand how yoga could fit into their own lives –whether it be a workout, a way to alleviate physical pain, or simply an hour of self-care after a stressful day. As a teacher, I knew in order to teach to a diverse set of students with different needs and desires, I needed to gain a deeper and broader understanding of different types of yoga beyond the vinyasa and power yoga class. This was one of the most valuable things that DUY offered me, providing me with a solid base in a wide array of yoga disciplines, ranging from Ashtanga, kids’ yoga, viniyoga, yin yoga, restorative and prenatal yoga.

The schedule for the 500 hour program timing was great because it met the needs of those like myself with full-time day jobs – spaced out with one weekend a month, providing sufficient time and space for me to practice, while also consistent enough to keep things interesting.  Not only was I surrounded by like-minded people that all had their own story and reason for teaching, but it helped me cultivate skills such as commanding the room, to alignment and anatomy, and ultimately really beginning to zone in on what it meant to become a great teacher –connecting with my students. At one studio where I was able to secure a regular timeslot, I began class by asking each student for pose they wanted me to incorporate or work on. This helped me to better understand the needs of my student. Recently I had to let one of my long-time classes go due to a few changes in my life that required me to move to the New York/New Jersey metro area. I had taught this class for over two years and had was lucky to have a number of students that stuck with me for many months.  I’ve heard from many how they really enjoyed class – and I was always grateful that I was a guide on their yoga path.

One thing that DUY has helped me realize is how vast the practice of yoga is – so many teachers across different disciplines who are so passionate about what they do and are eager to share what they’ve learned. Each teacher guiding the teacher trainees (as well as the teacher trainees themselves) had their own story of how they came to where they are in their teaching career. For me, the program helped me to be a more confident and authentic teacher who can now support a room full of people breathing and sweating through a fluid, thoughtfully paced flow class. I am grateful to everyone at DUY—other teacher trainees, head yoga teachers, and other students— that have helped me along my path.