A Conversation with
Joanna Chung
by Sami Lea Lipman

"Joanna is a new student who took 33 classes during her first 30 days... Is this some sort of record?"

I started seeing Joanna around Down Under in January. Naturally, it’s a time of year for a lot of new faces so initially nothing really perked my attention beyond a lovely new student in my classroom. Several weeks went by until I received an email from fellow teacher and Education Director, David Runkle. He wrote, “Joanna Chung is a new student who took 33 classes during her 30 day newcomer special. Also, she’s signed up for four classes today in Newton. Is this some sort of record?” Record? I’m not sure. Impressive? Beyond a doubt! She clearly was deeply committed to her practice and Down Under. I knew I would learn a great deal from connecting with her. I asked her if we could meet and she obliged. She was already planning to attend several classes at Down Under the day I suggested, of course.

Joanna came to my Flow class the following Sunday and we squeezed next to each other on a bench in the lobby when things quieted down after class. Thirty-three classes in thirty days! What instigated Joanna’s impressive attendance record? What has she learned about her body during this month? What was her yoga practice like prior to January? What styles of yoga did she try and which was her preference? I had so many questions.

SAMI: Joanna, how did you find Down Under?

JOANNA: I found Down Under through Mindbody App! I’m new to this area. I’m in the process of moving to Waltham with my fiance. I’ve been looking around for a yoga studio to get away from the stress – of work, of school, and the wedding planning. I recently moved from Ohio.

S: Where in Ohio? I’m from Ohio too!

J: Dayton.

S: Ahh! I’m from Toledo originally. Although I moved here a year ago from Colorado, and understand the challenge of coming to a new place and trying to find your yoga home. Where you practicing a lot when you lived in Dayton?

J: I was. I was completing my residency there which was stressful in itself and I needed some time to myself.

S: What styles of yoga have really resonated with you since you’ve been practicing here? I see you’ve been trying a lot of styles of yoga while here. Were you familiar with all of those styles from to practicing at Down Under?

J: This is the first time I’ve ever done Iyengar. I had previously done a lot of Vinyasa Flow. But I also don’t really don’t know all the types of yoga. What other kinds are there?

S: Well the list is endless. There’s Ashtanga, which we offer. We have Iyengar. There’s Relax & Renew, which is more of a restorative style. Essentially there’s Hatha based methodologies, which Iyengar is one of. They move slower and spend more time in each pose. And there’s Vinyasa-based methodologies which is more fluid and you’re linking breath with movement.

J: One of the nice things about Down Under is that you offer a lot of different things at different times which gives a lot of variety to try new things, especially with my busy schedule. That’s one of the things that really brought me here is the schedule and the variety of classes.

S: Fantastic! And you’ve only been to the Newton studio also! Have you tried any of the heated classes?

J: I have! I like it… but I get too hot.

S: Yes. It’s not for all and can be an acquired taste. I actually used to only practice heated yoga. But now I’m lucky if I go once a week. It’s so interesting how we change over time, what we need and what our body needs. Tell me about some of the teachers you’ve enjoyed?

J: I really have to say, that everyone is great and has their own style. I love how every class has a combination of breathing and core and there’s a unique experience from class to class. Even the same teacher is a unique experience week to week.

S: What was your experience trying Iyengar for the first time?

J: It was really challenging at first. I had to really think. It made me realize, “hey, I really need to be a lot more mindful and actually listen to what’s going on.” I’m used to a lot of demonstration. In my job and in my life, I’m used to providing the tools and doing a lot of the talking myself, so it was nice to take a step back and really listen.

S: Yes, Iyengar really asks you to do that. Versus sometimes, in certain flow classes you can simply tune out and just move through the motions. In Iyengar you have to be really diligen and particular about the placement of your body. And if you’re not, the teacher might call you out on it! Which I really appreciate.

J: Yea! And I found myself using the techniques that I learned to adjust myself in all my other classes, even without the prompt. It’s like building blocks. Which is nice!

S: What’s your favorite pose?

J: Depends on the class! In restorative, I like laying on my side and twisting on the bolster. In all classes… it’s such hard work. So at the end of 75-minutes or so, those last five minutes in savasana is simply amazing!

S: What do you practice for?

J: I practice to become more mindful in my own body. I practice so that I can take these techniques that I experience in myself and then share that experience with others. I work with a lot of people who are in a lot of pain. And as a pharmacist, they come to me for medication. As someone who is committed to yoga – I want to be able share a mindfulness practice with them. Which is a completely different concept to patients that may not be open to that initially unless that have someone who’s personally experienced it themselves.

S: So would you say that you prescribe yoga?

J: Haha! I advise yoga and mindfulness! Working at the Veterans Administration, there are a lot of diff resources for mindfulness. They actually do have yoga for patients, so I often recommend that. I anticipate that by getting my feet wet here, and after things settle down with graduation and my wedding, I eventually want to become a yoga teacher and offer classes at the VA.

S: The use of yoga for PTSD and for recovery, is beginning to become a more tapped resource. I’ve had experiences through my own trials and tribulations, of seeing a doctor and being told, “you need this pill, this antidepressant, this quick-fix.” Whereas yoga and mindfulness, in many ways, can give you the same path and even the same result, but you have to take your time. You have to be open to walking through the mess of it.

J: Yes. And having that resource to guide you in that direction to begin with. I do see a larger vision and benefit for me practicing and learning about myself first, before helping others.

S: Totally! Years ago, I decided I was going to go to school to be a psychotherapist. My partner at-the-time was like, “have you ever actually done any therapy yourself?” and my response was, “No… I think I just want to do it to other people!” He wisely suggested, “perhaps you should do a little therapy yourself before you start to teach it to others!”

J: That’s a good point!

S: Yes! So I took his advice and started seeing a therapist and have been ever since. And I’m not studying to be a psychotherapist at this point, either! I still have a lot to learn about myself, first.

So, tell me about what you would like to see at Down Under... any specific workshops, special events, or comments on the space itself?

J: I haven't been able to take advantage of any workshops yet, although I think I may do an Iyengar Registration Series next.

S: Wonderful! I am in one as well. Registrations series provide an environment that's very conducive to learning. You get to know your teacher and vice versa. It's a true mentorship like experience. And, I find that the tools I learn in my Iyengar series are very helpful to me in other classes – like in a Flow or Baptiste room!

J: Yes! I think that's next up! And I purchased a pre-natal massage gift card for a friend of mine as well. So I'm excited to delve into the wellness services more too. Do you guys ever have any special events outside of the studio?

S: Sometimes! Is there something you are thinking of?

J: Yes, like a retreat! It would be fun to practice with you guys in a different space.

S: That's something we talk about doing! And we do several outdoor classes in the summer at parks around town too. So stay tuned for information about those sorts of events.

So Joanna, if you could sum up your experience at Down Under into one sentence, what would you say?

J: For those who are seeking a way to learn more about yourself. Down Under has been able to provide me just that. I have learned more about myself through a variety of classes, styles, and teachers and now I can share that with the world.

S: Awesome! Thank you! 

J: Thank you too!