A LEGION of yogis stepped out under the morning sun, doing a sequence of poses while taking in fresh air and removing toxins from their lungs. They moved and breathed together like a corps de ballet in a classical dance. Then they were reminded that how they moved through the exercises was an analogy to how they went through their daily lives.
Organized by Urban Ashram, the country’s first “Yoga in the Park” at the Ayala Triangle Gardens was led by international teacher David Kim. After 90 minutes of intense workout, everybody laid down on a savasana (dead pose) with towels and shades over their eyes, soaking in nourishment from the sun.
“What I loved about it was that it symbolized the sense of family and community that I feel strongly whenever I come to the Philippines,” said Kim, who was touched by the bayanihan spirit of volunteers from the different Urban Ashram studios. “Instead of giving a technical class, I was more focused on what we can take from this practice, and use it as a way to celebrate being together.”
An arts and economics major, Kim started out as an intern writing for the literary and film sections of the Village Voice, an alternative weekly newspaper in New York.
Then, moving to Los Angeles, he worked as a professional script reader for Universal, evaluating scripts for future movie potential. He also wrote notes on drafts that had been purchased by film studios and oversaw how these developed into scripts for production.
He found the job comfortable but boring. “Most of the scripts were really bad,” he recalled. “I would literally go into my office and fall asleep every day with a script on my face.”
He sought fulfillment by practicing yoga. “I thought it was physical, but I really needed it for the mental relief,” he said.
Kim started with ashtanga yoga at the gym. “I was shocked at how much tension I had been holding in my body because I had been so athletic for most of my life,” he said. “Being so conscious of the breath and moving with the breath were a completely different way of working for me. That was the first wake-up call with my introduction to a regular practice of yoga.”
Within two years, he took up a teacher training course at YogaWorks, which focuses not only on correct application of exercises but also personal growth. Kim was beginning to understand what the physical practice was opening up for him on an inner level.
“You start to look at your life in a more open-ended way instead of looking at it as boring,” he explained. “That was really the light switch that turned on for me.”
After several years, the acquisition of Universal Studios by another company led to mass layoffs and Kim was one of the casualties. He saw it as a sign to follow his passion in teaching yoga.
Over time, Kim has become a sought-after mentor-trainer. He developed his sequences based on YogaWorks classes and yin yoga, a meditative approach which emphasizes stillness of mind and body for several minutes. “I think you need both the body-focused and movement-oriented, breath awareness type of what we consider yang yoga,” he said. “Yin yoga is the counterbalance to that. In every class, I try to bring elements of both because I don’t want to make my yoga classes just a workout. I want to bring in the element of being attuned to your breath, using your body as a focal point to quiet your mind, and ultimately, when you develop that discipline and that focus, that is a form of stress relief. All distractions in our lives that make us stressed out start to fade away and we have more clarity.”
On mental focus, he said: “We’re trying to pull our attention from all outward distractions and look and see what is really happening inside. This is where everything originates from. There’s a saying in yoga that comes from ancient yoga texts, ‘Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
Kim pointed out the importance of the whole path from our thoughts: “If we’re not consciously watching those, we can wind up in a very unhappy place. The yoga practice is a very simple and accessible way. We’re doing these postures, observing our breath and the movement of our body clarifies things in a more inward place instead of continually being pulled to our phones, our jobs, and all these things that are tugging us in different directions.”
Kim travels across the globe to conduct teacher training courses and advising would-be teachers on how to execute poses correctly. He noted that habits and attitudes in the studio follow the individual outside.
“You get injured when you’re too aggressive, and let your ego dominate your practice,” he said, “forcing yourself into postures that you’re not ready for. Just moving with lack of awareness, with lack of consciousness are common causes for injuries.”
He explained that the same things that affect us in our yoga practice are the same things that affect us off the mat. “That’s what we can learn from our asana practice,” he noted. “So, if we’re always envious of somebody else’s practice, that’s probably what we are when we’re outside of the yoga room. At the very least, our yoga practice can be a mirror on how we act outside of the yoga room. Once we recognize that, then things start to shift.”
His teaching method allows students to progress in a safe and methodical way. “Instead of randomly giving poses that excite the students,” he said, “we build each class in stages so that they feel prepared for more challenging poses. They can move mindfully through those stages without pushing themselves beyond their limits.”
The teaching system emphasizes correct alignment and placement of bone and muscles. Before the students are challenged to do a handstand, they are given preparatory exercises.
“We look at that posture of handstands and say what makes that posture difficult,” he said. “What kind of person would have difficulty doing that pose and why? Then we identify certain areas of the body or awareness that need to be warmed up or strengthened in order to handle that pose.”
The handstand prep includes exercises to strengthen the shoulders and the core. “We’re always thinking how to take the students to the next step,” he said. “It takes a lot of planning. Ultimately, the students benefit from it. You can see in their practice if they’re already mindful in moving through those stages or whether they’re just kind of blindly grasping for certain poses.”
Breath is integral to the practice since it is a life force. Yet, while most people tend to breathe in small and superficial intakes in daily life, this adds up to the stress.
“If you’re breathing very shallowly or breathing very aggressively, that’s usually what the state of mind is,” he said. “When I see students breathing very aggressively, usually they’re overexerting, when I see students who are not breathing very much, usually their energy is pretty low, or they’re not really in touch with what’s going on within themselves. We encourage a steady breath. The beautiful thing about the breath is that it brings you right into the present moment.”
He added: “I ask students to observe their breath, not to think about what they are going to make for dinner, or what happened earlier in the morning. They’re going to focus on what’s happening now. In that sense, we can free up a lot of stress. This is how we turn stress into strength. Once you unleash all of those attachments in your life, then your field of awareness is open.”