Yoga Goes to University – Part 2 – Ryan Fong, Yogi

Teachers.   

Don’t you just love them?   

I know I do.   

There are those that inspire me and those that make me laugh. Some help me solve problems in my classroom and others that help me solve problems in my life.   

I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite teachers here.   

Teachers in studios, classrooms and in the world at large. These are the folks you will see featured in my new series of interviews here at Teacher Goes Back to School.   

I hope you enjoy these teachers as much as I do!   

In case you missed PART ONE with Ryan Fong.

When did you start practicing yoga?

My first yoga class was probably 8-10 years ago now, when I took an intro series at the now-closed Free Spirit Studio.  In the years since, I have wandered on and off the mat at various points.  But in this last round, I’ve been practicing at It’s All Yoga since June of 2009.

Why did you start practicing yoga?

I initially started coming to yoga in search of an exercise program that would work for me.  I wanted something that would help cultivate both flexibility and strength, and I was also looking for a form of exercise that didn’t feel like punishment. 

As a very overweight person, traditional gyms have been an incredibly toxic environment for me because I find their overall philosophy to be about beating your body in to submission in order to achieve a supposed physical ideal.  Whenever I walked into one, I always felt incredibly self-conscious about my body and weight, and always felt like I didn’t belong. 

As I became more familiar with yoga, I was intrigued by the way that it encouraged you to inhabit and honor your body–and the importance of attending to your mind and spirit as a crucial part of self-care.

For me, yoga brings the right balance: a strength building discipline that is also about getting your body, mind and soul all in better “shape.”

Where did you practice?

I’ve practiced at Free Spirit Studio and Shanti Studio, both of which are now closed.  My yoga home is now It’s All Yoga.

How has your practice evolved over time?

In reading over my answer to question six, I’m realizing that I probably wouldn’t have even been able to think of yoga in those terms when I first started, or more accurately, to really believe them. 

Throughout my practice, I’ve struggled with feelings of competitiveness and with releasing the negative thoughts of “You need to sweat and work harder and hold this pose because you’re a bad person for eating those cookies and getting so fat.” 

There was a time when I couldn’t practice in the same room as my partner because I would get so steaming mad when he could do a pose that I had mentally deemed “impossible” and “only for the super bendy.” 

Much of shifting away from that mindset has been in learning about the facets of yoga that go beyond the poses.  It has also been about finding a yoga home where I’ve learned how to not necessarily silence the committee of howling negativity monkeys in my head, but at least to not give them so much power.  I’m slowly getting more comfortable in my own skin (which probably has a lot to do with being 30 instead of 20!), and I’ve come to see the place of yoga in my life as less of an activity and more as a way of being.

Do you have a home practice? What is it like? How often? Where? How’d you start and how do you keep at it?

I wish I had a regular home practice.  I’m still struggling with that. 

Right now, I’m focusing on a regular home meditation practice that I do every morning.  I got a Zafu for my birthday, and I think it’s really going to help facilitate that.  Finding a good space has been a bit of a challenge, as the living room is the only place in the house that works but at the same time, it doesn’t feel quite right.  I’m trying to just let it be and not wait for things to be “perfect” to start on it thought. 

My intention right now and for the near future is to just sit my butt on my Zafu and meditate for 10-15 minutes each morning.  That, in and of itself, is a challenging edge for me to work with.

What’s your favorite pose? Why?

Because I’ve really come to see Nataraja as a personal icon and spiritual avatar, I love Lord of the Dance. {You can read more about that on my blog}

I also have really tight hips, so going into Figure 4 at the wall and pigeon are some of the most opening poses for me.  A prop laden Savasana after a more active practice is heaven. 

Pretty much anything involving props is a good thing. {I couldn’t agree more!}

What’s your least favorite pose?

I hate Happy Baby.  In my head, I call it Angry Baby. 

My ample stomach doesn’t allow me to grip my feet or even my shins, and so the howler monkey committee can really get going when everyone else is blissing out.  (Of course, that in itself a big fat story of negative self-talk: thinking I am the only one in the whole room who is experiencing challenge in a pose.) 

Plus, holding my legs up like that just fatigues my ab muscles and puts a lot of tension and strain into my upper shoulders.

How do you bring your yoga practice into your teaching practice?
 
How does your teaching practice influence your yoga practice?

Both of these questions are a little difficult to answer, because I’ve tended not to think of them together.  I’ve thought a lot about the relationship between my yoga practice and the process of writing my dissertation.  They truly represent the yin and the yang in my life and my quest for balance.  A lot of my stuff shows up when I’m on the mat and when I’m writing at my computer, and so there’s a lot of interplay between both spaces of work. 

In graduate school, we are encouraged to think of teaching a the compartmentalized thing we do to get paid.  It’s the thing that we have to do in order to do the thing that’s actually valuable (meaning, our research, which will allegedly be the thing were most judged on in the academy). 

I’ve tried to cultivate a greater sense of investment in my teaching than that–by teaching things that I’m interested in and pieces of literature I’m passionate about–but it’s hard to think about teaching being as central to my life as either writing or yoga.  That’s more than a little ironic given that I’m in this to eventually get a teaching position at a college or university. 

I hadn’t realized how much I had absorbed the research-centric focus of the university until just now.  It’s a bit embarrassing to be honest.  I can say though that this answer certainly has cultivated a greater awareness of the way I categorize and create boundaries around different parts of my life and work.

Please leave any questions or comment love below:     

If you want to learn more about Ryan Deep Homework and Two of Us Riding Somewhere.

 

INTERVIEW ARCHIVES:

September 2010: Michelle Marlahan– Proprietress/Fairy Queen of It’s All Yoga in Sacramento, California.

Yoga Goes to University – An Interview with Ryan Fong

Teachers.   

Don’t you just love them?   

I know I do.   

There are those that inspire me and those that make me laugh. Some help me solve problems in my classroom and others that help me solve problems in my life.   

I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite teachers here.   

Teachers in studios, classrooms and in the world at large. These are the folks you will see featured in my new series of interviews here at Teacher Goes Back to School.   

I hope you enjoy these teachers as much as I do!   

Ryan Fong is October’s Featured Teacher. I met Ryan at the studio and we went on a yoga retreat together this summer.

What and where do you teach?

I teach English literature and composition at UC Davis. 

This quarter, though, I’m a teaching assistant for a Women and Gender Studies course, which is a bit of a change.  It’s the introductory level course, so it’s a big 200 person lecture, but I have two 25-student discussion sections were we get to work through the history of feminism and think about the role of gender in our daily lives, especially as it intersects with other facets of our identity.

What is your teaching history?

I still feel relatively new to teaching, even though I’ve been doing it for quite a while now.  My first “official” teaching happened when I was a TA as an undergrad, where I assisted in both English and Sociology classes. 

As a graduate student at UC Davis, they start us out at TAs for literature classes for majors and then let us teach our own courses for the remainder of our time there.  That’s where I’ve taught both Introduction to Literature and freshman writing.

What brought you to teaching?

One of my big mentors growing up was my aunt, who was a high school English teacher and is now the Executive Director of the California Writing Project.  She was the one who would always buy me books for Christmas and birthdays growing up, and she really instilled a love of language and learning in me. 

My family is generally filled with teachers, so when I decided a long time ago in about 7th or 8th grade that I wanted to be a teacher, I got a lot of support.  My parents are both pretty avid readers, and would read to me when I was a kid. 

When I went to college, I decided I wanted to be an English professor, because I loved the freedom and intellectual rigor of the university classroom.  I went to a small liberal arts school where teacher-student interaction was and is really prized, and I decided that creating the kind of rich classroom environments I found there was what I wanted to do. 

Now that I am reaching the end of my graduate student career, I’m facing the realization that being a professor will ultimately not be up to me, based on how the economy is looking and the realities of an incredibly competitive academic job market.  Nevertheless, I know in one way or another, teaching (in the largest sense) is my calling.

Tell us about your blog

I actually have two blogs. 

The first—Two Of Us Riding Somewhere – – is a blog that I started recently to record my 30th birthday roadtrip to the Pacific Northwest with my partner.  It’s been so much fun, and I think it will be a regularly maintained blog that will record our experiences traveling, eating, and seeing natural and urban wonders!

My second blog Deep Homework.  

This is a much more personal blog that is focused on issues of spiritual growth and my quest for balance and well-being.

About a year ago now, I had a tarot reading with my uncle’s partner, Greg — a reading that was prompted by the changing of the seasons and the shift from fall into winter.  It was a cold day out in San Francisco, and I was feeling like I was on the cusp of a big change.  At the same time, I felt like I was incredibly stuck. 

What came out in the reading was that I could either slip into the quietude of sameness and continue to be stuck in my old patterns or I could embrace the process of engaging in what Greg called “deep homework.” 

The result of that homework, the reading portended, was nothing short of a radical rebirth and transformation.  I started the blog as one part of my effort to do that “deep homework.”  

Being a classic extrovert, I need to write and talk to actually know what I’m thinking and to give the endless circles of conversation in my head some direction and shape.  The blog has thus become a place to really work through my stuff in writing, while also exploring my new discoveries in yoga, meditation and Eastern spirituality.  

What other blogs do your read? Why?

I read your blog {awww…} and Michelle’s blog with regularity and occasionally I drift on to other people’s blogs from the studio.  {see the TGBTS Yoga Story links} Since my blog is so yoga based, I like reading other blogs that are using the sphere to explore those particular issues.

As a foodie, I’ll also come in and out of browsing food blogs like Bakerella, Pioneer Woman Cooks and Prudence Pennywise.  My two favorite local food blogs are Sac Food In the Hood and one by my cousin-in-law, Out of the Kitchen.

Who and what inspires you?

I have many people who inspire me. 

  • My partner, Eric, inspires me to see myself in the way that he sees me—with unconditional love and compassion. 
  • My uncle is an inspiration for a life lived well and very mindfully.  He’s a friend, mentor, and model in addition to being my blood relative. 
  • I’m inspired, as I think many of us at IAY are, by the way the community there supports us in experiencing the challenges and joys of really embracing it *all* as yoga. 
  • But mostly, I’m inspired by the universe’s generosity in giving us this present moment to do and be right.  Not right as in correct, but as in right here, right now and just right. 

Please leave any questions or comment love below:     

If you want to learn more about Ryan Deep Homework and Two of Us Riding Somewhere.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Ryan is  a Yogi!

INTERVIEW ARCHIVES:

September 2010: Michelle Marlahan– Proprietress/Fairy Queen of It’s All Yoga in Sacramento, California.