Marcus Tong’s yoga journey began with a 90-minute hot yoga class.
Having never done any other types of sports before, it was the first time he physically challenged himself.
“Before I did yoga and started teaching, I was a different person,” the Vancouver-based yoga instructor said.
Now, not only has yoga allowed him to get out of his comfort zone, it’s also helped him conquer his fears.
“I was so self-conscious, I couldn’t even public-speak,” he said. “When I was in university, I used to forfeit all my presentations — I would rather do all the work.”
When he attended training to become an instructor, he had no choice but to confront his fear in front of a room of nearly a hundred people.
Tong has now transformed into a confident, inspirational role-model, leading others on their path to wellness and self-development.
Prior to pursuing his passion full-time, Tong worked at a hospital as a Medical Radiology Technician and taught yoga on the side. He would go from his graveyard shifts straight to the studio the following morning. The rigorous schedule took a toll on his health.
“It got to the point where I was working so much, I was getting sick, because I wasn’t getting enough sleep,” Tong said. “I had to choose one or the other.”
He chose yoga (much to the dismay of his parents), but he has never looked back.
“I knew it was what I wanted to do: getting up there and guiding people. There was personal fulfillment,” the 2008 Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Champion said.
In an industry dominated by “young, skinny Caucasian females,” the space for Asian male yoga instructors can be limited. Early in his career, Tong found opportunities with smaller, local businesses.
But as yoga continued to gain popularity, larger studios became more open to diversifying their line-up of instructors in order to cater to the growing community.
“There are so many aspects of yoga people can take away,” Tong said. “Yoga allows people to de-stress and to create a deeper connection with themselves.”
Taking the practice off the mat
In a conversation with Cold Tea Collective, Tong enlightened us on the different ways of bringing the practice outside of the yoga room and into your life.
1. Slow down and be present
“Yoga allows people to find the link between breath, body, and thought and brings them more focus and [to] be more present,” Tong said.
It is easy to fall into autopilot mode, going about our days without thinking intentionally about our actions and decisions. He encourages everyone to “stop, think, and reflect.”
“When you live more in the present, you’re more conscious of what you’re doing, and it allows you to move in the direction you want to go,” he said.
2. Practice makes perfect
The yoga practice is grounded in repetition. When you do the same thing over and over again, you push yourself to the point where you eventually get over your obstacles and fears. This mindset will transcend into other parts of your life.
“Not everyone is good at everything, but every time you do it you get better and better. You will see improvement for the rest of your life,” Tong said.
3. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable
Yoga is about challenging yourself physically and mentally, whether it is going deeper into a posture or trying a yoga class for the first time.
“Placing yourself in an uncomfortable situation allows space to open for change,” Tong said. “When you can tune into how your body is moving and feeling, you learn about what you can and cannot do, [and] knowing that if you work towards it, you can do it in the future.
“Once you can accept the issues you need to work through and acknowledge them for what they are, that’s when you can allow yourself to pass through them and grow.”
4. Find your breath
When you are holding a posture for over a minute long and sweat is dripping from your forehead, maintain a steady breath. It’s not an easy task.
“Once you can do that, you can apply that wherever you are and to whatever you are doing,” said Tong. “Whenever you are feeling stressed, just come back to your breath.”
When your breath is steady and still, your body and mind calms down. This prevents you from reacting intensely to situations and instead enables you to respond with a clear mind.
5. Seek balance
Many people use the yoga practice to counteract other physical activities they are doing.
“Yoga opens up the body and give people more range of motion,” Tong said. “It provides a balance by engaging muscles and aligning tendons with strength.”
However, you can’t just do yoga either — you have to find a medium. Whatever you’re doing, work towards a balance between the push and pull; flexibility and strength; movement and stillness; and stability and spontaneity.
6. Be who you are
With all the external pressures and media dictating who you should be and what you should look like, yoga teaches you to “just be who you are” without these distractions.
“The physical aspect of yoga is just a method to get deeper into understanding who you are,” Tong said.
When two people can be themselves, that’s where you can find a true deep connection.
“Once you’re more open and vulnerable, you attract more people. People relate more to the real you.”
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