Doing it the Doona Choi way: Learning to love yoga and love yourself
Doona Choi, a yoga instructor/long-distance runner explains how has yoga changed her life. An interview with her reveals how yoga can inspire you to be kind to yourself and embrace life with love and passion
Meet Doona Choi. A California-based yoga practitioner, long-distance runner, and passionate soul who shares her expertise, wisdom, and positive vibes through her role as a yoga instructor. She offers private sessions and group classes in Orange County and is a certified RYT 500hr yoga instructor.
This 30-year-old meat-eating, wine-loving yogi busts many myths about yoga, has lively exchanges with her online audience, and her posts often talk about the importance of living a balanced life. Neither stereotypes nor rigid rules seem to weigh her down. Her love for yoga reveals a deep passion for life.
Perhaps, the secret lies in her intuitive understanding that the best gift you can give yourself (and therefore others) is to be kind and gentle with your own self. Whether that is honoring your body, being aware of your breath, not taking others' biases personally, telling herself it's okay when she can't do her best or enjoying some good food and wine with family and close friends. In her own words:
Yoga is love. There is no discrimination or judgment, and the moment someone judges someone else, that is not yoga.
Meaww spoke to Doona and she gave us some interesting insight into her life as a teacher and practitioner and her earnest views on how yoga can have a profound influence on becoming our best self without striving to become the best.
Tell us about yourself
I am a Korean-American, born and raised in Southern California, currently living in Orange County, CA. I am 29 years old (turning 30 on March 8th). I have an older brother and two younger sisters. I’m very close to them as well as my parents. I am married to my loving husband, Mark Jeffrey Sider. I have two English cocker spaniels and one Persian ragdoll cat.
I graduated college in 2011 with a Bachelors in Science of Hospitality at Cal Poly Pomona. During my free time, you will most likely see me outdoors. Whether it’s hiking, golfing or just being at the beach. I love wine and food. I love to explore new places. You can say I am a huge introvert and a homebody when it comes to night time. I don’t like big groups or parties, I love deep intimate talks with my close ones. My passion is yoga, health, and fitness.
When did you discover Yoga and how?
4 years ago, March 2014. There are a couple of different reasons for as to how I got into yoga. First, I wanted to try something new. Second, I was a long-distance runner for over 10 years. I was on the cross country team in High School and started running full marathons in college. Over the years, it really took a toll on my knees, so I decided to try yoga to undo the damages that were placed in my body.
Yoga means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?
What does Yoga mean to me? It changes quite a bit. What yoga meant to me four years ago is different from what yoga means to me today. Today, yoga means love. Loving and appreciating my practice exactly as it is. Loving the passion of movement linked to breadth and mind.
Loving the relationships and connections I’ve built with my students, teachers, and associates. Loving to be present, here and now. The beauty of yoga is that there are so many different meanings to different people. There is no wrong or right.
How has yoga changed you/your life as an individual?
Yoga has changed me in so many great ways. I love the physical aspect of yoga. Probably one of my favorites still. I love challenging my body in ways that I never knew I could do. It has made me stronger both physically and mentally. But also, being able to let go when I need to.
"I can’t do a handstand today."
- "It’s okay, who cares."
"I can’t do a full-hour practice because I’m too tired today."
- "It's okay, stay in savasana for 30 minutes."
Being able to really listen to my body and mind and honoring it in that moment. Same goes for off my mat [life]. Being able to let go, let go of worries, fears, negative thoughts and changing it into something positive.
We learn as we teach. What’s the best thing you’ve learned as a yoga instructor?
Everybody is truly different, and you should never compare yourself to anybody else. My practice isn't better than anyone else's, and their practice isn't any better than mine. Our anatomy is different, our lifestyle is different, our habits are different. Truly love and honor your body and practice exactly as it is. There’s no competition, no judgment, and all love.
A lot of young people are struggling with body-image issues. How do you think Yoga can help promote a positive body image?
I think it’s normal for young people to judge themselves negatively, especially young girls. I’ve gone through a lot of body shaming growing up as a kid, and I still do judge myself till this day. But I think the difference between when I was younger and now is that I truly accept myself for who I am. There are things that you can't change, and you have to accept that.
Do I wish I was taller? Yes. But I can’t change that. So through yoga, I learned to let it go and love my height. There are also things that you can change. Do I wish I had toner arms? Yes, and I can change that. So am I working at it? Yes. I’m putting in hours to tone my arms, but I’m never giving myself a hard time about it. I'm enjoying the journey that I’m in.
I truly believe that you should accept yourself exactly as you are today, and yoga is going to help you. Yoga is love, accepting your flaws, your weaknesses, and who you are in the present moment. Once you change your mindset, it's going to change the way you see not only yourself, but how you see others. But if you want to become healthier, you have to work for it. And while you work for it, yoga will help you embrace who you are in the moment, and it’ll be much enjoyable. Remember, it's a journey and not a destination.
Many folks (especially in the West) equate yoga with complex physical postures. Or, as you said in one of your posts, stereotype yoga practitioners to be vegans/vegetarians. Yoga is for everyone from all walks of life. Your comments on this:
Exactly, yoga is for everyone. Yoga is for the Buddhists, Christians, young, old, underweight, overweight, meat lovers, vegans, wrestlers to dancers. There is no discrimination or judgment, and the moment someone judges someone else, that is not yoga.
Everyone has a different meaning in what yoga is to them. Some may see yoga as more of a physical exercise and some may go into a deeper awakening through yoga, there is no right or wrong. The only right or wrong is when someone judges someone else. We should all love each other for who we are and what we believe in. It all comes back to love. And that is yoga.
Speaking of stereotypes, one thing that people assume about you but are totally wrong about:
I have no idea. Most people will assume I'm vegan. I get a lot of comments from meat lovers during the holidays like, “I bet it's hard for you during Thanksgiving because you can’t eat turkey.”
Oh, another stereotype I often get is, you’re young and you’re a girl, so yoga must come easy for you. Maybeeeeeee? Haha. But I also do put in A LOT of hours and dedication into my practice. Stereotypes are funny. We all do it, even if you don’t realize that you do, but we all do. I never take them personally. Especially if they don’t come with bad intentions.
Your posts on social media give glimpses of your personal journey and your online audience is active and engaging. How has social media played a role in promoting yoga as an instructor and connecting with global yoga communities?
Social media is a great way to promote, connect, and network. It's 2018. You have to. But when I started my yoga Instagram page back in 2015, I just finished my 200-hour teacher training, and I had only practiced yoga for a year, so I made my account purely for the love of yoga, health, and fitness. This was when I still had my full-time job, and I had no idea that yoga would be my main source of income.
As time passed and my followers grew, and my love for yoga grew even more and that was when I started to take social media seriously. I’ve met so many amazing human beings through social media, my students, teachers, brands, and photographers. I’ve attended workshops and teacher trainings that I found through Instagram, practicing and learning from the best yoga instructors. It really has changed my life. And to be able to help my followers and meet some of my students through Instagram is definitely a highlight.
You’ve also been involved in other sports like tennis, golf, swimming, and of course, running. How does yoga differ from/contribute to other sports and physical activities?
One of the greatest things I learned from Yoga that I didn’t learn from with other sports is honoring your body. What does honoring your body mean? Unlike other sports, yoga isn’t about pushing yourself to the point where you feel like you’re going to pass out. Your movement is linked to your breath. If it’s difficult for you to breathe through a posture, it means you went too far. Now, when I run or do other activities, I know to breathe mindfully.
Being spiritual involves both our body and soul, including embracing our emotions and vulnerabilities. How can yoga help achieve this balance between the inner and outer worlds?
Yoga is a practice on and off the mat. Something else that I didn’t learn with other sports. Yoga is about bringing awareness, being mindful, and being present. We can all use this when we’re not physically moving our bodies on our mats. It's about constantly checking in with yourself. Yoga can help by being in tune with yourself, embracing whatever is happening at that moment, knowing to let go and breathe, exactly what you do on your mat.
Your plans for 2018 with respect to yoga:
I’m in the process of building a YouTube page. I get a lot of questions on how to relieve tension, how to heal, or how to do a pose. So I decided it’d be best to help all my followers through YouTube. It’s taking a lot longer than I anticipated, but it will be up this year.
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