Hong Kong-based yoga teacher shares how to keep calm and carry on when juggling teaching, business and motherhood.
When Dee Cheung landed in Hong Kong from Canada in 2006, she expected to be working as an editor at a law firm. Quickly realizing that this was the wrong path for her, she left the corporate world behind to focus on her passion; teaching yoga. Eleven years on, Dee has become a yoga entrepreneur with three different ventures on the go, as well as a new baby.
Although her life has changed since she arrived in Hong Kong over a decade ago, Dee’s goal has remained the same; to help people connect with themselves and find peace in a city that works hard and plays harder.
How did your interest in yoga come about?
I stepped onto my first mat when I was sixteen. I was a dancer previously and used to train at the gym, which was just my local YMCA. After class, I saw people in the corner of the gym laying in a dark room with the lights off and I thought it looked really relaxing. That’s when I decided to start doing yoga.
My first class was also pretty relaxing as it was a beginner Hatha Yogapractice. Luckily it wasn’t a killer yoga class like a lot of classes are in Hong Kong at the moment.
When did you become serious about yoga?
Once I moved to Hong Kong, I needed something to help me stay balanced. When a lot of people first move here, they work and party like crazy because that’s how you meet people. Yoga became my anchor.
I was working in Aberdeen and living in the New Territories, so signed up for a membership atPure Yoga Langham Place Office Tower, which was located in between. I had a locker where I could store my stuff and get changed, so it just became part of my routine. It was probably a year after I moved to Hong Kong that I started practicing regularly, whereas before I would just drop into classes whenever I could.
Why did you decide to quit your corporate job to teach?
I wouldn’t say that I just quit my corporate job to become a teacher. I did my teacher training while I was still working. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and so I created pockets of time for myself to go and do the teacher training courses, which were about a month long each.
I did my first one after my teacher at the time encouraged me to do a workshop with his teacher. During this workshop, I was told to think about teacher training, which made me feel called to pursue it. I fell in love with the practice style of the training even though my preferences have evolved since. I’ve gone on to take several other training courses to deepen my practice and continue offering to a full spectrum of clients.
What was your relationship with your teacher?
My teacher saw that I was receiving what he was teaching and that I was able to embody it. I kept asking him questions during class and was very curious. Maybe he encouraged me to start teacher training because he got annoyed with me asking questions all the time!
What’s the story behind your venture, SUP Yoga?
When our class sold out, and we saw the huge wait-list we knew we were onto something. That was in 2013, which makes this year our fifth season. We are now officially the only training center in Asia under the ASI (Academy of Surfing Instructors), which means that we follow global guidelines.
Although anybody can take a paddleboard out if they’re a yoga teacher or fitness instructor, we make safety a priority. In our SUP Yoga classes, we want to keep our students safe while inspiring them to paddle more efficiently and build a stand up paddle board community.
What are the benefits of the SUP Yoga practice compared to traditional yoga?
We get that question a lot. Although we also teach yoga on land, when we take our practice out on the water, we are making a different kind of connection with nature. We are water. Two-thirds of our air come from water, and many people don’t realize that. So much of what we don’t know that we need comes from water and we really enjoy educating people about that.
SUP Yoga is also fun! When a teacher in a standard class tells you not to worry what other people are doing, if you’re new and looking at someone doing a full wheel pose, chances are you’re going to become self-conscious and stop trying. When you go out on a paddleboard, because it’s fun, and because you’re in an expansive space, you just try it without thinking about what you look like. Our students are free and happy, and that’s what we love seeing.
What about physical benefits?
You’re definitely using your core a lot more because you need to balance on the board when you’re paddling. And there is some upper body strength required to paddle in open water. Very rarely are we in enclosed flat-water conditions in Hong Kong.
You also co-own a float therapy center called Float On. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Float On is the first float therapy center in Hong Kong, which I co-founded with my husband. It follows the same thread that runs through everything that I do, which is helping people connect to themselves and to find peace in a busy city. The experience is similar to getting into a giant bathtub. It’s filled with warm water (roughly 34 degrees Celcius) and 500 kg of epsom salts, which gives you buoyancy and numerous health benefits.
During float therapy, you can allow your muscles to totally relax, which helps if you’re suffering from back pain or muscle pain. Other people notice how busy their minds are and start to slow things down, whether it’s re-focusing on their breath or something else. However, sometimes I use it as an opportunity to organize my thoughts, so it’s not always about being relaxed.
What made you decide to expand your yoga teaching into a business?
When you choose to become a yoga teacher and make it your full-time career, you have to become an entrepreneur. One of the pieces of advice that stuck with me when I did my teacher training is that when you’re a new teacher, you need to teach, but shouldn’t feel obligated to teach for free.
Teaching yoga is an exchange of energy and needing to pay your bills is part of life. Obviously, don’t start off charging crazy prices after your first training course, but find who your audience is, and practice on your friends who will give you constructive feedback. Know who you are speaking to because you won’t be able to serve everybody. When you’re clear on who you’re teaching, they will come.
What is the yoga scene like in Hong Kong?
I would say in the last ten years since I’ve been here the yoga scene has definitely evolved. It’s massive, and there are a lot of teachers and a lot of people practicing. Hong Kong has a beautiful community of individuals who want to live better and feel better mentally, which is really awesome to see.
Has motherhood changed how you experience yoga?
I practiced yoga all the way into my pregnancy. It didn’t change until the end when I got really heavy. However, if you’re pregnant and you’ve never done yoga before you should definitely go to a prenatal class and take it slow. Listen to what the teacher has to say, and most importantly, listen to your body.
Since having my daughter, my practice has changed. I’m definitely feeling different things in my body right now but my biggest challenge is just finding time to practice.
You also teach “Mummy and Baby Yoga.” Tell us about that practice.
As a new mom, it’s so important to bond with your baby and have skin-to-skin contact.
When babies are small (from six weeks to five months), the practice is focused on bonding through infant massage and gentle post-natal yoga for the mom.
As the babies get older, the practice changes to focus on the mothers and how to use their babies as weights to get back into shape. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach. It’s like magic. Once the babies are in that routine, they understand when it’s time for yoga. I have a couple of babies that fall asleep at the end of every class, and the moms will send me pictures. The moms really want to make it to class so their babies sleep after!
How do you juggle being a teacher, entrepreneur, and mother?
Google Calendar! My husband and I have had some bumps on the road with hiring a helper in Hong Kong so we’ve been without one for a while. It has become about managing my time and knowing exactly what I’m doing when, as well as communicating with my partner.
What are your plans for the future?
There are other projects in the works, but at the moment I’m just focusing on existing projects including teaching. Our SUP Yoga teacher training course is coming up, and I still do a few things at Float On. My husband has taken on most of the work at Float On to allow me to focus on teaching yoga again. It’s a never-ending journey!
For more information about Dee Cheung and her work, please visit DeeCheung.com.