Artistes will tell you applause is food for the soul, but David Kim believes yoga nourishes the soul.
He was “fed” so well with yoga, he decided to make a career out of it, leaving his job as a professional script reader with Universal Pictures in glitzy Hollywood.
For the past 12 years, Kim has been on the move, spending a month at a time in different countries, up to 11 months of the year, conducting YogaWorks Teacher Training courses.
Centred on the Ashtanga and Iyengar styles of yoga, the United States-based YogaWorks was initially developed for casual practitioners, but over the last 26 years, its programme has evolved to become a sought-after certification for potential teachers.
“Everyone thought I was crazy to leave a well-paying job with great benefits, but I just needed some stress relief,” says the American-born Korean during a recent interview.
Kim was suffering from burnout, and was seeking a way out. As a New York journalist fresh out of Brown University, he dabbled in a few yoga classes, and continued to do so after moving to Los Angeles to work in the film industry.
“I was aware of yoga being a spiritual practice, but I didn’t understand what that was. My first class was rather unpleasant as we were doing partner work and my partner was unwilling to cooperate. So, yoga didn’t take hold right away. Yoga came to me only when I was ready to receive it,” he says.
As time passed, the movie business slowly dimmed his creative spark, and daily gym workouts had forged a muscular “armour”, stunting his freedom to move and breathe.
Tall and tanned, he looked beautiful on the outside, but he wasn’t “feeling” it.
“I felt stuck. Something needed to shift,” he wrote in his online portal.
Kim decided to retry yoga. After all, people were talking about how yoga had changed their lives, alleviated their ailments, brought inner peace…
“I joined a different gym and approached an Ashtanga-based yoga class with new eagerness. The raw, focused, and quiet intensity was so effective at clearing my mental stress, it was a revelation!
“The deliberate breathing and postures slowly pried open my body, releasing years of unconscious tension and stress. When tears welled up in my eyes during a seated hip opener, it dawned on me: yoga went far beyond the body – it connected to my emotions, my intellect, even a long-buried sense of spirit.”
With a new awakening, Kim started practising regularly. But, as an athlete, it was hard not to be competitive, and in his quest to better himself, he tore his knee cartilage from sloppy alignment.
He recalls, “I had just signed up for a teacher’s training course and had to humble myself to move safely through the poses. By the end of the month, my knee was healed. In a way, the injury forced me to become patient. The ego is always there, but I just observe it and not feed it.”
Soon, he was allocating more time for yoga practice, phasing out gym sessions and squeezing in time for work. The scripts didn’t sound as exciting anymore. As “luck” would have it, Universal Pictures was downsizing, and in 2009, Kim was laid off.
“It was amazing how many doors opened up and opportunities started pouring in. I chose to go full-time into yoga, and that has also allowed me to travel and explore more.”
A new journey began. He enrolled in various teacher-training courses, out of curiosity, and to learn different methods of pedagogy.
Before long, Kim was imparting his knowledge to others, gradually finding his own voice and developing a unique style that highlights intelligent sequencing, encourages creative inquiry, and honours yogic tradition without enforcing dogma.
“I tell my students, even if you don’t become teachers, these programmes will make you a better communicator. What you teach best are the poses that challenge you the most. For example, the wheel or upward bow pose is difficult for me as I had a lung problem when I was younger, so opening up that area is a challenge,” says Kim, who will be back in Malaysia next month to conduct a 200-hour YogaWorks Teacher Training Course at Simplylife Yoga in Kuala Lumpur.
Does calmness rule him? Kim gives out a chuckle.
“It’s not that my fundamental character has changed,” he explains. “When I feel negative emotions or anger surfacing, I become less reactive. I reflect for a moment before responding. I understand my nature better, and by observing my triggers, I’m able to let it pass.
“I practise at least once a day and try to meditate on most days. The length and nature of my practice can change. As I become a more mature practitioner, I adjust what is appropriate.
“My favourite pose is the one that grounds me and balances my focus and energy – on some days, it could be a handstand; on others, it could be Savasana (corpse pose). Ultimately, being truly awake in the moment is what enlivens any pose.”
There are always cultural differences in different countries, but Kim says the teaching content is always the same in all the programmes.
When language is a barrier, there is a translator at hand.
Travelling so many months of the year can take a toll, but the 49-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way, though he is home (in Los Angeles) hardly a month out of the year.
“I miss being with my parents, especially since they’re getting on in age,” he readily admits.
Every time he heads back home, it’s to Phoenix, Arizona, to see his parents.
“I couldn’t have a family of my own, pets or plants because of the life I choose to lead. But I have no complaints as I never imagined I’d be combining both my loves – travelling and yoga,” he surmises.
And Hollywood? That’s so over.