Tune In, Peace Out. Deepening Your Practice With Dave Wong-Toi
By Stephanie Santos
Dave Wong-Toi began taking yoga classes on a whim. The treadmill that he was on at his local gym pointed directly into the glass walls of the yoga studio where a class was starting. While having people stare at you is arguably one of the worst ways to relax, he thought he would try it. Ten years later Dave is teaching 10 classes a week.
Dave met us on Sunset Cliffs, in San Diego to share his teaching style, the significance and benefit of the hatha practice, and where he gets his inspiration.
Tell us about your first yoga class:
I don’t remember much about the first yoga class I ever took. I’d never tried yoga in New Zealand, where I am from. My main fitness regimen consisted of soccer, touch rugby (fairly similar to flag football), volleyball and going to the gym. I do remember how I came to my first Bikram yoga class. I was working for a small consultancy firm and I was interviewing a woman named Teri and she mentioned that she practiced yoga. I got excited. "I love yoga!" She said, "have you tried Bikram?" And, when she got the job we took my first class together.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My inspiration often comes from fundamental yoga concepts and principles. That way, I can educate myself in preparing for class, and my students also hopefully learn something too. In the past I have explored the chakras as a series, and currently I am progressing through some of the eight limbs of yoga. The yamas and niyamas are guidelines by which one can live, by incorporating these into our yoga practice physically and spiritually. I occasionally like to celebrate national days and weeks (especially yoga week) as class themes. I made s'mores for National S'mores Day. We recently celebrated the Winter solstice and often observe full moons with longer holds in some poses.
You have worked at CorePower Yoga in the past, what are your thoughts about the recent tragedy of the founder Trevor’s death?
Trevor made an effort to practice frequently at his studios with the students. In the beginning, I occasionally practiced right next to him without realizing that he was the founder. He just wanted to blend in with us in his own way. I was saddened when I heard the news, it was such a shock.
Describe your teaching style:
I try to make every class different in its own way. I teach the same sequence of poses, but the focus and the emotional direction are never the same. I have had themes that expand over weeks. One where I focused on a chakra each week, allowing my students time to explore the intricacies of each chakra in depth. We delve into the emotional connection, the spiritual and the physical. During that specific sequence, I gave my students thread bracelets for each week’s color (symbolizing the connectivity of the chakras), resulting in a rainbow of colors that many still wore weeks later. It’s wonderful to see them in class and their dedication to the practice, but when I saw them continue to wear the rainbow colors I got a real sense of devotion. They are reminded everyday, multiple times a day when they are not with me, of the importance of centering and how energy flows through and around their body.
My music choices usually reflect a more mellow type of music, I am very inspired by music and I feel it enhances my classes. This past year, I have had Bowie, Prince, Dylan, Star Wars and Christmas music themed playlists.
I teach Vinyasa, which is breath to movement and Hatha style, which actually means to ‘seat or hold in place.' The postures in Hatha yoga are held for longer. One of the many benefits of teaching Hatha in a heated studio, as I do at Hapa Yoga in San Diego, is that it helps for mind focus as well. Many times when you are in a demanding pose the heat will add just enough challenge that you can focus on nothing else but the present moment. For students that are apprehensive about taking a heated class I always offer a few words of advice: don’t be afraid of the heat. Don’t leave the class. If you need a break take child’s pose or savasana, but try not to leave the room. This will help you prevent abrupt changes in body temperature. You will get used to it, and most likely, grow to love it.
I favor Hatha for a few reasons, one of them being the length of time holding the poses. As an instructor I am able to adjust more students and they are able to go deeper in the postures and experience real gains in flexibility. Students are also able to focus less on the sequence and really dive deep into the essentials of the posture and what the posture feels like in their body. Perhaps this is a time to give the mind a little conditioning as well, because for most, the mind will begin to wander.
What’s next for you?
I will continue to teach and put my spirit into my classes. I truly love what I do, my students inspire me, the practice humbles me and I grow with my students every time I come to the mat.