Interview with Kit Cheung: A Street Yoga Teacher at a Seattle Crisis Residential Center
By Veronica Burgos I February 28, 2017
February 7, 2017 I Youth yoga and mindfulness class at Spruce Street Inn, Seattle.
Kit Cheung is one of Street Yoga’s devoted volunteer yoga teachers who has been providing weekly trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness classes for youth at Spruce Street Inn since May 2016.
Located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Spruce Street Inn fills an important need for youth in our community who are experiencing crisis; the center offers services for up to 18 youth between the ages of 12 through 17, and is one of the few select programs in Seattle that provides assistance to “street kids”, chronic runaways and commercially sexually exploited children. Until Spruce Street opened in 2000, Seattle police usually took runaways and struggling street youth to the King County Juvenile Detention Center.
Q: What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population?
A: I had little knowledge about the population before I started teaching yoga at Spruce Street Inn. I was quite anxious before teaching my first class there as I thought they would have no interest in participating or would be disruptive to the teaching that I would try to convey.
Q: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to do so?
A: I found great benefits with mindful living. The reason that I decided to pursue the 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Certificate was so that I could offer donation based classes with all proceeds benefiting non-profits, while teaching the less fortunate on mindful living. When I was searching for “yoga volunteering”, Street Yoga popped up. The community that it serves aligns perfectly with what my motivation has been all along. Being a volunteer yoga teacher has been one of the greatest experiences.
Q: Do you find that the kids you’re working with are receptive to the teachings? Are they more or less receptive to the asanas compared to the philosophy?
A: The youth that I’m working with are receptive to the teachings in general, but more so to the asana. They get a sense of accomplishment when they transition through various asanas and respond very well to positive reinforcements.
Q: What is it about a yoga practice that’s different from sports or theater or other hobbies?
A: Yoga is about looking in, yoga is about being conscious about what’s on your mind and controlling your own thoughts. We are always so busy worrying about what is going on around us, exerting and focusing our energy outward (e.g. sports, theater, other hobbies), we rarely have time to focus on what lies within ourselves, our own mind and body. Yoga is about taking care of oneself, starting from the very basic, and that is what these kids need.
Q: What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?
A: I give a lot more praises and encouragement to the youth population that I teach and I also try to make the asanas fun by making analogies to Superheroes or things that will bring laughter to the class. I try to be silly in front of them, so they understand that yoga can be fun, and that it is something positive. The consistent praise and encouragement builds confidence in them, to help them believe in themselves.
Q: What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?
A: The greatest challenge is to get the youth involved enough to try their first asana. The initial step of getting them on the yoga mat and practice is probably the hardest. I try to be very encouraging, lots of smiles, to encourage the youth to express themselves and give them the option to just observe if they want, I also let them know that I’m happy to have them join in later on, in the middle of the class, if they chose to. You would be surprised to see how many gradually join in after the first few asanas!
Q: What are some of the benefits you have seen in sharing yoga in this way?
A: I am extremely thankful to what the youth have taught me. I always feel energized after each class I teach at Spruce Street Inn, even though I could be very exhausted before the class from a long day at work. They have taught me to be more compassionate, more patient and more appreciative.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach trauma informed yoga to youth?
A: Be calm at all times, compassionate, loving, patient and always ready to smile. The youth can sense if you are genuine, and the energy that you bring into the class is contagious.