Emptying of self is the first step to Yoga
Interview with the Kyunghyang newspaper. 2006.5.15

There has been a yoga boom for recent years since it has been known as a good method to lose weight. TV entertainers became diet yoga teacher and promulgated this phenomenon. However, it came with ill effects, too such as a sharp increase in complaints reported regarding yoga classes and injures in waist or neck during yoga practice. These are mainly due to 'underqualified' or 'charlatan' yoga teachers who materialized as a result of commercialism. We met Mr.Lee Seung Yong who has practiced yoga for about 30 years and predicted this boom long ago. He is the founder of Hongik Yoga Institute and the head of Central Ashram in Hongik Yoga Assocication. He has been putting efforts to promote yoga practice, to train teachers and to develop programs that benefits Koreans.

"There are twenty four yoga corporations registered in Korea right now.
Some of them are operated by individual owners. Yet, three years ago, there was only one assocation for yoga, Korea Yoga Association which was in operation for 30 years. With the yoga boom, there was a sudden split in this organization. The main reasons were thought to be over money and greed. As a result, a lot of new teachers jumped to join this yoga boom without proper training. Yoga teacher certificates are being issued only for one purpose which is to make money.

The estimated number of yoga instructors who received a certificate from the various yoga organizations would be more than one million. Yet, Mr.Lee indicated that 'true' yoga teachers would be less than 10% of them. They can imitate yoga postures but their mental focus is extremely low. Mr. Lee is heartbroken over this situation which only strengthened his idea on yoga teacher training. He pointed out 'truth' and 'sincerity'as the prerequisites for all yoga teachers.

"To be a yoga teacher, the person should learn yoga principles, postures, and teaching methodology. It is because of the importance of character and qualification of yoga instructor. Before one could become a conscientious person. Yoga teacher not only teaches postures, but trains him or herself with a professonal dedication to the yoga pratice system and philosophy. Also, reading about a hundred relevant books is a must."

This is why the teacher's training course at Hongik Yoga institute is complicated. The certificate is not issued even if the person has finished the course. It is required for any instructor to have reached a certain level of understanding to teach students. Thus, people who wanted to have certificates in a short time would be put off by this challenge and complain that Hongik Yoga is too obstinate.

"There were more than 1000 people came to see me looking for a certificate but there are only 100 people who actually earned it. Among these 100, 40~50 already had had a certificate from the other association. I dare to say the teacheres at Hongik Yoga Institute are different in "spirit". They are pure and genuine.

Then, how can a yoga beginner distinguish a true teacher from under qualified teachers? According to Mr. Lee, followings are the examples of teacher's comments that the beginner should look our for. If a teacher recommends medical spinal correction or massage, over-exaggerates invisible energies such as Ki(or chi), blindly follows India Yoga or mysterious approach to yoga, recommends fasting cure, sells water dispenser, or emphasizes a fast way to diet, etc.

Mr. Lee's interest in yoga began in 1980 when he was able to treat his knee injury from hte military by practicing yoga.
"I was an ice skater during school days and did lots of exercise. I was injured severely in my left knee whiel ice skating in military service. I had an operation at an army hospital but modern medicine did not perfectly cure it. After my discharge from the military service, I got to know yoga from a Buddist priest and it cured my knee completely. Since then I fell in love with yoga.

Since then, Mr.Lee set up a study group with the various professionals who had the same interest to study yoga principles and philosophy in depth. He founded Hongik Yoga Institute in 1990 for it to become a ridge between yoga colleges and yoga centers. To do that, practice programs were required. However, there were no materials for that at that time, so he had to visited yoga institutes and centers traveling almost 30 countries including Himalaya, India, America and Europe in search of the information he needed.

Mr. Lee is a firm believer of 'orthodox yoga', but at the same time, emphasizes on the 'Korean style yoga' that fits to our condition.
"Koreans have shorter arms and legs and it makes it difficult to emulate Indian's postures which were why we needed to develop the practice system that is appropriate to our physical condition. It is important to develop a practice system according to the philosophy and principles in yoga sutra as well as fitting to our sentiment, culture and physical characteristics. Also personal practice programs as required. Orthodox yoga is not to imitate India yoga blindly. Yoga should be regarded as a common practice system and great spiritual culture.

Based on this idea, he wrote two books, Yin-yang Yoga in 1995, and Five Elements of Yoga in 1997.
Mr. Lee explained that the subject of yoga is the pursuit of freedom and peaceful life. Also, the spirit of yoga is to seek truthful relations and break down the wall among people. Jumping toward sharing life together from personal life, furthermore, pursuing equality between people regardless of professions or money is the goal of yoga.

"Yoga is to remove disturbances from one's mind and heart. Yoga is to have a strong hold on one's heart which is like a wild horse. The methods to do that are asana(postures), breath, and meditation. Thus yoga, is realistic. It is based on one's reality. You should feel freedom and peace at home and work. Yoga should not be considered as a mysterious approach to life."

Mr.Lee mentioned what are required to become yogis. Yogi should let go of one's desire. However, most people cannot follow through the normal process due to impatience.
"Practicing yoga together regularly and daily and right diet fitting to own constitution naturally lead to healthy life and also clear awareness. With yoga practice, there should be some change in one's awareness. Also, it is important to look back and examine oneself and life itself"

Mr.Lee spends 4 days in a central ashram located in Chungju city. This ashram was made by himself since 1998 from scratch. There, he practices yoga, studies natural health, and does organic farming. Also, he does lectures outside and teaches his pupil teachers.

"The aim of yoga practice is to learn health way of body and mind and to be a 'physically and spiritually independent person'. To do that, we need to have a sense of core where problems of life can be reflected and resolved.

I can feel that he will remain firm in his resolution as a yogi not to waver in worldly desires. As the name 'Hongik yoga' indicates, he has a strong mission to spread out healthy practice that he realized. He particularly pointed out problems of domestic yoga industry and his insistence is that "But we are different" I guess you can tell if this is right.