Celebrating Magnificence : Lee-Ann Kong – Happy, Humorous Yoga & Aerial Teacher
by Renée Tillotson
Lee-Ann has lived a life that shows the benefits of an extended ‘ohana. Although her parents lived in Hawaii Kai, Lee-Ann spent most of her time with her grandparents and aunt in Kaimuki. “My parents tried their best, but I was their first kid and they were young. They were making the best decisions they could, but that didn’t do it for me. That’s OK. It made me self-reliant.”
“My grandparents were the best people in the world, so supportive and so amazing. They grew up in the WWII era. My grandmother was pulled out of school to work when she was in about 6th grade. She taught me to value education, to take care of my things, and to take care of myself. She had a great sense of humor. They both passed many years ago. I miss them very much but they are very alive in me.
“Whenever I have a dream about my grandmother, she’s laughing. That’s the best thing, no matter what’s going on. It’s important to be positive because we create our own reality. We can see past things that we perceive as negative. Things always turn out as they should in the end, and we’re always taken to a better place. It’s important to be happy where you are. All you have is YOU. Make your own happiness, and you’ll be happy all the time,” affirms Lee-Ann.
Once you take one of Lee-Ann’s yoga or AiReal yoga classes, you’ll find laughter and happiness to be trademark signatures of her teaching style.
Lee-Ann reports that she was not very active to begin with: “I was a chubby little kid who liked to hang out in my aunt’s kitchen and bake.” It wasn’t until college at Honolulu Community College (HCC) that she started rock climbing and hiking. Once she left college to pursue fashion design and her climbing friends moved away, she felt the need to keep moving.
She attended Zumba classes with a friend, and her favorite part turned out to be the yoga stretches at the end. While she liked the yoga videos she tried, she wanted “someone supervising me to make sure I was doing it right.”
A friend gave Lee-Ann a Groupon for a little yoga studio behind the teacher’s house, where she learned a lot every Wednesday morning. Before moving away to the mainland, her teacher put the idea into her head to eventually take a yoga teacher training.
Lee-Ann has worked full time at Sedona for 20 years, helping people find items that assist them in their lives: gems, talking with energy readers, energetically-charged fragrance oils, feng-shui tips, and just talking. One day a customer of hers at Sedona named April Patterson offered Lee-Ann a free yoga class at Still & Moving where April taught Yoga for the Stiffs.
As Lee-Ann describes her yoga journey here: “I thought April’s class was just great, and then she moved. Then I attended David Sanders’ classes and I loved how he shared so much for us to think about during the postures. Once Claudia subbed for David, I thought SHE was great! When Claudia told us about her yoga teacher training, I knew it was the right thing at the right time for me. It’s always better to know more than less.
“At our teacher training, Claudia was tremendous at teaching the basics of how to do the poses, breaking the moves down and doing each asana with proper alignment. I know people who complain of getting hurt in yoga… Not the way Claudia teaches! And Claudia is always so supportive and open to our questions. I really appreciate her love for what she does.”
We hired Lee-Ann first as a sub and then as a team teacher of a unique, team-taught class called Yin-Yang Yoga. One day she and her co-teacher Ciara Steynberg ventured upstairs to try an aerial dance class with Kezia Holm. That eventually led to Yumi Hi’s AiReal yoga classes, where she found Yumi to be hilarious. Once Carmen Curtis, the founder of AiReal yoga, came to deliver a teacher training at Still & Moving, Lee-Ann was all in!
“Carmen taught us that poses are ONLY safe when done in proper alignment. I learned from her that a lot is going on inside that you may not see from the outside. So I learned to find the moves from the inside out, so to speak.”
“Everyone can benefit from some style of yoga. In the case of AiReal yoga, it’s actually easier than regular yoga to do a number of moves. Using the hammock as a prop actually allows people to get into postures that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. The aerial hammock gives students more accessibility to yoga poses that their joints or their lack of strength or their stiffness might otherwise allow them to do. They have LESS chance of hurting themselves in the hammock than they do on the mat!’
Whether doing yoga on the mat or in the hammock, Lee-Ann reports psychological benefits beyond the physical ones: “Yoga can calm people down, taking their brain off their day. Yoga helps you focus on the present moment so that you can keep your balance and breathe and find your alignment. It gives you a mental vacation.
“I ask people not to take yoga or AiReal yoga so seriously. I add some humor. I encourage students laughing, talking, even swearing if they want to! And people do! I like to interact with everyone to know that each student is OK. I ask people about specific parts of their bodies, getting them to really tune in. And I try to make things funny, especially if we’re doing a pose that’s not particularly comfortable!
Lee-Ann remains grounded in her extended ‘ohana. She has friends at Sedona who come from really rough childhoods, and who also were not close with their parents. “We make it a point to be supportive and loving in a way that we weren’t supported as children.”
With her parents and younger sister now having moved away to the mainland, Lee-Ann stays close to her aunties. In fact, two aunties in their sixties now attend her AiReal yoga classes! Even if they started taking class to support Lee-Ann, they are now earnest students finding that AiReal yoga effectively gets them into shape.
Lee-Ann enthuses: “My aunties are having a great time! They go upside down and find great support in the hammock, doing moves they can’t do on the mat. I am so proud of them!”
And we are proud of Lee-Ann for her can-do, make-my-world-a-happy-place approach to life.