“ON ANY GIVEN DAY, YOU ARE EXACTLY WHERE YOU NEED TO BE, AND THAT IS ENOUGH.”
Corporate lawyer, Lai FengJun, shares how yoga has changed her life and taught her to be kinder to herself
Growing up, FengJun would go to the library and cart home the maximum number of books that her family’s combined library cards would allow. “Whenever the examinations came around, my parents had to confiscate my library cards and hide my books so that I could concentrate on studying for my tests,” she fondly recounts. “Now that I’m older, I no longer need to go to the library, and books remain the only possession that I acquire freely. An avid reader who counts yoga and books as her two key pillars of sanity, FengJun shares, “Books have always been a unique world that I constantly escape into, yet find myself from.
“My yoga practice and my books keep me grounded, she discloses, adding, “At the same time, they also keep me feeling inspired and lift me up.”
FengJun started learning dance, including ballet, as a young girl, and loved it so much she continued to dance all the way through her university days. “An art form like ballet pursues perfection,” she says, “I enjoyed the discipline and rigour required, as they resonated with the perfectionist in me and provided me with an avenue to work relentlessly at attempting to attain the perfect arabesque lines or grand jetés.”
As a dancer, FengJun was critical of herself, often pushing her body to the limits to achieve more. But during her university exchange programme in Kingston, Ontario, in Canada, a stroke of serendipity led her to discover yoga.
She tells us about how her yoga practice has transformed her life and taught her self-compassion.
QN: TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST TIME ON THE MAT, WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
FengJun: My previous impressions of yoga was formed based on what I saw on the posters of commercial gyms – it looked like an aerobics workout, and that did not appeal to me at all.
But I eventually took a chance and tried it at a yoga studio located near the dance studio that I was going to then, and was surprised at how yoga seemed to be quite different from what I had expected it to be like. The studio I went to was a small cosy place that was brick-lined, with dim lighting, and filled with flickering candles on the sides of the wall. It even operated on a tip system – everyone who dropped by for class just paid whatever amount they deemed appropriate.
The practice felt like a very different space, and I remember coming out from that first yoga class feeling more calm and balanced than when I first stepped in. The yoga studio was walking distance from my apartment, so I would wake up early and trudge through thick sheets of snow to go for 5.30am Sun Salutation classes – those were such a joy!
QN: SOUNDS LIKE YOU WERE OFF TO A GREAT START! HOW DID YOUR YOGA JOURNEY PROGRESS FROM THERE ON?
FengJun: After returning to Singapore, I couldn’t find a studio with a similar ethos, so I did not continue practicing yoga until a few years later, when more differentiated yoga studios started being established across the island. One day, a friend mentioned The Yoga School to me and I decided to check it out as it is near my office. The rest, as they say, is history.
The space, the energy, and the people – they’re all unique to The Yoga School. The gorgeous space and calm energy balance beautifully with the warm-hearted (and very real) teachers and staff that I have had the honour of meeting, and sharing my practice with.
There’re various yoga specialties offered here and I like being able to incorporate different styles into my practice, depending on what my body feels like on the day itself. Balance is an important concept in my life, and I try to observe that in my yoga practice as well.
QN: WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR YOGA PRACTICE?
FengJun: This is a huge question because there are so many aspects of yoga that have changed my life. My practice has taught me self-compassion, and how not to judge what I can or cannot accomplish on the mat on any single day – this is something that’s always been very difficult for me because the yogic mind-set is completely different from that of a dancer’s.
While dance strives for perfection through demanding hard work, yoga has taught me to accept what is imperfect, and see perfection as something that already “is”, as opposed to something “to be”. This realisation has enabled me to go on to strive for, and achieve greater things.
More significantly, my yoga practice has helped me to connect and re-connect with, as well as become more aware of myself, and my body. This heightened sense of awareness, in many ways, has been pretty life changing.
QN: WHAT’S A REGULAR DAY LIKE FOR YOU IN THE OFFICE? HOW DO YOU COPE WITH WORK STRESS?
FengJun: It’s hectic and often stressful! In the practice of law, there’re always endless documents to read, contracts to draft, and emails to respond to.
While we may not always be in control of the external demands from others, we’re always in control of how we react (or not react) to them. It’s tempting to react instinctively – this may be panicking at looming deadlines which seem impossible to meet, or feeling completely overwhelmed at the mountain of things on our to-do list. But we gradually realise that such knee-jerk reactions don’t get us very far.
The heightened sense of self-awareness that has come with practicing yoga has enabled me to identify the emotions I’m feeling at any time, and then take a step back and think more calmly about how to break down the tasks so that they don’t seem as daunting.
Also, having put down the ego-driven notion of perfection, I can better go about the tasks with my very best, whatever that may be at the point in time.
QN: WE ALL HAVE DAYS WHEN WE DON’T FEEL LIKE GETTING ON THE MAT. WHAT KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED?
FengJun: To be honest, I very rarely have days when I don’t feel like getting on the mat – in fact, it’s something I look forward to once I have planned it into my day’s schedule.
Yoga has long transcended beyond being a mere physical workout for me – its more spiritual and meditative aspects cannot be easily found or replicated elsewhere, and they are what keep me returning to the mat.
Getting on the mat always feels like I’m returning to myself. I relish the time and space to re-connect with, and gain awareness of, my deeper self. I believe that how we do yoga reflects how we live our lives.
When I become a better yogi on the mat, I also become a better person off the mat.
QN: WHAT’S THE MOST CHALLENGING PART ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE?
FengJun: Breathing – it seems simple, but it’s my most daunting challenge! Even as I’ve gotten better at it, I find it most difficult to remember to breathe, and have to consciously remind myself to breathe through the various asanas and flows. Having been involved with dance for more than a decade of my life, I’m rather acquainted with physical challenges and have never found achieving them to be out of reach. But yoga is so much more than just its physical elements. I remember what one of my yoga teachers once said: if there is no breathing, there is no yoga.
QN: YOU MENTIONED THAT YOGA HAS TAUGHT YOU MORE SELF-COMPASSION. HOW HAS THAT TRANSLATED INTO YOUR THOUGHTS AND ACTIONS, ON AND OFF THE MAT?
FengJun: I often get aches and kinks in my neck area because I subconsciously hold a lot of tension there. Prior to yoga, I saw my injuries as physical weaknesses and would be impatient about recovering. It was through yoga that I gradually learnt how to be patient with my body and injuries. I’ve learned to see them as opportunities to practise being compassionate with myself.
We often “do” more than we let ourselves “be”, because we are so focused on accomplishing our goals and tasks. But sometimes, we’re impatient because we think that we’re not at the desired standard that we ought to be. This impatience is ego-driven.
Learning patience and compassion, in this context, is therefore about putting down our innate egos and the accompanying notions that we should already have arrived, or that we should be perfect.
Off the mat, I find that when I am patient and compassionate towards myself, it also helps me to be even more patient and compassionate towards others – all in all, there’s more love to go around!
QN: WHAT’S A GREAT TAKEAWAY LESSON FROM YOUR PERSONAL LEARNING (THAT OTHERS CAN BENEFIT FROM)?
FengJun: Always remember that it’s a practice – yoga is not about attaining any physical form (whether you can reach your toes or hold a plank), but showing up on the mat and being committed to the practice. So all the notions about having to be flexible or having a strong core to do yoga are misguided – you achieve these after you practise yoga, and not in order to do yoga.
Wherever you are in your practice, remind yourself that you are always good enough. It’s not about what you did or did not achieve in your previous practice, or what you may accomplish the next time. On any given day on the mat, you are exactly where you need to be, and that is enough.