A Journey Inward: Finding Rest, Purpose, and Confidence
On the brink of burnout, Ooi Jian Yuan discovered Yoga, paving the way to whole new worlds.
Ooi Jian Yuan speaks with a joyful ease. His glowing complexion is illuminated ever so slightly by the evening light, a quality that comes through even though we’re speaking with each other over the virtual lens of Zoom.
If we had met in 2014, I would have barely recognised him.
At that time, Jian Yuan, a practising lawyer, had been clocking 15-hour days for four and a half months. Such punishing hours are not uncommon in an industry notorious for its lack of work-life balance, but as the old saying goes – the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. These inhuman hours were certainly not fit for the human body.
“I was ill and physically broken down. It was a very low point in my life,” he recalls. Burnt-out and exhausted, he quit his job to embark on a three-month sabbatical.
Naturally, rest and rejuvenation ranked high on his to-do list. “On my way to my old office, I used to cross an overhead bridge where I could see people practising yoga through the windows,” he says, and this memory prompted him to purchase a 20-class yoga package as a means of diversifying his exercise regime.
Little did he know that a peripheral sight on his way to work would eventually transform into a central focus of his life. He would no longer be a passer-by who merely caught glimpses of yogis folding into asanas. He would be the very person who would teach and guide these students from pranayama to savasana.
But let us return to the beginning of his yoga journey, where he ventured into his first yoga class. “I wanted something different and found that yoga helped me destress,” says Jian Yuan, who enjoyed the sheer heat of the hot yoga studio, the challenging sequence, and the physical release of sweating it all out. He practised with this studio for two years before embarking on his first Yoga Teacher Training course in 2015.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way he thought it would. “While it was a good learning opportunity, I only considered factors such as the cost and schedule of the training, without really considering whether the training would truly resonate with me. While I received my certification, that training made me realise that there are certain sequences I didn’t like to practise or want to teach, and that being trained to teach is a really important part of teacher training.”
Jian Yuan did not want to rush into teaching especially since he did not feel ready for it. Furthermore, the experience had planted seeds of doubt. “I was not confident and was insecure about teaching. I wondered if I was authentic or if I could teach properly. Would students like me? Would they resonate with me?” he shares.
These doubts dissolved when he met Jo Phee, the instructor at his first Yin Yoga Teacher Training course in 2016. “In addition to the knowledge around spine anatomy and myofascial release, she taught us how to teach and what to look out for when teaching classes. It really set me on the road to giving me the confidence to start teaching.”
He continued to grow his wings as a yogi, thanks in no small part to the support of other inspiring teachers in the community. Catherine Tan, a fellow teacher at The Yoga School, is one such individual. “At a low point in my teaching career, she gave me a lot of advice. I look up to her as a mentor.”
Over at The Yoga School, Jian Yuan’s Yin Yoga classes are sequenced to ensure that a person’s major meridian pathways, or energy channels, are addressed during the class. It is an approach that incorporates the knowledge he has amassed while studying a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) module under Jo Phee. “TCM is a great complement to Yin Yoga. It is believed that we have 12 major meridian pathways and six pairs of organs. A single pose might stimulate two or three pathways. In a 60-minute class, I can structure six or seven poses which will cover all the major pathways.” The goal is to ensure that the deep postures held during Yin Yoga will work with the meridians to promote an overall sense of health and wellbeing.
The sense of mindfulness that Yin Yoga cultivates is also one that Jian Yuan believes is helpful for students. “Yin Yoga trains us not to push unpleasant experiences away but to embrace the totality of the experience and to see where that brings us.”
Yin Yoga trains us not to push unpleasant experiences away but to embrace the totality of the experience and to see where that brings us.
Besides Yin classes, Jian Yuan also enjoys teaching Yang classes underscored with the yama of ahimsa (non-violence). “Respect your body and do no harm. If you push yourself too hard in your physical practice, you are not observing ahimsa. I always encourage students to do what they can and nothing more than that. I will give options so that practitioners of varying degrees of proficiency can take the option that resonates with them.”
Beyond helping his students to find balance and alignment in their poses, Jian Yuan believes that asanas alone are but one component of the practice. “During the difficult periods of my life, the physical practice didn’t help so much; for want of a better word, it’s just exercise. You can’t rely on the physical practice to solve your problems. Neither can it make you a better person. It can’t make you come to different realisations unless you’re willing to do the inner work. By inner work, I mean the inner work of inquiry and the inner work of understanding that there is more to it than just the physical practice.”
With the demands of his job, some might wonder where Jian Yuan finds the energy to hold down his day job as a full-time lawyer while teaching on the side. What keeps him going, he shares, is his intention to help others on their yoga journey. “I want to make a difference in the lives of the people who come to my class. It could be just one person – but as long as that person is able to take away what he or she needed from the class, that to me is the greatest thing. It’s less about myself or holding onto the status of a yoga teacher; it’s about seeing who turns up and then just doing my best to hold that space for the student.”