My entry point into yoga came in 1996 when I was teaching English in Beijing, China. I was teaching Chinese graduate students at a medical school. In general, the students were amazing, hardworking, humble, brilliant, funny, and pure.
In my spare time, I was looking for “something.” I studied Tai Chi with a teacher at five in the morning, I took buses for hours to study Chinese medical massage, and I read many, many self-help books. To aid my inner quest, I had almost no distractions. When I turned on the TV in my flat, all I saw was Chinese news or dramas in Mandarin (which I did not understand); it was the time before the internet and cell phones. I was open to new information and experiences to come into my life.
My first yoga teacher was my friend Barrie Risman. Barrie was also teaching English in China. She made a cassette recording of her yoga teaching for me, and I moved my body into yoga postures for the first time in my life, by myself, in my flat in Beijing. The practice felt both exotic and familiar. I liked yoga and my interest was piqued. However, when I had the opportunity to learn meditation, then I knew that the "peace" piece needed to come first for me.
I meditated almost every day. The practice of meditation led me to clean up my mental house more deeply. I also become a vegetarian as qualities such as compassion and unconditional love are often associated with a cruelty free diet in esoteric paths. Ten years later, when I was back in Asia for the second time, I took a yoga teacher training in Singapore. Finally, my body entered the picture. I truly fell in love with hatha yoga as a powerful tool to soothe my nervous system, build self-esteem, and journey deeper into a healthy body, mind, and spirit. I started teaching yoga and the yogic diet.
I went through a few years when I let the disciplines of hatha yoga and vegetarianism slip away from me. I pursued employment opportunities and fields that I thought were “more professional.” I had a harder time managing the ups and downs of life. Thankfully, when I came back to yoga, she was waiting for me like a long lost friend...reminding me that I want to continue to teach what I hope to learn.
And though I had been mostly vegetarian for over 20 years, when I studied nutrition more formally by getting certified in plant-based nutrition through Cornell, I knew that there was no going back to any animal products ever. Humans were not designed to eat animal proteins and fats. We can absolutely get all of our nutrition needs met from plants. And not doing so puts us at risk for all of the lifestyle diseases.
For me, the disciplines of yoga, meditation, and a plant-based diet work. If we are looking for longevity and inner peace, we may benefit from paying heed to these practical practices.
(Photo by Anne B. Houang)