“Yoga takes you into the present moment, the only place where life exists.”
Taking a short break between her classes and workshops, STYLEGUIDE catches up with Yoga Instructor Vera Soh over a quiet cup of coffee to discover how yoga has impacted and changed her life for the better.
How did you get started initially and what inspired you to do what you do?
Yoga was the tool that I used to get over a surgery that happened after a fracture… then I got hooked! It helped me so much both physically and psychologically. I was going into my third year of studying Economics in SMU at that time. A friend of mine, Stella, very casually asked if I would like to start a yoga club in SMU. Our conversation was literally “Do you want to start a yoga club in SMU?” “YES!” and we started building our club, YogiSMU.
Our mentors encouraged us to take up a weekend teacher training course to start teaching in YogiSMU, and they managed to get us a partial sponsor for the course. I am super proud to say that a group of really capable and passionate leaders are running the club now – the exact kind of life that Stella and I wanted to inject into this club. Without Stella and our mentors, I don’t think I’ll be where I am today.
Right when I left school, I was extremely lucky to be offered a full time Yoga Teacher position that paid a decent amount. No second thoughts, no doubts, I took it, never looked back, never questioned my decision up till today. It was one of the best things that I have done for myself.
What were some things about your business or personal life that made you dissatisfied with the way things were?
I missed healthy stress, deadlines and typing on the computer (laughter)! I don’t think I can live a fulfilled life without a healthy amount of stress and challenge. Thus I sought out things to do – starting in-house trainings with my colleagues, helped to launch Yoga Movement’s inaugural teacher training and now, I am extremely thankful to be part of the Yoga Movement management team. I used to have a lot of free time when I was only teaching yoga. These days, I have much less free time and more responsibilities but I feel so much more fulfilled.
What were some of the biggest challenges you've faced?
Body image – which I’m so happy to say that I’m over it but it was probably the darkest period of my life thus far.
It was when many changes were happening in my life at the same time. I had just finished A-levels and because I just went for a spine surgery, I couldn’t work or do much.
I literally couldnt move - and bear in mind I used to be a very active person since I was young.
I couldn’t move. I had nothing to do and could only stay at home. And then my relationship fell apart…and so a bunch of things happened together.
Dieting and exercise became a way in which I could get hold and control of my life again. But it soon became a downward spiral. Thoughts like “Okay, maybe let's lose some weight” turned into "Let's never ever gain weight anymore and become like a 0% body fat person” - which I did become at some point. Things just got out of control.
I think this is a very difficult topic to talk about for a lot of people, and even now, for the last few years I didn’t really want to talk about it. At some point, I was super vocal about it but over the last few years, I wanted to keep this as the past and pretend like it did not exist because I'm a person that is completely different now. I am very happy with myself now, with how I look and how I feel, so I think now is a good time to start talking and raising awareness about body image issues again.
What changed over time?
I think it's just getting comfortable with the fact that this is part of my history. Interestingly, I was just talking about this with someone else last week, and I was just telling her "Actually if anybody wants to talk about it, I'm happy to share." So it's really good timing and very coincidental.
Could you share more about how you managed to overcome that difficult period?
A part of me wanted to be better, and I knew that I can do so much better in my life if I didn't spend my time obsessing over thoughts and questions like “How much I eat; What I eat; Should I eat; Should I not eat; Should I go to the gym; Should I work out; How much to work out; How many hours to work out" - that kind of stuff. So a part of me wanted to get better and yoga always helps. But it was a very long recovery over a few years I would say.
How could you tell you were getting better over time?
I had more head space to think about other things besides food and exercise. I could stop obsessing over what to eat. And when I was eating, I was okay - I didn't judge myself and feel like "I’m eating so much”, or “I shouldn’t be eating this".
For many years, I didn’t go out to eat with people; I never eat with people. And after so many years of being stuck into the life of "Okay, I'll eat half an apple for lunch", you forget what it's like when you actually just eat and have a proper lunch or dinner. I spent more time eating with people who were more "normal" and who did not obsess over their food.
So introducing people into my life and having meals or exercising with them reminded me of how it should be like, and that was super helpful.
Can you share your greatest inspiration or motivation in life? Was there anything that continued to inspire you throughout during that period?
During that period, I was reading a lot of inspirational quotes, and I had inspirational quotes pasted in my room on my wall. They were all about strength, determination and persistence and I saw them every day for a period of time.
Now, I think everything comes from inside, so I’m always trying to be better than what I was.
Life is 99% how you respond to things, and 1% of what happens to you. So that 99% is super important.
You control your own life.
What would you say is your purpose in life?
For some people I think they know exactly what they're supposed to do in their life. They know from young what they want to do - I want to save animals; I want to fly a plane; I want to help children. But some of us are not so fortunate, or maybe more fortunate, I don't know.
I think there's no one sole purpose for me. Things change along the way - you grow, you evolve and along the way your purpose changes. At this point in time, my purpose is maybe to share yoga, to share what I know and my experiences, at another point maybe my purpose would become to help needy people or help needy children. So I think your purpose changes along the way.
Really spending time getting things done, and influencing and impacting people's lives, or even lives along the way in a positive manner.
I’ve spent quite a few years thinking about questions like “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?”. I felt super confused.
You know it's so much easier if after you are born, you go through the entire system that society has for you, and you just don’t think and just follow. Graduate from school, look for a job in what I studied in, and after I get a job, I get married and have kids.
It's so easy to just do it like that but when you want something more out of your life, and you want to live a life that is super fulfilling for yourself, you start thinking about more things and it becomes super complicated.
For me I feel I cannot live a life where I just follow and do things because they were the way it was “supposed” to be.
Every step I take has to be a meaningful step – it has to be in line with what I think and feel is right for me at that point.
What does success mean to you and what is the greatest success you’ve experienced?
Success, to me, is when I look back at my life – I see my accomplishments, the fears that I managed to overcome, the lives that I have improved and inspired, the adventures that I was brave enough to go on, the great quality of life I shared with the people I love, and I am super proud of every one of them.
I think I still have a long way to go… but if I have to identify one greatest success thus far, I think it’s being able to make a decent living from doing something that I love, truly believe in and it actually changes peoples’ days, if not lives, for the better.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your success?
I don’t think I can pinpoint a major, most influential factor that has brought me to where I am today. There are many things that helped me to arrive where I am today – my belief in having an internal locus of control, the support from my family, the ridiculous amounts of times that I was at the right place at the right time with the right people. Sometimes, the seemingly “wrong” people brought me to the right place.
Where do you get your ideas?
A lot from reading books and my own minute amount of life experiences. Yoga philosophy, travel, people.
What do you do to recharge when you’re feeling drained?
There are a bunch of things that I do – attend a yoga class, meet a good friend for dinner and drinks, put on a face mask and lie down in bed, laze in my room with a bag of potato chips, water and a great book! Sometimes I simply sit down and breathe.
What is the most interesting life experience you’ve had so far?
My first solo travel experience. It was scary, exciting, challenging. I flew to Vietnam then crossed over to Cambodia and Thailand on land on a very tight, poor student budget.
What would your ideal or dream lifestyle be like?
Such a great timing for such a question! I was just pondering about 2018 over the last week.
In a year, I would imagine my lifestyle to be pretty similar to where I am right now, perhaps with healthier sleeping hours, more meditation and conscious breathing, more selective and healthier relationships.
Five or ten years later, I do want to start a family at some point, but that’s dependent on many other factors. I love and enjoy the flexible hours that I am privileged to have now and I definitely hope that I can continue to enjoy that even five or ten years later.
What is the change or impact that you want to make in this world?
Love yourself, despite.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?
That the world will be a less indifferent place.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Study hard. Get that Summa cum Laude. Oh, also don’t forget to socialize.
Didn’t do any of those in university.