Meet Chien. If you've been to Urban Breath, you've probably seen him around, as he's been to a whopping 735 classes since he started taking classes at the studio in the spring of 2011. Last year, Chien completed yoga teacher training and has now joined the UB staff as a substitue instructor. Check out an interview with Chien to learn how his dad inspired his yoga journey, and I think you'll be encouraged to start your own.
Tell us about your first yoga class.
I went to my first yoga on March 23, 2011. One of the poses the instructor taught was Half Moon, and I remember thinking, "You've got to be kidding me!" when she asked us to stack our hips and balance on one leg like that.
What encouraged you to start practicing?
I started practicing after my father passed away. He had been diabetic for 40 years, was diagnosed with major depression with severe suicidal ideation the last ten years of his life, and was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) eight months before he died. I flew back to Taiwan to spend 60 days by my dad's bedside, accompanying him through his last transition. When I arrived, Dad could barely speak, was on a feeding tube, bed bound, and unable to even squeeze my hand. As the disease progressed during those 60 days, Dad's muscles, joints, nerves, and organs gave up one by one. Before he passed away, the only physical function he had left was blinking his eyes. Painful stiffness devoured every inch of his body, and Dad was now trapped in the body that served him for 69 years, but was now old, sick, weak, and fragile; in the meantime, that same body captured Dad’s soul like a cold prison without sunshine. It was heart-wrenching torture to witness Dad dying like that. Watching him in that stiff body for 60 days, without a word, Dad silently and gently taught me all about “flexibility”- that both physical and mental flexibility are what we need in our lives. The older we grow, the more flexibility we lose, while actually, the more flexibility this world requires of us. Through my dad’s inspiration, I went to my first yoga class upon returning to the U.S. after his burial.
What motivates you to keep practicing?
Yoga is my therapy.
What do you do when you’re not yoga-ing (which isn’t that much ;)?
I have a daytime job as a social worker at Doorways, working with patients living with HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse issues. I also go to school, studying Gerontology. I came to St. Louis in 2002 for the doctoral program in Comparative Literature at Washington University, but switched to social work instead of completing that course. In my free time, I work out and run and spend time with people I love- Joan, Jee, Wai-man, and Mark. And I talk to my mom in Taiwan every day.
What are your favorite and least favorite yoga poses, and why?
Savasana is my favorite. Do I even need to explain why?! My least favorites are Eagle Pose (I can’t do it well, especially the leg part) and Rabbit Pose (I don’t get the point of that pose).
Tell us about teaching yoga.
I wanted to teach yoga because I love it, love challenges, and love to watch the smiles on people’s faces after they’ve taken my class (well, if they can still smile). Since I’ve started teaching, I’ve found that I’m even more mindful and attentive when practicing yoga myself. My favorite part about teaching is when students come to me to say they like my sequence, think I’m funny, or feel much better after class (less back pain, less tightness in the hips). I think Dad would love that I’m teaching yoga if he knew it.
What’s next? Any new activities you’d like to try, places you’d like to travel, or famous people you’d love to meet?
I’d like to try rock climbing and paragliding, travel to Siberia, and of course, I’d love to meet Madonna.
(Fun fact: Due to Chien’s persuasion, I once had a Madonna-themed Happy Hour Yoga class in honor of her first St. Louis tour stop.)