July 16, 2013

Yoga, Above the Law. ~ Michelle Tai


Five years ago, when I left my legal career of 10 years, I was looking for another form of “success,” something more than just an accumulation of pride and material gains.

People said, “Motherhood changes everything.”

I couldn’t agree more. I wanted to bring up my child as someone who dares to dream differently—someone who dares to go against the waves of common cultural expectations and has the will power to execute and immerse with what he feels in his heart is the right thing to do.

I was determined to set an example, myself, to follow my heart and passion and hence, whatever will be will be. It wasn’t easy because all my life I have allowed my fears, anxieties, family’s culture and expectations to dictate my life decisions.

To a certain extent, I enjoyed my job as a lawyer and after so many years of operating my own legal firm, I’d reached a comfort level of financial and career stability.

Yes, my husband and I were a little adventurous when we decided to leave the old familiar job for something so unconventional in our social and family circle. We were adventurous because, at that time, we had two cars, one dwelling house and four other commercial properties in Kota Damansara under mortgage loan and, certainly, a new-born to support with his organic and natural diet.

I took my yoga teacher training when I was still lawyering and it never crossed my mind that I would be leaving my comfort zone and taking yoga one step further; to own my own studio and teach yoga as my full time profession.

A new career certainly comes with new problems but they come with new opportunities and wonderful experiences as well. So, after 5 years into my new path, I’ve gone through many, but not all, of the most challenging aspects of pursuing career changes.

Here are six things to expect when you wish to pursue your dream career:

1. Expect disappointment and be realistic.

When we started our first yoga class, we went through the struggling period of securing our first batch of students to run the class. I was expecting to secure the students from my closest family and friends. Some friends are too far while others have no interest in yoga at all, they are after all, my lawyer friends. Friends and relatives who were serious in their practice would prefer the most “talked-about” studios in town while the rest didn’t treat my new profession seriously. We were expected not to be good enough in comparison to many other “branded” yoga teachers.

2. Chances are someone is going to think that you are nuts.

At one time, many well meaning relatives had a series of serious talks with us. They were seriously worried about our financial support for our son. It’s impossible to ignore them. After all, their worries and advice are realistic and in all possibility, we were going to end up with no money and no time left to do anything else. Many reminded us that it’s not just us and that we have a son to support.

Having being raised in a traditional Chinese family, it’s habitual for us to be concerned about the expectations from our own parents. Initially, the objections were harsh from the parent side but after so many years, they have sort of “given-up” on us.

However, like the wise man said, “You’ll never please everyone and in spending time digesting what others think is certainly very demotivating.”

In hindsight, I’m impressed with our perseverance at that time to still insist living the life the way the heart beats.

3. You don’t need much money to buy happiness, in a real sense.

Soon, it made sense for us to reduce our financial commitments. During the initial years, our studio was still running a loss. We needed to cough up the rent and the teachers’ fees from our savings. We sold one of our cars and four commercial properties which we previously bought as property investment.

We are left now with one car and our dwelling house. Well, we survived until now and in keeping things simple, we find more spaces for life to flow. We keep things less complicated and truly focus on our priorities and own progress.

4. It’s a lonely journey.

We get absorbed in the progress of our yoga and meditation practice because it lights up the fire in us. The practice is living in us. Our language will be more and more foreign to others, even our closest relatives and friends. Our dream is not necessary impressive to others. Soon, we have no common topics during friend and family gatherings. That means, we are less likely to be invited to any friend and family functions.

It is at this moment, we truly appreciate friends who still call us for house visits during Chinese New Year and find some topics to share with us.

5. It takes time.

Just like other careers, a dream career need funds as well, to sustain the business. Up until now, we are still striving hard for classes that are mostly full, making enough earnings (without much stress about the studio’s overhead).

Many times, we want fast results and that leads us to feel impatient. But certainly, nature does not react to our impatience. The sun will rise and set in accordance with the course of nature, not according to our needs.

After a while, I learned to allow whatever time is necessary to grow and learn. The challenging situations, however disappointing, do not vanish overnight. So, instead of expecting instance results, we discover that it is healthful to befriend time and work with it. Instead of hoping for magic, we do our part and grow in patience.

6. Going for better doesn’t mean it’s easier.

The fifth year into my yoga career, I’m still learning the hard way.

During the first year, I had a teacher who taught at our studio, requesting us not to reveal her name on our website and timetable, for she was too embarrassed being known to teach in my “not so established” studio.

Like my yoga teacher, the late Vincent Tam once said “This too shall pass”.

Whatever happens, be it good or bad, we make it part of our spiritual practice. After all these years, many curious minds have asked whether I regretted making the career change. Well, honestly, I doubted my decision. Sometimes, I was so amazed with our perseverance and commitment to the path and journey, that “giving-up” was not an option in any situation.

I know I’m truly glad that I’ve taken this path and started the career change.

Ultimately, it is the journey within—that I’m truthful to myself and become fully human.


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Assistant Ed: Steph Richard/Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: by Lisa Cyr}



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